Masterful

Posted in Audio by - January 03, 2021
Masterful

Released January 2021

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

In January 1971, Doctor Who introduced the Master to its canon, providing the Doctor not just with another foe with evil delusions of grandeur but a charismatic and intellectual equal whose history was so closely intertwined with the Doctor’s own. Jon Pertwee and Roger Delgado shared an immense chemistry and provided the impetus for the ever-lasting and evolving dynamic that exists between these two characters in their many incarnations, and with Masterful Big Finish celebrates the Time Lord’s fifty-year history as the Master who has finally claimed ultimate victory summons his other selves to revel in his success.

Of all of the Masters introduced to this point, the John Simm version has certainly seemed the most dangerous, obviously able to play the long game while disguised in any walk of life but also brimming with a powerful mania and hardly-concealed rage against everything that make his desires and schemes seem all too possible no matter how far he has reached. As such, it’s natural that he should be the one who has finally achieved dominion of the universe, and his desire to celebrate with and gloat over those who have come before him is perfectly fitting. This provides an apt backdrop for a reunion of audio and televised incarnations alike, and the unique power and nuances of those played by Geoffrey Beevers, Mark Gatiss, Derek Jacobi, Alex Macqueen, Milo Parker, and Eric Roberts quickly shine through as each quips about his own prowess while staking position within the pantheon of his own selves.

Of course, even with Jon Culshaw perfectly voicing Kamelion and providing an even more complete look into the Master’s past, no celebration would be complete with Michelle Gomez’s Missy who makes her presence definitively known despite not being invited. With all of the charm and zany energy that fueled her many appearances alongside the Twelfth Doctor on full display, her own interactions with her previous selves and their resulting reactions to what they will become are superbly realized by all involved, and the knowledge she imparts by stating what her predecessor’s true intentions with this meeting are as well as the danger that has been brought forth into this universe provide a fitting impetus for the split adventure that ensues, one that rather cleverly brings Katy Manning as Jo Grant- who was likewise introduced on screen in ‘Terror of the Autons’- along for the ride.

What slowly unfolds through multiple perspectives is the tale of a planet that has suffered an unimaginable catastrophe with a few well-off refugees and stowaways fleeing off world for any chance at survival as an unstoppable and insatiable wave of entropy continues destructively throughout all of creation. Farther afield, this provides Mark Gatiss’s unbound incarnation a chance to flourish as he puts into action his own manipulative scheme into action to emerge victorious against this threat, but with Time Lords, Daleks, and even interdimensional boundaries providing no hope for respite it’s clear just how deadly this particular threat is. The Master is the Master no matter any specific origins, and his self-serving nature under the guise of helping is a natural fit in this universe that makes his interactions with Missy and Kamelion wholly satisfying both superficially and more deeply as he provides a window to the universal threat that his other selves are experiencing on a more localized level.

Yet despite how manipulative, deceptive, and self-serving the Master has always been, there have always been glints at a certain goodness beneath that evil veneer, and Jo Grant with the knowledge of her many interactions with Roger Delgado’s version and here paired with Missy provides the perfect conduit through which that can be explored. Jo is a character who is wholly devoted to her Doctor and all that he stands for, and she has her hope and confidence reaffirmed early on by her forthright companion who appears in a fittingly unique fashion. In fact, it’s intriguing to see throughout this story just how obsessed the Master in any incarnation is with the Doctor, always expecting a version to smugly show up with claims of moral superiority, a profoundly satisfying insight into this malevolent character and at least partially for the motivations behind his or her exploits. Yet it’s Jo as a very human character with a very human and indefatigable perspective who is able to break through that veneer and at least temporarily cause a blip in the usual confidence that even the Lumiat as the Master’s version of the Valeyard is unable to achieve. Missy obviously underwent something of a redemptive arc for the Master on screen, but she and Jo prove to be another perfect pairing as Missy serves as something of a de facto Doctor while the truth of the Master’s previous exploits come to be known.

Elsewhere, Alex Maqueen and Milo Parker find themselves on opposite sides of the refugee crisis aboard an escaping ship that finds its journey time continuing to lengthen as ration sizes continue to shrink. Macqueen’s Master is certainly not one to accept circumstances as they are, and his ability to bring about an audience with the captain and then a veneer of positive change fueled by a dark cost expertly shows how comfortably his iteration sits alongside the others and just how much the Master has developed over his years. On the originating planet, Derek Jacobi is likewise allowed to prove just how manipulative his own Master can be while trying to discover the truth behind the barriers purported to be protecting the elite of this world from the ravaging dangers outside. The War Master has the charm, charisma, and appearance to ingratiate himself to anyone to advance his own causes, and he provides a unique opportunity to compare and contrast with the Simm version who would follow him as the two align to find a way to complete the latter’s experiments into finding an immeasurable source of regenerative energy.

Perhaps the most intriguing element of Masterful, though, is the position in which Beevers’s Master finds himself. Encompassed by a protective barrier and alone with a self-titled hermit, Kitty, this incarnation who is so closely associated with death finds himself with what would be considered a natural appearance and in the presence of a woman who cares for him and for whom he finds himself caring while tending to the fertile land and its built defenses. This is an immense and poignant look at the path the Master could have taken at any point if put in different circumstances, and Beevers excels at portraying this softer side of his character who here does not need to be planning for anything greater or acting with any ulterior motives. Likewise, the arrival of Roberts’s version and the blunt reminder of his true past and identity under a guise of pleasantries allows both actors to excel in atypical roles for their characters while again exploring the theme of a shrouded kindness always looking to burst forth.

Even when the many Masters have reunited with a unified mind being paramount, it’s fitting that this harmony cannot be achieved. Never one to fully trust and certainly never one to be fully trusted, the final act perfectly encapsulates everything that the Master is, has been, and always will be in some form. Although Missy and the War Master get the ultimate spotlight to most fully portray the different nuances and facets that are always present to different extents no matter how soft or harsh any regeneration is as a whole, the core problem with its genuine truth and how each Master approaches his or her individual situation unite to provide a satisfying story in its own right as well as a brilliant celebration for this beloved enemy and the unique place the many versions hold within the programme, its universe, its fans, and the Doctor’s own lives.

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