Doctor Who Big Finish and Audio stories review blog...

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23 Oct 2013, 6:05 am

REVIEW: The Mahogany Murderers by Andy Lane

SERIAL:
CC 3.11, 2x30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

In 1977, the Doctor Who story The Talons of Weng-Chiang was transmitted. During production, there was consideration to give two characters a spin-off. Henry Gordon Jago, a theatre owner and showman, and Professor George Litefoot, a pathologist, had both assisted the Doctor in that adventure. But the actors Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter would have to wait three decades for their chance, in a Companion Chronicle used as a backdoor pilot for the later series Jago and Litefoot...

Professor George Litefoot, noted pathologist, is delivered a strange body, which seems to be an extraordinarily-detailed mahogany mannequin. Thinking it to be theatrical, he contacts his old comrade, the down-on-his-luck theatre owner Henry Gordon Jago, who agrees to investigate. What the two old brothers-in-arms, who had fought Magnus Greel alongside the Doctor and Leela, discover is a conspiracy, involving criminals and the mysterious Mr Tulp...

I'm not a fan of audiobooks and dramatic readings, and while The Scorchies made an excellent impression on me, there was no guarantee that the same would happen here. And I had to confess that the story is rather thin on the ground. Sure, the framing story is very excellently done, and makes the main story more interesting than it would normally, and it has very excellent dialogue, humour, and language, a worthy successor to Robert Holmes' work on The Talons of Weng-Chiang. It's just that the actual Mahogany Murderers, while intriguing, is very thin, and not enough is explained.

However, the story mostly rides on the performance of the main two actors, and despite their age, it feels like they've never stopped being their two characters. Christopher Benjamin is a delight as the plummy Jago, while Trevor Baxter is a great Litefoot. Lisa Bowerman completes the ensemble as the minor character Ellie, a far cry from her usual role of Bernice Summerfield, but that's not a bad thing.

As usual, the sound design is brilliant. What else can I say about it? It creates the atmosphere briefly visited in The Talons of Weng-Chiang wonderfully. Big Finish is to be commended, as usual, for performing the sound-based alchemy that makes their stories so good.

Overall, while not bad, The Mahogany Murderers was not brilliant. Shame, really, but it's good to see the return of the pair of Jago and Litefoot...

SCORE: 8.5/10

The next stories will probably be The Time Museum and Mastermind...


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24 Oct 2013, 8:13 pm

I've used my randomiser technique enough times to seriously unbalance matters. So, I will modify it every now and then to update it.

I'll combine the Fourth and Fifth Doctors, and the Seventh and Eighth Doctors, so now I only have to roll a d4 for the initial category choice (I can then choose to roll another dice to choose a story at random, or else choose a story to listen to from the category). So, the categories and numbers are as follows...

1= Fourth and Fifth Doctors

2= Sixth Doctor

3= Seventh and Eighth Doctors

4= Specials and Companion Chronicles


For category one (d4)...

1= The Foe from the Future

2= The Valley of Death

3= Prisoners of Fate

4= Mission of the Viyrans


For category two, as above.

For category three (d8)...

1= Colditz

2= Forty-Five

3= The Shadow of the Scourge

4= Neverland

5= The Creed of the Kromon

6= Blood of the Daleks

7= The Book of Kells

8= The Silver Turk (which I am getting tomorrow)

The specials, as above. I am listening to both The Time Museum and Mastermind before long, so the list doesn't need altering.


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25 Oct 2013, 2:05 am

REVIEW: The Time Museum by James Goss

SERIAL:
CC 7.01, 2x30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

It is a sad fact that half of the original TARDIS crew's actors are now dead. However, William Russell and Carole Ann Ford not only are still alive, but still playing the roles for Big Finish. Having heard that one of William Russell's Companion Chronicles is more like a two-handed play than a dramatic reading, I decided to make getting The Time Museum a priority, though whether my faith was rewarded was another matter entirely...

A lifetime after he departed from the TARDIS, Ian wakes up in a Time Museum, in an exhibit dedicated to his life. Hurried out by Pendolin, a mysterious man who created the exhibit, Ian begins a journey through his memories, tangled and mangled almost beyond recognition. As Ian struggles to reclaim his true memories, and he and Pendolin flee for their lives, going from one bad situation to another from his memories, he has to wonder about his situation. How did he get here? Can he get home? And can he trust Pendolin? Is Pendolin merely an obsessed collector, or a darker entity?

This story seems tailor-made for long-term fans of the series. In fact, it has a greater effect if you understand the references, as you understand that Ian is either getting things wrong, or jumbling them all together, adding a further edge of psychological horror to a story based on it. While not particularly complex, it's still an excellent story, and there's an interesting twist after the credits. My main problem is with how long Ian takes to find out who the real villain is, though it could be down to his mental confusion.

William Russell, while sounding rather old for the role, is nonetheless great as an admittedly old and doddery Ian. He is a delight to listen to, and gets more than a few badass moments of his own. Philip Pope as Pendolin is a wonderfully ambiguous character, although the central twist is easy to see coming.

The sound design is pretty damn good, as it usually is. Unfortunately, a recurring problem throughout the story is that the sound mixing does obscure the dialogue at times. But it was otherwise enjoyable, with wonderful atmosphere.

The Time Museum was a pretty fine Companion Chronicles story. A trip down memory lane in more ways than one...


SCORE: 9/10


The next story will be Mastermind...


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25 Oct 2013, 4:39 am

REVIEW: Mastermind by Jonathan Morris

SERIAL:
CC 8.01, 1X60 minute special

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No


The Companion Chronicles usually do things from the point of view of companions, particularly those who were alongside Doctors whose actors are dead. But this is not a hard and fast rule, and one story reunited the actors who played the companions from the television movie. However, Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso had to play two very different characters due to copyright issues, and their story focused on four companions of the Doctor. This time around, however, this story isn't just about them, but also about the Master...

In UNIT's secret facility known as the Vault, or even the Museum of Terrors, Captain Ruth Matheson and Warrant Officer Charlie Sato have been alerted to the awakening of the one and only prisoner of the Vault, Artifact Alpha One, otherwise known as the Master. Captured by UNIT from a sealed penthouse in the late Nineties, the Master only wakes up for an hour every five years. Matheson and Sato take turns in interrogating the Master about his life after the events in San Francisco, but even as he relates his stories, the Master may yet be planning an escape, and Matheson and Sato may be his dupes...

If there was ever a paragon about how the Companion Chronicles should be done, this story would be it. Although the story itself is a little thin, it's an excellent one, very well structured around the Master's recollections, as well as a few sequences towards the end where the Master begins his manipulations. While it is so obviously patterned in many respects after, for example, The Silence of the Lambs, that's not a bad thing. Indeed, the story is chilling, enjoyable, and a wonderful exploration of the evil of the Master. It is, pun intended, Masterful...

Geoffrey Beevers seems to be the go-to guy for playing the Master for Big Finish, and it is here that he is given free reign, with the Master's psychology and actions explored. And the Master is wonderfully written in this story, as it is his story. Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso really get to shine, even though it isn't quite their story, and are very different to their TV movie counterparts. And all three actors play other roles as well.

What can I say about the sound design that hasn't been said already? It's very good, with the music and sound effects being slotted in perfectly. Unlike some stories, where the dialogue is sometimes drowned out, here, the sound mix is perfect.

Mastermind is a masterly story. Enough said.

SCORE: 10/10


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25 Oct 2013, 5:03 am

I rolled a 1. I've chosen my next story: The Foe from the Future.


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01 Nov 2013, 6:20 am

REVIEW: The Foe from the Future by Robert Banks Stewart, adapted by John Dorney

SERIAL:
FDLS1, 6X30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

One of the most famous Doctor Who stories, The Talons of Weng-Chiang, had its roots, more or less, in an outline by Robert Banks Stewart called The Foe from the Future. Because Robert Banks Stewart couldn't work on the story, Robert Holmes had to write a new story. While a few elements of The Foe from the Future were used, it was a very different beast to the later story, and Big Finish would later come to adapt the story of The Foe from the Future from Stewart's outline for their Lost Stories line...

Staffham, 1977. A small Devon village, home to a haunted estate, the Grange, where the reclusive Jalnik dwells. The Doctor and Leela have been drawn here by a rip in time, where the history of the village appears to be changing. Jalnik, a hideously deformed man, seems to have the ability to manipulate time. But what is his purpose? What are the Pantophagen? And what does it all have to do with a ruined Earth in the 41st century? The Doctor and Leela have to fight more than one foe from the future, but can they stop all creation from being wiped out?

One can see many of the elements reused in The Talons of Weng-Chiang, including a villain deformed by a dangerous time travel experiment and gigantic animals. But it's better to see the differences, as The Foe from the Future is very much a different beast to The Talons of Weng-Chiang, and this isn't a bad thing at all. It's a good story that seems reminiscent not only of many of Steven Moffat's work on the new series, but also of stories preceding where this one would have been. The nature of the future and why it is involved is quite well done, with there being a bit of humour from the future's misunderstandings about the present, and the dialogue is pretty good. There's a loose thread here and there, but otherwise, it's a good story.

Tom Baker is very good as the Doctor, while Louise Jameson's Leela actually gets some pretty good characterisation, even being rather intelligent and playful. Paul Freeman is a delight as the insane and mildly sympathetic Jalnik, and Camilla Power also plays a suitably nasty secondary villain in Councillor Kostal. The other parts are well cast, with Louise Brealy as Charlotte, Blake Ritson as Shibac, Jaimi Barbakoff as Supreme Councillor Geflo, and Dan Starkey as Historiographer Osin being notable.

And once again, what can I say about the sound design that I haven't already said before? Big Finish didn't quite make it sound like it was Saturday teatime in 1977 all over again, but having a modern sound wasn't a bad thing at all. There were occasions when the sound mixing threatened to drown out the dialogue, but nothing too major. A mere quibble.

Overall, The Foe from the Future was a welcome change from the usual Fourth Doctor Adventures. Not the same as The Talons of Weng-Chiang by any means, it nonetheless stands tall on its own merits, and a highly enjoyable romp with the Fourth Doctor and Leela...


SCORE: 10/10


For the moment, I've decided to forgo the randomiser technique, as there are two adventures in particular I want to listen to: The Silver Turk, and The Creed of the Kromon. Watch this space...


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04 Nov 2013, 11:32 pm

REVIEW: The Silver Turk by Marc Platt

SERIAL:
8AAA, 4X30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

The Eighth Doctor, for a time, travelled with Mary Shelley, a story long alluded to in the Big Finish series. However, it wasn't until recently that these travels were dramatised for Big Finish. And for the debut story, Marc Platt wrote a story about Cybermen, the Vienna Exposition, and puppets. Marc Platt is always an excellent writer for the Big Finish audios, but can he pull off another masterpiece?

The Doctor has taken Mary Shelley to Vienna, not, as he believed, to 1816, where Shelley departed from and where the Doctor left his actual companions, but to 1873, and the Vienna Exposition. There, he encounters the Count and Countess Wittenmeier, the Count being one of the patrons of Alfred Stahlbaum, the man who has claimed to build an automaton known as the Silver Turk. But the Doctor soon finds that the Silver Turk is a damaged Mondas Cyberman, and Stahlbaum is under its control. But what links Stahlbaum to the mysterious Dr Johan Drossel? How is an old model of Cyberman present on Earth when Mondas is over 200 light years away? And what links it all to a series of vicious murders with the victims' eyes gouged out?

Marc Platt is always an excellent writer, and The Silver Turk is filled with wonder and horror in equal measure. In a way, it seems reminiscent of Robert Shearman's Jubilee, in which we are invited to feel sorry for a Dalek, only this time, we have Cybermen. It doesn't quite explore the same themes though, or at least not to the same depth, but my only real problem is that we don't quite get an explanation of how Drossel became involved, with the final revelation about him providing limited closure. We also have a few bits here and there that seem to indicate plot points that weren't taken up properly. However, it's an excellent, creepy story with a vaguely lyrical air.

Paul McGann is a wonder as the Eighth Doctor, which is little surprise. Julie Cox is also interesting as Mary Shelley, the only historical figure to truly become a companion to the Doctor (unless you count HG Wells in Timelash), and the story has many great scenes, including a number of Jubilee-esque scenes where she converses with Gran, the (admittedly unfortunately named) Cyberman, as well as a scene where she is overwhelmed by the implications and horrors of her initial trip with the Doctor. Although Drossel isn't as good a villain as I could have hoped for, Gareth Armstrong attacks the role with aplomb, as does Christian Bassington as Stahlbaum, Claire Wyatt as Mitzi, and David Schneider as Bratfisch. And Nicholas Briggs adds the cybernetic cherry on top, playing Gran and Brem (is that how you spell their names?) as rather more pitiful and pitiable, but still very dangerous Cybermen.

I can't say anything about the sound design of Big Finish stories that I haven't already, really. It sounds wonderful, with music and sound effects doing well, and the sound mix managing to avoid obscuring the dialogue. And while many people hate it, I actually love Jamie Robertson's remix of the Doctor Who theme used for this release. It really gets the blood going, and gets me in the mood for adventure, Doctor Who style.

Overall, while not perfect, The Silver Turk nonetheless is another winner from the pen of Marc Platt, and one of Paul McGann's finest adventures in the series...


SCORE: 9.5/10

The next story will probably be The Creed of the Kromon...


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05 Nov 2013, 3:16 am

Actually, at about the time I decided to listen to and review The Silver Turk and The Creed of the Kromon, I decided to try the d4 and make it official, only for it to come up with a 4. Although I have ignored the result for now, before I listen to The Creed of the Kromon, I will listen to one of the specials. Specifically, Iris Wildthyme: The Iris Wildthyme Appreciation Society.


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12 Nov 2013, 9:06 pm

I've changed my mind for the moment. I'm going to wait until I get my motivation back up, and/or more Big Finish audios. I'm currently waiting on more than a few...


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20 Nov 2013, 5:00 am

I might be listening to a new audio soon, to make sure it's all right. This audio is The Boy That Time Forgot.

In addition, I am adding the following stories to the list: Heroes of Sontar, The Harvest, and The Next Life. There may be further additions come Saturday, but the following are how the randomiser list will be arranged now, using a d4 to choose the following categories at random...

1= Fourth and Fifth Doctors

2= Sixth Doctor

3= Seventh and Eighth Doctors

4= Specials and Companion Chronicles


For category one (d4)...

1= The Valley of Death

2= Heroes of Sontar

3= Prisoners of Fate

4= Mission of the Viyrans


Sixth Doctor (d4)...

1= Urgent Calls

2= The Apocalypse Element

3= Project: Twilight and Project: Lazarus

4= Doctor Who and the Pirates


For category three, with the Seventh and Eighth Doctors (d10)...

1= Bang-Bang-A-Boom!

2= Colditz

3= The Harvest

4= Forty-Five

5= The Shadow of the Scourge

6= Neverland

7= The Creed of the Kromon

8= The Next Life

9= Blood of the Daleks

10= The Book of Kells


The specials (d4):

1= UNIT: The Coup

2= The Davros Collection (I, Davros episodes 1-4, and The Davros Mission)

3= Iris Wildthyme: The Iris Wildthyme Appreciation Society

4= a reroll


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20 Nov 2013, 11:49 pm

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

REVIEW: The Boy That Time Forgot by Paul Magrs

SERIAL:
6C/L, 4X30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

Doctor Who has such a rich seam of continuity and history that is often mined. Sometimes, companions are revisited long after they leave the Doctor. But Big Finish and Paul Magrs dared to do something that should have been impossible. In The Boy That Time Forgot, they bring back a companion who should have remained dead...

Stranded in Victorian London when Thomas Brewster stole the TARDIS, the Doctor and Nyssa have gathered a number of people for a risky experiment. Using Block Transfer Computation, he intends to retrieve the TARDIS. But something goes horribly wrong, stranding them, along with writer Beatrice Mapp and explorer Rupert van Thal in the distant past, where giant arthropods rule. In a vast City of Excellence, sentient giant scorpions do calculations, all under the rule of His Excellency, the Scorpion King. But the Doctor and Nyssa, brought before the Scorpion King, are shocked to discover that he is a person who should have been dead long ago. For the Scorpion King is none other than an aged and bitter Adric, and he has plans for the Doctor and Nyssa...

The story for The Boy That Time Forgot is ultimately a pretty simple one, albeit an immensely enjoyable one. It's not only a good romp, but it masterfully executes a resurrection that could easily have turned out badly. The scorpion subplot is admittedly weaker than it should have been, but the confrontations between the Doctor, Adric, and Nyssa are much better, with a wonderful resolution.

As usual, Peter Davison and Sarah Sutton are great as the Doctor and Nyssa. Adric is written very well here, although his turn back to helping the Doctor doesn't quite make sense. Andrew Sachs plays the role with many of Matthew Waterhouse's vocal mannerisms, but while he does a fine job, I feel he hams it up rather too much. The rest of the characters are pretty decent, particularly Harriet Walter as Beatrice and Adrian Scarborough, later to play a role in the TV series revival, as Rupert.

Sound design, as usual, is excellent. It's cinematic, and everything sounds great. Unfortunately, there are a couple of times where the sound mixing disappoints, with the music and sound effects drowning out dialogue. Another disappointment is the lack of treatment on the voices of the scorpions. Even a little bit of voice treatment would have helped.

Overall, The Boy That Time Forgot is a good story, and one that skillfully manages what could have been screwed up badly. Not perfect, but pretty good all the same.


SCORE: 9/10


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23 Nov 2013, 6:30 pm

As I have recently obtained one more Big Finish that I haven't listened to before, the following is a revised list.


For category three, with the Seventh and Eighth Doctors (d12, 12 is a reroll)...

1= Bang-Bang-A-Boom!

2= Colditz

3= The Harvest

4= Forty-Five

5= The Shadow of the Scourge

6= Master

7= Neverland

8= The Creed of the Kromon

9= The Next Life

10= Blood of the Daleks

11= The Book of Kells

I rolled a 3 earlier, so I might consider using the randomiser to choose my next story...


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30 Nov 2013, 5:23 am

I rolled a 3 on the d4, and rolled a 3 on the d12. So...

REVIEW: The Harvest by Dan Abnett

SERIAL:
7W, 4X30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

As noted before in previous reviews, Big Finish gained some freedom in being allowed to introduce its own companions. I have listened to the debuts of Erimem, the Egyptian queen companion of the Fifth Doctor, and of Evelyn Smythe, history professor companion to the Sixth Doctor. But now, finally, I come to the debut of Hex, who would accompany the Seventh Doctor and Ace...

St Gart's Hospital, London, 2021. Thomas Hector Schofield, better known to his friends as Hex, is a nurse working at the hospital, where everything is controlled by the System. His 21st birthday is meant to be a happy day, but it turns out to be anything but. When a friend of his dies on the operating table and is taken to the secretive Floor 31, Hex becomes suspicious, especially when he and an inquisitive HR worker, McShane, are nearly run down by a car. And when he takes McShane home to a carpark in Shoreditch, Hex soon learns that she has her own reasons for being involved. Along with the Doctor, posing as a hospital janitor, McShane, really Ace, are investigating alien technology being used, and organ grafts are being used to keep strange people alive. The Doctor and McShane know these beings of old, and soon, Hex will be in for the most dangerous day of his life...

The story of The Harvest itself is quite a simple one overall, mostly intended as a vehicle to introduce Hex. It's still enjoyable to a certain degree, but I'm just left wanting a touch more, really. Even so, given the adversaries it brings back (something I will avoid spoiling here if possible), it deals with some pretty heavy themes. It almost feels like a story from the new series in terms of pace, and while this isn't a bad thing, it doesn't sit completely right with me. And I don't think the implications of System apparently being semi-sentient were explored enough in this story.

Much of the story is told from Hex's point of view, in much the same way as Rose told the story of the series from Rose's point of view. This is actually a good thing, making it a good start-off point, and Philip Olivier as Hex is pretty good, if a bit too fond of freaking out. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred as the Doctor and 'Just McShane' Ace are good, as usual. While the other parts are okay, perhaps the biggest guest star is William Boyde as the enigmatic Subject One, whose exploration of his gradually increasing humanity is well-done, and makes the climax all the more shocking.

As usual, Big Finish manages to make an excellent soundscape, cinematic in scope. However, a recurrent bugbear, particularly towards the end, is the sound mixing, with sound effect occasionally drowning out dialogue. A more irritating and frequent concern, however, is the music. I mostly enjoy the music in the Big Finish audios, but this techno nightmare doesn't do it for me most of the time. I'm sorry, but I didn't really like it. A shame, really.

Overall, this was a decent introduction to Hex, and while not a standout entry in the Big Finish line, it still should hold a place in a collection. It's a good entry point to the series, and I still recommend it for that purpose at least...


SCORE: 9/10

The next story will probably be Heroes of Sontar...


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03 Dec 2013, 12:10 am

The next one will probably be Master, actually...


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03 Dec 2013, 1:04 am

REVIEW: Master by Joseph Lidster

SERIAL:
7Y, 4X30 minute episodes

LISTENED TO IT BEFORE?: No

In 2003, Big Finish celebrated the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who by releasing a trilogy of villain-oriented stories, culminating in a fourth story, Zagreus, on the actual anniversary. I have listened to all of these stories bar one: Master. But now, the time has finally come for me to listen to this exploration of one of the Doctor's most tenacious and evil enemies...

The Doctor interrupts an assassin, and tells him a story of good and evil, life and death. On the Earth colony of Perfugium is the residence of the mysterious and disfigured Doctor John Smith, who is celebrating a birthday of sorts, the tenth anniversary of when he was found wandering the streets. He invites two of his closest friends, Adjudicator Victor Schaeffer, and Schaeffer's wife, the philanthropic Jacqueline. But Perfugium is plagued by death of late, with eleven prostitutes and an innocent girl butchered in a macabre manner. Smith's home is said to be cursed, with strange whispers emanating from the walls. And a strange man, calling himself Doctor Vaughn Sutton, has arrived, heralding even more trouble. Every occupant of the house has secrets, from Doctor John Smith to the maid Jade, and before the night is over, masks will be torn away, Smith will discover a dark legacy within himself, and even the Doctor won't come out of it untainted...

What can I say? The story, while structured simply, is an excellent meditation not only on the character of the Master, but on the very nature of good, evil, and morality in general. Indeed, almost the entirety of the second episode is given over to an extended discussion on morality between the Doctor and John Smith, and while this may not appeal to most people, it works for me. Dark and atmospheric, this is easily Joseph Lidster's Masterpiece, if you forgive the pun, and while a different kind of beast to Mastermind, another story exploring the Master's character, it's also at the same level of excellence, with many an unexpected twist, which I shouldn't spoil. A Masterful melodrama.

Funnily enough, while Sylvester McCoy is great as the Doctor, as usual, it is Geoffrey Beevers as John Smith, or (and this isn't much of a spoiler to those familiar with the Big Finish audios, or indeed to those who bought this title) the Master, who steals the show. Beevers makes John Smith a tragic figure, and also contrast it sharply with the Master when the Master surfaces, even if only briefly. Philip Madoc is a wonder as Victor, as is Anne Ridler as his wife Jacqueline, who have hidden depths of hypocrisy and darkness within their otherwise uptight selves. Charlie Hayes as Jade seems rather like a generic maid, at first, but in the final episode, she gets the chance to be better, in a startling turnaround.

This story doesn't exactly have cinematic sound design this time. However, it feels right for this particular audio that the sound design is as it is. Eerie voices, the atmosphere, it feels so dark, and so right for this story. What else can I say?

Overall, I consider Master to be the best of the Villains Trilogy of 2003. An excellent meditation on the nature of good, evil, morality, and that most vile of the Doctor's opponents, the Master.


SCORE: 10/10


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