Doctor Who has featured a plethora of villains over its 56-year history. These villains number in such abundance, that we always see gaps of 2-3 seasons before the return of a particular antagonist. One antagonist who can be described as the Joker to the Doctor’s Batman is the Master.
The Master is the main antagonist of the series, and his/her complex history with the Doctor has driven the angles concerning this character. In-universe, the Master has had about twenty incarnations, but we’ve seen only about ten of these in the TV shows and audio books. Now that we’re going to be waiting for quite a while for the next Master, lets look back at the best and the worst we’ve seen so far.
10 The War Master
This version of the Master is actually one of the older ones in chronology; he just happened to regenerate into a child. This regeneration complimented the War Doctor, and the two frenemies were on even terms during the Time War.
As this Master had the mentality of a child, he was more innocent and less duplicitous, easily making him the least fiendish of all the Master iterations. Unlike the War Doctor, the War Master didn’t last long; his regeneration began restarting. As he neared the end of this life of his, the War Master decided to forget his past memories and went to the end of the universe – this is where the Professor Yana iteration came about.
9 Charred Master
When the Master recovered from his “crispy” state, he was still very much degenerated in form, and we got this one we’ve dubbed the Charred Master. Unlike the previous version, this one was more sedate and together with his senses.
His mental state being more calm helped the Master greatly, as he was able to plan out his next move of regaining a body for himself. We couldn’t see as much of this iteration of the Master, though, since he only lasted a few episodes before his plan worked out. But just for the fact that he did pull off his plan, the Charred Master deserves special mention.
8 Bald Master
Think of Lex Luthor from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (only bald) and you’ve got this version of the Master. You can only find him in audiobooks, where he’s faced off against the likes of the Sixth and the Eighth Doctors.
This version was a genius like every other iteration, but was extremely brash and confident, to the point where he preferred showmanship over anything else. The Bald Master would put off victory if it meant he got to boast about how he had been able to dupe the Doctor, which obviously led to his defeats. However, the Bald Master did have his moments of victory, and his losses were more his doing than anybody else’s.
7 Shapeshifting Master
He only lasted the Doctor Who TV movie, and was met with unanimous critical disgust, but the shapeshifting version of the Master kind of grows on you. By this point, the Master really didn’t need anymore calculating tactics, as we’d seen him lose his mental state completely.
This is why the shapeshifting kind of made sense, since the Master wasn’t looking to be a genius at that point. His insanity also played up well with the theme of the Doctor Who movie, which was heavily actionized in order to go with the American appeal the developers were shooting for. He was nowhere near the best incarnation, but was as good as it could get given the theme of the movie.
6 Corpse Master
Back in the day, Doctor Who began attempting in giving us enemies who could make children hide behind their couches in fear. To this end, even the Master underwent a significant change, where we saw him degenerated to the point that he looked like a walking corpse.
This was attributed to the Master being on his final regeneration and needing a new body, but the Master’s personality also changed as we saw him become more brutal, even visceral in mentality. He was a monster through and through, with all his plans being very non-family-friendly. He was just what was needed to spruce up the Master’s image, although he did feel rather one-note.
5 Tremas Master
Just like every Master before him was what was needed at the time, the Tremas incarnation also served this purpose. The Master’s Corpse and Charred incarnations had run their course, and it was time to give us back the conniving Master whose base personality was that of a schemer.
He would steal the body of Tremas, and permanently use him as a host. This version was now far more reliant on his schemes rather than his brutality, and we saw him orchestrate the “Five Doctors” storyline. He was more hammy than previous Masters, which provided us with more comedy than we were used to. This funnier side of him definitely wasn’t a bad thing, although it could be a turn-off for those wanting a serious story.
4 Bearded Master
Like the Tremas Master, the first incarnation we saw (in reality, he was implied to either be the thirteenth incarnation) of the Master was the bearded one. He was the most scheming of the lot, as well as the most tenacious.
You can’t call him an all-out genius, however, as he was always fooled by the Third Doctor into losing multiple times. This Master’s greatest strength lay in his stubbornness, though, since we saw him repeatedly pop in the 1970s to cause UNIT – and the Doctor by extension – several headaches because of his frequent diabolical plans for power. He also ranks highly because of the nostalgia factor he brings, as the Classic Era fans mostly identify with Roger Delgado as the Master.
3 Professor Yana
It’s a crying shame that Derek Jacobi only had the one story as the Master, because the Professor Yana incarnation was an incredible showing for the character. His fake personality (that the Master himself fooled himself into having) was such a genuine person, that we all took to him.
However, once his true persona shined through, Professor Yana would completely transform; beginning his quest for power and outright murdering his assistant. This version easily made us the most uncomfortable, as his turn for the worst was extremely unsettling from the benevolent professor we’d assumed him to be. It was a combination of fantastic acting and an excellent execution of a plot twist that made Professor Yana so memorable.
2 Harold Saxon
This guy had it all – comedy, wit, power, charm, intelligence, and a violent streak. The Harold Saxon incarnation easily takes the crown for being the most diabolical of all the versions of the Master, seeing as he succeeded in converting the universe in his literal image. The Saxon incarnation would then also subjugate an entire colony in space simply because he was bored.
There were no redemptive qualities in this one, and he was evil to the core. But what made him so engaging was that he reveled in his sinister mentality; he never shied away from who he was, and the madness in him was something one could understand – it was like Saxon represented the madness in all of us.
The Missy incarnation got every aspect of character development right. She was like the evolved version of the Saxon incarnation, as not only was she crazy, she had the wisdom to realize that life was meant to be about growth – even the Master had the capacity for good.
Her relationship with the Doctor was finally shown on terms other than antagonism, as Missy inadvertently attempted to better herself by making it her mission to be friends with the Doctor again. Missy’s best moments were still when she displayed her sadistic tendencies; we saw her kill Osgood, turn the world into Cybermen, attempt to convert Clara into a Dalek, and conquer the world with the Saxon incarnation. And she did all this with extreme comedic wit. However, Missy was the only Master that really showed significant character development.