Master!

Posted in Audio by - April 01, 2021
Master!

Released March 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Perhaps unsurprisingly given his one on-screen appearance as the Master in the 1996 TV Movie that failed to kickstart a new television series, Eric Roberts is rarely listed at the top of definitive Master lists. Yet despite the over-the-top nature of the character that was perfectly befitting of the more American tone of the co-production between Universal Studios and BBC Worldwide, there was an undoubted charisma and truly palpable sense of danger that this particular incarnation who was struggling so hard to stay alive posed that fit perfectly with the characterization of Masters past. For years, this incarnation seemed destined to fade into obscurity with little to no mention of his existence, but following recent appearances across multiple Big Finish ranges that have begun to define the character all the more dynamically, the Roberts Master finally takes centre stage in Master! and his own trio of tales.

‘Faustian’ by Robert Valentine opens this set on a dystopian Earth where corporations have filled the voids and social inequality is omnipresent following the Daleks’ attempted invasion of Earth. The initial focus is on Lila, a young and ambitious scientist working to develop a teleportation technology for one of these corporations looking to protect the world from another invasion. This is a woman who has a dark and tragic past with consequences she has been allowed to walk away from, and Laura Aikman plays the duality of ambition with the resultantly divergent pathways it opens perfectly as a sinister voice begins to haunt her with promises of limitless success. She is unafraid to go her own way even when corporate oversight becomes more extreme, and the focus on this very driven character proves to be the perfect conduit through which to reintroduce the Master who was trapped in the vortex for so long. As such, Roberts is more of a secondary focus until his proper debut in the final quarter of the story, but the background information about this world and Lila are suitably engaging and make the Master’s unique charisma and power all the more profound in the limited time afforded him here. He’s subtle and intimidating with tremendous energy as he effortlessly assumes a position of power like only he can, and Roberts pitches his performance perfectly to encapsulate pieces of prior and subsequent actors to take on his villainous role. As such, while the plot may not be the most original or heavily focused on the Master himself as might be expected, the spectacular performances of Aikman and Roberts create an incredibly solid foundation for this series of stories and the potential that this unique setting can afford this incarnation who has finally found life once more.

With so many ranges and characters within the Doctor Who universe at Big Finish’s disposal, it’s inevitable that unexpected pairings will occur at various times. That has perhaps never been more true than in Robert Whitelock’s ‘Prey’ as the impossibly glamorous assassin Vienna Salvatori has take on one final contract to free her from her life. Vienna has always been one of the more intriguing Big Finish creations, and the building morality and strong sense of ethics underlying the actions needed for her chosen profession have helped to create a dynamic presence with a unique inner conflict that wonderfully complements her steadfast and driven exterior. Chase Masterson is once more spectacular in her role as Vienna seeks the presumed head of Drake Industries, and her pairing with Andrew James Spooner as the robotic Artie is a delight that entwines a degree of humour with this very dangerous world and all that it holds. In fact, through Vienna’s pursuit of the Master through this world, ‘Prey’ is able to expand upon the dystopian ideas that ‘Faustian’ presented, and the literal walls dividing society and the remaining results of the Daleks’ invasion attempt present a bleak and treacherous backdrop that only heightens the Master’s own self-serving and malevolent nature. Roberts here is able to showcase his Master’s more conniving side that has seen him reach the pinnacle of power on this world through a forceful business acumen and a willingness to betray, and the confidence he exudes at every step of the way regardless of the nature of any particular threat facing him is perfect. While the plot itself is fairly straightforward and the supporting characters tasked with breathing life into this world don’t quite come to life so dynamically, the immense energy of Roberts and Masterson as well as their brilliant chemistry when together prove to be colossal forces for this release that perfectly pairs and stays true to two disparate characters while setting up what is sure to be a monumental finale.

The Daleks return to complete their long-standing plan to make Earth their own in Matt Fitton’s ‘Vengeance.’ True to form, the Daleks have been a much more insidious presence throughout earlier events as is revealed here, and the duplicity and secrets as the assumed solid foundation for the preceding tales is upended provides a perfectly fitting entry point for the Daleks and the unique dynamics their cunning and ruthlessness always create. Of course, the Master and the Daleks have plenty of shared history, and including a Dalek Litigator who was responsible for trying and passing sentence on the Master as discussed in the opening of the TV Movie allows for an immediacy and undoubted profoundness to pervade the interactions- whether planning actions against or speaking directly to the other- between the two. Roberts taps into this character’s past wonderfully with a very personal motivation fueling his barely-restrained rage that counters his calm charisma that so easily allows him to stay alive without revealing his true intentions, and Nicholas Briggs once again provides a startlingly engrossing performance as a range of Daleks that is wholly respectful of their history with and without the Master while also perfectly filling in more details surrounding the Daleks’ sense of justice and how it was applied and will again be applied to the Master. Chase Masterson likewise continues to excel as Vienna as new truths continue to come to light and she attempts to thread the needle to stay alive with her ideals intact when placed between two such dangerous forces, and Laura Aikman shines in a few key moments that again highlight her character’s ambitions and somewhat ambiguous morality. The conclusion as shown does come off as somewhat flat and unrewarding given the immense energy, drama, and stakes that preced it, but as a whole ‘Vengeance’ proves to be a thrilling and meaningful conclusion to this set tasked with reintroducing the Roberts Master to the Doctor Who universe as a whole. For an incarnation of the Doctor’s most personal nemesis that was so unfairly-maligned for so long, Master! proves just how much this character has to offer and hopefully the signals the beginning of another long and fulfilling journey throughout time and space.

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