The villain can sometimes be the most engaging character in a story. Some villains have a David Bowie-esque flamboyance and flair, a Shakespearean grasp of language and a comedian’s ability to make you laugh.
However, they must also be able to inspire fear or their role in the story falls down.
Villains that strike this balance just right include: Dr Hannibal Lecter, The Joker, Professor James Moriarty and The Master.
Hannibal Lecter has that draw for the audience, despite being a ruthless killer, because he has un-tapped depths.
In the TV show Hannibal he walks the line between good and evil. His office is decorated with pictures of rare animals, a representation of how unique he is himself. Hannibal is a rare breed, a cannibal and a murder but one who helps the police catch other killers.
In the iconic Hannibal Lecter movie Silence of the Lambs he has a magnitism. Anthony Hopkins’ wide unblinking eyes fit the character perfectly.
Like a predator he is taking it all in, looking for any minor twitch and vulnerability in his prey.
The Master, The Joker and Professor Moriarty are more of a traditional villain. They exist to be the foil for the hero. Writers of Batman products have traditionally leaned into this, telling the audience that he cannot exist without his counterpart.
These three all represent the antithesis of the hero. They have the same capabilities and dangers of the hero but they use them for evil and represent chaos and discord, as opposed to the law and order that the hero represents.
Our interest in all of these villains comes from what we don’t know about them.
The Joker is a complete enigma. Although there are famous explanations of his origin, they all differ. They are all one writer’s version and interpretation of the character. In fact, the character has been known to tell people a different story every time, so nobody really knows who he is.
In Doctor Who, we are teased with the knowledge that The Doctor and The Master grew up together on Gallifrey. They have at times been uneasy allies, and other times bitter enemies but there is a lot we don’t know about their history.
A great villain elevates the story they occupy, especially when they are well written.