Sunday, 19 June 2016

WHO REVIEW: The Two Masters Trilogy




Big Finish has been especially open to fan demand over the last year or so, and one thing that many fans - including myself - have often hoped for is a "multi-Master" adventure, to compliment the many multi-Doctor stories on the roster. Now that BF have two regular actors in the role, at different points in the character's history, they've finally been able to craft this story. Rather than a one-off, the concept has been used for the latest trilogy of main range releases, with the fifth, sixth and seventh Doctors each taking a chapter. Initially, it seems a straightforward structure, with Geoffrey Beevers portraying his calcifying version of the Master in the first release, followed by Alex Macqueen as his campier, later incarnation, before they team up for the finale. However, these temporally complex stories make it a little more complicated than that.

The trilogy starts with And You Will Obey Me, written by BF stalwart Alan Barnes and tightly directed by Jamie Anderson. Pitting Peter Davison against Geoffrey Beevers, it gives us a combination of hero and villain that we never experienced on television, with Beevers making his one screen appearance as the Master one serial before Davison took over as the Doctor. They work well opposite each other, with the most mild-mannered of Doctors providing stark contrast to this exceedingly sinister and cruel Master.

The story starts on a surprisingly light note, with the Doctor attending an auction for a mysterious but familiar grandfather clock. This begins a sequence of events that leads him to team up with Annie (Sheena Bhatessa), before becoming involved in a plot that stretches from the 1980s to the 21st century, as the Master manipulates three youngsters in a terrible plot. The story takes both Time Lords in unusual directions, with the Doctor put through the moral wringer and the Master becoming a deeply twisted father figure. While he is as sadistic and callous as we've ever seen him, Beevers's Master displays a little more flair and humour here than we're used to. Nonetheless, his final actions are quite horrific; this is the Master at his most coldly evil. It's a strong adventure, with some emotional clout, the only weak element being the alien hunters pursuing the villain. They're rather too cliched and uninteresting to make much impact.

Vampire of the Mind provides a solid middle adventure that pushes the overall story along with some intriguing questions. Once again, the combination of Doctor and Master works well. Both Baker's Doctor and Macqueen's Master are toned down a tad from their usual level of bombast, but their respective egos are enough to create a storm. The Master is somewhat more vulnerable here than we've known him in this incarnation; his memory is full of holes and he is somewhat desperate, but this only serves to make him more ruthless and cruel than ever.

Justin Richards pens the script, and while he's never going to be known for experimental material, he's always good for a straightforward and effective adventure. Vampire of the Mind gives the Doctor another one-off companion - Dr. Heather Threadstone, played very well by Kate Kennedy, and someone I'd be keen to hear return. The Mind Leech - the vampire of the title - is both a pitiful and frightening creature, and once more the Master has taken on an ally/slave that is more than he can fully handle. There are some fun pokes at the cliches of Master stories here, and it ends with a believable, albeit possibly unnecessary, reason for the Doctor to forget about this out-of-sequence encounter with his enemy.

The final instalment, The Two Master itself, is the strongest and most enjoyable of the lot. It's hard to explain just why without spoiling the plot, but some elements are too good not to gush over. Bringing the Master together in two incarnations had the promise to be a Doctor-Doctor encounter turned up to max, and this is just what we have, with the two versions of the villain butting heads as much as they admire each other, double crossing as often as they work together. The Master's cruelty and callous disregard for life reaches new heights here. It seems the Master cannot be trusted by even himself. Hilariously, the dying Master, who is here being manipulated by a lunatic cult, manages to steal his own body. Thus, for much of the runtime we have Macqueen playing the Beevers Master and vice versa. This is just one element of a time-bending storyline that involves whole sections of the timeline vanishing and a threat to the entire universe. It's bizarre and pretty ambitious; suitably apocalyptic for the clash of Masters.

The time-tearing shenanigans also give the trilogy the perfect get-out clause for out-of-sequence meetings and continuity quandarie, and although we finally get to learn what happens to the Master to leave him in the terrible state he was when found on Tersurus (leading into The Deadly Assassin), the nature of the story makes everything questionable enough to ignore this going forward if so wished. As with both previous stories, this is ably directed by Jamie Anderson, although he does overuse the dialogue-free sound in certain sequences. The weakest elements of the story are, sadly, the heroes. Lauren Crace is fine as Jemima, but she's a completely generic companion role to perform, while Sylvester McCoy becomes hard to understand in some of the more dramatic scenes. He does, however, nail the final victory over his doubled-up foe. The Two Masters is a highly effective finale to a very enjoyable series.

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