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Eric Roberts returns as the Master… and this time he’s got his own series! Released this week, Master! is the first solo outing for this incarnation of the Doctor’s iconic adversary, and sees him go up against glamourous assassin Vienna Salvatori and the deadly Daleks in three all-new audio adventures! But is it any good? Read on to find out!
1. “Faustian” by Robert Valentine
The set opens with Faustian by Robert Valentine which, as its name suggests, is a Faustus-esque tale of transgression and temptation that follows rebellious young scientist Lila Kreeg as she encounters the Master while performing experiments. Doctor Faustus is one of my favourite pieces of literature of all time (I’m studying it right now as part of my degree), so this episode was right up my street, and pleasingly both honours and subverts the shape of the original story, perfectly adapting it as a way to re-introduce Eric Roberts as the Master.
Although this is Roberts’ big first solo story as the Master, the focus here is mainly on Lila, who is brought to life wonderfully by Laura Aikman. As Valentine explains in the behind the scenes feature, he crafted this story like a modern-day companion introduction story on TV, first giving us a well-developed and compelling human character, and then thrusting them into a world beyond their wildest dreams when they encounter a mysterious Time Lord. Like Rose, Martha and Donna before her, Lila comes into the story fully-formed, so we’re already interested in her character well before the Master even makes his first appearance.
When he does finally make his appearance, though, it’s definitely worth waiting for. This incarnation, while a little more theatrical than some of the other Masters, is just as ruthless and evil as the likes of Derek Jacobi or Geoffrey Beevers, and he gets some nice ways to show those characteristics off before the story ends.
Roberts and Aikman are joined in this story by Rachel Atkins, Alistair Petrie and Glen McCready, all of whom put in strong performances. Meanwhile, Howard Carter handles sound design and music, and does a great job. Particular highlights include the main theme for the set, which is a thrillingly dark mix of Eastern-sounding warbles and crashing cymbals, and the soundscape during the scenes with Lila’s experiments. Fantastic stuff.
Overall, this is a strong start to the boxset, perfectly setting up the world that it takes place in and the characters who inhabit it while also being a good story in its own right.
2. “Prey” by Robert Whitelock
Robert Whitelock handles the next instalment in the set, Prey, which brings Vienna into the mix as she hunts down the Master. Fleeing with Lila, the Master finds himself in Notting Hill, which, in the futuristic version of London where this boxset takes place, has become the city’s criminal underbelly. Captured by the sinister, thuggish King Muggy (Andrew James Spooner), the Master and Lila must fight to escape before Vienna catches up with them.
Chase Masterson reprises her role as Vienna here, and does so impeccably. She’s the perfect mix of glamour, arrogance and ruthlessness for a bounty hunter, and it was an inspired choice to bring her into this story, the tone and vibe of which she fits into perfectly. This is only my second experience with the character- I’ve only ever heard The Memory Box before, which I thought was great- but she’s definitely caught my attention, and I’m considering picking up some more of her series after this!
Overall, didn’t find this one quite as engaging as the series opener, but it’s still quite a good script, bringing Vienna into the fray while deepening the Master and Lila’s already-strong rapport.
3. “Vengeance” by Matt Fitton
Everything comes to a head in Vengeance, the thrilling boxset finale written by Matt Fitton. The Daleks are invading, Vienna is still on the Master’s trail, and Lila faces a huge decision. It’s exciting, epic and wraps up all of the plot strands from the last two stories flawlessly.
Nicholas Briggs returns as the voice of the Daleks, and brings them to life with flair as always. His Dalek Litigator is a particular highlight, seething and calculating throughout, while his familiar booming Dalek Supreme is always a delight to hear. While many people have complained about Big Finish‘s overuse of the Daleks, this is one story where their use is completely justified, tying into this incarnation of the Master’s very first appearance back in 1996, and the scenes Fitton gives us between the murderous metal pepperpots and Eric Roberts are fantastic.
One thing that disappointed me about this one was the ending: it’s surprisingly conclusive for the boxset’s titular character. For a release that was supposed to properly reintroduce this version of the character, it’s surprising how closed-off his story now seems, though I’m sure the mastermind writers (no pun intended) at Big Finish will find some way of bringing him back if needs be.
Overall, though, this is a strong finale, with every one of the main characters, from Lila and the Master to Vienna and Drake, getting a satisfying end to their individual storylines.
All in all, Master! gives some much-needed exposure to Eric Roberts‘ lesser-known incarnation of the Master, putting him into a fully-formed and well-realised Blade Runner-esque future London and letting him run riot. While there’s nothing hugely groundbreaking here, there’s definitely lots to enjoy, like Daleks, a deadly assassin, and ruthless gangs, as well as a star turn from Laura Aikman as compelling protagonist Lila! Complete with Howard Carter‘s magnificent music and sound-design, and with strong direction from Jason Haigh-Ellery and Jamie Anderson, Master! is one of the strongest releases of the year so far and, as such, certainly comes recommended.
Master! is available now on CD or as a download from http://www.bigfinish.com