I AM THE MASTER – Who’s the Master of Fiction?

I Am The Master: Legends of the Renegade Time Lord is an anthology all about the Doctor’s arch nemesis, the Master. From BBC Books, six authors have penned brand new outings, each for a different version of the renegade Time Lord. More accurately, the six versions of the Master that we’ve seen on TV. So this marks the BBC Books debut of the Sacha Dhawan incarnation of the Master introduced back in January (though, given it’s 2020, it may feel like longer) in the episode Spyfall.

Or is it?

I Am The Master Cover
I Am The Master (c) BBC Books

This got me thinking: in the long history of Doctor Who books, which Master has appeared most often? Who rules the roost when it comes to literary outings? Since this was a question that involved spreadsheets, I got to work.

Prose only, no audios or comics. Annuals, anthologies and short stories are fine. Stuff in Doctor Who Magazine also allowed. I’ve excluded all instances where it’s unclear which Master appears or where the story takes place in their lives. Though all this meant in practice was nixing a few old Doctor Who Annual stories. For obvious reasons, I’ve also excluded novelizations of television serials. Hallucinations and impersonations: they’re gone; along with The Infinity Doctors and those Mr. Men books because I like my sanity intact.

If you want to check my work, see which books I counted and which Masters appear where, click on this link to open Google Sheets. However, a more succinct summary follows.

So, in reverse order, let’s see who’s The Master in the Land of Fiction…

8. The War Master (Derek Jacobi) – 1 appearance

While Derek Jacobi’s take on the Master is prolific over at Big Finish, there is yet to be a single published story in which the War Master shows up. Who knows if we’ll ever see his like again. But here’s where we get a little dubious since, as you’ve probably noticed, I’ve given him one appearance. That’s because, as we’ll soon see, technically every incarnation of the Master appears in Alistair Reynolds’ 2013 novel Harvest of Time. So every Master on this list gets one bonus point for appearing in that book, even the ones who were created after the novel’s release. So the War Master gets a pity point.

I Am The Master - or more specifically he is, Derek Jacobi and Paul McGann (c) Big Finish Productions
Derek Jacobi & Paul McGann (c) Big Finish Productions

7. The Spy Master (Sacha Dhawan) – 3 appearances

Given that Sacha Dhawan made his surprise debut as the Master only this year, it’s not surprising that he has the fewest literary outings. Other than Harvest of Time (technically), the Spy Master made his book debut in September for a short story published in the 2021 Doctor Who Annual – The Doctor vs The Master: The Best of Enemies. It’s still dubious if that even counts since it takes place during the events of Spyfall and expands on his psychic conversation with Jodie Whittaker’s Thirteenth Doctor. Nevertheless, Dhawan makes a fully fledged appearance in the final story of I Am The Master penned by Matthew Sweet so he definitely hits the rankings.

6-. Tzun Master (Basil Rathbone?) – 4 appearances

Now we come to the first book-exclusive version of the Master. This incarnation was birthed in the Virgin New Adventures book First Frontier where the Anthony Ainley version of the Master uses Tzun nanites to build himself a new body, described as resembling Basil Rathbone. Your mileage may vary if you consider this a “new” incarnation of just another form of the Ainley Master but that’s a borderline philosophical question I don’t feel like getting into. Anyhoo, the Tzun Master reappeared in a short story for the Virgin Decalogs range, then in Happy Endings by Paul Cornell and hasn’t been seen (officially) since. Plus, don’t forget, the bonus Harvest of Time point.

6-. The Burnt Master (Peter Pratt/Geoffrey Beevers) – 4 appearances

There are plenty of people who’d argue that these are two distinct versions of the Master. Those people (for my purposes at least) are wrong. Complicating things further is that all but one of this Master’s book appearances have been alongside other versions. John Peel’s Legacy of the Daleks gave us the Delgado incarnation getting turned this version of the Master, so it counts for both. Technically, this Master appears as a Watcher in The Velvet Dark, which stars the Ainley Master. But it’s the same body and still the Master so I’m counting it. The only time this Master has flown solo was in the second tale of I Am The Master where he enlists the help of Bram Stoker, in a story written by Mark Wright.

Sacha Dhawan as The Master
Sacha Dhawan as The Master (c) BBC Studios

5. Koschei – 5 appearances

Somewhere along the way I had to reconcile all the times a pre-Delgado version of the Master appears. Without much to go on, I lumped all the appearances of “Koschei” – the Master’s original name – into one grouping. This also includes the Master from the alternate “Inferno” Earth seen in the Past Doctor Adventures novel The Face of the Enemy. He’s part of the backstory explored in The Legacy of Gallifrey published in Doctor Who Magazine, features in a story for the Christmas themed anthology Twelve Angels Weeping and shares the stage with the Delgado Master in The Nameless City. So there was too many appearances to discount the young Master altogether.

4. Eye of Harmony Master (Eric Roberts)? – 6 apperances

The Eighth Doctor Adventures takes place after the events of the TV Movie which saw the Master (played by Eric Roberts) get trapped in the Eye of Harmony on the TARDIS. The Master then makes sporadic appearances as an echo within the ship and enjoys the occasional natter with his old chum. Unless someone can prove otherwise, I’m going to assume he had the same face and voice as Roberts. After three appearances in the EDA range (again, don’t forget Harvest of Time) this version of the Master would appear in the prologue of the Big Finish Short Trips anthology The Centenarian as well as Joseph Lidster’s contribution to that release – Forgotten.

3. Saxon Master (John Simm) – 8 appearances

John Simm’s ministerial Harold Saxon version of the Master made only one brief appearance in the New Series Adventures during his time as the Master-in-Chief – in The Story of Martha – but lives on elsewhere. In fact, two of his eight appearances happened this year, first in The Wintertime Paradox and once again in the penultimate story of I Am The Master by Beverly Sanford. Otherwise he shares the spotlight, appearing in Now We Are Six Hundred and The Unwanted Gift of Prophecy alongside the three Masters that take the top spots on this list. But he also appeared in a story of The Missy Chronicles set during the events of The Doctor Falls alongside…

Michelle Gomez and John Simm - I Am The Master
Michelle Gomez and John Simm (C) BBC/BBC Worldwide – Photographer: Simon Ridgway

2-. Missy (Michelle Gomez) – 18 appearances

That jump of ten stories is to be expected for the only version of the Master to get a whole anthology to herself. Missy made six appearances in The Missy Chronicles as well as a few stories on the Doctor Who website, prolific appearances in Doctor Who Annuals and showing up in the Target Storybook. Missy has an excellent story in I Am The Master written by Jacqueline Rayner where she arranges the team building exercise from hell. As with the others, she appeared in Harvest of Time even though Gomez wouldn’t appear as Missy until the following year. Reynolds was prescient in identifying a female incarnation of the Master and, though there are other female incarnations out there, you know that we always mean Missy.

2-. Tremas Master (Anthony Ainley) – 18 appearances

Anthony Ainley’s Master, in the body of the Tremas, has had a varied life in the books appearing in eleven different ranges. Though appearing briefly in The Eight Doctors, this Master found his footing in the Past Doctor Adventures novels Prime Time and The Quantum Archangel against the Seventh and Sixth Doctors respectively. You’re more likely to find this Master in the short form fiction, however, as a mainstay in the Short Trips range as well as stories in the Radio Times, The Shakespeare Notebooks and the Doctor Who Yearbook. Of course, he also appears in I Am The Master as Mike Tucker‘s story where the Master embarks on a mission of mercy for the man who’s helped craft his many disguises.

1. UNIT Master (Roger Delgado) – 29 appearances

The version of the Master who faced off against the Doctor and UNIT in almost all his appearances, Roger Delgado originated the role and put a stamp on it that all the actors to follow have honoured. Authors have likewise tried to live up to the late Delgado’s legacy by writing his Master into almost thirty story appearances. Over the years, this Master appeared in stories printed on the back of Nestlé chocolate wrappers, a one-off holiday special in 1973 and, more recently, in a short story published in Doctor Who Magazine. In the main book ranges, he appeared in two Missing Adventures books, Who Killed Kennedy and The Dark Path which explored his history with the Doctor. This Master also appeared in two Past Doctor Adventures against the Third Doctor. His most recent appearance in I Am The Master – written by Peter Anghelides – sidelines UNIT and the Doctor to give this Master a real offside adventure. Football!

Doctor Who - The Missing Adventures: The Dark Path by David A. McIntee
Doctor Who – The Missing Adventures: The Dark Path by David A. McIntee

Are there any books I’ve missed out? Which book appearances by the Master stand out? What did you think of I Am The Master? Let me know in the comments or on Twitter.

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