So, if teasers and rumours are true we will have our first story to see one Master face off against another incarnation in Season 10’s finale. We’ve seen it with Doctors, but never with different Master’s, at least not on screen anyway, so you would hope we’ll be in for a treat.
But who is the Master and what do we know about him/her? Get ready for the season finale, spoiler free, by catching up on the Master’s back story.
Well he started in season 8 of the 20th century run of the series, and was introduced to be Moriarty to the Doctor’s Holmes. Roger Delgado was the first Master we saw, or Roger Caesar Marius Bernard de Delgado Torres Castillo Roberto to give him his full super-villain name. Whether he was the first incarnation of Master is difficult to tell, we only really know for sure a few elements of sequencing across the Master’s history, and we get no clues from Delgado’s Master, so we’ll call him Master No. One.
His Master appeared in every story in season 8, something the 21st century series echoed in its season 8 with Missy appearing in almost every story, which was a nice touch. We first see him in Terror of the Autons (1971), and get some clues a Timelord is around by the sound of a TARDIS, but no Police Box in sight. So yes the first thing we get to know about the Master is he has a fully functioning TARDIS, chameleon circuit fully working and this time it appears as a horse box at a circus. We also learn quite quickly that he is the master of hypnosis. “I am the Master and you will obey me” being his catch phrase that will resonate across the years.
We also find he has a rather unique weapon, as the Doctor finds a poor radio telescope operator dead in his own lunchbox, with the first use of the Tissue Compression Eliminator (TCE) that kills his victims by compressing all the spaces in their tissues, thereby shrinking them to death. Whilst an iconic weapon for the Master as a whole, we never see this incarnation use it again.
Over the course of the next few stories he dabbles with mind conditioning in The Mind of Evil (1971), teams up with a supposedly benevolent race of alien parasites in The Claws of Axos (1971), goes after a doomsday weapon in Colony in Space (1971)before finally posing as a vicar to gain the powers of a cloven hoofed demon in The Daemons (1971). Here we got to realise the Master’s penchant for disguise, roles of authority, and grandiose names like Mister Magister.
The Master was arrested and imprisoned at the end of season 8, and was rested for a couple of stories, before returning in The Sea Devils (1972) where we find the Master quite happy to be in prison, since he’s running it, getting TV privileges so he can watch his favourite children’s program The Clangers (which does subtly inform us about his character), something we see John Simm’s Master echoing later as he watches the Teletubbies. After using the Silurian’s aquatic cousins for his own ends he escapes and the next time was see him is a couple of stories later in The Time Monster (1972).
Delgado’s final appearance as the Master was in Frontier in Space (1973), a six part story that was originally part of a 12 part Dalek War story incorporating Planet of the Daleks (1973), but as the storyline’s developed they became two separate stories.
It was planned for Delgado to return one more time to be the cause of the Third Doctor’s regeneration, but the actor tragically died at age 55, in a vehicle accident whilst filming on location for another TV series. So though he didn’t appear in the finale, his widow, Kismet Delgado, guest starred as one of the spider voices.
That, you may think, was that, no more Delgado, no more Master. But wait, he’s a Timelord, so we could regenerate him. Well since Delgado clearly couldn’t return to regenerate, and rather than simply have an off screen regeneration, they went another route entirely. In The Deadly Assassin (1976) we get our first hint the Master is back by finding the shrunken corpse of a camera man. But when we finally see the Master his body is ravaged and malformed, played by Peter Pratt. It’s at this point we find out the Master has used up his 12 regenerations and is on his last body. This was the first ever mention of this fact in the history of the series, until then we thought Timelords could “live forever barring accidents” as the Second Doctor told us in The War Games (1969). Whilst it’s not made clear whether this is the same incarnation as Delgado’s Master, i.e. he was already on his last body, the mutated Master is widely regarded as Master No. Two.
A few years later Master No. Two is back, this time played by Geoffrey Beevers, skulking inside the Melkur in The Keeper of Traken (1981). Whilst a different actor, it’s clearly still intended to be the same incarnation, one which Geoffrey Beevers excellently recreates time and time again in audio form for Big Finish. At the end of this story he inherits the powers of the Keeper and uses this to take over the body of Nyssa’s father, Tremas, to become Master No. Three. You may also note that Tremas is an anagram of Master, an in-joke often repeated to hide the Master’s identity in a story.
Master No. Three, played by Anthony Ainley then went on to cause the Fourth Doctor’s regeneration in Logopolis (1981), and tried to wipe out the newly regenerated Fifth Doctor in Castrovalva (1982). Ainley’s Master was more in the tradition of Delgado’s arch villain, with the goatee beard coming back.
Three’s next appearance was heavily disguised as Kalid, in Timeflight (1982). As the plot intended it to be a secret that Kalid was the Master, the role of Kalid was credited to Leon Ny Taiy (Tony Ainley), and the next time in The Kings Demons (1983) again he’s disguised as Sir Gilles Estram, again using an anagram of Master. When watching these old stories, one thing you might note is the Master seems to die at the end of most of them, in The Kings Demons (1983) the Doctor asks the Master how he survived his last encounter, to which he replies “Don’t be so naïve Doctor”, a sentiment echoed by Missy when asked how she is still alive in The Magician’s Apprentice (2015) with her “Death is for other people dear” comment.
So having introduced the limit of 12 regenerations, it’s the next Master story, The Five Doctors (1983), that introduces the “Get out of Jail Free” card, in that the Timelords offer to give the Master a new cycle of regenerations if he rescues the Doctor. So now we know the limit can be fixed, but have to wait 30 years to see it happen in The Day of the Doctor (2013).
His next story is more contentious, as it was supposed to be a big reveal. In Planet of Fire (1984) as the Master writhes in agony in flames he cries “Won’t you show mercy to your own…” and then he screams. The original intent, according to the DVD commentary, was that the sentence was to end with Brother, but in all of Ainley’s takes he never said the word, feeling it was more dramatic to scream at that point. Throughout the Doctor’s history with the Master there has always been that feeling that they were friends at some point, possibly more, but only hints. This was supposed to confirm it, but still left hanging. In The Sound of Drums (2008), Martha suggests to the Doctor that she thought he was going to say the Master was his secret brother or something, and instead of flatly denying it, he simply comments that she’d watched too much TV. Also in Hell Bent (2015), when he returns to his old home, the housekeeper comments that things were left in case the boys returned, hinting that he did have a brother.
Having briefly made an appearance as a vision goading the Doctor to die during his regeneration in The Caves of Androzani (1984) , the Master met the Sixth Doctor twice in The Mark of the Rani (1985) and Trial of a Timelord (1986) before Ainley’s final performance in the final story of the 20th Century series, Survival (1989), quite fitting that the Doctor and the Master battle on last time. At the end of this we leave the master stricken with weird yellow eyes.
Master No. Three had one more appearance in Doctor Who (1996), albeit bound and masked, played by Gordon Tipple, but still intended to be the same Master, showing the weird yellow eyes to reinforce this. But not for long as he’s executed. His remains then become some ethereal snake, apparently called a Morphant in the novelisation, which takes over the body of an Ambulance driver giving us Master No. Four, played by Eric Roberts – the less said about that the better. In the end this Master gets sucked into the Eye of Harmony at the heart of every TARDIS quite possibly (hopefully) never to be seen again.
Throughout Season 3 of the 21st century run of the show, we kept getting references to an as yet unseen character called Mister Saxon. Eagle eyed fans, self included, had a suspicion what this meant, but were a little confused at this point. Have you got it yet?
In Utopia (2008) we are introduced to Professor Yana (yep another naughty anagram You Are Not Alone – he’s another Timelord), who turns out to be Master No. Five (aka The War Master), played by Sir Derek Jacobi. In The Sound of Drums (2008) we learn that the Timelords resurrected the Master as the perfect warrior to fight the Time War, but he got scared at the sheer power of the Daleks when the Emperor took over the Cruciform. More used to being the one in control, he ran away and became human, using a chameleon arch, just as the Doctor did in Human Nature (2008) so no Timelord could find him. However as he opens the fob watch it all comes flooding back to him, just in time to be “killed by an insect, a girl”, to become Master No. Six played by John Simm. Surprisingly, this is the first, and so far only time, that we’ve seen the Master actually regenerate.
As a little aside, Sir Derek Jacobi also played an android version of the Master in the animated story The Scream of Shalka (2003) against Richard E Grant’s Doctor, in the first attempt to reboot the show. He’s also returning to the role of The War Master in December 2017 for Big Finish audio adventures.
So now it makes sense, you wait 12 years for a new Master and 3 come along at once, Mister Saxon is Master No. Six, the best anagram to date. But wait 3 Masters? Yes, in The Sound of Drums (2008) we get to see the very first Master, as a child aged 8, played by William Hughes. The Doctor offers to be the Master’s keeper, to help him change, rather like he’s trying with Missy in Season 10, but then he gets shot by a woman for the second time in a row – “always the women”. However, no regeneration, even though we assume he has plenty left having been resurrected by the Timelords to fight in the War, he stops it happening, another new Timelord fact courtesy of the Master, regeneration can be stopped. The Master is cremated, but somebody picks up his ring – hmm!!!
Of course, it was the end, but the moment had been prepared for, and Master No. Six is resurrected in The End of Time – Part 1 (2009), having prepared a cult to revive him from his ring. We then find ourselves with billions of Masters, albeit the same incarnation. In The End of Time – Part 2 (2010) we discover that Rassilon was responsible for the Master’s madness, in sending the beat of a Timelord heartbeat, back through time to when the Master was a child he was able to carve out a channel to help Gallifrey escape from the Time War, but in doing so induced the incessant sound of drums that sent the Master insane. With the Doctor having broken the link, the Master then saves the Doctor’s life by beating back Rassilon with rage, in retaliation for the madness he had caused, that had plagued the Master throughout his many lives. And of course the Master has a hand in the Doctor’s regeneration yet again.
For the next Master we have to take a slight diversion to the world of Big Finish audio adventures, to a box set called UNIT – Dominion (2012), which introduces a new Big Finish Master in the form of Alex MacQueen, who then faces off against the Seventh Doctor. This so easily could have been a one-off, but Alex MaxQueen’s Master is, well, masterful. So he returns to meet the Eighth Doctor in the Dark Eyes 2 (2014) and beyond, and then back again for two releases to celebrate the 45th anniversary of the Master including The Two Masters (2016) where he meets up with Geoffrey Beever’s Master No. Two.
Back in TV land, Season 8 of the 21st century show, introduces us to a mysterious character called Missy played by Michelle Gomez, who’s in most of the episodes of that season, though usually as a short prologue to the main episode. It’s not until we reach Dark Water (2014), that we find out why she’s called Missy…
“Please try to keep up, it’s short for Mistress. Well I couldn’t very well keep calling myself the Master, now could I?”
We’d heard about the Corsair in The Doctor’s Wife (2011) changing sex between regenerations, but like so many other elements of Timelord lore, we actually see it with the Master first. This is a course a nice nod to the original series as Season 8 in the 20th century introduced the Master across the season, and Season 8 in the 21st century introduced Missy across the season. And of course, in line with tradition, we get no explanation as to how Missy escaped from Gallifrey.
Now of course in Season 10, she’s back and finally it appears, travelling with the Doctor, and he’s trying to make an honest woman of her.
So there you have it, an interesting character that has shared episodes with all the Doctors except, War, Nine and Eleven, and just goes from strength to strength (except a brief dip in the Nineties). Michelle Gomez has announced she won’t be returning to the role after Peter Capaldi leaves, so we may be in for a double regeneration this season.
With a roll call of Roger Delgado, Peter Pratt, Geoffrey Beevers, Anthony Ainley, Gordon Tipple, Eric Roberts, Sir Derek Jacobi, John Simm, William Hughes, Alex MacQueen and Michelle Gomez, you have to wonder who’s next?