THIS STORY TAKES
PLACE BETWEEN THE BIG
FINISH AUDIO DRAMA
"RETURN OF THE DALEKS"
AND THE TV MOVIE.
BIG FINISH CD#49
RELEASED IN OCTOBER
Many years ago, on a
dark and stormy
night, the disfigured
and enigmatic Doctor
John Smith invited his
Schaeffer and his
wife, Jacqueline, to a
dinner to celebrate
his birthday. A few
hours later all the
occupants in that
house had been
changed some were
forever by the events
of that night.
So, what happened to
dinner guests on that
we'll never know. But
two clues have led to
found outside the
study window, a
with a curved red
handle and found
inside the house, a
blood-stained copy of
Strange Case of Dr
Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
For one person, this
night represented an
ending: an ending to
one thousand years
of darkness and an
ending to ten years of
But, for everyone
else, is there no
ending of this one
night of Hell?
Master is without doubt the most atmospheric production that Big Finish have released to date. It’s dark, moody and profoundly unsettling. The setting, a remote colony world called Perfugium, is depicted as being a very gothic, almost Victorian place. A dispossessed voice repeatedly cackles “you’re going to DIE TONIGHT!” every so often which becomes increasingly disturbing as the play progresses, especially if you are laid down in bed, listening to the play with the lights out.
Even the slow first episode is incredibly tense as the Doctor narrates the story (to a mysterious would-be assassin) of how the mysterious Doctor John Smith has his two best friends round for dinner to celebrate the anniversary of his coming to Perfugium, where ten years ago he was found wandering the streets, deformed and with no memory of who or what he was.
This play’s writer, Joseph Lister, seems to excel in creating characters that seem very real; too real, even. The Rapture was an extraordinary piece that I found very easy to relate to being one of those young, hedonistic visitors to Ibiza back in the day, and Master proves that Lidster’s talent is not limited to the young. With the Adjudicator, Victor Schaeffer, and his wife, Jacqueline, the writer creates two solid, believable and remarkably compelling middle-aged characters. And what’s more, Philip Madoc and Anne Ridler really do them both justice which is vital as in the first episode they really carry the play.
Victor has been investigating a series of murders which trouble him greatly, and as the wine flows the three friends find themselves increasingly and inexplicably at each other’s throats. The psychological masterpiece begins to unravel in the second episode as the Doctor arrives and Doctor John Smith (perfectly played by Geoffrey Beevers), the disfigured amnesiac, is revealed to be the Master. Ten years earlier the Doctor made a deal with Death: let the Master live for ten years as a good man, free from the memories of all the evil that he’s done. In return, he promised that after ten years he would return to Perfugium to kill his long, lost friend…
Free from his memories, John is a force for good in his parish; he even falls in love with Jacqueline, his best friend’s wife. However, he is plagued by a feeling that something lurks within him, and he’s fascinated by criminal psychology – is a killer the product of nature, or nurture? In John’s case, it appears to be the latter. For ten years he’s been treated with kindness by others which he has reciprocated; he has been a Doctor, saving lives as opposed to taking them. He has had friends and brewed wine; grown tomatoes. In the Master’s case, however, that’s another question entirely.
Back in their youth, the Doctor and the Master were inseparable; the best of friends. Sylvester McCoy narrates the story of the Doctor and Master’s friendship better than any other Doctor could have done; the grim melancholy in that Scots burr combines perfectly with David Darlington’s sound design to tug on all the right emotional strings. Constantly the two friends were bullied by another boy, Torvik, until one day the Master couldn’t take it anymore and murdered Torvik in an act of self-defence. Ever since that fateful day Death, personified wonderfully in this story by the seductive Charlie Hayes, has claimed the Master as her ‘champion’, just as Time would later claim the Doctor as her own.
More than brothers, more than friends, the nature of the relationship between the Doctor and the Master is finally revealed in all its harsh simplicity: the Master killed a boy defending the Doctor. They both covered it up and then went their separate ways. Death claimed the Master. Time claimed the Doctor.
Or did it?
The Doctor’s touching story would have been a good enough explanation for the Master’s eventual descent into evil, but it lacks the sheer heartbreak of the truth. Right at the end of the play, Lidster uses Death to reveal the Doctor’s lie… the biggest lie of all. His greatest secret.
It was the Doctor who, “sick with anger,” murdered Torvik in an act of self-defence. That night, when Death visited the Doctor to claim him as her champion, the Doctor, still only a youth, begged and pleaded with her not to take him, and when given the choice, he told Death to take his friend to be her servant instead of him. Ever since that night, the Master has been a tool of death, leaving a wake of destruction behind him wherever he goes. His motive? He has none. Unbeknownst even to him, he is the direct servant of Death. Although the Doctor would always try his hardest to thwart his evil plans he could never bring himself to kill his old friend – and it all goes back to the guilt stemming from the choice he made as a child. For over nine hundred years he has lived with the guilt, and from the play’s conclusion it looks like he will live with it for far longer yet…
“Years later one of them left their home,
for reasons to complicated to go into, and he become known as the Doctor.
He travelled the universe, always with friends, doing good wherever he could;
perhaps, in some small way, to try and make up for what he had done that day.”
“The other… became distant as the guilt and hatred ate away at him, knawing at his soul. He too left their home.
He too travelled the universe, but always alone, doing whatever he could to survive.
But something was growing inside of him - evil.
Wherever he travelled so he brought death.
No motives; no reasons. He was the Master…”
The dialogue is sheer poetry and the story is a grandiose and romantic tale that finally explains why the Master set off down his dark path - he didn’t choose it; it chose him.
The play’s open ending is a lovely touch - just like the Doctor, the listener doesn’t know what has become of Victor, Jacqueline and the Master, but hopes that somehow, someway they will find peace. It’s a great pity that soon after this, the Master will get eaten by the TARDIS in the TV Movie - this play would have made for a far more satisfying end to his story.
“I don’t think my guilt and torment will ever end…
I will save you old friend. One day…”
Big Finish have really out-done themselves with this spectacular villains’ trilogy. Both Omega and Davros took us deep into the pasts of those particular villains, but did so more or less within the constraints of the traditional Doctor Who format. Master, however, feels markedly different to traditional Who, and whilst many will undoubtedly detest it for being so very controversial and so very different, I think that it betters Omega and Davros because it takes us not only into the past, and into the mind of the Master, but also into the past and into the mind of the Doctor, who after this play we can all understand that a little better.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2006
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
This play’s production code suggests that it takes place between the seventh Doctor’s half of Project Lazarus and The Sirens of Time.
However, given the themes explored by the author, we feel that this story flows irresistibly into the TV Movie, and so we have placed it right at the end of the seventh Doctor’s life, just prior to his fateful trip to Skaro.
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