Review by Jacob Licklider
With the acquisition of Eric Roberts returning to the role of the Master in The Diary of River Song, Ravenous 4, and Masterful, it became a matter of time before Big Finish Productions gave him his own spin-off box set. Announced in 2020, Master! is essentially a precursor to Big Finish’s new three disc box set model for releases going forward. Eric Roberts’ Master is also a character who does not actually have a fully fleshed out character. He is a character who was over the top and camp in his one television appearance, under the guidance of a director who simply did not understand who the Master was and didn’t allow Roberts to actually give any menace in his performance. Big Finish obviously worked to correct this in his first three appearances, but giving him a full length box set audiences finally get the chance to explore just what this version of the Master is and what he actually stands for. Master! contains three stories from three writers, all telling an overarching story of how Eric Roberts’ Master escaped the time vortex and was eventually tracked down by an assassin and the Daleks, and of course escaped. Interestingly unlike The War Master and Missy where the Master is a protagonist, Master! actually plays it with the Master directly the role of the antagonist, with each story essentially following other characters interacting with the Master and essentially trying to stop him from succeeding in each episode’s plan as things escalate towards the eventual conclusion.
The opening episode is Faustian by Robert Valentine which is the episode where the Master appears the least. As the title suggests, Valentine’s script is reminiscent of the story of Faust, though set in the far future with the Master acting more deviously than outright giving someone a deal for knowledge, instead psychically influencing her thoughts as Dr. Lila Kreeg is attempting to open a portal to another universe under the patronage of Magnus Drake and his corporation. Kreeg and Drake are played by Laura Alkman and Alistair Petrie and the dynamic between the two is excellent as it illustrates this great drive for success in corporations, the drive for innovation despite any regard for mental health or morality between. The Master is slowly whispering in her ear throughout the story and giving her the tips to tap into the Time Vortex. Roberts being essentially in a minor supporting role, trapped in the Time Vortex for most of his life is actually a really good use of his strengths as an actor to be quietly menacing yet somehow charming, eventually convincing Kreeg to follow him throughout the story just so that he can get to Earth and have his revenge. Once he is allowed out of the Time Vortex, he proves just has the acting talent to pull off a role like the Master. Faustian is also one of those stories where simply the character driven focus from Robert Valentine which starts off this set excellently with a riff on a classic tale. 8/10
New writer Robert Whitelock provides the middle installment, Prey, a story where Vienna Salvatori is given a contract to assassinate the Master. Chase Masterson returns to Big Finish after her own Doctor Who spin-off series which for some reason isn’t believed to be canon by certain important fan site. Vienna is one of those characters who has such a strong sense of morality in who she kills: there must be a quantifiable increase in good for the universe. She is essentially a utilitarian assassin, attempting to do something good, something that feels like it is coming from her spin-off series which is apparently not canon, even though Prey references events and characters of the spin-off series, meaning that it clearly must happen. The setting of Prey is clearly in a post-The Dalek Invasion of Earth setting where gangs have essentially taken over London into their own little territory. As this is a story in the future, the integration of technology means that there’s an almost cyberpunk aesthetic where gangs implant electroshock devices into those who encroach on their territory and the Master is really dangerous when he’s unleashed, using Dr. Kreeg as a human shield throughout the story, even if she ends up surviving. The Master’s plans essentially being shrouded in mystery while this time we end up following Vienna right up until the end when the real villains are revealed to be the Daleks coming back to put the Master back on trial. It’s the highlight of the boxset and an absolutely brilliant first go from a first time writer. 10/10.
Vengeance is the final story from veteran writer Matt Fitton who essentially writes a sequel to the unseen Trial of the Master before The TV Movie with the Dalek Supreme responsible for putting him to death (or converting him to a Death Morphant) essentially being the main focus here. Vienna makes a deal with the Master essentially breaking her previous contract to essentially get the chance to kill a bunch of Daleks and Masterson excels. The actual standout is Nicholas Briggs, an actor who is often praised for his monster voices, but he gives this particular Dalek its own personality and little ticks right with a slightly different voice. Clearly there is meant to be a Dalek casing, but it isn’t quite the same voice, implying that this is more like a Dalek Emperor or some Dalek without a perfect casing so there’s everything that comes out of its mouth becomes a chilling line. Briggs makes this specific Supreme feel incredibly unique and adding a plot from Fitton involving duplicates so dead characters from earlier in the set can reappear without breaking any sort of logic. This is also where Roberts just excels in the role of the Master giving the Daleks a genuine threat and the listener ends up having to question just who’s side can you be on? 9/10.
Overall, Master! is unique for the usual Master spin-offs because of its perspective and genuinely redeems Eric Robert’s Master after a long time away and reflecting on the role. Definitely a unique Big Finish experiment with a good look into where releases are heading in terms of structure and story. 9/10.
Download/buy here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/master-2263