Released October 2003
Big Finish closes out its villains trilogy with a piece dedicated to arguably the Doctor’s most famous singular foe, The Master, again brilliantly reprised by Geoffrey Beevers after his audio debut in ‘Dust Breeding.’ The Master is often written as a rather two-dimensional character who does evil deeds purely for the sake of being evil, but ‘Master’ explores the character in much more depth than ever attempted before as writer Joseph Lidster confines events to a singular location with a limited cast, creating a superb tragedy in the process.
Because the Master is in a sense a quite predictable character, the biggest risk that ‘Master’ takes is in hardly featuring the Master at all- instead focusing on him as a disfigured Doctor John Smith who is riddled with amnesia- and it pays off admirably. At the same time that it is becoming clear that this is not an act and that the Master genuinely does not know who he is, it is also becomes clear that the Doctor knows exactly what is going on and, in fact, is responsible for these events. Having made a deal with Death, the Doctor has created this situation in which the Master must live as a normal person for ten years. This creates quite a lengthy philosophical and moral discussion between the two about evil, allowing a very in-depth discussion about the Master (without naming him so overtly) and his motivations- or lack of motivations as the case may be- for his evil deeds.
This is, of course, one of the more difficult portions of this story as Lidster attempts to instill a greater sense of motivation into the Master. Intriguingly, he postulates that the Master is Death’s Champion as a counterpoint to the Doctor as Time’s Champion. The Master truly only appears in one scene as Death allows him to emerge from Smith’s subconscious. Here he offers a satisfying explanation of his actions in his television appearances, dismissing Death’s implication that the Master is her servant. He proclaims that he is not evil since he does not wish to destroy; instead he craves power, decreeing that the weak will fall in line behind him or fall. He is able to justify his presence in the universe as a presence opposite to that of the Doctor, in the process destroying any chance of the Doctor reclaiming his very old friend. Beevers does a superb job in portraying the difference between the genial and sympathetic Smith and the conniving and menacing Master in a very short period of time.
Understandably, Sylvester McCoy and his Seventh Doctor is just as important to proceedings as the complex relationship between the Master and him is explored and some of their past together is revealed. The fact that the Doctor killed Torvik in the past but begged Death to take the Master instead of himself suggests that the Doctor effectively created the Master and also explains why the Doctor shows a sense of mercy to the mass murderer. It also adds a highly effective sense of irony as the Doctor tries to figure out the Master’s reasons for his behaviour before remembering the truth of the past himself. Death’s suggestion that the Doctor should have been the Master since he has been paying for his childish decision for so long casts a monumental shadow over the titular Time Lord. This is one of McCoy’s strongest performances yet, still manipulative but daunted by his own actions. Just as Death notes how far he has come from playing spoons and joking around, McCoy’s portrayal perfectly fits the necessary change in tone.
In the end, ‘Master’ is a great story and a fitting conclusion to this Big Finish trilogy exploring three of the Doctor’s most famous distinct foes. The production values are extremely high, and the murders and curse in the haunted house create and effective setting for the unfolding events. Charlie Hayes is excellent as Death, and the ensemble is completed outstandingly by Anne Ridler’s Jacqueline Schaeffer suffering from her love for Smith and Philip Madoc’s anguished murderer Victor. There are plenty of nods to past adventures, including the novelized New Adventures, and aside from a couple of slower points in the middle, this is an engrossingly engaging insight into the characters of both the Master and the Doctor.