This seemed like at least three stories in one – there’s a machine that can scare people to death and eat their evilness, a murder investigation at a peace conference, and The Master taking over a prison in order to steal a missile. None of these individual threads satisfyingly tied together in any meaningful way. But when The Master is on screen, who cares?
Roger Delgado is simply excellent. Bizarrely, I’d hardly seen any of his incarnation prior to this marathon, whereas I’d seen a fair chunk of Ainley and everything of all the others. He really does shit all over everyone else, doesn’t he? The best thing is that I’m seeing the origins of everything the later portrayals were informed by, as the legend is fleshed out before my eyes.
I was surprised to see his penchant for being-in-disguise-even-when-it’s-not-necessary quite so early, with him wearing a mask to tamper with telephone exchange on an anonymous and virtually deserted street. Then there was that brilliant moment when you saw him in his car with evil incidental music over the top, before the reveal that he was actually playing the evil music to himself on a little radio.
But once again, it’s all about that mysterious love-hate relationship with The Doctor. Like last time, they spend periods working together out of necessity, and make a pretty effective team. The highlight of the whole serial was the reveal that The Master’s greatest, deepest fear is a giant version of The Doctor doing a big lol in his astonished face. An alarming image, and incredibly character-defining.
Meanwhile, The Doctor’s biggest fear gave us a welcome cameo appearance by the Daleks, last seen (properly) bloody ages ago. The Keller Machine bore a passing resemblance to them from certain angles, while the funky effect used when it killed someone was like a more psychedelic version of the classic extermination effect. All in all, it’s made me realise how much I miss them at this stage. I’m pining for their return.
It was another great romp for the whole UNIT crew. Jo showed her compassionate side throughout, and was always a fantastic audience surrogate, especially during the gut-punch of what happened to poor old Barnham. The Brig got to play dress-up too, as well as taking the piss out of all around for the majority of the story. Yates and Benton both got to be very brave and rugged, although there doesn’t seem to be much to Yates just yet, especially in comparison to Benton’s cute doe-eyed enthusiasm.
But the most notable thing about this story? The revelation that Michael Sheard once played someone who wasn’t a complete shit. I kept on expecting him to betray someone, or turn out to be The Master in disguise or something, just because I’ve never seen him play a goody before.