It was only a matter of time before The Master returned to Doctor Who. When we last saw him, he was busy falling into the TARDIS’s Eye of Harmony at the end of the 1996 television movie. The Daleks returned in Series 1, the Cybermen returned in Series 2, although with a caveat that they were from a parallel earth. It was the Master’s turn in Series 3. Throughout Series 3, The Tenth Doctor had been traveling with Martha Jones. Originally it was just one quick trip as the Doctor was still getting over the loss of Rose Tyler, but eventually he warmed to Martha and they continued to travel together.
Also woven throughout the third series were little hints and references to Mr. Saxon, a prominent politician who was running for Prime Minister in Martha’s time. Once Martha’s family discovers she’s traveling with the Doctor, they are tasked by Mr. Saxon’s staff to get Martha to return back home. They are told that the Doctor is dangerous and understandably fear for their daughter’s safety.
“Utopia” opens the series finale arc. After a mishap while refilling the TARDIS, the Doctor and Martha discovered they’ve travelled to the year 100 trillion, or the end of the universe. The last remnants of humanity are attempting to get to Utopia, a place that may or may not be real. Professor Yana, played by Derek Jacobi, tries to repair a broken rocket ship. When the Doctor arrives at the human settlement, the professor begs for his help. He reveals he had been keeping the actual status of the rocket a secret from the leaders of the human settlement. But with the Doctor’s help they are able to repair the ship and everyone is loaded onto the ark.
But all is not well with Professor Yana. He keeps getting distracted by the sound of drums only he can hear. Martha discovers he carries a watch with him but never bothers to look at it. The Doctor had the exact same watch when he turned himself human during “Human Nature.” Martha knows exactly what is going on, but can’t warn the Doctor before Professor Yana finally opens his watch. He becomes the Master, and the change in his personality (but not appearance) is instantaneous.
The Master steals the Doctor’s TARDIS to escape with the added bonus of trapping the Doctor at the end of the universe. But he is mortally wounded by his assistant who realized something had changed and tried to stop him. In retaliation, the Master murders her, showing the viewer his ruthlessness. He is forced to regenerate into John Simm. At the last minute, the Doctor manages to lock the TARDIS so it can only travel back to present day.
Thanks to a Time Vortex manipulator, the Doctor and Martha manage to return to present day London. It’s only a few days since Martha first left to travel with the Time Lord. It doesn’t take long to figure out that Harold Saxon is the Master in disguise. Saxon’s interest in the Jones’ family becomes clear; it was all a trap for Martha and the Doctor. They go on the run while trying to figure out what exactly the Master wants. There’s a “new alien race” he introduces as the Toclafane but the Doctor takes one look and knows they are fake.
By the end of “Sound of the Drums” the Master has revealed at least part of his hand. He uses the Toclafane to enslave the human race and captures the Doctor right as the Time Lord was going to intervene. Martha escapes and spends the next year walking the Earth, looking for a way to defeat the Master.
I think Russell T. Davies did a good job handling the return of the Master. It’s too bad that the ending of “Last of the Time Lords” feels rushed and is literally a deus ex machina ending. As a NuWho fan, I’ve always had a soft spot for the Jacobi version of the Master. But unfortunately he doesn’t play the role long enough to make much of an impression compared to Delgado, Ainley, Simm or Gomez. Even Eric Roberts had more of an impression in the Doctor Who television movie.