John Simm is one of the most popular versions of the Master ever, thanks to his turns in three two-part storylines across the revived series of Doctor Who. He first appeared as the Doctor’s eternal nemesis at the end of season 3’s “Utopia” (2007), with Derek Jacobi’s incarnation regenerating into him. In the penultimate episode, “The Sound of Drums,” it’s revealed that the Master is, in fact, Harold Saxon, the mysterious and malevolent politician who’s been referenced throughout the season.
In the Russell T. Davies era, each season would have a recurring word or phrase that would be repeated throughout the episodes before it was explained in the finale (see: Bad Wolf, Torchwood or, in this case, Mr. Saxon). Though the reveal that the Master was actually Saxon, elected to the position of Prime Minister in “Sound of Drums,” came as a big shock to fans, maybe it shouldn’t have, as the clue was in the character’s name all along.
“Mister Saxon” is an anagram of “Master No. Six.” And, yes, Simm was the sixth actor to play the villain, following Roger Delgado, Peter Pratt, Geoffrey Beevers, Anthony Ainley and Jacobi. This neat bit of wordplay is a classic staple of the character, with many of his aliases over the years being anagrams of his Time Lord title – see also: Tremas or Estram. This one was particularly tricky, though, as fans would’ve struggled to figure it out before Jacobi was revealed as the Master.
Simm later returned in David Tennant’s swansong “The End of Time” in 2010 and then again in 2017’s “World Enough and Time/The Doctor Falls” opposite Peter Capaldi and alongside his successor, Michelle Gomez. In that latter story, the Master was once again in disguise, this time going by the name Mr. Razor. There doesn’t seem to be any hidden message or wordplay going on there, but maybe we just haven’t worked it out yet.
Of course, Doctor Who just pulled off another Master twist in this year’s season 12, with Sacha Dhawan’s O being revealed as the foe, but season 3’s Mr. Saxon mystery has to be the most clever one.