Sunday, May 8, 2016

Master by: Joseph Lidster directed by: Gary Russell: On the Edges of an Old Town Sits an Old House

Master stars Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor with Philip Madoc as Victor Schaeffer, Anne Ridler as Jacqueline Schaeffer, Charlie Hayes as Death and Geoffrey Beevers as the Master.  It was written by Joseph Lidster, directed by Gary Russell and released in October 2003 by Big Finish Productions.

In Genesis of the Daleks, the Doctor asked if he had the right to kill the Daleks at their very beginning and years later the Seventh Doctor would say yes he did as he blew up the planet Skaro in Remembrance of the Daleks.  That is a question that is asked today in Master a story where the Doctor has made a deal with Death to give the Master ten years of a life and at the end of the ten years he has to kill him, but unlike the Daleks, he can’t bring himself to harm his old friend and wants to find a way to save him.  Joseph Lidster uses this plot to reveal the past of the Master and why he is a killer after being the friend of the Doctor for their childhood which is revealed in Part Four of the story in an extremely heartbreaking sequence that makes you question the morality of both the Master and the Doctor.  I won’t spoil exactly what about the Time Lords’ past that Lidster reveals, but I will say it makes the story an extremely emotional ride.


The emotion is only one aspect of the story while an important aspect that goes most ignored is the setting.  The setting is a Victiorian style mansion on the outskirts of Perfugium which is separated from the rest of the town a la And Then There Were None… and before being owned by the Master it was owned by a man called Wollstonecraft in reference to Mary Shelley creator of Frankenstein.  Every scene in the setting feels like being in an old house that is hiding a lot of secrets in the shadows.  There are creaking floorboards and a disembodied voice in the shadows that promises our characters are all doomed to die on the fateful night.  Lidster’s script and Russell’s direction also are odd in that while the entire story minus of course the frame story, takes place in the house you get a feel for what has been shaking the town of Perfugium in the previous weeks.  There’s a murderer killing prostitutes a la Jack the Ripper and bodies without their hearts are being found on the streets.  Nobody is safe in their houses and the head inspector of the police is at his wits end especially when a girl who isn’t a prostitute shows up dead.


I should also take at least a moment to talk about that frame story.  The story is the Seventh Doctor telling a nameless assassin what happened that fateful night on Perfugium while a parade is happening that the assassin is getting ready to shoot.  While it is never revealed who the politician the man is going to assassinate, but it doesn’t matter as the Doctor is the one who has to kill him as a part of another deal with death.  Sylvester McCoy gives his best Doctor Who performance in this story.  McCoy shows that he can be extremely sympathetic and channel the Virgin New Adventures style Doctor as this is a story after all the novels have taken place and at least for me is just about to go to Skaro to get the Master’s remains leading into The TV Movie.


The story is also notable for being the second appearance of Geoffrey Beevers’ Master in Big Finish although here he is barely the Master.  That isn’t a bad thing as we get to see just how good the Master could have been if the events that led him to be evil were different.  He has friends, has a lover and has a wide range of emotions to give off with his voice being the more sympathetic character.  There is the Master’s master Death played by Charlie Hayes, Wendy Padbury’s daughter, who is extremely creepy playing Death as what seems to be a twenty-one year old girl with absolute power.  She has everyone wrapped around her finger as she’s the one who’s caused Victor, the Master’s best friend on Perfugium, to become a complete psychopath who is broken and Jacqueline to become smitten.  She is the one who stops the Master from becoming good in the end and causes the Seventh Doctor, the master manipulator, the man who has an iron will to fall apart as she makes sure he loses his friend and have to bring himself to kill an innocent man which he was never really able to do to an innocent.


To summarize, Master is a powerhouse story that is my favorite from Big Finish’s catalogue as it works as a bookend to the Seventh Doctor’s life and asks several morality questions about if the Doctor is actually meant to be the hero of his story.  The acting is spot on and the writing just transports you into the story’s setting as everything works in perfection.  100/100.

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