A Time Lord has 13 lives, and the Master has used all of his (frequently!) So how many times has the Doctor Who Master actually died?
“A new body at last…”
The “crispy” Doctor Who Master may not have died in ‘The Keeper of Traken,’ but he was clinging to life by a thread. His body was decaying and he was in dire need of a new one. In desperation, he merged with the body of the companion Nyssa’s father and used it to wreak havoc throughout the cosmos.
Does this technically count as a regeneration? And if so, does it count as an actual death? The Master’s merging with Tremas is an unusual process that isn’t really explained, and it’s clearly much more than just a possession. But it does mean, presumably, that the Master still had no means of regenerating after this point, given that he had taken over a Traken rather than a Time Lord…
“Won’t you show mercy to your own…?!”
Anthony Ainley’s Doctor Who Master seemingly died a number of deaths during the skirmishes of the 1980s, and his survival was almost always unexplained. First, he was seemingly ripped apart by the inhabitants of Castrovalva. Then he was apparently vapourised in ‘Planet of Fire,’ famously crying out, “Won’t you show mercy to your own AARGH!” with many speculating that he was about to admit that he was the Doctor’s brother (and indeed this was the producer John Nathan-Turner‘s intention.)
Then he was trapped in the Rani‘s out-of-control TARDIS in ‘The Mark of the Rani,’ and then in his own out-of-control TARDIS in ‘The Trial of a Time Lord.’ Finally, this iteration of the Doctor Who Master was stranded on the planet of the Cheetah People in ‘Survival’ and he was (apparently) still on the planet’s surface when it exploded, even though the Doctor admitted that he was unsure of his enemy’s fate.
Now, given that this version of the Doctor Who Master was unable to regenerate, it must have been the Anthony Ainley incarnation who was exterminated by the Daleks in the TV movie, unless there is a comic story or Big Finish audio somewhere which suggests something different.
And at this point, the Master has been reduced to a lump of living slime which takes possession of an ambulance driver called Bruce. It is this incarnation of the Master who gets sucked into the Eye of Harmony at the movie’s conclusion, although it’s unclear if this actually kills him (although it is certainly implied.)
“Killed by an insect!”
Whatever the explanation, the Master certainly died at some point because, in ‘The Sound of Drums,’ he admits that the Time Lords resurrected him in order to fight in the Time War. This version of the Doctor Who Master then used a chameleon arch in order to make himself human and hide at the end of the universe, only to be shot by his lab assistant when she discovered his true identity.
By this point, the Doctor Who Master has seemingly been granted a new regeneration cycle by his own people, and he takes advantage of this by becoming “young and strong,” just like his enemy. This incarnation is played by John Simm.
“Always the women…”
Alas, youth is no defence against a bullet, and this incarnation of the Doctor Who Master ends up getting shot by his own wife. And despite the fact that he now has the ability to regenerate, he refuses to do so; he would rather die than spend the rest of his life imprisoned with his oldest enemy. He perishes, and the Doctor burns his body on a funeral pyre.
Interestingly, the Master had planned for this eventuality and survived via his signet ring, which acts as a catalyst for his resurrection by the Cult of Saxon. This version of the Doctor Who Master is brought back to life in ‘The End of Time,’ but it’s only a temporary resurrection; his body was borne out of death, and all it can do is die, according to the Master.
And so, at the story’s conclusion, the Master remains in this half-dead state as he is transported back to Gallifrey and plunged into the heart of the Time War…
“I will never stand with the Doctor!”
Fans would have to wait many years before they discovered what happened to this incarnation of the Doctor Who Master, but in ‘The Doctor Falls’ it is revealed that the Time Lords reversed his half-dead condition and threw him off the planet. And he retained the ability to regenerate, although it’s unclear which version of the Master came after him.
In ‘The Doctor Falls,’ he is literally stabbed in the back by one of his future incarnations, and it’s heavily implied that he will regenerate into Missy – a female version of the Master. But this transition is never seen, and the later appearance of the Sacha Dhawan Master (see below) muddies the waters further.
“You got the full blast…”
‘The Doctor Falls’ is an interesting episode in that the Master gets killed twice. Missy stabs him, and in retaliation the John Simm Master shoots her with his laser screwdriver. “Don’t bother trying to regenerate,” he tells her. “You got the full blast.”
Thus, it is heavily implied that Missy is the very last incarnation of the Doctor Who Master, especially since she is last seen lying lifeless in the middle of a Cyberman war zone. Moreover, her character has undergone a radical change; Missy sympathises with the Doctor, and declares that it is time to stand with him. He is no longer her enemy, and this is a statement that the other Master can’t handle, hence why he blasts her with his screwdriver.
And so, with no TARDIS and no means of regeneration, and a literal war happening all around her, the death of Missy must surely be the final end of the Doctor Who Master, right?
Maybe not. The Doctor Who Master made a surprise return in the 2020 story ‘Spyfall’ in a brand new incarnation played by Sacha Dhawan. And it’s unclear where this incarnation of the Time Lord comes in the grand scheme of things, although given that he (spoilers) goes on to destroy the Time Lord capitol, it is implied that he comes after Missy. Somehow.
That being said, the Master’s regeneration in ‘The Doctor Falls’ is never actually seen, so it’s possible that Sacha Dhawan’s Master could have preceded Missy. We just don’t know.
And speaking of ambiguity, we still have no idea what happened to this incarnation. He attempted to steal the Doctor’s body in ‘The Power of the Doctor,’ and when this plan backfired he grew steadily weaker, and was last seen on a disintegrating cyberplanet, lying lifeless in the doorway of his TARDIS.
So how many times has the Doctor Who Master actually died? Hard to say. And then of course there are the Big Finish incarnations – and for those Masters we’re going to need a bigger blog post!
But tell us what you think. Where do you think Sacha Dhawan’s Master fits in the Doctor Who timeline? And was Missy the very last incarnation? Let us know in the comments below.