Later today, we’re about to get a season finale of Doctor Who. The 36th overall. Over those years, we’ve had several stories with multiple Doctors in it – most recently, the 50th Anniversary Special. But we’ve had many different other Time Lords in the show’s past going all the way back to the ’60s with the Meddling Monk. But what we’ve never had before is a show where different incarnations of another Time Lord besides the Doctor have interacted. Until now. Starting last week, and containing in today’s episode, we have a story with multiple Masters in it.
Something John Simm said in last week’s episode got me thinking. He said “I’m worried about my future”. The implication of that is that Missy is a future regeneration of John Simm’s Master. But do we really know that to be true? We may very well get an answer to that with today’s episode, but in the interim, let’s examine the history of the Master.
In all the time and all the incarnations of the Master we’ve had, we’ve only ever seen one regeneration proper – that from Jacobi to Simm, so the timeline might not be as simple as we might think.
A quick note: This is only going to count on screen events. Things like Big Finish, the Shalka Master etc, and other ancillary appearances – while nice – aren’t included here. But heck, I’ve left a big enough hole that they could be fit in just as well.
DELGADO: THE ORIGINAL, YOU MIGHT SAY
The first Master was the brilliant Roger Delgado, who first portrayed the character in Terror of the Autons, first on 2nd January, 1971. By most fans’ account, he is the definitive Master. Roger Delgado is to the Master and Doctor Who what Sean Connery is to James Bond. His Master was suave, had lots of style, and was the height of sadistic b*stard. It was utterly perfect.
His character was intended to bow out in a final story to be the Third Doctor’s final, but due to Delgado’s untimely death in a car crash the year that story was to be filmed, it was abandoned. It was to reveal the the Doctor and the Master were brothers, a remark that was alluded to MUCH later on in a conversation between the Tenth Doctor and Martha Jones in The Sound of Drums.
Roger’s final appearance on screen was in the last episode of the serial Frontier in Space (probably my favourite Pertwee story). The Master had one of his few overtly funny lines in this story, calling the Daleks “Stupid tin boxes”. This was broadcast on 31st March, 1973, and brought an end to Roger’s time on Doctor Who.
NEXT UP: BURNT TO A CRISP
I’ve read over the years that out of respect to Roger, they never contemplated recasting him, especially when Jon was still the Doctor. However, after a time, it was decided to bring the Master back for the Tom Baker serial, The Deadly Assassin. Airing in October/November of 1976, it brought back the character, but in this episode, he looked, well, “burnt”. This version of the Master was played by Peter Pratt.
There were some scenes at the end of Episode 4 where the Doctor and Chancellor Goth talk about finding the Master on a planet “wasting away after too many forced regenerations due to too many disguises”. However, no specific reason as to why he was burnt. I cannot recall if the production team gave any real reason, but the best theory I ever heard, and the one I subscribe to, is that he tried to regenerate past his limit of 12 regenerations (of which there’s some talk in Deadly Assassin but not a direct on screen reason), and it did that to him – his entire body ended up burnt like that but not dying.
There was a second story with the “Burnt Master” in 1981 – The Keeper of Traken, and he was played by a different actor, Geoffrey Beevers. This is a real world issue – this was supposed to be the same incarnation of the Master, so for the purposes of this article, they’re the same thing.
Let’s examine that. Assume for a minute that Delgado’s incarnation was the last in the line of the original. Which means we can have something like 10 other Masters in-between that 8 year old version we saw in The Sound of Drums and Roger Delgado. So there’s a huge hole there for other Masters. Could Missy fit in there? Possibly, we don’t really know.
MASTER III: A NEW BODY AT LAST
At the end of Keeper of Traken, the “Burnt Master” takes over the body of Tremas and becomes the Anthony Ainley incarnation of the Master. He played the Master the longest of any actor. First appearing on screen 21st February, 1981 and last appearing on 6th December, 1989, he served with Doctors four, five, six, and seven.
While there were echoes of Delgado in him, Anthony Ainley’s performance was a bit less elegant than Delgado’s. But for a lot (myself included), he was the Master when we started watching Doctor Who.
I feel bad about Ainley – as there’s not a lot to write. He came into the role, did it for several years, and stopped when the show stopped. Not a lot of drama to his part of the story.
MASTER IV: MOVING PILE OF GOO
The next time we saw the Master was at the start of the Paul McGann TV movie in 1996. In the very beginning, he was played by Gordon Tipple, but we barely saw him, and he was exterminated by the Daleks immediately. This incarnation never spoke. There’s no word as to whether Tipple is supposed to be Ainley’s incarnation or not; that’s never been addressed, but let’s take it as read it’s supposed to be. Given the Master’s timeline, he was no longer a proper Time Lord, but had taken over someone’s body.
So why not do the same thing again? He becomes the CGI snake (which I always thought was a cornball idea), and takes over Eric Roberts. At the end of that, he’s sucked into the Eye of Harmony on the TARDIS, and is killed for real. The Master has seemed to have been killed several times in the past, but here, he was said to be well and truly dead.
MASTER V: YOU ARE NOT ALONE
That appearance in 1996 was the last time we saw the Master until June 2007 in the episode, Utopia with David Tennant as the Doctor. At first, he was in disguise (sorta) as “Professor Yana”, a human. Or so we thought. Due to the “Chameleon Arch” had he become a human.
Professor Yana when asked where he got the pocket watch said, “I was found with it. An orphan in the storm. I was a naked child found on the coast of the Silver Devasation. Abandonded, with only this [the pocketwatch]”. I never quite understood how that fit into the events of things. That implies that the Yana version had lived that way for some time since he was shown to be old-ish in this story, so he had that watch since he was a child – it makes me wonder what happened to him before that. Surely he wasn’t a child when the Time Lords revived him (see next entry), so I’m not really sure how to bring this in line with the Master’s overall timeline. But it IS vague – and that’s part of my entire reason for this whole article.
We so briefly got to see Derek Jacobi as the Master (a criminally short amount of time – soon to be amended by Big Finish, interestingly) until he was shot on screen, and we got the only ever viewed regeneration of the Master into…. John Simm.
MASTER VI: HERE COME THE DRUMS
John Simm’s Master was one that seems to polarise a lot of fans, as he played up the crazy more than any other incarnation, but I rather liked him. But some important Master history was divulged during his time.
Given the Eric Roberts incarnation was killed totally, I wondered how they would explain his return when he eventually showed up. During The Sound of Drums, the Master said to the Doctor, “When the Time Lords revived me to fight in the Time War”… That line was all the explanation we needed for him being brought back from the dead. It was BRILLIANT, and an idea that should have occurred to me before it aired, but it didn’t.
Simm’s Master was shown to have died and come back during his own tenure on the show. The Doctor burnt him like Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi, and was brought back via a ring, which reminded me of the end of Flash Gordon (1980). But anyway…
Simm’s Master turned out to be a pawn of Rassilon with the sound of drums in his head – the heartbeat of a Time Lord – and being the link from which the Time Lords could escape their lock in the Time War. That’s the last time the Simm Master was seen, in the last moments of Tennant’s final episode, The End of Time, fighting Rassilon as Gallifrey disappeared back into the Time War.
At the time, I wasn’t entirely sure how the Master would come back from that, but as Gallifrey has popped up a couple of times since that story, it’s quite easy to see how the Master could escape from there.
MASTER VII: OH MISSY YOU’RE SO FINE…
And then there’s Missy.
I’m still not sold on Missy as the Master – I’m not a fan of the gender changing stuff at all, but I’m putting that aside for this article. She just appears in Capaldi’s episode, Dark Water (at least to the Doctor anyway – we saw her earlier), and says who she is. No explanation as to how she changed from Simm. No explanation as to how she escaped Gallifrey being in a Time Lock. Just “there”.
Which brings us back to my intro earlier back and the entire point of me writing all this. The Master (Simm), once revealed in World Enough and Time, says to Missy, “Hello Missy, I’m the Master. I’m very worried about my future”. The immediate implication of that statement is that she’s a future incarnation of the Master.
There are so many holes in the Master’s personal history that we don’t really know if Missy *IS* a future incarnation. By my count, there’s over a dozen possible spots Missy could fit in the regeneration cycle.
We did see what we believe to be the original incarnation of the Master. In a flashback in the episode, The Sound of Drums, we got to see what looked like an 8 year old child we’re told is the Master, and that incarnation was male. It’s seriously implied that Roger Delgado’s incarnation was the final one (barring the burnt one and body takeovers, which aren’t actual regenerations). So there’s several there. There’s still no evidence that Derek Jacobi’s Master was the first in that life cycle; there could have been others there, one of which could have been Missy. The truth is, we really don’t know.
So will we get to see a Simm to Gomez regeneration in this season finale? That would be cool, but would require some timey wimey stuff with Missy in the finale for that to happen. Maybe Simm would go off somewhere and regenerate where nobody else would see it, as the War Doctor did in The Day of the Doctor. Even if that happens, it’s interesting to note how many of the Master’s lives we haven’t seen – and I had fun exploring this.
To sum it up, the Master’s persona timeline is a bit of a mess. There’s a ton of holes, and we ASSUME it happens in the same order that it does on television, but it doesn’t really have to.
In writing this, I talked to a few friends of mine about the Master’s history, and one of them (David Grubb) postulated this theory which I’d never heard before, but I actually kind of like. He said..
I like that there’s enough ambiguity that you could argue for a Burned Keeper to Ainley to Burned Assassin timeline and then maybe Assassin to new series, it may explain how the Time Lords were able to resurrect him if he was caught up in the black hole of the Eye of Harmony.
I never considered that. We just assume that the Burnt Master we saw in Keeper of Traken was after the one we saw in Deadly Assassin, but if you turn it around the other way, it does kind of make sense. When I asked him how we fit the McGann/Roberts Doctor and his events in this, he said:
We’re also kind of assuming that he does have a nice linear timeline somewhere, which is probably a mistake considering how willing he is to invoke paradoxes.
That, too, is intriguing – that it could be the Master in the McGann movie is from the end of the timeline where he’s revived to fight in the Time War that resulted in Jacobi/Simm/Gomez?
The bottom line is, the Master’s timeline is certainly a mess and seriously vague enough that you could insert any number of wild theories.
To quote D.P. Gumby… MY BRAIN HURTS!