Master!: Nemesis Express

Posted in Audio by - October 14, 2022
Master!: Nemesis Express

Released October 2022


Following an intriguing audio introduction to Eric Roberts’s incarnation of the Master in the aptly-titled Master! box set alongside Big Finish’s own Vienna Salvatori, the two return to the fore in the latest collection of Master! stories, subtitled Nemesis Express.

Robert Whitelock opens this collection with ‘Nemesis Express’ and successfully introduces the serpentine recreational cruiser Kairos upon which these stories unfold. Traversing the time vortex itself, this is a ship divided into different segments of society with the rear housing the criminals and the front housing the ultra-rich, and Vienna has come aboard in search of a stolen gem. From the start, Chase Masterson has imbued an incredible confidence and charm to this glamorous bounty hunter, and Vienna again vividly springs to life and she traverses the different segments while learning about those within each as well as those who service and police as needed. Naturally, she meets plenty of resistance as she attempts to move further up the ship, a particular and unexpected highlight being the hedonist segment populated by partyers, and her quick thinking and determination serve her character well as she takes on more of a traditional protagonist’s role alongside the young thief Passion who senses that the ship itself is watching her. Indeed, this is very much a Vienna story that just so happens to feature the Master’s return from oblivion thanks to the ship’s vortex drive, and while this is stylistically something of an odd choice given the relatively unexplored ground of Roberts’s incarnation, it nonetheless allows for the intriguing setup of the Master positioning himself in control to guide meetings and events as he sees fit with a particular interest in Vienna herself given their history together. Roberts takes full advantage of the opportunity to show his Master’s charming and more overtly assertive sides even within a more limited role, offering a tease of what is yet to come as the Master and Vienna cross paths again. However, the story does very much take a secondary role compared to the immense world-building on display, and it’s naturally the unique nuances of the Kairos and the setup of the society within it that earn the starring role. ‘Nemesis Express’ is very much the opener of a series setting the groundwork for future stories rather than telling a satisfying and self-contained story, and even if Passion doesn’t quite fully develop as a character despite a strong performance from Teri Ann Bobb-Baxter, the overall confidence and strong sound design do help to accentuate the superb setting and to create an intriguing entry point back into this universe.

Vienna and Passion continue their pursuit of the Master in ‘Capture the Chronovore!’ by Lizbeth Myles, traversing the classier segments of the Kairos and earning invitations to an exclusive shooting party taking aim at the great Chronovores that reside within the vortex. With the Master posing as the master of the hunt, Eric Roberts seems to relish the opportunity to explore this incarnation’s savage nature that his charisma can just about mask to outsiders, and he confidently takes control of affairs as he manoeuvres those around him as he sees fit to acquire just what he needs from them and the chronovores to bring his ultimate goal to fruition in the concluding story. Naturally, the focus on the hunting party means that there is an expanded cast of characters, and while each of them is quite vividly written and portrayed, it does mean that Vienna and Passion are sidelined somewhat more than might be expected given how vital the two are to the Master’s plans and just how driven Vienna is given her previous interactions with the Master. Still, while Passion still hasn’t fully developed to this point, Bobb-Baxter excels with the material presented her, and Masterson again shines as Vienna’s more heroic nature is thrust into the spotlight as the Master’s malevolence continues to spread. Strangely, however, the story never quite manages to create a sense of palpable danger or stakes for any of the leads despite the very visceral threat of aging to death being present, and a somewhat haphazard pacing only further accentuates a somewhat rocky affair within this most intriguing setting. The inclusion of experimentation upon Chronovores and the necessary discussion about these creatures’ emotional state and capabilities as well as of trophy hunting and ethics in general add several extra layers to what is ultimately a fairly straightforward story, and the immense visuals at its core similarly help to elevate the overall experience. Again, this is a story very much waiting for the Master and Vienna to reunite and in so doing doesn’t quite put the focus on either, but there are certainly enough enjoyable moments and performances to keep this middle instalment from falling by the wayside.

Robert Valentine brings Nemesis Express to a conclusion with ‘Passion’ as Vienna and Passion finally reach the front of the ship and find themselves precisely where the Master wants them to be. Unfortunately, ‘Passion’ unfolds exactly as any stereotypical story featuring the Master in any incarnation might be expected to, including featuring a plan to destroy the Earth in the process that inexplicably comes out of nowhere and serves no real purpose other than to artificially amplify the stakes. More effective, at the least, is the exploration of this almost-vampiric iteration of the Master and his need of energy from others to sustain himself, and his desire to use Vienna as his future host as well as the frightening realization that the hosts are still alive to witness what the Master has them do are certainly highlights that make good use of Vienna’s continued foiling presence within this Master’s life. Once again, Roberts is the unabashed star as he leans into the more callous but showy nature of this incarnation, and his chemistry with Masterson is superb as Vienna does everything she can to stay alive while continuing her fight against him. Unsurprisingly, the Master’s overconfidence proves to be his undoing like countless times before, but in the process Passion finally receives some much needed development as she uses the Master’s assumptions about her own strengths, weaknesses, and abilities to her own advantage. Together, Vienna and Passion certainly do make a successful team, and the presence of Passion as well as the obvious malice of the Master highlight a more noble Vienna who could certainly front further adventures in the future. However, given that the Master naturally survives assured death once more to continue wreaking havoc as he fights to retain a grip on life, hopefully Vienna and Passion will return to the proper Vienna range to allow Roberts’s Master some time to develop more fully on his own. ‘Passion’ does everything a conclusion to a three-story set featuring the Master should, but its problem is that it does everything a conclusion to a three-story set featuring the Master should without doing anything truly unique. The power of the Master is palpable as he asserts his control over those around him, but the script as a whole is somewhat lacking and fails to take advantage of the brilliant Kairos setting, ending an uneven set on a somewhat unremarkable note.

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