Doctor Who's Sacha Dhawan: "The Master has unfinished business"
"If I was asked to maybe come back, I think I'd inject a new lease of life into it now."
There are few Doctor Who characters as iconic as the Master. From Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley to Sir Derek Jacobi, John Simm and Michelle Gomez, there are no shortage of incredible actors to take on the role of the Time Lord.
Most recently, the great Sacha Dhawan took up the mantle.
Dhawan, however, had quite the unique journey, first joining the Whoniverse in 2013 docudrama An Adventure in Space and Time, playing the role of director Waris Hussein.
Chatting to RadioTimes.com, he explains: "I thought maybe just doing An Adventure in Space and Time, that would be my Doctor Who. But actually, it ended up being the start of it, really.
"Mark Gatiss has become a close friend of mine, Waris Hussein. And then I ended up being the Master, as well! So, I guess I feel so proud of it - but at the same time, I'm still processing all of it. Sometimes I kind of need to pinch myself."
Of course, An Adventure in Space and Time was only the beginning. Years later, he got a very different call from Doctor Who's bosses.
He recalls: "I'd actually decided at that point in time to take a bit of time out, I think it's always healthy to do that. I just needed a bit of time to reflect on what I wanted to do next, take a bit of breathing space, and as life has it, it wasn't even an audition - it was just some very strong interest.
"I'd worked with Matt Strevens, the executive producer on An Adventure in Space and Time, so I had a really good relationship with him, and they were like, 'Oh, we're really interested in Sacha playing the Master.'
"It was a time I'll never forget, because when I got that call I was actually doing a play reading at the National Theatre Studio with Peter Capaldi, of all people. So, we're in a break, I get this call, and I was like, 'Oh my god,' my brain was fizzing. But I couldn't say anything! I couldn't tell anyone!
"So, I'm doing this reading and I'm looking at Peter Capaldi, and obviously he didn't know anything. But something magical happened, I think, and he just looked at me - maybe because I had pure panic on my face - and just gave me a wink. It was almost like, 'Did he know?!' Of course he didn't, but I was like, 'Maybe I do need to do this.'"
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The full extent of Dhawan's role in Doctor Who was kept secret until broadcast - he showed up as a character called O, with the chilling reveal taking place on a plane in the season 12 story Spyfall.
"I did put together an audition tape for Chris Chibnall and Matt Strevens just so they could see what my interpretation was going to be. Because they were cool, they were like, 'Just do your thing,' but I wanted to make sure what I was doing was in line with what they were thinking.
"The scene that I did was the plane scene, and only those two had an idea about what I was doing. But then, on the day, when you come to shoot that scene, your adrenaline's going, and it was kind of the reveal for everybody on the plane that day - and the crew, because a lot of them didn't know I was coming, they kept it secret.
"They just thought I was O in it, and then the reveal happened, and then I think because of the adrenaline I did something completely different," he remembers.
"Even coming back to play The Master for the The Power of the Doctor, we were filming on location and even trying to keep me secret was hard. It's amazing how no one knew about that at all."
Despite the long history of actors playing The Master, Dhawan actively avoided watching previous iterations - and for good reason.
"I knew I would end up just mimicking it or getting into my head about it. I think once I knew the legacy of the show, I had to throw that all away and focus on my interpretation.
"I'd also been given the blessing from Matt and Chris to put my own spin on it, they were like, 'Don't get so bogged down in the history. We cast you because we want you to do your thing with it.' They gave me a lot of freedom.
"It wasn't planned that I incorporated certain aspects, it's just what my interpretation was. My main thing was - he is chaotic, but I wanted it to give a sense of organised chaos, but for me as an actor, quite emotional as well. I really wanted to lean into that, I didn't want it to just feel silly all the time.
"Even though I've finished my incarnation, have we still seen my full incarnation? I don't know. There's so many ways of exploring and investigating, I think I could always come back but just as a completely random character that's still the Master.
"People are constantly still going to be like, 'Is that Sacha's Master?' I always want to keep the audience guessing. I never want them to feel like they can sit back and say, 'We know what we're going to get.' Maybe there's unfinished business there."
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Dhawan's beloved incarnation has returned multiple times, most recently in Jodie Whittaker's final episode, The Power of the Doctor. For many fans, it felt like an end to Dhawan's incarnation - but does he feel the same?
"I think at the current time, yes. I feel as an actor that I'm so fortunate and I've done my thing with him. But at the same time, you know what it's like with Doctor Who; you could blow a character to shreds and they'll still find a way of coming back.
"Also, seeing the new series of Doctor Who coming out next, and the cast and Russell [T Davies] coming back, oh my god.
"I've been seeing all the speculation in the press and I have such major FOMO. I know it's going to be so good, as well. I think it's good to maybe have a break from it, and if I was asked to maybe come back, I think I'd inject a new lease of life into it now having had a break from it."
For now, though, Dhawan is excited to enjoy the new era of Who as a fan.
"I think Ncuti [Gatwa] is going to be great, hearing through the grapevine from certain crew members that I've crossed paths with, he's sensational. I think just, when I see a new Doctor, even some of the past Doctors - Matt Smith - I kind of immediately think as an actor, 'I'd love to spar off them as the Master, I wonder what that energy would be like.'
"So when I see Ncuti, one of the reasons I'd love to go back at some point, possibly, is to get in the ring with him as the Master and see what happens, that dynamic, the electricity. The Doctor and the Master have a real love/hate relationship, and I love exploring that.
"I feel like each Doctor and the series kind of represents what's going on in the world right now on some subliminal level. I really do think in the last couple of years, as a nation, the world has really taken a hit in so many different ways, there's been real highs, real lows, people just trying to survive, and I think Doctor Who reflects that.
"So as an actor, incorporating that, it's kind of really exciting for me. There's a lot of stuff in the air right now, and bringing that into Doctor Who, I think that's the draw for me to go back to it. I think playing the Master, it's a good place for me to vent, as well! He's got so much rage, so much emotion, it's like therapy!"
As for his hopes for the future of the show?
"I'm just excited to see where it goes next. It's coming back and Russell is showrunning it, but I really feel like it's going to take on a whole new lease of life. I feel the way things are changing, you could follow the Doctor's story, but it has the scope of other stories to start happening, as well.
"You're following the trajectory of Ncuti's Doctor, but I feel like other Doctors could come back, they could interact with each other, you could have Master spin-offs. I feel like with technology and the way TV's moving, you could really do that, it could become a real crossover.
"But, in saying that, I really hope - and I know this will happen with Russell being attached to it - that it always remains a quintessentially British show. You can throw so much money at it that it can lose something, and I think that's what's so brilliant about Doctor Who."
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