Ever since the Series 10 finale The Doctor Falls dropped, fans have been attempting to piece together evidence to attempt to solve several unanswered riddles left in the wake of this epic, explosive episode. Arguably one of the biggest impacts this episode has had on wider Doctor Who lore is the death of not one but two incarnations of the Master, with John Simm’s incarnation being mortally wounded by his female counterpart only to shoot her in the back in a desperate act to prevent Missy from standing with the Doctor. As a result, both Masters die at the hands of the other, but whilst Missy appears to die for good, John Simm’s incarnation escapes, presumably to regenerate into Missy and begin the cycle again. Or does he?
The interesting thing about this finale is that many of the events that take place are left open-ended, presumably so that upcoming showrunner Chris Chibnall can revisit the character of the Master later in his tenure. As a result, we don’t see John Simm actually regenerate into Missy, and so fan speculation has inevitably brought up one of the biggest questions of all that could turn the entire chronology of the Master totally on its head. What if the Simm Master, having been mortally wounded by Missy, goes back to his TARDIS and regenerates… into Roger Delgado’s incarnation?
Let’s look at the facts. We know that John Simm’s Master has been tormented by the Sound of Drums his entire life, and whilst the drumming became louder and stronger than ever before during Simm’s run as the Master, it is implied that the Master has had this drum beat in his head his entire life. Derek Jacobi’s incarnation certainly has it, and Russel T. Davies would have us believe that, by extension, all previous incarnations of the Master in the classic series had the drums as well… they just never mentioned it at all.
Alternatively, this new theory offers a different interpretation. The reason why the Masters in the classic series didn’t mention having the drums is because, at that point in their timeline, it had already been cured. Simm’s second appearance as the Master in The End of Time saw the drums cured once the Doctor destroyed the machine holding Gallifrey in orbit over Earth, and when we see Simm again in The Doctor Falls, he appears much more reserved, less manic, and generally more akin to a classic Master incarnation like Delgado. He even dresses similarly, with a long black coat and goatee-style beard.
It would seem then that this theory holds some weight to it – after all, it explains an otherwise difficult to ignore plot hole regarding the Master’s character, and it even seems to line up in terms of Simm’s continuity. However, upon closer inspection, it appears that this theory simply isn’t true. Lines of dialogue said by Simm’s incarnation in The Sound of Drums makes reference to ‘Axons and Daleks’, clearly referencing the events that take place during Roger Delgado’s tenure as the Master, implying that Simm’s incarnation remembers them from his past. Likewise, Simm also talks about being resurrected for the Time War, implying that the events of State of Decay all the way up to the 1996 TV Movie all happened in his past, which essentially derails this theory.
However, one might argue that it could be that Simm’s incarnation is aware of the events he is discussing but not from his personal history – after all, the Master is completely deranged, and unlike the Doctor would probably have no qualms about sifting through UNIT’s documents to get a glimpse of what his personal future on Earth would be like, especially since he was Prime Minister at the time, and could have easily accessed UNIT’s files. Perhaps due to the paradoxical nature of such an act, his memories of the exact details of each encounter are erased, explaining why he can’t remember exactly how he gets beaten in each encounter – but he still remembers something to do with Axons and Daleks. A tenuous explanation, yes, but a possible one.
Speaking of memory, there is another aspect of this theory that causes problems the more you look into it. If Delgado’s incarnation comes after Simm’s, and Simm’s follows Jacobi’s who fought in the Time War according to Big Finish’s new War Master audio series, why doesn’t Delgado’s incarnation know or care about the Time War? He never mentions it to the Doctor at all, and although he might simply not care enough to discuss it, Ainley’s incarnation (which presumably follows Delgado’s) goes to Gallifrey several times and yet makes no mention of a Time War.
Unless – and this is an even crazier theory – the entire chronology of the Master as we know it is totally wrong, and the order of the Master’s regenerations does not follow a chronological order based on year of appearance like the Doctor’s does, and rather the Master as we know him/her is constantly moving around in time, and not even the Doctor knows exactly which incarnations follow or precede each other.
All we know as fans is what we can glean from what we see on-screen – which isn’t much. The Master is rarely shown to regenerate on-screen, and the only true regeneration that we get to see is the Jacobi-Simm regeneration in Utopia. In the classic series, we witness Geoffrey Beever’s decayed incarnation hijack Tremas’ body and become the Anthony Ainley incarnation in The Keeper of Traken, and we presumably witness the death of this incarnation at the start of the 1996 TV Movie as the Master depicted there, although not played by Ainley himself, clearly has the catlike eyes he possesses in Survival, a trait that carries over to his next incarnation. As such, all we know for certain is like Beevers becomes Ainley, Ainley becomes Roberts and, in NuWho, Jacobi becomes Simm. We don’t even know what order these events occur in!
As such, this opens up a whole new can of worms regarding the Master’s chronology. Is Missy an incarnation from the far future? Was Delgado the chronological first Master incarnation, or was it Jacobi? Is the decayed Master seen in State of Decay and The Keeper of Traken meant to be the remains of the Delgado incarnation, or a totally different version of the Master? Indeed, do these two separate decayed Masters, who are played by different actors, represent two separate versions themselves? Will the Master return again or did Missy’s death represent a final end for the character?
We can only hope that between Big Finish’s new War Master audio series and the potential for the character to return in the future of televised Doctor Who that some of these questions will be answered. However, if the past history of the character of the Master is anything to go by, we shouldn’t get out hopes up.