Skip to main content

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

The Master

The Master has taken many forms over the years...

The Master is one of Doctor Who’s most iconic enemies. Ever since their arrival in season 8 of classic Doctor Who, the Master has been just as important a villain as the Daleks or the Cybermen.

Next to those alien races, the Master really has become the Doctor’s archnemesis. They've cropped up again and again over as a constant threat both to the Doctor and to the universe as a whole. 

Before the Doctor stole their TARDIS and escaped, the Master was one of their friends on Gallifrey. However, the Master’s continued disregard for “lesser” alien races and constant desire for power drove a wedge between them, forcing them further and further apart. 

As the Master is a Time Lord, they also have the ability to regenerate, which is a convenient way of explaining why the character has been played by so many actors over the years.

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.

MORE: Doctor Who Season 13

9. Sacha Dhawan (2020-)

The Master - Sacha Dhawan

Sacha Dhawan is the most recent incarnation of The Master. At just 36, he is currently the youngest actor to play the role.

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

Dhawan’s incarnation of the Master is particularly notable for being the one who revealed the “Timeless Child” plot to the Doctor. This revelation appeared right at the end of Doctor Who Series 12, where we learned the Time Lords did not possess the ability to regenerate but stole it from an alien lifeform called the “timeless child” who was revealed to be the Doctor themself.

In our interview with Sacha Dhawan, he said his favourite part about being the Master was his range. 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.”

Given Sacha's identity was only just revealed in the most recent season, it's almost certain he will return in season 13!

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. She played “Missy” (short for “the Mistress”) who has one of the most complicated backstories so far.

Missy did not initially have any memory of her regeneration. She first appeared as a minor recurring character in Series 8. She was but become a key figure in series 9 and 10. In series 10, she eventually overcomes her evil urges and helps Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor to stop John Simm’s version of the Master, stabbing him 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 Who. First appearing opposite David Tennant's Tenth Doctor, John Simm's 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. He set about wiping out the population of Earth with the sinister Toclafane, floating cyborg spheres and takes the planet over as his own.

Horrified by what he has done and how poorly he has treated her, Lucy Saxon murders her husband. Later on, Saxon is revived by the Disciples of Saxon in David Tennant’s final episodes, where he is instrumental in breaking the Time Lock that brings the Time Lords back 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, he escaped Gallifrey in a new TARDIS. Then, he crashed onto a Mondasian colony ship where he killed civilians at his leisure. When he meets Missy, he reminds her of their wicked ways and the two began dreaming up ways to punish Peter Capaldi’s Doctor.

When the Doctor pleads for the two Masters’ help against the Cybermen, John Simm’s Master flees with Missy in tow. Moved the Doctor’s speech about doing what’s right, Missy stabbed the Master in the back, leading him to regenerate into Missy.

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 is hiding out from the aggressive 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 call out to him. Martha recognises Yana’s pocket watch bears a striking resemblance to the one the Tenth Doctor uses to turn himself human using the Chameleon Arch earlier in the series. 

When he finally opens the watch, Yana remembers he is the Master. He breaks his way into the TARDIS and regenerates into John Simm. Jacobi’s version was the first time the Master appeared in modern Doctor Who and was the first time we got to see the Master 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.

In the movie, the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) was transporting the remains of the Master after the evil Time Lord was executed by the Daleks. Those remains came back to life, escaping 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, confused by his two hearts, unwittingly inserts 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 his body.

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. ‘Survival’ was the final, three-part story from classic Doctor Who. It saw the Doctor and the Master come to blows on the planet of the Cheetah People. 

The Doctor very nearly kills the Master in a fit of rage, before abandoning the violent force from 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 begins to break up.

3. Geoffrey Beevers (1981)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAKHb0JImNo

Geoffrey Beevers only played the Master once, opposite Tom Baker’s Fourth Doctor. Appearing in ‘The Keeper of Traken’. He 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 is 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 body, restoring the Master to his new, younger form.

2. Peter Pratt (1976)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AW-FtgBqJ54

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 a Time Lord and warned 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 his first comedy role in 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 was a non-canonical version of the Master, one who made friends with the Daleks after he fell in some sewers and sports two Dalek bumps on his chest as a pair of fake breasts!
  • 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.