Masterful is basically The Master’s 50th Anniversary story, and in proper Doctor Who fashion Big Finish have gathered as many Masters as they can for one big three-hour story. We have a new, earliest incarnation, the return of Big Finish’s own Master played by Alex Macqueen and no less than five TV Masters reprising their roles (plus more!). Is it a clustered mess, or does it somehow actually work? Let’s find out!
The Master’s finally done it. He’s won. He summons his other selves to a celebration of his ultimate victory. And they come – from across time and dimensions. But he’s forgotten to invite someone. And Missy’s not happy.
Has the Master really conquered the universe? Or has something more awful been unleashed? Something that even all the Masters cannot stop?
Missy is determined to reveal the truth. Because one fact about the Master’s existence never changes. No-one can trust the Master.
Not even the Master.
*spoilers appear from here on out!*
While for multiple Doctors to meet up we need a big reason, or at least a series of events that force the multiple incarnations to meet against their will, but The Master is different, instead John Simm’s Master uses a Time Scoop to pick up a whole gaggle of his past selves, specifically his “just left Gallifrey, still unsure of what to do” young self (Milo Parker), the mostly melted Master (Geoffrey Beavers), The Master still in the body of an American paramedic (Eric Roberts), the off-kilter bald Master (Alex Macqueen), the War Master (Derek Jacobi), and Anthony Ainley’s Master… though it turns out to be Kamelion looking like Ainley’s master (both voiced by John Culshaw). While waiting for their final guest Simm’s Master reveals the reason he’s brought everyone here is because he finally did it, he had conquered the whole of the universe and killed The Doctor, and so he wanted to celebrate with himself! Then we find out that the final guest is the original (in terms of appearances) Master as played by Roger Delgado, but Jo Grant appears instead, the other Masters realising that this Master saw the scoop coming and pushed Jo in the way, and all marvelled that he was always “the most sly and clever of us”, which was a rather nice tribute. It’s also nice to see Jo since it’s also her 50th Anniversary as well!
Jo thinks the gathering of people around her were the Time Lords trying to finally capture The Master, which was funny, but instead all the Masters decide to try and kill her for sport… Until Missy (Michelle Gomez) arrives and goes so OTT that even the Ainley Master says it’s a bit much (even though she was directly referencing his infamous disguise from Time-Flight) and the young Master wonders how he can become… THAT. Being a future incarnation to even Simm, she reveals that his plan is actually to gather his past selves and steal their lives in order to heal himself via the paradox energy, or something to that effect, then in the outrage the castle they’re all in comes under attack and they all get time scooped away to different points in time (though not space!) This is where the story gets clever so I’ll have to spoil a reveal from towards the end of the play first, and that is the locations where each Master is sent was chosen by Missy, with each location set up to test her past selves to see if they can change, as she is in the middle of her crisis of conscience we see towards the end of the Twelfth Doctor’s run. She even sets herself up with Jo Grant in order to see if she ends up acting like The Doctor herself…
I also have to mention that the thing that attacked them and the main “enemy” of this story is what is described as an “entropy wave” that Simm’s Master accidentally created when he tried to harness the planet’s unique life energy to heal himself. It’s pretty much described as a “black blob” or a “vampire puddle” in Jo’s words, but either way each Master is sent to this planet either just after the void’s creation, or at the end of the planet’s life, and each time in a scenario where they could potentially do good. As I said, Missy travels with Jo and saves her life several times as they try and escape the wave, but in the end gets rather annoyed by her and knocks her off a ladder to her death. Missy also meets Mark Gatiss’s Master from an alternate timeline/universe, who claims his universe is being destroyed thanks to the wave created in this one “leaking in”. Gatiss is great here, flirty with Missy including saying “all I have to do is touch these two lips together, but … do I have the right?” which was fourth wall breaking a tad, but genuinely made me laugh out loud. He tries to stop the wave using Gallifrey and Skaro as plugs with their various peoples and technology, but it doesn’t work so he buggers off back to his own universe to see what’s left…
A great line up, slightly ruined by poor photoshopping around Ainley and Jacobi… Plus not sure what’s going on with the melty Master sitting down looking all shy…
The Macqueen Master arrives on a colony ship, the only ship to leave the planet in time to escape the wave, but due to not being on the manifest he’s locked in a cupboard as a stowaway. He eventually escapes and meets a few disgruntled people who don’t think they’ll ever make their destination as it went from a one year journey to 65 years and they’re eating just a single cracker a day to survive. The Macqueen Master makes his way to the captain only to find out it’s his original young self, who has altered the time of arrival because he’s trying to save everyone on board. The boy’s future self admires the attempt, but takes over to “show him how it’s done”, by which he means any colonist speaking up gets turned into fuel for the journey and therefore getting them to the destination quicker and freeing up more rations. Towards the end this Master relates that he really liked how the colonists looked up to him and enjoyed setting up a new colony with them… until they began to fear him due to his “trimming the branches” to make sure the colony grows well. He says he promised to save them, but in the end he only saved himself and watched them get eaten by the entropy wave as he escaped… nearly did a nice thing, but not quite, much like Missy.
The War Master and his next-in-line self meet up in the wastes, watch the entropy wave finish its creation and then head to the city, with the War Master realising if they put up a barrier around the place they can stop the wave before it gets going, but soon the Simm Master is easily convinced that he is being manipulated and leaves his past self unconscious in a snow field. So the War Master could’ve done right by saving the city, but he was stopped by his off-kilter self. Finally the melty Master arrives in a safe-haven, a bubble on the planet’s surface free from the damage of the entropy wave and meets a woman named Kitty (Abigail McKern) who he actually grows to like, and to top things off he looks in the mirror and he’s not crispy, in fact he’s quite handsome! Content with a peaceful retirement it all goes quite well for him, even though he figures out this was some sort of test and that he’s wearing a perception filter to block his actual appearance. A visit from the TV Movie Master doesn’t undo his paradise, even though the American convinces his past/future self to remove the filter and delights in the woman’s scream that then follows. At the end Missy says that Beaver’s Master is the only one who passed, he showed that The Master is capable of kindness as he apparently stayed with Kitty until her natural death.
During all this the Masters who failed the test straight away (Simm Master and TV Movie Master, plus the young Master, though he wanted to save all the colonists and only failed by not standing up to his future self so it seemed a bit unfair to include him) are gathered in a TARDIS by Kamelion, who then (as the Ainley Master) reveals he was under the control of Missy all along and self-destructs. The Simm Master survives however, and soon gate-crashes a meeting in the castle much like his hated future self, as Missy, the War Master, the Macqueen Master and the melty Master, the “survivors” who at least got to the end of their test, had all gathered back together in the last place left in the universe. This is where the final revelation is exposed, as the entropy wave is actually the final incarnation of The Master, a literal blob of hate and hunger, still conquering the universe in its own, mindless way. This is why the War Master reveals he’d poisoned all his past and future selves, that the only way to destroy it and restore the universe was to kill all the Masters and completely bugger up the timelines so it can’t exist any more. This is somewhat confusing at surely that’s a paradox and the universe returns to normal, when Simm’s Master then messes about and etc, etc the cycle repats? Well, whatever, I loved the twist, that The Masters end up “ruling” the universe because they end up an emotionless blob of hate at the end of their evolution, and then they themselves have to save the universe from The Master, so to speak.
Plus all the interactions between the different incarnations was great fun. Why couldn’t “The Light at the End” be like this for The Doctor?
The only real bad was a few minutes where Kamelion turns into the Third Doctor to comfort Jo and it’s still John Culshaw doing the voice. Unlike Tim Trelor, Culshaw wasn’t acting the part as much as he was trying his best to impersonate Jon Pertwee, which left it sounding aggressive and shouty because that’s clearly all he can do. It’s a damn good shouty Third Doctor, but I bet that’s the limit of his range, which is why I like speak so highly of Trelor’s Doctor in the Third Doctor Adventures range, he plays the part well without trying too hard to impersonate Jon Pertwee. Anyway, I do love his Brigadier mind you, so nothing personal against him!
The collectors edition cover, which comes with a audiobook starring the Delgado Master (that I passed on. Wasn’t worth the extra money, sorry!)
A few of The Masters let it known when they were scooped from, others it’s easy to give a rough guess. The melty Master says that the TV Movie Master is from his past, meaning this is the post TV Movie, reverted-back-to-his-old-form version we’ve seen a few times, while the Ainley “Master” mentions having recently escaped the Death Zone, placing this after “The Five Doctors”. The Macqueen Master mentions he was rewriting Sontaran genetics at the time, placing him in the middle of the Eighth Doctor audio “Master of the Daleks”, while the Simm Master is trying to stop his regeneration and recognises Missy as the person who shot him, meaning this is after his last appearance in “World Enough and Time / The Doctor Falls”, which is surprising as it was generally assumed they’d caused each other to regenerate at the end of the story, not that either technically showed it.
Obviously the new Milo Parker version is a new one set just after he left Gallifrey, while the TV Movie, War and Alternate Universe Masters are left open-ended (though in the case of the latter is does match up well with the New Adventures of Bernice Summerfield story “The True Saviour of the Universe”). Missy meets a sort-of future, good version of herself called the Lumiat during the course of the story, this is from the second Missy boxset that I haven’t gotten around to listening to yet… That confused me, even if it was a brief scene!
That’s it really, beyond a few mentions of past Master stories (like the previously mentioned call out to the Ainley Master’s pointless disguise in Fifth Doctor story “Time-Flight”) and a few other references here and there.
As you can tell by the unusually long review (though to be fair it was a legit three hours and had a lot going on!) I bloody loved this. So many genuinely funny scenes, interactions between the different incarnations and a general good breakdown of the character as one latter incarnation continues to struggle with the idea of there being any good in her and forcing that question on her past selves. It’s the kind of multi-person story I want for The Doctor, lot’s of fun interaction, spaced out with an actual interesting point to it as well, but with The Master instead. Thanks to the plethora of great actors who have played the role it was a genuine treat from start to finish, and more than lives up to its title…