Obituaries

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Anthony Ainley

The Master, arch-enemy of Doctor Who

Monday, 10 May 2004

To generations of Doctor Who fans, Anthony Ainley will be remembered as the Master, the extra-terrestrial who "killed" their television hero. This ushered in the Time Lord's fifth incarnation, played by Peter Davison, after the eccentric Tom Baker's flamboyant years, which were regarded by some viewers as the sci-fi serial's high point.

Anthony Ainley, actor: born London 20 August 1932; died Harrow, Middlesex 3 May 2004.

To generations of Doctor Who fans, Anthony Ainley will be remembered as the Master, the extra-terrestrial who "killed" their television hero. This ushered in the Time Lord's fifth incarnation, played by Peter Davison, after the eccentric Tom Baker's flamboyant years, which were regarded by some viewers as the sci-fi serial's high point.

For this, many did not forgive Ainley. He was also unfortunate to follow in the footsteps of the highly regarded Roger Delgado, who originally played the Master in the early 1970s but died in a car accident.

The Master was Moriarty to Doctor Who's Sherlock Holmes, the nemesis and renegade Time Lord who was once a friend but turned into his arch-enemy. He used his evil genius and ability to hypnotise lesser minds with a gaze in pursuit of his villainous schemes to gain power and destroy his former Time Lord Academy classmate. Like the Doctor, he could regenerate himself and change his appearance.

In a convoluted plot twist typical of science fiction, Ainley first appeared in 1981 as the widower Tremas, whose body was taken over by the Master on the planet Traken. Ainley portrayed the character alongside four incarnations of the Doctor, played by Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy, until the programme was dropped by the BBC in 1989.

Anthony Ainley was born in London, in 1932, into an acting dynasty. Anthony's father, Henry, was a star of note on the West End stage and in silent films, and his half-brother Richard was a stage and film star who appeared in Hollywood pictures. At the age of five, Anthony appeared uncredited as a boy in the wartime film drama The Foreman Went to France (1942), but he started his working life as an insurance clerk. When the pull of the stage was too much, he trained at Rada.

On screen, Ainley had small roles in films such as Naked Evil (1966), You Only Live Twice (1967), Inspector Clouseau (1968), Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) and the horror picture Satan's Skin (1970), but he enjoyed greater success on television.

He played Detective Sergeant Hunter in It's Dark Outside (1965), the second in a trilogy of series featuring William Mervyn as the acidic Chief Inspector Rose. Ainley joined the cast for its second run, replacing Keith Barron, who had acted Detective Sergeant Swift. (The programme also gave the singer Jackie Trent a No 1 hit with its theme song, "Where Are You Now (My Love)".)

Ainley later stayed on the right side of the law by starring as Clive Hawksworth in the popular comedy thriller Spyder's Web (1972), about a mysterious organisation that handled problems outside the brief of the police and MI5.

He switched to period drama to play Henry Sidney in Elizabeth R (1971), Lord Charles Gilmour in three episodes of Upstairs Downstairs (1973), Sir Mulberry Hawk in Nicholas Nickleby (1977) and Lord Carrington in Lillie (1978).

It was his role as the villainous Reverend Emilius in The Pallisers (1974) that led to Ainley's joining Doctor Who (1981-89). John Nathan-Turner, who had worked as production manager on the series based on Anthony Trollope's novels, remembered Ainley on taking over as producer of the BBC's long-running science-fiction serial, when he sought to bring back and re-cast the Master, complete with false beard.

The actor continued, on and off, through 10 Doctor Who stories and the 20th-anniversary special, Doctor Who: The Five Doctors (1983). In "Survival", the last in the final series, the Master confronted the Doctor in a climactic duel after luring him to an alien planet where he was being enslaved by the Cheetah People and turning into one himself - unusually not able to control his own fate. Ainley subsequently appeared as the Master in the Doctor Who: Destiny of the Doctors CD-Rom video game (1998) and was a regular at fan conventions.

For more than 30 years, the actor enjoyed playing for the London Theatres Cricket Club team, who knew him as an enigmatic opening batsman whose unstinting passion for the sport meant that he would even turn down jobs rather than miss a game. Ainley never married, saying he valued his independence too much. He once listed his unfulfilled ambition as "to play with Faye Dunaway".

Anthony Hayward

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