Series 8 of Doctor Who has come and gone, and with it a new, and female incarnation of longtime nemesis The Master. The insane Time Lord has been a staple villain since Jon Pertwee's run as the Third Doctor, and he has stuck around in various incarnations ever since.
However, unlike The Doctor it's very hard to figure out just where in his regeneration cycle The Master may be. Sure, he was always one to break the rules, but the 12-cycle limit is supposed to be a fairly hard to bust. There's the added problem when you consider that many of his incarnations and resurrections don't resemble anything like the regenerations we've seen from The Doctor.
So how many Masters are there?
The First Master was shown as a child on Gallifrey in "The End of Time" played by Williams Hughes. The Second Doctor novel The Dark Path reveals that at this time The Master was still known by his birth name of Koschei. The Doctor trapped The Master in a black hole from which it would take ages to escape.
The most famous Master is the first on-screen appearance of the villain during the '70s. played by Roger Delgado. The question is whether or not this is the older version of the boyhood incarnation seen in "The End of Time" or not. If we take The Dark Path as canon then it's implied the Delgado Master is the final incarnation, having spent his others escaping the black hole, when we meet him on television, despite being born around the same time as The Doctor, who is only on his third.
The Delgado Master would exist through the rest of Pertwee's era, but his future came to a halt after the untimely death of Delgado in a car accident. His intended final performance was rewritten, and his fate left unknown. He would finally return in a severely decayed form in "The Deadly Assassin" played by Peter Pratt. This skeletal wreck was the result of an explosion cause by The Doctor's granddaughter Susan when The Master kidnapped her in the novel Legacy of the Daleks. Despite the change in appearance, this was still the same incarnation. In audio form this version was played by Geoffrey Beevers.
The Master would resort to transferring his consciousness to new bodies in order to survive. He began with a Trakenite named Tremas, father of The Doctor's companion Nyssa, in "The Keeper of Traken" played by Anthony Ainley. Whether this should be considered a new incarnation or a continuation of the 13th is open to debate, but regardless Tremas' non-Time Lord body was doomed to age and die.
To combat this he traveled to Logopolis in order to use an entropy wave to blackmail the universe into giving him a new Time Lord body to house his essence. The Fourth Doctor died stopping him, and The Master escaped in the confusion. He would continue to hound The Doctor in the Tremas body until Ainley's final appearance on the show in "Survival".
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From here things get murky. It is known for sure that The Master was eventually captured and executed by the Daleks of Skaro, having arranged to survive as a Deathworm Morphant that would be able to once again possess others, but how he survived his final television appearance on Cheetah World to get there is as hard to guess as anything from the Dark Years.
One theory put out in the Virgin New Adventure novels had The Master thrown back in time to 1957 Earth in the explosion of Cheetah World. He then overtook the first Russian satellite launch to contact an alien race capable of using nanites to transform Tremas' body to match The Master's Time Lord essence in exchange for help conquering Earth. This accomplished, he was promptly shot by Ace and regenerated into a new incarnation, presumably the Fourteenth Master.
Other theories involve the Ainley Master simply living on, either returning to Earth through other means and eventually aiding the fallen companion Adam Mitchell in his plots in "Prisoners of Time", or having the Tremas body stripped by a powerful superweapon to reduce him once more to the rotting form. The fact that the several timelines involving The Master have since been erased in the Big Finish audio stories further confuses matters as to the definitive connection between "Survival" and "Doctor Who: The Movie".
Regardless, one of these went to Skaro to face death, and eventually resurrected within the body of a paramedic named Bruce played by Eric Roberts. Despite the confusion in the media before the 1996 movie, it's pretty safe to say that the Roberts Master is for all intents and purposes the Fifteenth Master. Eager to use the human body to steal the remaining lives of the Eighth Doctor, he was eventually defeated and hurled into the Eye of Harmony.
Another period of uncertainty follows. In the Doctor Who Magazine comics the spirit of The Master continues to influence The Doctor's Tardis from being trapped inside the Eye of Harmony. River Song mentions in her diary in the game The Eternity Clock that she can hear an American screaming within the walls of the Eighth Doctor's Tardis. Eventually, he is rescued from the time vortex by Gallifrey and used as an agent. For this, he is given a new regeneration cycle. This Sixteenth Master is portrayed in the Big Finish audio epic "Dark Eyes" by Alex Macqueen. The conclusion of the story has yet to be released.
Alive again and fully Time Lord, Gallifrey conditioned and trained The Master to be the perfect weapon in the oncoming war with the Daleks. However, in a twist of their roles as children The War Doctor went to fight on the front lines while The Master used a Chameleon Arch to forget his people and hide at the End of the Universe. Eventually he is found by the Tenth Doctor, old and tired, before his memory is unlocked.
This was the incarnation played by Derek Jacobi in "Utopia". Whether Jacobi is meant to be an elderly Sixteenth Master or a whole new regeneration is impossible to say at this time. Considering that regeneration seems to require some sort of conscious effort, it seems likely that the Professor Yana that The Doctor finds is in fact still the Sixteenth.
Choosing to regenerate into a younger form, John Simm became the Seventeenth Master (Probably) and fled back to Earth to conquer as the politician Harold Saxon. He would ultimately be stopped and shot by his human wife, but refused to regenerate despite The Doctor's pleading. However, his ring became the key to a revival that maintained the Simm form, but was corrupted and vampiric in nature. This likely does not count as a new incarnation proper.
The Master, in this form, saved The Doctor and the universe from the return of Rassilon, who intended to end corporeal existence. The Master drove Rassilon and the High Council back into the time lock The Doctor had set when he fought in the war, following the despot to ensure his revenge.
After the events of "Day of the Doctor" and the hiding of Gallifrey from the destruction it was supposed to endure, The Master was assumed trapped with the rest in a pocket dimension until he returned without explanation as Missy this season, played by Michelle Gomez. It's theorized that the death of his corrupted form may have triggered the gender switch upon regeneration into the Eighteenth Master.
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On the other hand, there's still the mystery of why Missy didn't regenerate as a Time Lady should when she was shot by the Cyber-Brigadier. The Doctor clearly recognized her as Gallifreyan, though that is not necessarily proof that she was actually a Time Lord who could regenerate and was without a doubt The Master. She may also have teleported or escaped somehow while faking her death, which would be perfectly in character. As usual, the dark, twisted path The Master walks is impossible to follow for certain, and we'll just have to wait and see where it takes us next.
Doctor Who returns at Christmas.