Big Finish Review: Doctor Who Short trips: Time Lord Victorious
The ambitious Doctor Who multi-platform Time Lord Victorious, featuring multiple Doctors and a linked narrative across books, audios, comics, DVDs and even escape rooms, comes to Big Finish this month. Ahead of Time Lord Victorious: He Kills Me, He Kills Me Not later in October, comes two short trips adventuress featuring two classic incarnations of the Master.
Doctor Who Short trips: Time Lord Victorious is narrated by Jon Culshaw, providing the voices for both the Roger Delgado and Anthony Ainley Masters. Both stories are directed by Lisa Bowerman and written by Sophie Iles and Simon Guerrier. It is available to purchase on the Big Finish site here. Check out the synopses below...
Master Thief by Sophie Iles
The Master wants to plunder one of the most secure vaults in the universe, the Repository. He’s got a plan, and a deadly new weapon to assist him. However, as the Master quickly discovers, getting in might be easy, but getting away with it might cost him everything.
Lesser Evils by Simon Guerrier
The Kotturuh have arrived on the planet Alexis to distribute the gift of death to its inhabitants. The only person standing in their way is a renegade Time Lord, who has sworn to protect the locals. A Time Lord called the Master...
I'll be joined by my 14 year old son Ben, regular Big Finish reviewer and the world's biggest Doctor Who fan...
Master Thief is an intriguing story, offering a look at Delgado's Master without Pertwee's Doctor there to stop him at every turn. It's a relatively simple story that plays to the character's strengths. Breaking into a secure vault to steal a map that will give him unlimited power, his ruthless side is unleashed. We're treated to all the familiar facets of the Master - his ability to hypnotise and manipulate others into obeying him, his arrogant charm and love for miniaturisation technology - but it is also shockingly violent. For all his meglomania in his TV appearances, Delgado's Master never feels as dangerous as he does here, slaughtering his way through the doomed inhabitants of the facility.
There are plenty of clever ideas and stunning imagery that make the most of not being bound by a 70s TV budget. The facility, deep within an ocean world is wonderfully evocative and the nature of the Master's weapon is extremely fascinating; not only is the horror he unleashes on his victims really nasty, but it also chips away at his own character. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the ending, feeling familial in tone to Paul McGann's Night of the Doctor from Doctor Who's 50th anniversary and filling in the gaps surrounding this version of the Master that was never satisfactorily resolved on screen due to Delgado's tragic death.
The nature of the ambitious Time Lord Victorious saga means that it is difficult to pinpoint the relevance of this story, though there are some interesting seeds sown by the location of the map in the follow-on story and the events that take place there. But Master Thief works well in it's own right without the wider connection. Jon Culshaw narrates the story with plenty of aplomb. His Delgado impression isn't quite as strong as his Ainley's, but it serves the story well. The direction is vivid and Sophie Iles's imaginative story is given plenty of life thanks to Culshaw's engaging tone. This is a great start to Big Finish's contribution to the Time Lord Victorious range.
Quite honestly, I was a bit sceptical about this release. I wasn't entirely sure how the Master could fit into the grand narrative of Time Lord Victorious, and admittedly I'm still not sure Master Thief does. That aside, what we have here is a brilliant little story where the Master gets to shine without the Doctor present.
Obviously Big Finish have never managed to use Roger Delgado's iteration of the Master, due to the tragic death of the actor during his era on screen, so it does seem overdue for an impressionist to step in (and considering the rest of the Pertwee era has now been filled thanks to Tim Treloar and Jon Culshaw, it's only right). While Culshaw is extremely talented, his Delgado does admittedly feel not quite up to scratch but it's still evident who it's meant to be and never once feels like this impression is a failed experiment.
This is a story that plays to the Master's strengths, showcasing his hypnotism skills and also suave charm that this version carried with him. While the story itself is relatively simple (If a little on the violent side), the Master falls victim to his own ruthlessness, devolving the native species back to their original form that fed on psychic energy, reducing the Master to a new low (Or High, depending on your viewpoint), as he struggles with killing. It's an idea that would have been a very intriguing performance, had Delgado tackled it on screen, with this Master of all others losing the core fundamentals of his being. This leads into a slightly confusing conclusion, where his brain is all but restarted after recording a final message to himself reminding him who he is and what he needs to do, while making it clear this is not a regeneration.
As mentioned, where this adds to the Time Lord Victorious project is unclear, almost feeling like an extra story alongside Lesser Evils, just to showcase a debut of the Roger Delgado incarnation at Big Finish. But it's very welcome. The40 minutes that flies by, and will very hopefully lead to the inclusion of the Master in the ongoing Third Doctor Adventures range...
Lesser Evils takes things forward to Anthony Ainley's Master, with a fleeting connection to events of Master Thief as the map's location is revealed. It also ties more directly to what we know about the Time Lord Victorious saga, thanks to the tremendous debut of the Kotturuh. With a booming voice, there is plenty of presence in this dangerous figure that comes to alien world bringing death.
This isn't quite as bold and dramatic as Master Thief, making it the lesser of the two stories, but there is still plenty to enjoy in Simon Guerrier's narrative. Culshaw's Ainley Master impression is superb and the Kotturuh is a great new villain to Doctor Who. We get to spend plenty of time in the mind of the alien as Lesser Evils is narrated from her perspective. The nature of the death is also very intriguing. This isn't a bombastic Dalek-style planetary genocide but something far cleverer and insidious.
It's also interesting to see Ainsley's Master is an almost Doctor-like role. Naturally, he has come to the planet for his own ends, but his valiant defence of the local population as he faces off against the Kotturuh sees him appear much more heroic before his true agenda is finally revealed. Once again, it's hard to see at this stage where Lesser Evils ties into the wider Time Lord Victorious range; perhaps it's only purpose is to introduce the Kotturuh and if that's the case, it does it very successfully.
Unfortunately, while Master Thief is utterly superb, Lesser Evils is almost the opposite. It's another simple story, but with less action than it's predecessor, acting as a basic two hander between the Master and the Kotturuh.
This story evidently ties into the grand narrative, with the inclusion of the Kotturuh in one of their first appearances (and their first, if not only, appearance on audio). The Kotturuh themselves are a fascinating species and the core idea of what they are is an ingenious idea; beings that implement death on all but themselves thus reducing all life to a finite lifespan. The idea is so good, it's surprising it's taken around 57 years to be thought up. While only one is present here, it's still an insight into the minds of all Kotturuh and what their mission is. It's also worth noting they seem to act differently to their appearance in the The Time Lord Victorious novel The Knight, the Fool and the Dead.
Sadly, the story itself is just a bit bland, serving as a way to explain what the Kotturuh are. In fact, it's 12 minutes before the Master even appears, following this creature through a forest touching some bugs and insects. Even when the Master does show his face the story doesn't really gel. There's a good idea in there - the Master acting as the defendant for a species to stop judgement being passed on them (Obviously for his own ends, involving some special crystals) - but it did struggle to hold my attention.
Though it's not all negatives. While Culshaw may not be able to fully do a spot on Delgado impression, it's another story with the Anthony Ainley incarnation. Like Delgado, this Master has never made it to Big Finish due to the actor's death so once again an impression does the job. And what a superb job it does. Not once would you think it wasn't Ainley's voice pumping into your ears. But the strongest element is the laugh, the soft chuckle this Master always did, is mind-blowlingly similar.
Overall, this collection was a mixed bag. While contributing to Time Lord Victorious, which I am following the best I can, it doesn't add anything huge to the mix, or isn't as important as the other releases I have experienced. But that isn't to say it's not worth your time. While Lesser Evils is a bit bland and is heavily tied into the Time Lord Victorious narrative, Master Thief could well be it's own release, and a story I encourage any fan of the Master to listen to. If this collection has properly introduced the Delgado and Ainley Masters to Big Finish, then I thank it, greatly.
Check out Ben's review of Time Lord Victorious novel The Knight, the Fool and the Dead on the site here.