What is the Master’s real name in Doctor Who? While the current continuity means it’s unclear, previous tie-ins have offered insight into it.
People often ask, “Doctor who?”, but what about “Master who?”; while televised Doctor Who has been tight-lipped on the matter, spin-off materials offer some insight into the Master’s real name. Making their first appearance in 1971’s “Terror of the Autons”, played by the legendary Roger Delgado, the Master has long been a thorn in the Doctor’s side. Like his foe, the Master is able to change appearance (either through regeneration or taking over a person’s body), with a further 8 actors playing the part in different ways.
For all the Master’s rich on-screen history, however, details of the character’s childhood on Gallifrey remain relatively scarce (and oft-changing), including their birth name. Doctor Who canon and continuity is often in a state of flux and largely decided by the showrunner of the era, so the nature of the Master’s birth name is still up for debate within the fandom, but there are some sources to draw upon that offer clues.
In the 1997 novel The Dark Path by David A. McIntee, the Master operates under the name ‘Koschei’. This was initially thought to be a temporary alias, with the Second Doctor unaware of the Master previously having used the name. However, subsequent publications, including Divided Loyalties and The Face of the Enemy, suggested that this was, in fact, the Master’s birth name, with the former revealing it through a dream the Fifth Doctor had of the Master. Prior to this, the comic Flashback had hinted that a character called Magnus was the Master, perhaps meaning it to be their true name, but this wasn’t confirmed, and further publications then cast doubt on the idea that Magnus was the Master, instead making him the War Chief (though there are arguments they’re one and the same).
Of course, as with most things Doctor Who, the status of the Master’s name in canon is less clear. Although Koschei was used in the aforementioned books, elements of their stories, including the Time War and Gallifrey, were retconned by the Russell T. Davies era. That didn’t make mention of the Master’s true name either way, so while those stories don’t work in the current continuity, it is possible that Koschei could still be the Master’s real name, although a line from Missy (Michelle Gomez) in the short story Lords and Masters further refutes the idea, as she states her name is 32 letters long.
Though the Master’s real name may not be confirmed in canon (such as it exists), Koschei is a particularly fitting choice. Koschei, commonly known as “Koschei the Deathless”, is an archetypal figure in Russian folklore who traditionally acts as a rival to the male hero in any given story. He is often immortal, having split his soul from his body and hidden it inside various object. Koschei also spends a lot of these stories competing for the attention of the hero’s love interest, or else entrapping her if his advances go unappreciated. The Koschei archetype is highly representative of the Master – essentially immortal, being a Time Lord, and originally conceived as the Doctor’s ultimate rival. If Doctor Who were to re-establish the Master’s real name, it’d make sense to stick with Koschei rather than find something new.
Curiously, Koschei comes from an old Turkic word, ‘Koshey’, which means ‘slave’. ‘Master’ and ‘slave’ are binary opposites, meaning the Master perhaps chose the name as an act of rebellion against their Gallifreyan oppressors. This connection could have been utilised in Doctor Who’s ‘Timeless Child’ arc, building on the reveal that the Time Lords derived their regenerative powers from an enslaved alien. This alien – the Timeless Child – turned out to be the Doctor: a decision that proved controversial with many fans, and re-contextualised (or conflicted with) a lot of the show’s established mythology.
Given the Master’s seemingly unlimited number of incarnations, coupled with the pre-existing Koschei/Koshey connection, it may have made more sense for the Master to be the Timeless Child. This could have sparked some interesting conflict within the Doctor, forced to come to terms with the fact that her people had unwittingly benefited off the back of oppression – an experience shared by many White individuals in recent times. As it stands – this arc could be accused of white-washing a slave narrative, with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor representing the oppressed. Had the Master been the Timeless Child, this issue could have been avoided – with Sacha Dhawan, an actor of Indian descent, currently receiving praise in the role.