Name: The Cult of the Heretic
Time of Origin: Unspecified period in the far future.
Appearances: “The Two Masters”, behind-the-scenes involvement in “And You Will Obey Me” and “Vampire of the Mind”
Doctors: Seventh Doctor; the Fifth Doctor and the Sixth Doctor were involved in the Cult’s schemes but didn’t meet the Cult directly; may have encountered an earlier Doctor in their first meeting.
Companions: None known; Jemima was briefly caught up in the Cult’s plans but never met them directly; unclear if other companions were involved when The Doctor first faced the Cult
While The Doctor only encountered the Cult of the Heretic twice, they made a distinctive impression on him, both because of the scale of their plans and because their actions led to The Doctor facing a unique threat from The Master.
The Cult’s history began on Gallifrey, with the renegade Time Lord who would come to call himself ‘the Heretic’. Unlike the more familiar renegades such as The Doctor, The Master, The Rani, The Meddling Monk and The War Chief, the Heretic did not leave Gallifrey to wander the universe, but sat and watched the universe from his home world, eventually concluding that the universe as it existed was sick. As a Time Lord, he concluded that the best solution was to ‘regenerate’ the universe to heal it, making preparations to unmake reality while constructing the mysterious ‘Anomaly Cage’ to protect those inside it from changes to history, even gathering a cult of like-minded individuals who would be saved along with him, each believing that they were ‘worthy’ of rebuilding the universe. Despite the Heretic’s efforts, he was defeated by The Doctor and various other Time Lord forces in an unseen encounter, the Time Lords assuming that the Heretic’s cult would simply hide away after he was executed as they required biological data from a Time Lord to complete their work.
However, the Cult gained a new chance to implement the Heretic’s vision when they were discovered by The Master (currently restored to life after his battle with the Eighth Doctor (“Doctor Who: The Movie”) and on the run from the Time Lords who sought his aid in the imminent Time War), who offered his services in putting the Heretic’s plan into action by donating his own biodata to complete the Cult’s equipment to regenerate the universe (“The Two Masters”). Agreeing to his offer, the Cult’s only demand in return was that the Master kill one of his past selves to prove his loyalty to them, as the Anomaly Cage would prevent him being destroyed by the resulting paradox before they could rewrite reality. Accepting this offer, The Master targeted his past self on the mission to Terserus that would see him left in a disfigured state (“Legacy Of The Daleks” and “The Deadly Assassin”), but after he was able to cripple his past self, the Cult subsequently interrupted the attack, telling the past Master that they wished to help him escape his attacker (while not identifying the other Master as The Master’s future self).
Having returned to their ship, the Cult implemented a complex process where the younger Master was sent into the body of his attacker – his own future self – while the future Master was trapped in his past self. Believing that he was now in a completely new body, the past-in-future Master departed, leaving his ‘attacker’ to be killed in his former body, but the future-in-past Master was able to escape in his own TARDIS. As The Master departed, the Cult revealed that switching the two Masters had been their true agenda all along, as the younger Master existing in his future body after the death of his own past body would cause such a significant paradox that it could unmake the entire universe, allowing the Cult to implement their own agenda. While the two Masters still existing would limit the scope of the paradox as it would still be possible to undo the damage, as they travelled through the universe they would cause greater instability to the fabric of time, furthering the Cult’s goal, although they intended to secure their victory by killing the future-in-past Master before he could return to his body.
Trapped in his dying past body, the future-in-past Master crash-landed on Earth in 1986, where he was forced to ‘recruit’ the four children who found him as allies to gather the components he needed to repair his TARDIS after the damage it had sustained in his escape from various bounty hunters hired by the Cult (“And You Will Obey Me”). At the same time, The Master implanted the children with his genetic code so that he could drain their energy to restore himself, but his plans were delayed when one of his ‘children’ attempted to attack him at the crucial moment, resulting in The Master’s consciousness being trapped in his TARDIS. A few decades later, after some of the Cult’s bounty hunters reached Earth, The Master eventually managed to escape and restore his form while draining one of the children despite the Fifth Doctor’s intervention, The Doctor having learned about The Master’s presence on Earth while investigating the children’s attempts to find him and make him remove the biodata still within them that gave them hypnotic powers and trapped them as teenagers (Although the Fifth Doctor noted that he had to ensure that the Master escaped as he had witnessed the ‘death’ of that body in his past). Meanwhile, the past-in-future Master, unable to recall what had happened to him and even unaware that he was in his future self, returned to his former prison (“The Sea Devils”) to harness a psychic mind leech he had lured there before his escape, drawing in various scientists to ‘feed’ the leech until the Sixth Doctor responded to his trap (“Vampire of the Mind”). As a result, The Master was able to restore some of his neural energy by draining The Doctor’s mental strength, although The Doctor made a deal with the leech where she would only take his most recent short-term memories rather than his whole mind as The Master had intended, leaving him unable to recall what The Master looked like or what his exact plan had been but otherwise unharmed as The Master’s disorientated mind was restored.
The two Masters eventually reunited when the future-in-past Master contacted the Seventh Doctor for help as his TARDIS was being damaged by the gaps in time caused by their paradoxical existence, the future-in-past Master forcing The Doctor and new companion Jemima, a former servant of the ruthless Rocket Men, to take him to where his past-in-future self was acting as the general in an alien civil war (“The Two Masters”). As The Doctor confronted both Masters, he realised what must have taken place as each Master was acting more like the other – something his past selves never realised as neither of them had met the future Master before – this revelation helping The Doctor realise that their paradoxical existence was the reason for the gaps in reality, citing his inability to remember his encounters with these two Masters as evidence that the places they visited were breaking down. Although The Doctor convinced The Masters to switch back rather than compound the paradox by transferring the past Master into his body, it was too late to prevent the paradox of the two Masters from destroying the universe, with The Masters and The Doctor only just making it to the Cult’s ship before reality completely fell apart. Although The Masters attempted to ensure The Doctor’s death by stealing his TARDIS and leaving The Doctor to die in the ship the past-in-future Master had used in his role as a general, The Doctor was able to use a heat-seeking missile on The Master’s ship to escape its destruction and find the past-in-future Master’s TARDIS among the wreckage.
Arriving on the Cult’s ship by tracking the only solid object left as reality finished collapsing, The Masters adjusted the ship’s atmospheric generators – kept at a precise calibration due to the differing needs of the various species in the Cult – to suffocate the entire Cult, only leaving the Cult’s leader awake but unable to act so that he could realise what had happened before they killed them all. As The Masters prepared to reshape the universe with them as gods, The Doctor arrived and used some of the weapons and tools that the Masters had disregarded earlier to catch them off-guard, deflecting their weapons with a force field generator The Masters had abandoned earlier and modifying a sonic generator the future-in-past Master had used against the past-in-future Master’s silicon-based army to leave both Masters disorientated. With The Masters unable to take action, The Doctor used the Cult’s equipment to rebuild reality exactly as it had been before the whole crisis began, proclaiming that, while the universe might be as sick as the Heretic claimed, that just meant that it needed a Doctor. With the universe restored, the only things The Doctor changed were to send the two Masters back where they had been before this whole crisis began, erasing their memories of this crisis and the Cult’s existence (Although it may be assumed that the past Master retained some subconscious details to explain his future self’s knowledge of them), as well as preventing Jemima from ever being captured by the Rocket Men so that she could have a peaceful life.