A Brief History of the Master

Throughout the 26 seasons of Doctor Who shown on the BBC between 1963 and 1989, the Doctor faced many fearsome foes, but his most implacable nemesis was undoubtedly the Master. Introduced during the eighth season in 1971, the Master was another renegade time-traveler from the Doctor’s own race, but unlike the Doctor, he journeyed through time and space seeking personal power. The two Time Lords would cross swords repeatedly through the rest of the series’ run. Since the character was used in so many stories by so many different writers, he developed a rich and complex continuity, which I have here attempted to lay out in a simple, straightforward narrative. In doing so, the links between the Master’s various appearances become much clearer, and many of his behind-the-scenes activities stand revealed.

I do not consider any of the numerous Doctor Who novels to be canonical, nor do I accept any film or television versions not originally shown on the BBC or not made as part of the original series production schedule. Therefore, this history is based purely on the episodes of the original television series.

Any conflicting accounts of the history of the Master are therefore non-canonical and speculative.


The man who would one day call himself THE MASTER was born a Time Lord on the planet Gallifrey.1 From an early age, he proved himself to be extremely brilliant, a genius in mathematics.2 However, he was a restless and disaffected youth, with a vague feeling that some great destiny awaited him. Eventually, the young Master enrolled in the Pyrdon Academy of Time and met another young Time Lord, one who would eventually call himself the Doctor.3 The Master came to regard the Doctor as a good friend, as they shared many of their political views, particularly regarding the policies of the High Council of the Time Lords towards the affairs of other planets.4 The two friends also got to know a zealous neurochemistry student who would one day adopt the title of the Rani, although she wanted little to do with either of them.5 The Master and the Doctor enjoyed something of a friendly rivalry as regarded their studies, each trying to outdo the other while granting a grudging admiration for the other’s talent and intelligence. The Doctor, however, proved to be less than dedicated, and the Master’s degree in cosmic science was ultimately higher than the Doctor’s,6 who managed to scrape through with 51% on the second attempt.7

Following graduation from the Academy, the Doctor and the Master remained best friends, and both became active in Time Lord politics, attempting to change the system from the inside. For instance, the Doctor lobbied so hard for a complete ban on miniscopes, which he felt were an offense against the dignity of sentient life forms, that the High Council took action to have them all destroyed.8 The Master was perhaps less successful with his own agenda, and his disaffection grew. Then a crisis arose when the sitting Lord President of the High Council decided to use the dreaded weapon called the Hand of Omega to prevent any other civilization from developing time-travel technology, and thus pose a potential threat to the dominion of the Time Lords of Gallifrey. Both the Doctor and the Master were well aware of the terrible events that followed the discovery of the fabled Hand of Omega by the great criminal Salyavin, which occurred some time before they were born.9 Salyavin had been defeated and imprisoned by High Council President Morbius, but possession of the fearsome device corrupted him, and a great civil war ensued, at the end of which Morbius was executed.10 Determined not to allow such terrible events to occur again, the two friends decided to take decisive action.

The Master and the Doctor hatched a plan to steal the Hand of Omega and hide it away forever. They were successful in gaining possession of the device, but at the critical moment, the Master’s lifetime of dissatisfaction and malcontentment suddenly crystallized, for he realized that they could use the Hand of Omega to rule the universe. Then, surely, they could realize all the noble goals that Time Lord politics had prevented them from achieving.11 However, feeling his friend had betrayed him, the Doctor resolved to hide the weapon himself, and the two allies turned on each other. The Doctor stole an obsolete Type 40 time capsule and took the Hand of Omega away from Gallifrey,12 accompanied by a young girl who would eventually name herself Susan.13 The Master was apprehended and imprisoned by the Time Lords, who relentlessly pursued the Doctor through time and space. However, the Master soon made good his escape as well, vowing revenge on the Doctor and the Time Lords and intent on gaining the ultimate power that was nearly his. The Master also stole a time capsule, although in a bit more clandestine way than the Doctor had managed, and was even able to destroy all record of his existence from the Matrix, the Time Lords’ organic supercomputer.14 Renaming himself the Master, he then set off on a campaign of acquisition and conquest throughout time and space.

The Master’s activities and whereabouts for the next few centuries remain shrouded in mystery, but he used the time to develop his mental powers to such an extent that he could easily exert his will over weaker minds, and make even world leaders his puppets. He also developed or discovered technological means to accomplish similar ends, as well as his weapon of choice, the tissue-compression eliminator. The Master also cultivated a chameleon-like ability to blend into any society using forged credentials and his own natural charm. The Master considered himself a gentleman, whose ambition was wholly justified by his innate talent and vision of a cosmos united under his autocratic leadership, and he came to believe that any means necessary to accomplishing his goal were therefore acceptable. However, the Master evidently led a grueling existence, for he was forced to use up the remainder of his regenerations in a relatively short time.15 With each regeneration, he became more desperate to achieve his destiny, and more unscrupulous in his actions.

Eventually, the Master learned that his old adversary the Doctor had been tried by the Time Lord Tribunal and sentenced to exile on the planet Earth, a world the Doctor had developed a strong affinity for.16 The Master thus traveled to Earth and began an experiment under the guise of Professor Emil Keller. He installed a machine in Stangmoor prison that actually contained a living creature that fed off the mental energy of human beings.17 Some time later, the Master formed an alliance with the energy-based beings called the Nestenes, who were attempting a second invasion of the Earth, the first having been foiled by the Doctor. The Master thus infiltrated the Beacon Hill radio telescope facility as well as seeing to the production of a new generation of Autons. With the help of the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce (UNIT), the Doctor was able to foil the invasion as well as strand the Master on Earth by stealing the dematerialization circuit from his time capsule.18 Not to be outdone, the Master resumed his experiment with the Keller machine, using it as part of a complicated plot to cause a full-scale nuclear war, intending to set himself up as ruler of the devastated world. He struck a bargain with the Doctor, agreeing to hand over the nuclear warhead he had hijacked in return for his dematerialization circuit. Although the Doctor attempted to double-cross him, the Master retrieved his component and left Earth, but not before gloating over the Doctor’s exile.19 Unfortunately, the Master’s time capsule was captured by a giant space-borne parasite called Axos, which brought the Master back to Earth. Although they had made a deal, the Master was unwilling to trust Axos to release his ship to him, and so he tricked UNIT into giving him access to the Doctor’s ship, which the Doctor insists on calling the TARDIS. The Doctor offered to form an alliance with the Master so that they might both escape Earth before Axos destroyed it. However, this too was a trick, for once the TARDIS was operational, the Doctor used it to hurl Axos into an inescapable time-loop. The Master regained his own time ship and again managed to escape the Earth’s authorities.20

The Master then raided the Time Lords’ vast information files, in which he discovered a report on a doomsday weapon created by the inhabitants of the planet Uxarieus, which could cause stars to detonate from long distance. He traveled there only to have his plans ruined by the Doctor, who was acting at the behest of the Time Lord Tribunal.21 The Tribunal was aware of the Master’s activities, but they seemed to operate in secret, considering that the High Council would later claim total ignorance of the Master’s existence. He returned to Earth intending to gain control of the powerful forces of the Dæmons, alien scientists who had been manipulating humanity since prehistoric times.22 Despite a great deal of careful preparation, the Master’s plan was again foiled by the Doctor and UNIT, who even managed to capture the Master and put him in a specially prepared prison, where he spent many long and boring months. However, he had also learned from the Time Lords’ files of a race of aquatic sentient reptiles who were about to try to reclaim the Earth. He planned to ally himself with these “Sea Devils” against the human race, but they double-crossed him, forcing him to cooperate with the Doctor. However, it allowed the Master to escape back to his time ship.23

Another scheme brought him to Earth again, though, disguised as a Greek physicist who had invented a primitive transporter device. Its true purpose was to give the Master control of Kronos, one of the Chronovores that inhabit the time vortex. Despite the Doctor’s interference, the Master unleashed Kronos on ancient Atlantis, bringing about its destruction. The Doctor was finally able to free Kronos from the Master’s control, but the Master managed to escape yet again.24

Some time later, the Master formed an alliance with the Daleks, agreeing to help them invade the Milky Way galaxy in exchange for dominion over the planet Earth, although he actually intended to double-cross the Daleks and seize total power for himself. Employing some Ogron henchmen, the Master set about starting a war between the Earth and Draconian space empires. Unfortunately, his plans were once again upset by the Doctor, now free from his exile. His scheme collapsing, the Master wounded the Doctor with a ray gun and escaped in his time capsule.25

Not long after, the Master reached the end of his 12th and final regeneration. Unwilling to let his life come to an end without accomplishing his goals, he attempted to regenerate again, but the process decimated his body, leaving him looking like a warmed-over corpse. It was only his burning hatred of his own people that allowed him to survive in this pain-ravaged state. He also realized that his only hope for survival was to usurp the energies of the Eye of Harmony, a stabilized black hole created by Rassilon, which provided the Time Lords with all their power. But to do that, he must return to Gallifrey. He made a deal with an ambitious member of the High Council, Chancellor Goth, in which the Master would arrange for Goth to become President if Goth gave him passage through the transduction barrier that protected the planet. Goth had underestimated the Master’s mind-control powers, though, and became a puppet in a scheme of presidential assassination. Hoping to frame the Doctor for the crime, the Master sent him an urgent summons home. When the Matrix then generated a prediction of the impending assassination, the Master intercepted it and beamed it into the Doctor’s mind while he was en route to Gallifrey. The assassination was successful, and the Doctor was saved from execution only by a legal loophole, which gave him time to prove that Goth and the Master were behind the plot to kill the President. Goth was killed and the Master played dead as well, in order to be placed inside the Panopticon Vault, where the President’s body now lay in state. Reviving himself, the Master took from the President’s body the Sash of Rassilon and went to find the Great Key, a sort of ceremonial scepter. These relics, however, were actually powerful tools that allowed the user to use the Eye of Harmony. The Doctor managed to stop the Master before his tampering destroyed their entire stellar system, but not before he had unleashed earthquakes and destruction that left half the Capitol in ruins and caused untold damage and the loss of countless lives. Although he was apparently killed, the Sash of Rassilon enabled the Master to convert just enough power to continue in his current state of existence and escape in his time capsule.26 Now reminded of the Master and the danger he posed, the Time Lord authorities would keep a closer eye on him in the future, but they apparently had their own reasons for allowing renegades like the Master and the Doctor to roam the universe.27

Quite some time later, the Master formed a plan to usurp the awesome power of the Keeper of Traken. He arrived in the capitol city of the Empire of Traken, and his time ship disguised itself as a statue called the Melkur. From this base, the Master was able to exert his evil influence over a member of the ruling council, Kassia. The Doctor arrived, brought there by the dying Keeper, and he befriended Kassia’s husband, Consul Tremas. The Master’s plan was partially successful, and he briefly assumed the power of the keepership, which was enough to enable him to commandeer the body of Consul Tremas and refashion it to more closely resemble his old self.28 Escaping from Traken in his new body, the Master sprung a series of traps on the Doctor, who was now traveling with the orphaned daughter of Tremas, Nyssa. When the Doctor foiled the Master’s attempt to gain control of the reality-altering mathematics of the inhabitants of Logopolis, the Master caused the Doctor to plummet from atop the radio telescope at Earth’s Pharos Project, which forced the Doctor to regenerate.29 While he was recovering inside the TARDIS, the Master kidnapped his young friend Adric and replaced him with a duplicate created by the Logopolitan’s block transfer computation process, which Adric’s mathematical prowess made possible. It also created the incomprehensible city of Castrovalva as a further trap for the Doctor, but it was ultimately the Master who became trapped when the local space folded in on itself.30

Somehow, the Master escaped this fate, but eventually found himself stranded on prehistoric Earth, the dynamorphic generator aboard his time capsule exhausted. He discovered the gestalt form of a group of Xeraphin colonists, who merged to save themselves from radiation sickness. Planning to use their powers to repair his time ship, the Master first cannibalized his ship to create a time corridor that brought a couple of Concorde aircraft back from the future. Aboard the second Concorde was the Doctor, and the Master used components from his TARDIS as well. However, the Doctor was able to trick the Master, leaving him stranded on the distant planet of Xeriphas.31 On this world, the Master discovered a shape-changing android called Kamelion, which apparently enabled him to repair his time ship and resume his campaigns. The Master began using Kamelion’s abilities to undermine key civilizations in order to set himself up as ruler of the resulting chaos. However, the Doctor turned up once again, stole the android, and sent the Master’s time ship out of control.32

The Master was rescued by none other than the High Council of the Time Lords, who offered him a new life-cycle, a full set of 12 regenerations, if he would agree to rescue the Doctor from the Death Zone, a vast wilderness on Gallifrey used in the days of Rassilon as a sort of gladiatorial arena. The Master encountered several of the Doctor’s incarnations, but the Doctor seemed to have difficulty recognizing him in his Trakenite body. Regardless, none of the Doctors trusted him enough to let him help, so the Master went off on his own, forming a convenient alliance with some Cybermen until he was able to destroy them within the Tomb of Rassilon at the center of the Death Zone. Once inside the inner sanctum, the Master claimed the prize of immortality as his own, only to be knocked out by Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. Lord President Borusa, who was the mastermind of the entire operation, then claimed immortality, only to discover it was a trap set long ago by Rassilon himself, whose image appeared over his sarcophagus and teleported the Master back to his time ship. From there the Master made good his escape.33

While experimenting with his tissue-compression eliminator, the Master had an accident that left him miniaturized. He was able to construct a makeshift control room scaled down to his current size, which he used to reassert control over the android Kamelion, still stored aboard the Doctor’s TARDIS. With Kamelion’s help, the Master traveled to the planet Sarn, where the healing properties of numismaton gas restored him to his normal size, despite the interference of the Doctor and his friends. Something went wrong, however, and the Master appeared to be consumed by the numismaton flames, but in fact he lived to fight another day.34

Subsequently, the Master tracked down the Rani, an acquaintance from the Time Lord Academy who had also left Gallifrey to set herself up as ruler of the planet Miasimia Goria. Needing a special chemical found only in earthlings, the Rani had traveled to 19th century Earth, to a small mining village near Killingworth, England, and it was there that the Master found her. He decided that he could use her scheme to help him become ruler of the Earth, although the Rani proved unwilling to cooperate. The Doctor turned up also and sabotaged the Rani’s time ship, sending it out of control with she and the Master trapped on board with some rapidly growing dinosaurs. The Master’s own time capsule was apparently abandoned outside the mining village, disguised by its chameleon circuit.35

Somehow, the Master was able to return to Gallifrey and once again infiltrate the Matrix. While there, he uncovered shocking information as to the secret activities of the High Council of the Time Lords. Upon discovering that a race called the Andromedans were hacking data from the Matrix from a secret base on Earth, the High Council ordered that a device called the Magnetron be used to move the Earth to another part of the galaxy. Intent on gaining the stolen data for himself but unable to act independently, the Master hired an intergalactic highwayman named Sabalom Glitz to recover the files from the relocated Earth. Afraid that the meddlesome Doctor would uncover these and more of their secrets, the High Council rigged a trial that would finally put the Doctor out of the way. The Master decided there was more to be gained from exposing the High Council’s conspiracy than from letting the Doctor be executed, and he intervened. Once the scandal was revealed, insurrection broke out on Gallifrey and the High Council was deposed. However, both the Master and Glitz became trapped in the Matrix, awaiting justice from the new Time Lord government.36

The Master was exiled to the unnamed planet of the Cheetah People, and was stranded there when he next encountered the Doctor. The strange energies of the planet infected the bodies of its inhabitants, causing a feline mutation to slowly transform them into Cheetah People. While there, he discovered traces of a lost civilization that had bred a species of kitlings, small cat-like creatures that possessed the power of teleportation. Establishing a mind-link with these creatures, the Master used them to bring the Doctor to the doomed planet, certain that his clever adversary would find a means of escape for both of them. The Doctor did, indeed, and the Master found himself back on Earth, but the mutation continued to transform his body and affect his mind. As he succumbed to the transformation, the Master developed the power of teleportation as well, and used it to transport himself and the Doctor back to the disintegrating planet for their final battle. The Doctor refused to fight, however, and as the planet broke up, he was transported back to the TARDIS in a blinding flash.37 It is conceivable that the Master was likewise transported to his “home,” his time capsule, sitting derelict near Killingworth for a century. At which point, he undoubtedly made it operational again and dematerialized, the power of tooth and claw still growing within him.


1 8.1 “Terror of the Autons.”
2 14.3 “The Deadly Assassin.”
3 8.1 “Terror of the Autons.”
4 9.3 “The Sea Devils.”
5 24.1 “Time and the Rani.”
6 8.1 “Terror of the Autons.”
7 16.1 “The Ribos Operation.”
8 10.2 “Carnival of Monsters.”
9 17.6 “Shada.”
10 13.5 “The Brain of Morbius.”
11 8.4 “Colony in Space.”
12 25.1 “Remembrance of the Daleks.”
13 1.1 “An Unearthly Child.”
14 14.3 “The Deadly Assassin.”
15 ibid.
16 6.7 “The War Games.”
17 8.2 “The Mind of Evil.”
18 8.1 “Terror of the Autons.”
19 8.2 “The Mind of Evil.”
20 8.3 “The Claws of Axos.”
21 8.4 “Colony in Space.”
22 8.5 “The Dæmons.”
23 9.3 “The Sea Devils.”
24 9.5 “The Time Monster.”
25 10.3 “Frontier in Space.”
26 14.3 “The Deadly Assassin.”
27 20.7 “The Five Doctors.”
28 18.6 “The Keeper of Traken.”
29 18.7 “Logopolis.”
30 19.1 “Castrovalva.”
31 19.7 “Time-Flight.”
32 20.6 “The King’s Demons.”
33 20.7 “The Five Doctors.”
34 21.5 “Planet of Fire.”
35 22.3 “The Mark of the Rani.”
36 23.4 “The Ultimate Foe.”
37 26.4 “Survival.”

Next: The TARDIS Owner’s Manual

1 comment:

Tony said...

In the Tenth Doctor finale, “The End of Time” (Christmas 2009), the Master reminisces about his early childhood on Gallifrey, spent playing in the fields of red grass on his father’s estates on the slopes of Mount Perdition. He also suggests that he knew the Doctor even then, as a playmate.