Writer: James Goss, Geoffrey Beevers, Simon Guerrier, Trevor Baxendale
Director: Lisa Bowerman, Nicholas Briggs, Ken Bentley
Featuring: Geoffrey Beevers, Mark Gatiss, Michelle Gomez, Derek Jacobi, Eric Roberts, John Simm, Alex Macqueen, Milo Parker, Jon Culshaw
Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)
Released: January 2021
Running Time: 4 Hours (Standard Edition)
8 Hours (Limited Edition)
It has been 50 years since the Master made his first appearance in Terror of the Autons, and as such, the character is being celebrated by Big Finish in a big way. Almost every incarnation of the Master still alive comes together in the story “Masterful.”
Before we begin, can we just discuss how difficult it can be to discuss multiple versions of the Master? With the Doctor, we have definitive numbers, but the Master never really got that. This issue is only complicated by the multiple Masters from spin-off media where their placement in the timeline is not always clear. Sure there is the “War Master” and “Missy” but do we call Simm “Saxon”? I will likely just use the actor’s name to help clarify which incarnation is being discussed, with the War Master and Missy being possible exceptions.
At any rate, this story involves the Simm Master bringing several of his past incarnations together, as he claims he has finally won and is the ruler of the universe. Missy shows up and is bent on exposing him to be just as big a failure as the rest of them, and scatters the Masters in time. But they all seem to land somewhere connected to the same planet and event.
All of the Masters together is really what this is all about. Almost all the TV Masters (up to Missy) are represented with Beevers, Simm, Jacobi, Gomez, and Roberts reprising their roles. The Ainley Master is brought to life (sort of) by Jon Culshaw. Delgado’s Master does not appear, as the Time Scoop meant for him has accidentally taken Jo Grant instead (well...he did PUSH her into it). In addition to those incarnations, we also get two Big Finish originals: the Alex Macqueen Master who appeared alongside McGann a few years ago and the Mark Gatiss Master from an Alternate Universe (from the Unbound series from even longer ago). Milo Parker also appears as the first incarnation of the Master, who is still a teen and hasn’t quite gone completely evil yet.
Having all these Masters bounce off of each other is the real joy. I must say I find the meta-humour that comes with Missy doesn’t always work for me. Too often the joke seems to be “boy I sure am an evil mustache twirler, huh?” and it feels like it is always undercutting the character’s impact. At least they tried to do something more with her in Series 10, but in general, this was her characterization. Too self-aware for my tastes. I could’ve used more Simm in the story, as I think he is a great incarnation. Give me a boxset with him battling Tennant or even a later incarnation! For my money, the best story for any Master once they are separated is the Beevers version. His tortured and decaying body, constantly in pain but somehow finding some form of possible happiness? That is interesting stuff.
As a standalone story celebrating the Master? This is good stuff. It showcases what a varied character he has been throughout his many portrayals over the years. It is a shame that Delgado and Ainley are both gone, it would be so nice if they could be better represented...but having Katy Manning there is a nice way to nod to Delgado, and Culshaw’s impression is pretty dead on. But I think this is a good story to celebrate 50 Years of Obeying the Master.
If you are considering opting for the Limited Edition version of this story, you get three bonus stories - two previously released Short Trips, and a new three-part enhanced audiobook that takes place in the UNIT years and features the Delgado Master.
The First Short Trip, titled I Am the Master and is written and read by Geoffrey Beevers, as he details a bit about himself and one of his many schemes. Beevers is really good in the role, and it makes me wish we got a bit more of him on TV. I like Ainley and all...but Beevers could have been great with more time in the role. The Second Short Trip, The Switching is about the Delgado Master, still imprisoned by UNIT after the Daemons, managing to perform a body swap with the Doctor, hoping to escape Earth and leave the Doctor trapped in a prison cell to pay for the Master’s crimes. It’s a fun little story. The boxset comes to an end with the three-part Terror of the Master read by Jon Culshaw. It’s a solid adventure that feels very much in tone with the era in which the Master originated. I could easily picture this story as a TV story in that era. And as a tribute to Delgado and the era that invented the Master...I think it is fitting.
This is a big boxset with a lot of content to enjoy. If you enjoy the Master, Big Finish has given the character quite the tribute. I think if you are curious which version to get, I would say most fans would get plenty out of the standard edition version. The Masterful story is more than enough to satisfy the craving for a Master tribute. Terror of the Master is enjoyable enough, but if you want a fitting tribute to the original Master? It may honestly be just as well to just watch a classic serial featuring Delgado. His debut season is soon to be released on blu-ray, pick that up instead. The two Short Trips are both older releases and you can pick them both up now for about $5. But I do recommend fans of the Master give Masterful a shot...it is a nice way to celebrate the Master’s big milestone.