The Master: Every actor who's played the legendary Doctor Who villain

The Master
The Master as played by John Simm.

The Master is one of Doctor Who’s most iconic enemies. Ever since his debut opposite the Third Doctor, they've been just as feared a foe as the Daleks or the Cybermen.

The rogue Time Lord has truly established themself as one of the Doctor’s archnemeses. Over the years, they've repeatedly cropped paths with our heroic time traveler, most recently during the 13th Doctor's (Jodie Whittaker) era.

Before they became one of the show's most well-known threats, the Master was actually a friend of the Doctor on Gallifrey. However, the Master’s continued disregard for “lesser” alien races and constant desire for power drove a wedge between them, leading to the strained relationship they share now.

And since they're also a Time Lord, they've also got the ability to cheat death and regenerate, which is exactly why so many people have managed to embody the character over the years.

Whilst we don't know whether the Master will be crossing paths with the 14th Doctor in the Doctor Who 60th-anniversary specials, it's a sure bet that they'll find their way back to the franchise in the near future. After all, the character has contributed to some of Doctor Who's greatest moments, so they're bound to be back soon. Perhaps we'll see them appear in Doctor Who season 14, opposite the 15th Doctor?

How many actors have played the Master?

So far, 9 actors have played the Master in Doctor Who. Outside of the TV series, The Master has also been played by 8 additional actors in other media from the world of Doctor Who.

9. Sacha Dhawan (2020-)

The Master - Sacha Dhawan

Sacha Dhawan is the most recent incarnation of The Master. He was 36 when he first joined the show, making him the youngest actor to play the role so far.

He came into contact with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor in series 12. He first appeared in "Spyfall", where he assumed the identity of ‘O’, an ally of the Doctor who worked at MI6.

This Master is particularly notable for being the one who discovered the whole “Timeless Child” plot to the Doctor. In summary, this huge revelation saw us learn that Tecteun, one of the Founding Fathers of Gallifrey, had actually extracted the regenerative code from a being known as the "Timeless Child" (revealed to be the Doctor), enabling the members of the Time Lords species to regenerate. 

In our 2020 interview with Sacha Dhawan, he said his favorite part about being the Master was his 'range' as a character. Dhawan said: “The key thing is that he has much more range in terms of being pleasant, playful and funny and really dark, even tortured.”

Dhawan reprised the role for the BBC Centenary special, "The Power of the Doctor", wherein he formed an alliance with his Cybermaster and the Daleks and attempted to forcibly regenerate the Doctor into him so he could besmirch the Time Lord's name. Thankfully, the TARDIS fam thwarted these plans and reversed the regeneration.

As you'd expect, the Doctor managed to defeat the Spy Master after all. They were left in a weakened state after their confrontation, and forced to regenerate into the 14th Doctor after abandoning the Master on an imploding planet. When will the Master resurface next?

8. Michelle Gomez (2014-2017)

Missy (Michelle Gomez) and The Master (John Simm)

So far, Michelle Gomez is the only female actor to have portrayed the Master on-screen. She played “Missy” (short for “the Mistress”), the first female incarnation of the rogue Time Lord. 

Missy first appeared at the start of series 8, though her true nature as the female Master was not revealed until "Deep Water", the series' penultimate episode before becoming a key figure through the Twelfth Doctor's tenure. She also helped defeat a past version of herself. stabbing the Saxon Master (John Simm) quite literally in the back.

Disgusted by her change of heart, Simm’s Master shot Missy with a fatal laser blast from his own screwdriver. Missy’s death is presumed to be the end of the Master’s life, though they have escaped death before. Sadly, it's unlikely we'll be seeing Missy return to the show.

When we learned season 10 would be the last hurrah for Peter Capaldi, she said: "I don’t want to be Missy to anybody else’s doctor, so I’m off as well!

7. John Simm (2007-10, 2017)

The Master - John Simm

John Simm's Master has been one of the most important versions of the character in modern Doctor Who. First appearing opposite David Tennant's Tenth Doctor, the Saxon Master has been one of the most singularly evil we've seen so far.

After regenerating in ‘Utopia’, the TARDIS sends John Simm’s Master back to 2000’s Earth. He assumes Henry Saxon's identity, eventually becoming the Prime Minister. Saxon set about wiping out the population of Earth with the sinister Toclafane — floating cyborg spheres — and took over the planet.

Horrified by what he'd done and how poorly he treated her, his wife, Lucy, killed him. However, he'd planned ahead and was revived by the Disciples of Saxon in David Tennant’s final episodes, where he became instrumental in breaking the Time Lock that brought the Time Lords to Earth. When Tennant’s Doctor banished the Time Lords back through the Time Lock, the Master also disappeared back to their homeworld.

In his final appearance (so far), John Simm’s Master had his body properly restored and he escaped Gallifrey in a new TARDIS. Then, he crashed onto a Mondasian colony ship, where he killed civilians at his leisure. He also crossed paths with Missy and reminded them of their wicked ways, and the pair began to menace the Twelfth Doctor. 

However, unlike Missy, this Master was completely unmoved by Twelve's plea for help against the Cybermen, maintaining that he would never side with the Doctor. 

6. Derek Jacobi (2007)

The Master - Derek Jacobi

Derek Jacobi only played the Master once, appearing in the episode "Utopia". This episode saw Martha Jones and David Tennant’s Doctor journeying to the very end of the universe, where they encounter Professor Yana (Jacobi).

He'd been hiding from the Futurekind on the planet Malcassairo. As the Doctor and Yana discuss the TARDIS and time travel throughout the episode, the sound of drums and distant voices calls out to him. Martha recognized Yana’s pocket watch bore a striking resemblance to the same device the Tenth Doctor had used to turn himself human (the Chameleon Arch) during his encounter with the Family of Blood (which was itself one of the very best David Tennant Doctor Who stories).

After opening his pocket watch, Yana remembered that he was the Doctor's enemy. Subsequently, he broke into the TARDIS and regenerated into the figure that would become the Saxon Master. 

Although Derek Jacobi's tenure in the role was short, it was still significant. It was both the first time the Master had appeared in modern Doctor Who, and his regeneration scene was also the first time we'd seen the Master properly regenerate on-screen.

5. Eric Roberts (1996)

Eric Roberts

Eric Roberts’ only appearance as the Master came in Doctor Who: The Movie opposite Paul McGann, the Eighth Doctor. He is currently the only American to have played the role.

The movie found the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) transporting the remains of the Master after the evil Time Lord was executed by the Daleks on Skaro. However, his remains came back to life and fled the TARDIS, fleeing as a snake-like creature that possessed the body of an ambulance driver called Bruce (Eric Roberts). 

In the ambulance, the Doctor is forced to regenerate after they are shot by a gang member chasing Chinese-American Chang Lee. Dr. Grace Holloway unwittingly inserted a cardiac probe into the Doctor whilst trying to save his life. Lee steals the Doctor’s possessions (including the TARDIS key), and Eric Roberts’ Master takes control of Lee’s mind.

Eric Roberts’ Master attempts to bring about the destruction of Earth by convincing Chang Lee to open the Eye of Harmony within the TARDIS, which threatens to tear the fabric of reality apart. Eventually, Paul McGann overcomes the Master, pushing him to his death inside the Eye of Harmony.

4. Anthony Ainley (1981-1986)

Anthony Ainley

Anthony Ainley was the second major actor to play the Master, after Roy Delgado. He featured opposite the Fourth (Tom Baker), Fifth (Peter Davison), Sixth (Colin Baker), and Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy). He first appeared briefly in ‘The Keeper of Traken’, after Geoffrey Beever’s aged Master took over the body of Tremas.

Ainley’s first proper appearance as the Master was in the ‘Logopolis’ storyline, in 1981. In this story, the Master tricked the Fourth Doctor into forming a temporary truce in order to stake his claim once again as a ruler of the universe.

His last appearance was in ‘Survival’ in 1989, the final, three-part story from the show's original run. The serial culminated with the Doctor almost killing his foe in a fit of rage, before abandoning the violent force of the Cheetah Planet and begging the Master to do the same. When he refuses, Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor abandons the Master, leaving him to die on the Cheetah Planet as it starts to break up.

3. Geoffrey Beevers (1981)

Geoffrey Beevers only played the Master once, opposite Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor. He appears in the classic serial, ‘The Keeper of Traken’. Beevers was the second actor to play the aged and disfigured version of the Master who had run out of regenerations. 

His aim was to take over the body of Tremas (Anthony Ainley), a scientist who was a key figure in the Traken Union. When Tremas went to investigate a grandfather clock that had seemingly appeared out of nowhere, he touched it and found he could no longer move. 

Then, Beevers’ Master appeared, and took over Tremas's body, restoring the Master to his new, younger form in the process.

2. Peter Pratt (1976)

Like Geoffrey Beevers, Peter Pratt also only appeared as the Master once, again opposite Tom Baker. 

He appeared in "The Deadly Assassin" in 1976. This serial saw the Master trying to mastermind a scheme to prolong his lifespan, seeking out the Eye of Harmony to restart his life cycle, even though using its power would destroy Gallifrey. Appearing in his new, dying form for the first time, he was willing to risk their homeworld solely to restore his youth.

This story was the first time we saw the Master in this withered form, similar to Beevers’ appearance five years later. The main difference was the addition of a rubber mask designed to sell the character at the end of his life. This mask had deteriorated by the time Beevers took the role. 

1. Roger Delgado (1971-73)

The Master - Roger Delgado

Roger Delgado was the first actor to ever play the Master, appearing opposite Jon Pertwee’s Third Doctor. His first story arc was “Terror of the Autons” in 1971, where the Doctor is visited by another Time Lord who warns him of the Master’s arrival on Earth. 

The Master lands on Earth in a working TARDIS (disguised as a horsebox). He steals a dormant Nestene energy unit from the National Space Museum and begins to use Autons (living plastic) to eradicate human life and put a stop to the Doctor.

Delgado's time on the show was meant to end in “The Final Game”, but the story was scrapped when Delgado tragically died in a car accident in 1973 whilst shooting the French mini-series Bell of Tibet.

Instead, Delgado’s final appearance as the Master was "Frontier in Space", where the Daleks employed him to start a war between the human race and the Draconians.

Who else played The Master?

  • Gordon Tipple played him briefly in the opening sequence of the 1996 movie. Only his silhouette was seen, and Tipple didn’t have any lines.
  • William Hughes played the child version of John Simm’s Master in the 2007 episode ‘The Sound of Drums’
  • Jonathan Pryce played the Master in the 1999 Comic Relief special ‘The Curse of Fatal Death’. This is a now non-canonical version of the Master, one who made friends with the Daleks after he fell in some sewers. He also sported two Dalek sensor bumps on his chest, which he insisted were etheric beam locators and not a pair of fake breasts, much to the Doctor's amusement!
  • Alex MacQueen, Mark Gatiss, Milo Parker, Jon Culshaw and James Dreyfus also all played a version of the character in some of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas.

Doctor Who continues with the 60th-anniversary specials on the BBC and on the series' new international home of Disney Plus this winter, followed by the 15th Doctor's debut in the Doctor Who Christmas Special 2023.

Past seasons of the show can be streamed on BBC iPlayer, and BritBox and Max. Having trouble tracking down your old favorites? Check out our guide explaining how to watch Doctor Who online.

Martin Shore
Staff Writer at

Martin is a Staff Writer with, where he produces a variety of articles focused on the latest and greatest films and TV shows. 

Some of his favorite shows are What We Do In The Shadows, Bridgerton, Gangs of London, The Witcher, Doctor Who, and Ghosts. When he’s not watching TV or at the movies, Martin’s probably still in front of a screen playing the latest video games, reading, or watching the NFL.