Big Finish: The Worlds Of Doctor Who - MASTERFUL Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: The Worlds Of Doctor Who - MASTERFUL Review

Matthew Kresal attends the ultimate victory celebration party.
The Master. The Professor Moriarity to the Doctor's Sherlock Holmes, a foe every bit as intelligent and capable as our favorite Time Lord hero. First brought to life by Roger Delgado alongside Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor in 1971, the Master is also celebrating a big birthday. "The big five-oh," as my dad described it when he crossed the threshold almost a decade ago. And to mark the occasion, Big Finish has produced a three-hour epic that asks a simple question: What if the Master finally won?

James Goss hits upon a splendid idea with Masterful. Indeed, it's surprising in retrospect that Big Finish didn't tackle it as part of their 2003 Unbound audios (though their Valeyard centric He Jests At Scars comes close, one supposes). There's a peculiar thrill for fans, especially the long-time ones that Big Finish caters to, in hearing what it would be like to have an arch-villain finally get their own over the hero. Hence the popularity of tales featuring the Professor in the Holmes canon. What Goss does, though, from the very first scene almost, is to wrong-foot the Masters and the audience throughout. How he does it would be the spoil a lot of the fun of listening to Masterful. Suffice to say that, with Legacy of Time in 2019, there's a certain puzzle box quality to the story that allows the listener to put the pieces together and see what's going on as it unfolds, figuring it out as the Master does, which adds to the Masterful fun.

If you're listening to Masterful, then you've likely come for the multi-Master aspect of the story. It's something that hasn't been done much at all, the first such encounter only happening on-screen in 2017, for example. But Goss and director Ken Bentley make the most of it here, as do the various actors, the result being some glorious listening. Everyone has their moment in the spotlight, often when paired off together. From John Simm's power-hungry incarnation (making his Big Finish debut here) to Mark Gattis as the evil twinkle in his eye Unbound Master, everyone feels present and correct. But there are some surprises along the way as well, from Milo Parker's youngest incarnation to Eric Roberts getting to play a smooth-talking swindler and Geoffrey Beevers bringing a new approach to his version of the Master. Elsewhere, Michele Gomez's Missy as the perhaps weary psychopath, especially when paired off with a particular character, adds a nice dimension that you might even call heart in a story full of evildoers. It was also a thrill to finally hear Alex McQueen's evil yet cheerful vision of the character back in action, and Sir Derek Jacobi continues to excel as the War Master.

This moment seems a good time to bring up this reviewer's one significant niggle with Masterful: the ending. Again, you should hear it for yourself because it has plenty to recommend it for, as the rest of the review above hopefully attests. But after three hours, Goss brings the story to an end rather suddenly, through a twist that is perfect given the central characters of this release. Yet, and perhaps more to the way it's executed that anything to do with the cast, it doesn't quite work. In fact, the suddenness of the ending might well play against how effective it is, and it might even bring confusion to some listener's ears. It doesn't derail the story, not by a long shot, but it does leave it ending on a bit of a whimper rather than a bang.

Even so, for fans of the Master in any of their incarnations, Masterful comes with a strong recommendation. It's an epic in every sense of the word, showcasing not just the various versions of one of Doctor Who's greatest villains but so many of those who brought the Doctor's nemesis to life over the last five decades. So join the party, but watch out for your fellow guests as you never know who might bring you down to size.

From The Worlds of Doctor Who: Masterful is available to purchase from the Big Finish website.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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