It’s a dark and stormy night in the town of Perfugium, and old friends have gathered at a stately Edwardian mansion to celebrate the birthday of their mysterious friend, Dr. John Smith. Only it’s not really his birthday – it’s the tenth anniversary of the day that the amnesiac, seemingly horribly burned, and yet compassionate-to-a-fault Smith first appeared in Perfugium. His inability to remember anything beyond the past ten years troubles Dr. Smith greatly, but he has become even more concerned recently with thoughts that seem to betray his gentle nature – thoughts that can only be described as pure evil. Even more unnerving is the arrival of a strange little man, also claiming to be a doctor, who begins to drop disturbing hints that Dr. John Smith does indeed have a past – a past in which he was known as an irredeemably evil genius called the Master.
written by Joseph Lidster
directed by Gary Russell
music by David Darlington
Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor), Geoffrey Beevers (The Master), Philip Madoc (Inspector Victor Schaeffer), Anne Ridley (Jacqueline Schaeffer), Charlie Hayes (Jade), Daniel Barzoti (The Man)
Timeline: before the 1996 TV movie and apparently after Excelis Decays since the Doctor assumes the nom de plume of “Vaughn Sutton,” whom he defeated on Excelis.
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: I’ve been known to say that I’d pay full price for a two CD set of Sylvester McCoy reading the phone book. I’m not trying to belittle the quality of this story by bringing that up as a comparison, but rather rejoicing in the thick-with-dialogue, not-so-thick-on-attempts-at-action-scenes wonder that Master is. As the final story in a troika of adventures shedding more light on some of the Doctor’s most implacable enemies (also see Omega and Davros), Master brings us down to the big one, the Moriarty to the Doctor’s Holmes. And how appropriate that it’s almost like an audio recording of a stage play – Master is full of witty verbal interplay, stellar performances, and discourses on all sorts of ideas, including the nature of evil as a concept. Geoffrey Beevers, who (based on his appearance as the Master in 1981’s The Keeper Of Traken) became Big Finish’s Master after Anthony Ainley turned down the chance to reprise the role, shines in a performance that’s light years away from the usual evil genius fare (though Dust Breeding demonstrated he could do that too), and Sylvester McCoy gets a chance to really work the dialogue here. It’s much more immersing than hearing him reading the phone book, but you’d better like his voice, because you get to hear it a lot.
The story itself is a classic murder mystery, with touches of a social class drama into the bargain, and with nothing less to fear than the very incarnation of evil itself. Though it offers up a possible origin story for the Master, things are kept vague enough that it could just as easily be a misdirection on the Doctor’s part. The story also ties into Paul Cornell’s Gallifreyan gods from the New Adventures, putting forth a theory that while the seventh Doctor may be Time’s Champion, the Master is Death’s Champion – and yet the Doctor can never bring himself to finish the Master off because of a common origin and a long-dead friendship. It’s an interesting idea, though I find myself more appreciative of the bits that were left vague – as much as the Doctor’s origins have been explored and explained (and the Master’s too, in such books as “The Dark Path”, which offers up a completely contradictory origin story), trying too hard to nail down the origin story does far too much to soften the villain of the piece. But however well the explanations and origins put forth here may (or may not) sit with you, Master is a terribly engrossing story to listen to, and the dialogue positively sparkles – I could see this one in my mind’s eye more clearly than most. Kudos to Joseph Lidster – I knew he could best The Rapture.
One final note. Maybe it’s just because the character has been on my mind, but I listened to and reviewed Master not quite a week after learning of the death of Anthony Ainley, who portrayed the Master during the 80s, including one televised run-in with the seventh Doctor (Survival). It’s a pity that Mr. Ainley and Big Finish could never quite agree to terms that would’ve brought him into the audio fold. Geoffrey Beevers did an outstanding job with Master, but it would’ve been equally intriguing to hear Ainley’s interpretation of this unusual take on the role. He will be missed.