When the Master first appeared in January 1971 he was played by Roger Delgado, who continued in the role until his death in 1973. Afterwards, Peter Pratt and Geoffrey Beevers played a physically decayed version of the Time Lord, until Anthony Ainley assumed the part in 1981. He remained until Doctor Who's cancellation in 1989. In 1996, the Master was played by Eric Roberts in the TV movie. In the revived series, Derek Jacobi provided the character's re-introduction before handing over to John Simm, who portrayed the Master in the climax of the 2007 series.
The creative team conceived the Master as a recurring villain, a "Professor Moriarty to the Doctor's Sherlock Holmes.. He first appeared in Terror of the Autons (1971). The Master's title was deliberately chosen by producer Barry Letts and script editor Terrance Dicks as evocative of supervillain names in fiction, but primarily because, like the Doctor, it was a title conferred by an academic degree.
Barry Letts had one man in mind for the role: Roger Delgado. Delgado had a long history of screen villainy and had already made three attempts to break into the series. He had worked previously with Barry Letts and was also a good friend of Jon Pertwee.
In "The Sound of Drums" (2007), a flashback shows the Master at the age of eight, when as part of a Time Lord initiation ceremony he is taken before a gap in the fabric of space and time known as the Untempered Schism, from which one can see into the entire Vortex. The Doctor states that looking into the time vortex causes some to be inspired, some to run away (which he did), and others to go mad; it is implied that the latter is what happened to the Master.
In his three seasons beginning with Terror of the Autons, the Master (as played by Delgado) appeared in eight out of the fifteen serials. Indeed, in his first season the Master is involved in every adventure of the Doctor's, always getting away at the last minute before he is captured in The Dæmons (1971), only to escape imprisonment in The Sea Devils (1972). He would often use disguises and brainwashing to operate in normal society, while setting up his plans; he also tried to use other alien races and powers as his means to conquest, such as the Autons and the Daemons. Delgado's portrayal of the Master was as a suave, charming and somewhat sociopathic individual, able to be polite and murderous at almost the same time.
Delgado's last on-screen appearance as the Master was in Frontier in Space, where he is working alongside the Daleks and the Ogrons to provoke a war between the Human and Draconian Empires. His final scene ended with him shooting the Doctor and then disappearing. Delgado wanted the Master to make one more appearance, in a story titled The Final Game (also planned as the Third Doctor's last story), in which the character would be killed off, with an ambiguity as to whether he had in fact died to save the Doctor. However, Delgado was killed in a car accident in Turkey on 18 June 1973, while on his way to shoot footage for the French comedy The Bell of Tibet. The next Master story was replaced by Planet of the Spiders (1974).
With Delgado's death, the Master disappeared from the series for several years. In his next appearance, in The Deadly Assassin (1976), the Master (played by Peter Pratt under heavy make-up) appears as an emaciated, decaying wreck, at the end of his thirteenth and final life. Given the severity of his situation, this Master is much darker than Delgado's version. Here, the evil Time Lord almost succeeds in his plan to restore himself to full life with the symbols of the office of President of the Council of Time Lords, the artifacts of Rassilon. The Doctor stops him because the process would have caused the destruction of Gallifrey. After this story, the Master again departs the series, returning in 1981. In The Keeper of Traken, the Master (Geoffrey Beevers under different heavy make-up but playing the same incarnation as Pratt) succeeds in renewing himself by taking over the body of the Trakenite scientist named Tremas (an anagram of "Master"), overwriting Tremas's mind in the process. Now played by Anthony Ainley, the Master appeared on and off for the rest of the series, still seeking to extend his life – preferably with a new set of regenerations. Subsequently in The Five Doctors, the Time Lords offer the Master a new regeneration cycle in exchange for his help.
In many of his appearances opposite the Fifth Doctor, the Master shows his penchant for disguise once again, on one occasion operating under concealment for no clear plot reason. The character's association with playful pseudonyms also continued both within the series and in its publicity: when the production team wished to hide the Master's involvement in a story, they credited the character under an anagrammatic alias such as "Neil Toynay" (Tony Ainley) or "James Stoker" (Master's Joke).
Ainley's final appearance in the role, in Survival, was more restrained. He was also given a more downbeat costume, reminiscent of the suits and ties worn by Delgado's Master. In this final story, he had been trapped on the planet of the Cheetah People and been affected by its influence, which drove its victims to savagery. Escaping the doomed planet, he attempted to kill the Doctor, a plan which left him trapped back on the planet as it was destroyed.
The Master appeared in the 1996 Doctor Who television movie that starred Paul McGann as the Eighth Doctor. In the prologue, the Master (seen for about a second, portrayed by Gordon Tipple) was executed by the Daleks as a punishment for his "evil crimes". It has been suggested that Tipple may have been portraying the same incarnation of the Master as Ainley did. (Alternatively, the 1994 Doctor Who novel First Frontier gave the Master a new body, which some fans subsequently hypothesized was the one seen here; see Novels below.) Most novelisations and comics published around the same time as the release of the movie are written from the perspective that it is Ainley's Master, but the movie leaves the question open.
The Master survives his execution by taking on the form of a small, snake-like entity. This entity escapes and slithers inside the Doctor's TARDIS console, forcing the vessel to crash land in San Francisco.
The novelisation of the television movie by Gary Russell posits that the modifications and alterations that the Master has made to his body over the years in attempts to extend his lifespan had allowed this continued existence, and the implication is that the "morphant" creature is actually another lifeform that the Master's consciousness possesses. This interpretation is made explicit in the first of the Eighth Doctor Adventures novels, The Eight Doctors by Terrance Dicks, and also used in the Doctor Who Magazine comic strip story The Fallen (DWM #273-#276), which states that the morphant was a shape-shifting animal native to Skaro.
The morphant form is unsustainable and requires a human host, and it possesses the body of Bruce, a paramedic (played by Eric Roberts). However, Bruce's body is also unsustainable and begins to slowly degenerate, although he has the added ability to spit an acid-like bile as a weapon. The Master attempts to access the Eye of Harmony to steal the Doctor's remaining regenerations, but instead is sucked into it.
Upon acquiring his new body, the Master dons a leather trenchcoat and aviator glasses (although he later swaps them for ceremonial Time Lord robes).
When Doctor Who was revived in 2005, it was initially claimed in the episode "Dalek" that all the Time Lords except the Doctor were killed in a Time War with the Daleks. The Doctor stated that if other Time Lords had survived, he would have been able to sense them. However the Master's return is foreshadowed in "Gridlock", when the Face of Boe gives the Tenth Doctor a message before dying: "You are not alone."
In "The Sound of Drums", it is revealed that the Time Lords resurrected the Master to serve as the ultimate front line soldier in the Time War. However, after the Dalek Emperor took control of "The Cruciform", he fled the war in fear, ignorant of its outcome. He disguised himself as a human via the same process the Doctor himself used in "Human Nature" – a Chameleon Arch that stores his Time Lord nature and memories in a fob watch and allows him to become biologically human – and hid at the end of the universe as the benevolent scientist, Professor Yana (portrayed by Sir Derek Jacobi).
The Doctor meets this human incarnation in "Utopia", and Martha Jones inadvertently causes Yana to focus on the "broken" fob watch that contains his Time Lord essence, which calls on him to open it, using the voice and sounds of his former selves. He opens the watch and becomes the Master again, in a scene that makes clear that YANA is an acronym for the Face of Boe's last words- "You Are Not Alone". In the episode, "Yana", prior to regaining his prior persona, claims to have been found with the fob watch as a child; however "Human Nature" establishes that the chameleon arch implants false memories. Chantho does, however, confirm that she has worked with "Professor Yana" for 17 years, suggesting the Master maintained that disguise for at least that long.
The Master is mortally wounded when Chantho shoots him, regenerating into a new incarnation portrayed by John Simm. The Master then steals the Doctor's TARDIS and escapes, though at the last second the Doctor configures the TARDIS using his sonic screwdriver so that the Master is only able to travel between present-day Earth and the year 100 Trillion.
Following his escape from the end of the universe, he arrives in the United Kingdom 18 months before the 2008 election, prior to the fall of Harriet Jones. The Master assumes the identity Harold Saxon, becoming a high-ranking minister at the Ministry of Defence. During this period, he sets up the Archangel communications network, which allows him to influence humanity via telepathic field, enabling him to rise to the office of Prime Minister.
After becoming Prime Minister, the Master uses the invading Toclafane as allies, killing one tenth of the population and rules the Earth for a year, while he turns whole nations into work-camps and bases for a fleet of war rockets. Just as he is ready to wage war on the rest of the universe, the Doctor is restored to strength by the efforts of Martha Jones, using the Archangel network. The Doctor intends to keep the Master with him on the TARDIS; this plan is thwarted when the Master is shot by his wife Lucy Saxon. The Master then dies after refusing to regenerate, unwilling to be the Doctor's prisoner. Since his death emotionally hurts the Doctor, the Master views this as a victory.
The Doctor then cremates him on a pyre. A female hand with long, bright red fingernails, sarcastically referred to in the accompanying podcast as "the hand of the Rani", picks up the Master's ring from the remains of the pyre, while the sound of the Master's insane laughter rings in the background. Russell T Davies stated on the episode's podcast that the current production team had no intention of bringing the Master back, but the scene was included to keep the possibility open for future producers.
Both the Doctor and the Master have been shown to be skilled hypnotists, although the Master's capacity to dominate – even by stare and voice alone – has been shown to be far more pronounced. In Logopolis the Doctor said of the Master, "He's a Time Lord. In many ways, we have the same mind". The significance of this comment is that the Master can anticipate the Doctor's every move. This is seen in stories like Castrovalva, The Keeper of Traken, Time-Flight, and The King's Demons, where he plans elaborate traps for the Doctor, only revealing his presence at the key moment. In The Deadly Assassin, the Master was able to send a false premonition as a telepathic message to the Doctor, but it is unclear whether he performed this through innate psychic ability, or was aided technologically. In Utopia after the Master regenerates and reveals himself, he taunts the Doctor to try and stop his elaborate schemes again.
By the time of the new series, it is unclear whether any of the Master's TARDISes still exist. In "Rise of the Cybermen", the Tenth Doctor claims that his TARDIS is the last one in existence although at the time of his saying this, he also thought he was the last Time Lord. In "Utopia", the Master resorts to stealing the Doctor's TARDIS, with no explanation of how he travelled from the Time War to the end of the universe.
The Master's original weapon of choice was the "tissue compression eliminator", which shrinks its target to doll-like proportions, killing them in the process. Its appearance is similar to that of the Doctor's favourite tool, the sonic screwdriver. Both the tissue compression eliminator and the sonic screwdriver resemble a short hand-held rod; at different times in the series, both tools have had an LED on the end to signal its use. As an additional signal to its use, the ball-like shape on the end of the tissue compression eliminator opens up, while the LED lights up (in later appearances it also fired a beam of red light).
Despite his own fondness for the weapon, Russell T Davies decided against bringing it back for the Master's reappearance in "The Sound of Drums", on the grounds that the Master had too many new "tricks" to use against the Doctor.
During the course of "The Sound of Drums", the Master unveils a new handheld weapon: a laser screwdriver. The Master mocks the Doctor by saying, "Laser screwdriver. Who'd have sonic?" The device functions as a powerful laser weapon, capable of killing with a single shot. It also carries the ability to age victims rapidly (provided the device has a blueprint of the victim's biological data, the Doctor's severed hand from The Christmas Invasion, in this case) using a condensed version of the genetic manipulator developed by Professor Lazarus ("The Lazarus Experiment"). The screwdriver itself also contains isomorphic technology, a biometric security feature which effectively disables use of the device by anyone other than the Master.
In the 1996 television movie, Chang Lee helps the Master because he has been duped into believing that the Doctor had stolen his body. However, when Lee's loyalty begins to falter, the Master kills him without hesitation. In promotional media surrounding the movie, Lee is depicted more as a companion to the Eighth Doctor (alongside Grace Holloway).
In "Utopia", Chantho plays a similar companion role to the Professor Yana persona. Chantho states that she has been with him for 17 years as a "devoted assistant", exhibiting the manner of one-way relationship as commented upon by the characters of Captain Jack and Martha. Later, when the Master persona resurfaces, he berates her for never freeing him from his confinement, with the two fatally wounding one another, resulting in the Master's regeneration.
In "The Sound of Drums", the Master, as Harold Saxon, is married to Lucy Saxon, to whom he refers at one point as his "faithful companion". Lucy is aware of the nature of the Master's plans yet is still loyal to him. She has traveled with him to Utopia or the end of the universe and thus believes "there's no point to anything." There appears to be a non-platonic relation between the Master and Lucy; they kiss quite often and it seems as though their marriage is more than just a pretence. Lucy comments, "I made my choice; for better or for worse." In "Last of the Time Lords" she is still present, but showing signs of apparent physical abuse, and her loyalty towards him begins to waver. She ends up shooting and killing him in the climax of the story.
One of the most notable of these other appearances is David A. McIntee's "Master trilogy" of novels comprising The Dark Path and First Frontier in the Virgin Publishing lines and The Face of the Enemy for BBC Books, and the Doctor Who audio dramas produced by Big Finish Productions, in which Geoffrey Beevers has reprised the role.
The Master's past with the Doctor is explored somewhat in The Dark Path, which reveals that his name prior to taking the alias of the Master is Koschei. He turns evil and becomes the Master after he discovers that his companion and lover, Ailla, is an undercover agent of the Celestial Intervention Agency sent to spy on him.
During the course of the novel, Ailla is shot and killed. Not knowing she is a Time Lord and that she will simply regenerate, Koschei completes a time-based weapon in an attempt to bring her back and the weapon is used to destroy the planet Teriliptus and its inhabitants. When Ailla turns up alive, the knowledge that he has destroyed a planet for nothing, coupled with the revelation of Ailla's betrayal, proves too much. Koschei resolves to bring his own order to the universe at the expense of free will and becoming its Master. Trapped in a black hole at the end of the novel, it is left uncertain how he will escape.
The Face of the Enemy centres around the Delgado-era Master, but includes a cameo by a Koschei from an alternate timeline (originally featured in Inferno) who never became the Master. This version of Koschei is still a loyal Time Lord who becomes stranded on the alternate Earth after an alien attack. He is subsequently captured and forced to work for the fascist rulers of this Earth, who keep him alive, in agony, using life support systems. When the Master, crossing over from the other universe, learns of this, he ends his counterpart's life in a show of compassion.
Last of the Gaderene by Mark Gatiss and Deadly Reunion by Terrance Dicks and Barry Letts are both close homages to the Delgado/Pertwee stories. In the former, the Master, disguised as Police Inspector LeMaitre, assists an alien race called the Gaderene to invade Earth, starting with a small village. In the latter, he attempts to control powerful forces through a cult, but finds himself at the mercy of a godlike alien.
The reason the Master is so emaciated when he appears in The Deadly Assassin is explored in John Peel's novel Legacy of the Daleks, in which he attempts to capture the Doctor's granddaughter Susan Foreman, but is badly burned when she attacks him in self-defence and takes possession of his TARDIS. After Susan escapes, the dying Master is eventually found by Chancellor Goth on the planet Tersurus, which leads directly into the events of The Deadly Assassin.
The Ainley-era Master appears in the novel The Quantum Archangel by Craig Hinton, a direct sequel to The Time Monster. In this novel he poses as a Serbian businessman called Gospodar, prompting the Sixth Doctor to wonder if he's "running out of languages".
First Frontier shows the Master (apparently the Ainley version) finally acquiring a new body, who according to McIntee is based on the cinema persona of Basil Rathbone. This incarnation reappears in Happy Endings by Paul Cornell, Virgin Publishing's celebratory fiftieth Virgin New Adventures novel. After the broadcast of the television movie, some fans suggested that this is the incarnation briefly played by Gordon Tipple in the prologue, eventually succumbing once again to the cheetah virus in the first Eighth Doctor novel The Eight Doctors.
Prior to the end of the Virgin Missing Adventures series, the Delgado version of The Master appeared in the novel Who Killed Kennedy which, while published by Virgin, was not considered part of the Missing Adventures series.
The short story Stop The Pigeon, and the Past Doctor Adventure Prime Time, both by Robert Perry and Mike Tucker and probably set before First Frontier, feature the Ainley Master looking for a cure for the Cheetah virus.
Gallifrey and the Time Lords are destroyed in the Eighth Doctor Adventures novel The Ancestor Cell, but in The Adventuress of Henrietta Street a mysterious stranger wearing a rosette appears who could have been the Master, somehow surviving the cataclysm. Gallifrey's destruction here is not related to its subsequent destruction just prior to the new series (see Time Lord - Recent history). In Lance Parkin's The Gallifrey Chronicles, a surviving Time Lord named Marnal appears, and it is implied in dialogue that he may have been the Master's father. In the same novel (and earlier, in Sometime Never...), the Doctor talks with a malign entity within the TARDIS's Eye of Harmony, which could have been the Roberts Master, throwing the true identity of the Man with the Rosette into doubt. However, the entity within the Eye refers to itself as an "echo", thus leaving scope for the real Master to be elsewhere. (In his Doctor Who chronology book AHistory, Parkin suggests that Lawrence Miles intended the Man with the Rosette to be the Master, even if it was not explicitly stated.)
The Master is seen to escape the Eye of Harmony in the short story Forgotten by Joseph Lidster, published in Short Trips: The Centenarian. The story ends with him left in 1906 in possession of a human male's body.
Another version of the Master appears in The Infinity Doctors (also by Parkin), where he is known as the Magistrate and is, once again, the Doctor's friend, although when this takes place in continuity is unclear. Parkin, however, has stated that the novel can fit into continuity and that its incarnation of the Master is based on Richard E. Grant.
During the Faction Paradox arc that runs through the Eighth Doctor Adventures, a character known as the War King is featured which is implied to be a future incarnation of the Master. The character is also referenced in The Book of the War, published by Mad Norwegian Press when the Faction Paradox stories spun-off into their own continuity.
In Character Assassin (DWM 311), the Delgado Master visits the Land of Fiction and steals part of the technology behind it, wiping out several nineteenth century fictional villains as he goes. He can also be seen in the following comic strips set during the Pertwee era:
In the later Master, it is revealed that while the Seventh Doctor is Time's Champion, the Master is Death's. This is a result of an incident in their youth, where the Doctor gave his childhood friend over to Death (personified as a woman) rather than become its slave himself, creating the Master. The Master forgives the Doctor for this, understanding that he did not foresee the consequences, but the end of the play implies that the Master will once again become Death's servant.
An out-of-continuity Master is heard in the Big Finish audio play Sympathy for the Devil, voiced by Mark Gatiss. In this alternate version of events, the Third Doctor does not arrive for his exile on Earth until 1997 and the Master has been trapped on the planet while a series of extraterrestrial disasters occurred over the decades without the Doctor's help to stop them.
Eric Saward included the Anthony Ainley version in his short story, Birth of a Renegade, in the Doctor Who 20th Anniversary Special one-off magazine, published by Radio Times (and in the United States by Starlog Press) in 1983. The Master was also played by Jonathan Pryce in the Comic Relief skit Doctor Who and the Curse of Fatal Death. In 2003, an android version of the character (resembling the Delgado Master and voiced by Derek Jacobi) appeared in the animated webcast, Scream of the Shalka. He also appears, with the "Shalka Doctor" (Richard E. Grant in the webcast), in a follow-up short story by Cavan Scott and Mark Wright, The Feast of the Stone. This Master is created by the Doctor and is apparently once again his friend – albeit a slightly sinister one. Exactly why the Doctor created an android duplicate of the Master is not revealed, but it is suggested that the Doctor somehow extended the Master's own life by doing so. The android is also able to pilot the Doctor's TARDIS, but is physically unable to leave the ship, perhaps as a safeguard. It can also be switched off.