Big Finish: From The Worlds of Doctor Who - MASTER! Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: From The Worlds of Doctor Who - MASTER! Review

Matthew Kresal finds a masterful collection of adventures in the latest Big Finish box-set.
When Doctor Who fans talk about the 1996 TV Movie, the conversation invariably mentions that it was (for nearly 18 years) Paul McGann's sole screen outing as the Doctor. Yet it's easy to forget it was also the single screen outing for his foe: the Eric Roberts incarnation of the Master. While less universally received than McGann's Doctor, the Roberts Master is every bit as much a part of the Doctor Who universe as the Doctor. Unlike McGann, of course, he hasn't had a wealth of spin-off media and two decades of audio performances in the role.

At least until now. After all this time, Big Finish has given him a box-set all his own. And what a treat that Master! turned out to be.

Set a few decades on from the Dalek invasions of the 22nd-century, the box-set opens with Robert Valentine's Faustian. Cleverly mirroring the first stories of various Doctors, Valentine's script takes us into this brave new world as seen through the eyes of its companion character. Lila Kreeg (Laura Aikman) is an ambitious scientist, perhaps even a genius, working for Drake Enterprises, one of the mega-corporations effectively running the world post-invasion. Along with her assistant Eddi (an impressively American sounding Glen McCready), she's desperate for a breakthrough. How desperate? Well, if the title sounds familiar, you can probably guess. Between Valentine's writing and Aikman's performance, there's a beautiful sense of terrible inevitability to this opening installment, which makes it an enticing listen. It also helps that Valentine, as Russell T Davies did with Christopher Eccelston's Doctor, gradually weaves him more and more into proceedings, which perfectly suits the return of character and performer alike. As an opener for the set, it hits all the right notes perfectly.

Robert Whitelock's Prey is, like with many episodes of Doctor Who, a different kettle of fish from its immediate predecessor. In part because it offers up a link to the Big Finish universe at large: the appearance of assassin Vienna Salvatori (Chase Masterson), who has answered a contract on our recently returned villain. Echoing aspects of the 1979 Quatermass and John Carpenter's action film Escape from New York, Prey takes the characters out of the comfort of mega-corporations and into the slums of a rundown, post-invasion London. Fans of those productions, as well as The Dalek Invasion of Earth from the First Doctor's era, will find plenty to love here, as will fans of Vienna's appearances in other Big Finish audios for nearly a decade. It's also a chance to see the Master in a less than optimal situation, and how he conducts himself is half the fun of listening to Prey while the other half, of course, is in listening to Vienna hunting him down. It's a solid action romp, not to mention a fun listen in its own right.

Big Finish regular writer Matt Fitton brings the set to a close with Vengeance. If Valentine's Faustian was an inversion of Doctor introduction stories, then Fitton's script is equally an inversion of Dalek stories and invasion ones in particular. Only, of course, the Doctor isn't around, and Earth's only hope lies in a self-serving savior, his companion, and an assassin. The episode is aptly named, picking up on all sorts of threads both across this box-set and delving back into this particular Master's TV Movie backstory. Indeed, Fitton offers some answers to questions fans have been asking since they saw the prologue twenty-five years ago, wrapping them up inside an immensely satisfying tale of invasion, revenge, and power plays. With Nicholas Briggs on hand to play the Daleks, including a new variant perfectly suited to this episode, Vengenace is an immensely satisfying conclusion to the set.

Any review of this set would be remiss in not mentioning its titular character. Judging Eric Roberts as the Master has been a difficult task, given we had just the TV Movie to go by and, as mentioned at the top of this review, he never had the chance that McGann had to run with the character elsewhere until now. In listening to Master!, however, Big Finish has produced a version of the character that both builds upon what little we saw of him on-screen while putting a much-welcomed new coat of paint atop it. Roberts Master is every bit the charmer, opportunist, and menacing as any of his predecessors, mixed with a street-wise quality that makes his threats (especially in the final episode) all the more palpable. All of which is something that Roberts himself revels in, effortlessly bringing out the various facets of the Master across the three episodes that show how strong his original casting (if not necessarily the scripting or direction of him) was a quarter-century ago. That Roberts has a voice well-suited for vocal acting is all the more in his favor. All of which is something all the more surprising when you learn in the extras that he and Masterson recorded separately from everyone else, something you'd never know from his performance or the editing of sound designer Howard Carter. In one masterstroke (no pun intended), Big Finish have done for this Master what they did with Sir Derek Jacobi's War Master: letting us see beyond the glimpses we received on-screen to discover a whole new Master, indeed.

However you feel about the TV Movie and Roberts as the Master in it, this set from Big Finish is worth seeking out. From letting Roberts shine in a meaty role that allows him to bring his charm and menace to the part, to exploring a largely untraveled part of Doctor Who's future history, it's a prime example of what Big Finish has been doing for two decades now. Namely, taking underserved characters and letting them have their moment in the sun.

To put it another way, let me quote a well-remembered tagline from the TV Movie:

He’s back and it's about time!

Master! is exclusively available to purchase from the Big Finish website until 30 April 2021, and on general sale after this date.

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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