Written by Alan Barnes
Directed by Jamie Anderson
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Geoffrey Beevers (The Master), Sheena Bhattessa (Annie), Alex Foley (Colin), Peta Cornish (Helen/Jade Nymph), Russ Bain (Mikey/Grigor), Tessa Coates (Janine), Nick Ellsworth (Gomphus/Auctioneer)
Big Finish Productions – Released April 2016
Order from Amazon UK
Following hot on the heels of the highly acclaimed The Peterloo Massacre, this is the start of a trilogy of adventures which will pitch three different Doctors against two incarnations of his long-running Time Lord nemesis, the Master, who first appeared on TV 45 years ago.
This play feels very much like a standalone story and it is a rare occasion that finds the Fifth Doctor unaccompanied by any of his usual companions (continuity is satisfied by a fleeting reference to Tegan, presumably accompanied by either Nyssa or Turlough, having been sent off to a garden centre in 1984). It is also the first time that there has been a direct confrontation on audio between just the Fifth Doctor and the Master (leaving aside the multi-Doctor confrontation with Geoffrey Beevers’ Master in the 2013 special The Light at the End and an encounter with the Anthony Ainley incarnation in the 2013 Destiny of the Doctor story Smoke and Mirrors, narrated by Janet Fielding). Leaving aside the obvious reasons for the Fifth Doctor having not met the Master since his TV era, writer Alan Barnes includes a seemingly obligatory reference to the Beevers’ incarnation having crossed his own timeline as the Doctor has already met his future self. Although long-time listeners will know that Beevers’ Master has a rather more complicated timeline than the Fifth Doctor realises and may just as easily have crossed his own past timeline from after the loss of his Trakenite body.
The story opens in the present day in the village of Hexford (whether this is intended to be one and the same as the Hexford which featured in the BBC Audio ‘Nest Cottage’ series which featured Tom Baker is unclear) and finds the Doctor accidentally starting a bidding war at a local auction from suspiciously familiar sounding grandfather clock. There is also a local mystery over a newly dug grave which purports to contain the mortal remains of a certain Michael Masterson which the Doctor assumes may be a rather obvious pseudonym. During the first half of the play, the Master remains very much a shadowy figure in the background although it is clear that his influence has been felt by several of the characters. Geoffrey Beevers finally arrives properly in the story for the start of Part Three which details a flashback to 1984 of how the Master originally arrived in Hexford, apparently on the run because there is a price on his head. Beevers clearly relishes playing the more manipulative side of the Master’s narture as he suborns some local teenagers into helping him survive by increasingly illegal means. The play reaches a suitably dramatic if not entirely unpredictable conclusion as the actions of the 1980s teenagers come back to haunt them in the present day and finally bringing the Doctor and the Master together. Peter Davison gives a convincing performance throughout the play which ultimately is rather standard Big Finish fare. He certainly seems to enjoy his scenes with Beevers. Some mention should also go to Sheena Bhattessa as Annie whose character proves to be the most interesting during the first half of the play but unfortunately undergoes a not entirely convincing development during the second half.
The play may at first seem a little unremarkable and stands very much on its own with no major plot threads left dangling at the end. There is however, one unanswered question relating to why the Master is suddenly on the run from bounty hunters which will presumably become apparent later in the trilogy. Possibly not the best audio play ever but still an enjoyable character piece. The next two plays will have to work a lot harder though to reach the high bar set by the 2003 play Master to which this trilogy will inevitably bear comparison.