Masterful (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 19 February 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Masterful  (Credit: Big Finish)

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. 





Time Lord Victorious: Genetics of the Daleks (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 5 February 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Time Lord Victorious: Genetics of the Daleks (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: Jonathan Morris

Director: Jamie Anderson

Featuring: Tom Baker, Nicholas Briggs, Pippa Haywood, Joseph Kloska, Clive Mantle, Andrew James Spooner, & Nina Toussaint-White

 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released December 2020

Running Time: 1 hour

The Fourth Doctor gets in on the Time Lord Victorious action, sort of. This story does feature Daleks but in terms of the TLV business, that is mostly used as a warning of what the Doctor can become. This is not really an adventure where time is askew or involves some ancient creature from the Dark Times...but it does feature a Dalek telling the Fourth Doctor of what kind of person he may potentially come...the Time Lord Victorious. 

Tom Baker is quite good here. I remember when he was first returning to the role on audio, I felt he still had it but you could tell he was so much older than when he was the Doctor on screen. I’ve not had the pleasure of listening to all of his output since he began reprising, but based on this? He has really settled back into the role perfectly...and sounds as if we were back in 1976.

In the end, there isn’t much to say about this one.  It is yet another slick production from Big Finish, with a great performance from an all-time classic Doctor, and (of course) the Daleks.  It feels very disconnected from the Time Lord Victorious series (despite actually name dropping Time Lord Victorious), and can easily be enjoyed as just another fun Tom Baker/Dalek adventure. 





Time Lord Victorious: Mutually Assured Destruction (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 2 February 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Time Lord Victorious: Mutually Assured Destruction (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: Lizzie Hopley

Director: Scott Handcock

Featuring: Paul McGann, Nicholas Briggs, Samantha Béart, and Wilf Scolding

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released December 2020

Running Time: 1 hour

Big Finish closes out their “Eighth Doctor Trilogy” for the Time Lord Victorious event (though he will make one more audio appearance in “Echoes of Extinction” which will also feature the Tenth Doctor), and it is a decent story. The Eighth Doctor is still stuck with the Daleks, though they don’t initially seem aware he is on their ship. They are trying to connect the TARDIS to their time ship. 

It is basically the Doctor trying to get the best of the Daleks in their own ship, trying to save a couple survivors of a planet they wiped out as well (who also allude to a “Dark One”)...and the Strategist is still trying to make deals with the Doctor while increasingly butting heads with the Time Commander. 

I enjoyed this story. Not so much for being a part of a larger “event” but because it was a fun adventure with the Eighth Doctor and the Daleks. McGann is, as always, a fun Doctor to listen to. And while the Daleks have certainly had more than their fair share of stories with him in recent years (from the end of his Lucie Miller adventures through Dark Eyes, and more recently in the Time War series), Big Finish still knows how to execute a good Dalek story. 

Granted it still feels like we are teetering on the edge of whatever the Time Lord Victorious story is all about...the bigger picture feels sort of lost on me at this point, with all stories I have thus far taken in feeling like they are hinting at or building to something else. It is now beginning to feel like everyone contributing is trying so hard to keep the audience from being alienated, trying to make it clear enough as to not need other material, that in the end, it is feeling less like a big interconnected story, and more like random adventures that may share some story elements. 

Maybe at some point, I will be able to dive deep enough into all the TLV stuff that it will all make sense and feel very exciting. I look forward to that moment. 





Time Lord Victorious: Short Trips: Master Thief / Lesser Evils (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 1 February 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Master Thief / Lesser Evils (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Sophie Iles & Simon Guerrier 

Directed by Lisa Bowerman

Narrated by Jon Culshaw

 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released: October 2020

Running Time: 80 Minutes

The Master, two incarnations actually, gets in on the Time Lord Victorious action via this Big Finish release featuring two Short Trips, both read by Jon Culshaw. The first features the Delgado version of the Master, while the second follows the Ainley version. 

In the first tale, “Master Thief,” the Master has stolen the de-evolution weapon featured prominently in the second Eighth Doctor TLV story, “Enemy of My Enemy,” and now is inflicting it on several people on a planet, but as he does so he begins to lose his edge. Disintegrating his enemies into a pile of primitive ooze has somehow softened him, and it ultimately leads to his downfall. 

The second story, “Lesser Evils” has less focus on action and the Master ripping through anyone in his way, and is a far smaller character piece. The Master is quietly defending a race from the Koturrah...but why? 

I enjoyed both of these short little entries, though I am unsure how important they are to the overall Time Lord Victorious story. Then again with every entry trying hard to not rely too much on other media in the story, who is to say what is very important to the whole thing? Culshaw is a solid narrator, his versions of each Master is good (his Ainley is very good, and while his Delgado doesn’t sound perfect, he captures something of the essence). For quick bite-sized adventures in this big arc, they are worth your time. 





Time Lord Victorious: The Enemy of My Enemy (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 20 January 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Enemy of My Enemy (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: Tracy Ann Baines

Director: Scott Handcock

Featuring: Paul McGann, Nicholas Briggs, Rachel Atkins,  Samantha Béart, Jacob Dudman, Raj Ghatak

 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released November 2020

Running Time: 1 hou

The second Big Finish instalment of Time Lord Victorious seems to play in that specific sandbox a little more than the first outing. This one has it all, Daleks trying to work with the Doctor, timelines all askew…and the Doctor caught in the middle. 

The story has the Doctor held prisoner by the Daleks and forced to help them. This is essentially the same set up that the Titan Comics story had. This time the Daleks claim to want to go in peace with a race of aliens from a planet that is meant to be a barren wasteland. The people of this planet have a genocide weapon that wipes out a whole race by breaking them down into cells and letting them evolve from scratch. It is pretty clear that the Daleks plan of coming in peace is just a ruse to get at this ultimate weapon. 

This is maybe the first time in my experience with the Victorious stories that I have felt it was losing me. Don’t get me wrong, it is a well-produced adventure, with plenty of good story elements...but I think despite the idea that the multi-media event is something new and grand...a lot of it feels fairly typical Doctor Who. Planets and Civilizations that shouldn’t be there, timeline shenanigans, crazy sci-fi weapons that need to be stopped and...Daleks. Big Finish is good at producing Dalek stories, but they’ve become a tad old hat. Not only have they had a constant presence on TV (they’ve not missed an appearance, even a brief one, in a single series since 2005), and on Big Finish they have faced off with the Eighth Doctor a lot. 

This is a solid adventure, well-produced and acted, a decent entry in the overall Time Lord Victorious event.  The only problem is that in general, I am seeing a trend with the Time Lord Victorious. It is starting to just feel like standard Doctor Who with a fancy label on the cover.  I’m curious to see where they take it, but so far it doesn’t feel like it is going in any incredible new direction. I found myself not as invested this time around, but it isn’t bad by any standard. 





The Eighth Doctor: The Time War Series 4 (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 6 January 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The Time War - Series 4 (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: John Dorney, Lisa McMullin, Matt Fitton

 

Director: Helen Goldwyn

 

Featuring: Paul McGann, Rakhee Thakrar, Terry Malloy, Adele Anderson, Isla Blair, and Nicholas Briggs

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released: September 2020

Running Time: 5 hours

In the fourth volume of the Eighth Doctor’s adventures hovering around the edge of the Time War, he ends up in an alternate universe, deals with multiple versions of Davros, has a total loss of memory of who the Daleks are, before getting caught up in the midst of a Dalek Civil War.  It is, in short, another winner of a boxset from Big Finish, who have been really nailing the time War saga throughout their various sets and series.  Ahead will likely be SPOILERS, but if you are wondering whether this instalment is worth your time if you have enjoyed the Time War series thus far, this is on par if not better than many of the instalments.  

****POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD****

The set begins with Palindrome, Part 1 Davros living peacefully, married to a Thal, and working on his scientific endeavours, such as an interdimensional portal that can maybe let folks travel between other universes. But his happy little world is quickly disrupted when Daleks attack.  He and his wife are killed...but he awakes anyhow, but it is a day earlier than it was. And he gets killed one way or another each day, only to awake another day earlier.  The Doctor and Bliss are there, and they try their best to help this version of Davros, but that is difficult when they are travelling through time in opposite directions.  And when Davros meets, well, Davros (a version who seems far closer to what we all know) he is convinced that it may be the Doctor and Bliss who are in the wrong.  

Palindrome, Part 2 shows what happens when Davros is merged with all the alternate universe variations of himself, as planned out by the Dalek Time Strategist, and he begins moving forward in time again.  The Time Strategist is plotting to restore the Daleks, who were nearly beaten in “our” universe...and his plan is to use this dimensional portal to merge all Daleks from every universe to supply Daleks with an endless supply of Daleks.  Blow up one Dalek and a new one will pop in its place.  Obviously not an ideal situation.  

Beyond all that plot, that is honestly difficult to summarize with its wonky time mechanics, the heart of this episode is Terry Malloy’s latest performance as Davros. He starts off playing a perfectly innocent Davros from another universe, one that never grew up in an endless war, that never grew to despise Thals, one that was never injured and required the use of a travel machine, that never had hate that grew so deep, and certainly never had a need to create Daleks.  This Davros is just a nice guy, married and happily working on his own, more peaceful scientific endeavours.  But after he is merged with Davros from various alternate timelines, he struggles to maintain his peaceful nature.  He wants the Daleks to not hate indiscriminately...but he is slowly losing his own sense of self. His merger leaves him just as disfigured and in need of a chair as the Davros we all know, and while he tries to remember who he was, his hate for Thals starts to shine through.  By the end, he is utterly lost, ordering the death of his own alternate self and wife (again timey-wimey business is about here). Malloy plays it perfectly, from his innocent version, through his struggles losing his sense of self, until he is finally just the evil Davros we have always known.

After such a big epic opening, the set could lose some lustre going forward.  How do you maintain that level?  Luckily while the third story is certainly smaller and scale and intensity, it is still quite good, and leads directly into the big conclusion. In Dreadshade the Doctor and Bliss return to their own universe, but their memories are faulty.  They don’t remember who each other are.  They can remember their names and whether they are human or Time Lord...they have some basics, but there are huge swaths of their memory that are missing.  Unfortunately, this is the case for almost everyone they meet.  

Before the mass memory loss, the Twelve was placed inside a Time Lord weapon vault and is in stasis.  In there with her was a Dreadshade, a creature that can be trained to fear a specific thing and then when it is confronted with enough of that very thing will wipe it all out.  It was trained for Daleks, but when the Daleks were wiped out and forgotten, the Dreadshade forgot what it was afraid of...and the Twelve has trained it to fear Time Lords. While the Doctor and Time Lords slowly figure this out, they are also having the sense that the Time War has finally ended, whatever their enemy is...is finally gone. Then the Doctor and Bliss remember the warning they were coming with.  The Daleks aren’t just coming back.  They are coming back with a vengeance.  

Everything closes up Restoration of the Daleks, as the Time Strategist schemes to use Davros to restore the Daleks and then eliminate him, restoring the Emperor as well.  It basically leads to a sped-up version of Dalek history.  Davros helps create them, some turn on him over his purity, the Emperor is created and the Daleks follow his word, but then Davros convinces some Daleks to follow him instead, it leads into civil war...it isn’t what the Strategist hoped for.  The Doctor and gang are able to destroy the Dimensional Portal and stop the Strategist’s endless Dalek scheme. The Daleks lock up Davros on the order of the Emperor, who believes there is still some use to be had from Davros.  This pleases the maniacal Davros.  

While the Eighth Doctor is not nearly as front and centre during this set, the set does end with a cliffhanger that is very dear to that Doctor...from out of the multiverse came a stasis pod...and within that pod: his great-grandson Alex.  For those struggling to remember in the long past continuity of the Eighth Doctor’s audio run, Alex was Susan’s son introduced during the Lucie Miller days, back in 2009.  He first appeared in a one-off adventure in-between Eighth Doctor seasons, then played a pivotal role in the final season with Lucie Miller, being killed along with many of the Doctor’s friends.  There has been a ton of material both following directly on from those losses, and the Doctor’s Time War stories are meant to be much further on in his history than any of those, but needless to say, this memory being brought back to life should bring up some very personal feelings for the Doctor going forward.  

Time War 4 is great.  Maybe the best entry for the series yet. Terry Malloy is such a key part of this boxset that it might as well have been called Davros: Time War as opposed to Eighth Doctor: Time War.  If I had any complaint, it is an echo from a previous set: Bliss does not feel like a fully realized character.  She just feels like “Generic Companion #342.”  She is well performed but has been given no dimension by the writing, no clear characteristics that make her feel unique.  She is just too blank.  Four sets in?  That is a shame.  Beyond that?  This is a hell of a set.



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