It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve been busy in the meantime: listened to one audio and watched two episodes. I seem to be on a Seventh Doctor kick and am enjoying it immensely. I always list my favorite Doctors as the Tenth, Fifth, Eighth, and Ninth, in that order, but whenever I watch/listen to the Seventh Doctor, I have to re-evaluate that. I might have to put him into third place (and then bop him out of it when I listen to more Eight Doctor). On the other hand, why rank them? That’s the wonderful thing about Doctor Who: even though the Doctor changes, they’re all wonderful.
Today’s audio is “Master”, the 49th in Big Finish‘s monthly range of Doctor Who audios, featuring the Seventh Doctor with no companion. I gather that for the months leading up to their 50th audio, they released audios exploring the backgrounds of major antagonists. The first was “Omega” with the Fifth Doctor, the second was “Davros” with the Sixth Doctor, the third was “Master” with the Seventh Doctor, and the last, the 50th audio), was “Zagreus” with the Eighth Doctor. So far, I’ve enjoyed all of this series, and the “Master” is no exception, and I have high hopes for “Davros”. (The ratings on The Time Scales say that “Davros” is the best, so that’s even better.)
Non-spoiler review first.
The story starts out with a birthday celebration between three normal human friends. It seems to be set in the Edwardian era (or something similar) and everything seems to be normal, but this is a Doctor Who story and you know that it can’t stay that way. Even more so, this is a Seventh Doctor episode, so you know you’re going to be misled at some point, and this doesn’t disappoint. Without spoiling anything, you know that the Master must show up sometime (this audio is named for him, after all), and that’s really what you’re anticipating all the way through. The real thrill, though, is that you find out a lot more about the relationship between the Master and the Doctor, and the reveal of the real story is slow and tantalizing. I think the only quibble one might have with this audio is that it’s all talk, no action – you’ll be disappointed if you’re looking for a story about fighting aliens. And I think that’s a good thing: the Seventh Doctor excels at intrigue and manipulation, and that’s what this story is all about.
Spoilers! And this time, I really mean it. This audio conceals its secrets well. I’ll warn you that I cannot do this storyline justice in this summary.
The story opens with Inspector Schaeffer and his wife Jacqueline visiting their friend Dr. John Smith to celebrate his birthday. John is disfigured and suffering from severe amnesia, such that he can’t remember anything of his life before he was found in the town ten years earlier; thus, this is his tenth “birthday”, meaning the tenth anniversary of his arrival in the town. He became a doctor in the town and was bequeathed the house he’s living in when someone he saved passed away, and lives in it with his maid, Jade, even though it’s rumored to be haunted. The inspector discusses his current case – a number of prostitutes found dead in the town with their hearts cut out of their bodies – and Jacqueline, a high-born woman, talks about her charity work in the town, but otherwise, the three have a nice time together. There are a couple of strange incidents in which the inspector rants about how the depraved people in the town deserve to die and Jacqueline dismisses the poor people as not worth anything, but they recover and everything seems fine.
A thunderstorm whips up outside, and Jacqueline sees a face at the window. The trio go outside to fetch the man, who has been hit by lightning, and bring him in. While John speaks with him, he visibly heals from his wounds, and he introduces himself as the Doctor. Now, this is the part that I can’t really describe adequately. John realizes that the Doctor is the key to everything: why he’s amnesiac, what’s going on, and how he’s going to figure out who he is. As they talk, and as events progress, the Doctor begins to reveal everything: John is the Master, the Doctor’s oldest friend but also his ancient enemy, and though he knows himself as a good man and doctor, in the past he was evil. The Doctor also tells him the story of the moment the Master turned to evil. When they were children, they were inseparable friends, but they rebelled a bit against the life of a Time-Lord-in-training, choosing to run from the academy and play in the forests. One day, one of the other children, who would bully them, found them, grabbed one of them, and held his head underwater in the stream. The other boy got angry and, wanting to save his friend, grabbed a rock and brained the bully, killing him instantly. The two boys then buried the bully and promised never to mention the incident, but the boy chose to embrace death, and that was birth of the Master.
As the story progresses, however, the inspector and Jacqueline continue to have problems holding onto reality. The inspector, who always championed the good and righteous, reveals that he in fact was the person who has been killing the prostitutes, believing that they are purely evil. Jacqueline, who believes that everyone is worthy regardless of birth and wealth, starts treating the maid, Jade, poorly, because she’s just a servant. Jacqueline and John also reveal that they are in love, which angers the inspector. John starts to realize that everyone has personalities within them that they keep hidden, but this house seems to be bringing out. The Doctor realizes that it’s all revolving around Jade, and identifies her as the incarnation of Death. This is when it all comes out.
Back when the two boys were being bullied, it wasn’t the Master who killed the bully: it was the Doctor. That night, as he was agonizing over what he’d done, Death appeared to him and gave him the choice of becoming hers or letting his friend become hers. He chose the latter, and the Master became Death’s. More recently, the Doctor made a deal with Death to give the Master ten years of a normal, happy life, in exchange for at the end, the Doctor would have to kill the Master. John Smith’s tenth birthday was the end of that ten years.
The Doctor, of course, refuses to kill John, and instead, Death gives John a choice: kill the inspector and become the Master again, and allow Jacqueline, the woman he loves, to live; or kill Jacqueline to remain as John.
And that’s the story, more or less. This audio was fascinating. Of course, you start with wondering who John Smith is, especially since you know this audio is about the Master but “John Smith” is usually the Doctor’s alias, but even though the first part of the story is just the conversation between the inspector, his wife, and John, it’s still interesting and riveting. Then, as the secrets start to come out, you learn more about the Doctor’s and the Master’s history and relationship. And the unraveling of the three humans’ lives is just horrible. This was also my first exposure to the concept of the Master being Death’s champion and the Doctor being Time’s champion, and it made me want to learn more about that story arc. I would definitely recommend this audio, as a great story and performance, as well as an exploration of the Doctor and the Master.