Sometimes an actor leaves such a stamp on a role that for a long time all those who follow in the role just seem like imitations of the original. This is how it was with Roger Delgado’s The Master. Conceived as the Moriarty to the Doctor’s Sherlock Holmes he looked like a villain from the silent film era and was completely mad. Like the Doctor he was a renegade Time Lord; unlike the Doctor he was hell bent on dominating the universe instead of saving it.
Roger Ceaser Marius Bernard de Delgado Torres Castillo Roberto was born on the 1st of March 1918 in the London East End district of Whitechapel. His friend and future Doctor, Jon Pertwee always said of Roger that he was a proper Cockney as he was born in the sound of the Bow Bells. Encouraged by his Belgian mother and Spanish farther he would go on to attend the ‘London School of Economics’. During World War Two he would join the Army, later attaining the rank of Major, before he was demobbed soon after peace had been declared.
It was after the war he decided to become an actor. His big break came playing the Spanish envoy Mendoza in the ITV series ‘Sir Frances Drake’. This would later lead to an in joke in the ‘Doctor Who’ story ‘Colony in Space’ where The Master is referred to as the Spanish Ambassador. Due to his natural devious looks and 1920’s villain style beard he was regularly cast as the villain. So when it came to casting the Doctor’s new nemesis producer Barry Letts instantly thought of Delgado.
Making his first appearance in the 1971 adventure ‘Terror of the Autons’ Delgado played The Master very much as the intellectual equal of Jon Pertwee’s Doctor. He became an instance fan favourite appearing in some of the best stories of the third Doctors era.
He was due to appear in Pertwee’s final episode as the Doctor. Unfortunately the episode titled ‘The Final Game’ would never be made. Instead it would be replaced by ‘Planet of the Spiders’. Roger Delgado died, along with two technicians, whilst filming the Franco / German TV series ‘La Cloche Tibetaine’ (Tibetan Bell) in Turkey on the 18th of June 1973. The car Delgado was driving veered off the road into a ravine. He was 55 years old. Jon Pertwee would later admit he saw Delgado’s death as an omen that leaving the show was the right decision.
Without Roger Delgado setting the president The Master may never have become the infamous but loved character he is today. The excitement felt when the characters return during the David Tennant era very much had its roots in Delgado’s portrayal. It’s sad to think he never got to see, nearly forty years after his first appearance, just what an iconic character his Time Lord had become.