“Master”

masterIt’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.

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Enter the Third Doctor

The Doctor, the Master, and one of the dodgy monsters from "The Claws of Axos"

The Doctor, the Master, and one of the dodgy monsters from “The Claws of Axos”

We have finally gotten around to watching a few episodes with the Third Doctor! That took quite a while, after rewatching all of the Eleventh Doctor episodes, then getting distracted a bit with other things, then watching some Tenth Doctor (not too much). But we finally watched “The Mind of Evil” and “The Claws of Axos,” two episodes with the Roger Delgado Master.

So far, we enjoyed “The Mind of Evil” more than “The Claws of Axos.” The first had a more interesting plot, and the villain in the second was rather implausible and uninteresting. Unfortunately, both suffered a lot from uninspired direction, with characters standing immobile while delivering their lines, though it was much worse in the second. Another disappointment was Jo Grant, but not due to the actress or character; she just simply was not given anything to do. So far, her job is stand around and wait until the Doctor has a moment to have a deep conversation with her. She’s supposed to be a trained UNIT agent, and she does get one moment in “The Mind of Evil” where she shows her competence, but otherwise she’s very underutilized. We’re hoping this gets better when the Doctor finally gets his TARDIS back and they go off-planet, where there’s no Brigadier, Yates, and Benton to take up camera and plot time.

The Doctor himself has been very entertaining. He’s imperious, disdainful, and arrogant, and he outshines everyone on screen. The problem is that again, there’s so many people to deal with in each story, he’s not onscreen as much as he should be. However, he does have one thing that saves the show: the Master. When the Master and the Doctor spar with each other, the show simply shines. Delgado portrayed a wonderful villain. He’s not campy like Anthony Ainley was (not saying that the Ainley Master was bad; he was wonderful in his own way). The Delgado Master is always graceful and always in control of the situation; when he is defeated momentarily, he acquiesces, because he knows he’s going to get the upper hand in a few more minutes again.

At the moment, I think that of the classic Doctors that I’ve seen a fair amount of (that’s Three, Four, Five, Seven, and Eight), the Third Doctor is my least favorite, but you have to understand, I still really like him a lot; I just don’t like him as much as others. I am hoping to see him become more dynamic when he finally leaves Earth, and possibly when Sarah Jane Smith joins him.

Still busy

The Master (Delgado)

The Master (Delgado)

The problem with being busy is that I  have so much Doctor Who to watch and no time to do it in. Right now, we’re trying to rewatch the Eleventh Doctor’s seasons and wanting to hang out with our friends watching series 4, while also having a Netflix copy of “Horror of Fang Rock” waiting to be watched these past three weeks. I also want to watch “Remembrance of the Daleks,” and I just received this month’s purchase of DVDs (buying 2-3 a month to build our collection), which features the Master this time (two Roger Delgado episodes and one Anthony Ainley). But we’re busy every night until Friday, and who knows what’s going to come up on the weekend?

On the other hand, this is one of the thing’s that so cool about Doctor Who: there’s so much to see! We’ve been enjoying other shows, like Grimm and Castle, but they only have a few seasons to watch and they’re done. I am quite sure that it’s going to take us a good two years (total) to see every single Doctor Who episode available.

Anyway, tomorrow, if I have the time, I’ll post some thoughts on “The Talons of Weng-Chiang.” If not, well, more random ramblings for a bit.

Favorite scenes – Tenth Doctor

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor

David Tennant as the Tenth Doctor

Here is a list of favorite scenes from the Tenth Doctor, who, I should note, is the Doctor I know the best, so the list is longer than you might expect. This list is in broadcast order, not in any ranking order.

“The Christmas Invasion” – The Doctor appears: From “Did you miss me?” to “No second chances. I’m that sort of a man,” the Doctor keeps up what amounts to a twenty minute monologue which demonstrates to us exactly who he is.

“School Reunion” – Sarah Jane meets the Doctor: Just beating out John Smith’s stunned babbling when seeing Sarah Jane for the first time in hundreds of years, this scene has Sarah Jane confronting the man who ran out on her thirty years before. Ms. Sladen switches beautifully between surprise, hope, love, and anger, all in the course of a short couple of minutes.

“The Girl in the Fireplace” – The Doctor is stranded: This is one of the episodes in which my favorite scene is probably very unexpected. The Doctor looks up at the stars, realizing that he’s now living with the humans just like they do, and may never return to the TARDIS and the rest of the universe again. He starts to think about what that really means, and how he’s going to survive. I couldn’t find a video that showed just this one scene.

“The Age of Steel” – Mickey triumphant: Once the Doctor regenerated into his tenth form, he started to respect Mickey more, though he still always put him down. At the end of this episode, the Doctor instructs Mickey clandestinely on how to shut down the Cybermen, relying on his computer skills. Mickey succeeds and then rescues them all from the exploding factory. Mickey finally comes into his own right here.

“42” – The Doctor in the stasis chamber: Fighting back against his possession by the sentient star, the Doctor instructs Martha to put him in the stasis chamber. He cries out, “I’m scared! I’m so scared!” and it’s not because he’s afraid of dying, but because he knows that if he loses the battle, he’s going to kill everyone on board. The Doctor showing fear is chilling, and the reason for it is still so the Doctor.

“The Family of Blood” – The Doctor returns to Nurse Redfern: For all of the wonderful scenes in this, my favorite episode, the final scene with Nurse Redfern is still the best. After we’ve watched an hour and a half of Mr. Tennant as John Smith, the human teacher living his life and falling in love, now he’s back to playing the Doctor, and the contrast between them is startling. Even though he’s no different than the Doctor in any other episode, he feels alien here, and perhaps for the first time we truly realize that he doesn’t think and feel like humans do. He invites Nurse Redfern to travel with him, in an attempt to give her hope and love, but only succeeds in being cruel, because as the Doctor, he can’t truly understand her. (The video link only shows half of the scene. The other half can be found by the same poster, under “scene 16.”)

“The Last of the Time Lords” – The death of the Master: I really don’t have much to say about this one. It makes me cry every time.

“Time Crash” – The whole thing: I’m just going to call this one long scene and say that everything about it is wonderful: the writing, the acting, the humor, the interactions between the two Doctors, the tribute to the Fifth Doctor. If I could call it an episode, it’d be at the top of my favorite episode list.

“The Fires of Pompeii” – “Donna, human, no!”: From the Time Lord and the audience perspective (because we know how the laws of time work), Donna may be wrong, but this scene establishes the lengths she’s willing to go through when she thinks she’s right. She’s willing to stand up to the Doctor and fight, without whining or complaining, and without backing down.

“The Poison Sky” – Luke saves the Doctor: Two things about this scene. First, Luke, the completely unlikable genius, redeems himself, without fanfare or heaps of schmaltz. Second, when the Doctor returns from the Sontaran ship, Martha hugs him and Donna punches him. They are completely in-character, and it’s little things like this that make this show so good.

“Journey’s End” – Genesis of the Meta-Crisis Tenth Doctor: Not the actual birth of the MCTD, but the interaction between him and Donna. Mr. Tennant and Ms. Tate work together so well, and to top that off, Mr. Tennant plays the Tenth Doctor with Donna’s mannerisms. Excellent performances from both of them. Sadly, I couldn’t find a video for this.

“The Next Doctor” – Jackson Lake’s story: Jackson Lake’s story is so beautiful, and David Morrissey’s performance in this scene is heartrending.

The End of Time – Four knocks: For all that I love the end of The End of Time, from the moment Gallifrey appears to the Doctor’s regeneration, the best scene from it is when Wilf knocks and the Doctor realizes that he hasn’t escaped his fate. For once, the Doctor voices the thoughts he normally keeps inside: that he doesn’t want to die, he wants to keep fighting, that he wonders what makes someone else’s life more valuable than his own, and, finally, that he’s lived too long. Then, like the Doctor always does, he sacrifices himself for someone else. I couldn’t find this video either.