Please feel free to comment on my review.
The League of Extraordinary Masters – Celebrating 50 Years of the Master in ‘Doctor Who’
At this point, I’ve met three Masters in real life at conventions! 😀
In December 2019, it was announced Big Finish was to release a special audio story to celebrate 50 years of the Master in ‘Doctor Who’ in 2021. It would star many incarnations of the Master including Geoffrey Beevers, Mark Gatiss, Eric Roberts, Alex Macqueen, Sir Derek Jacobi and Michelle Gomez. 🙂
The big selling point of ‘Masterful’ was that it would have John Simm making his debut in a Big Finish audio as the Master. This, I was excited about as John Simm is possibly my absolute favourite Master in ‘Doctor Who’. I’ve met John Simm as well as Geoffrey Beevers and Alex Macqueen at conventions.
‘Masterful’ was released on the 2nd of January 2021 to mark the 50th anniversary of the Master’s debut TV appearance in ‘Terror of the Autons’ back in 1971. There are two versions of the story including the standard edition and the limited edition. I, of course, purchased the limited CD edition.
The limited edition CD box set of ‘Masterful’ is presented in a similar style to ‘The Legacy of Time’ with it being an 8-disc box set as opposed to a 5-disc box set. It contains the three-part story called ‘Masterful’, but it also contains some extra stories and material to celebrate 50 years of the Master.
As well as ‘Masterful’, there are the two Short Trip audios ‘I Am The Master’ by Geoffrey Beevers and ‘The Switching’ by Simon Guerrier. There’s the 3-disc audiobook called ‘Terror of the Master’ by Trevor Baxendale, being read by Jon Culshaw. And there’s the behind-the-scenes disc for ‘Masterful’.
I hope to share what I think of ‘Masterful’ with an insightful edge as well as the other stories in the collection. Do I think ‘Masterful’ is a worthy story to celebrate 50 years of the Master in ‘Doctor Who’? Do I agree with what other people have said about ‘Masterful’ being worthy as a celebration?
Like I said, ‘Masterful’ is a three-part story. I would’ve preferred it if it was a six-part story to make it worthwhile in terms of a 50th anniversary celebration of the Master. The story is by James Goss and it’s directed by Ken Bentley. I’ve heard a number ‘Doctor Who’ stories by James Goss over the years.
I’ve made it clear in my review for ‘Expiry Dating’ that James Goss is one of those marmite ‘Doctor Who’ writers for me. Sometimes he works for me, sometimes he doesn’t. Here, unfortunately, his story to celebrate 50 years of the Master in ‘Doctor Who’ didn’t work for me as I felt it was a mess. 😦
I came away feeling underwhelmed and unsatisfied by how ‘Masterful’ concluded. This is a shame as there were some moments and performances of the actors that I felt were worth listening to. This should’ve been a compelling story to celebrate 50 years of the Master and it felt really disappointing.
I’ll try my best to explain why I feel this is the case as I’m sure there were some good ideas behind the writing process of the story by James Goss. But in the end, his ideas went all over the place. It was a challenge to keep up with everything that was going on, especially with so many Masters in it.
The story begins on a desolate planet called Kiamet, I believe, with six different incarnations of the Master meeting each other. They include a young Master before he left Gallifrey, played by Milo Parker (more on him later) and five other Masters we’ve seen and heard on the TV screen and audio.
There’s Geoffrey Beevers’ Master, the Master as played by Anthony Ainley before he’s revealed to be Kamelion (more on this later), Eric Roberts’ Master from ‘The TV Movie’, Alex Macqueen’s Master and Derek Jacobi’s War Master. They meet at this black castle where there are robot butlers serving.
These six Masters have been summoned by John Simm’s Master. I was thrilled to hear John Simm makes his entrance at that point in ‘Part One’ of the story. Despite some issues I have with his character’s portrayal, John Simm gives it his all, which is what I’ve come to expect from his Master. 🙂
John Simm’s Master reveals to the rest of his incarnations that he’s finally won. He’s managed to conquer the universe and kill the Doctor. I’m assuming it’s the Thirteenth Doctor he’s talking about since he does say ‘she’ and ‘her’. I’d like to see John Simm’s Master fighting Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor.
It turns out John Simm’s Master has invited his previous incarnations to celebrate his success. His other selves aren’t impressed. Soon, John Simm’s Master brings forth Katy Manning as Jo Grant to their castle. It was supposed to be the Roger Delgado Master, but Jo appeared in his place instead. 😐
Again, I’ll talk more about the lack of Roger Delgado’s Master in the story later on. Jo Grant mistakes the Masters for being Time Lords. She’s soon about to be killed by the Masters before Michelle Gomez as Missy enters, ‘crashing the party’. Apparently, Missy wasn’t invited to John Simm’s party.
John Simm’s Master is clearly angry to see Missy turn up at his party, making it clear she’s not welcome and he doesn’t want to become her. I don’t blame John Simm’s Master. I wouldn’t have invited Missy to the party either. 😀 The other Masters are also unimpressed by Missy’s appearance.
It’s revealed by Missy that John Simm’s Master invited the other Masters to his castle to steal all of their lives whilst the universe is collapsing. Soon, the arrival of an unknown hostile entity forces the Masters and Jo to flee as they use the Time Scoop. All of them end up scattered across the universe.
And this is where the story fell apart for me. For the rest of ‘Masterful’, we have numerous stories of the Master in various incarnations scattered across the universe and sometimes meeting up with each other. Some of the stories are interesting, some of them aren’t. Some of them are confusing. 😦
It was a challenge to keep on top of everything when we have stories like Geoffrey Beevers’ Master spending a life with Abigail McKern’s Kitty; Alex Macqueen’s Master inside a spaceship; the War Master in the midst of an evacuation and Jo being with Kamelion before she teams up with Missy. 😐
I wouldn’t mind this so much except the exposition for what’s happening in the story seems so muddled and confusing to listen to. This is especially with regards to the entropy wave that’s been spread across the universe; how it’s destroying everything and how the Master caused this to occur.
Another thing that puts me off this story is how there isn’t much of a group of heroes to battle against the Master. Yes the Doctor’s dead and Jo is the only companion to root for, but it would’ve been nice if we had a team of companions like Jo, Leela, Nyssa and Ace fighting against the Masters.
I enjoyed the first series of ‘Dalek Empire’ very much compared to ‘Masterful’ because there were characters fighting against the Daleks we could root for including Susan Mendes, Alby Brook and Kalendorf. Here, there’s not that many sympathetic heroes who try to fight against the Masters.
Let me talk about the Masters each in turn. Geoffrey Beevers is very good as the Master in this anniversary story. I enjoyed the scenes he had with Abigail McKern as Kitty and it seemed like he was about to spend a happy life with her. It sort-of echoed what I heard in the audio called ‘Master’.
But the Geoffrey Beevers Master subplot ended quite abruptly, especially when Eric Roberts’ Master ruined things for him and he took off that perception filter disguise he had on to please Kitty so that she wouldn’t see his ‘decayed’ face. Kitty screamed once she saw his true form and that’s about it. 😦
After all that time she spent with Geoffrey Beevers’ Master, surely she would have been strong to accept what he looked like in his decayed form. Yes, it wouldn’t have been pleasant at first, but surely she would soon see ‘the good man’ behind the decayed form. It could show how much she loved him.
Eric Roberts’ Master could have killed her in the end. Come on, you know that would’ve been a great way to end that subplot. Speaking of which, this was the first time I heard Eric Roberts as the Master in a Big Finish audio. I enjoyed him here, although he didn’t get very much to do in the first episode.
It got better when Eric Roberts’ Master turned up where Geoffrey Beevers’ Master was with Kitty. Eric Roberts’ Master is able to turn on the charm when he meets Kitty, making Geoffrey Beevers’ Master clearly jealous. It was intriguing how Eric Roberts’ Master interacted with Kitty in the story. 🙂
It’s disappointing that Eric Roberts’ Master didn’t get to appear at the end of the story. He was about to accompany Milo Parker’s Master, John Simm’s Master and Kamelion as Anthony Ainley’s Master before Kamelion betrayed them. Surely Eric Roberts could have appeared at the story’s end. 😦
Eric Roberts’ dialogue was directed by Jason Haigh-Ellery whilst he recorded it in L.A., America. I’m pleased that Eric Roberts’ Master is getting his own spin-off audio series by Big Finish with Chase Masterson. I hope his appearances in those stories will be far better than his appearance in this one.
Sir Derek Jacobi plays the War Doctor in this audio story. As I review this, I look forward to hearing all of ‘The War Master’ audios with Sir Derek. I’m sure he’s very good in them. He’s good in ‘Masterful’, but like some of the other Masters, his appearance was overshadowed by other incarnations trying to shine.
Most of his scenes I can recall are when he’s with John Simm during an evacuation of people on the planet Kiamet, I believe. Some of the scenes are in a car. I find it amusing when Derek Jacobi’s Master often berated and criticised John Simm’s Master tactics and the two spared off each other. 🙂
There are also scenes in a castle when the War Master tended to enjoy drinking wine a bit too much. This was in ‘Parts One and Three’. I don’t recall Derek Jacobi’s Master being keen on wine that much. I’ve not heard all of ‘The War Master’ audios yet, but maybe this leads him to drinking coffee in ‘Utopia’. 😐
Alex Macqueen as the Master is enjoyable to listen to in this audio story. I met Alex Macqueen at ‘Big Finish Day 6’ in Slough, January 2015 when he signed my CD box set cover of ‘U.N.I.T. Dominion’ for me. Incidentally, I recently met Geoffrey Beevers at ‘Film & Comic Con Glasgow’ in August 2019.
I look forward to when Alex Macqueen’s Master’s confrontation with Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor happens (as I know the two actors worked together in ‘The Thick of It’). As for Alex Macqueen’s Master’s story in ‘Masterful’, he leads some rebellion against Milo Parker’s Master on a spaceship. 😐
I can’t say I was quite taken with Alex Macqueen’s Master’s story on the spaceship with people like Aurora Burghart as Achim and Zaqi Ismail as Sardo (who are Kitty’s children, I believe). Alex Macqueen does well with being his evil Master here, but I can’t say his tale was that exciting for me.
Right, let’s talk about Milo Parker’s Master in ‘Masterful’. Milo Parker is known for being in ‘The Durrells’ with Keeley Hawes and ‘Mr. Holmes’ with Sir Ian McKellen. As I’m aware, this is Milo Parker’s Master’s only appearance in the ‘Doctor Who’ universe. And I feel it was unnecessary here.
That’s not to say Milo Parker’s performance was bad as a younger Master. But you could have easily cut him out of the story and you wouldn’t miss a thing. He doesn’t do much apart from being a captain of the spaceship Alex Macqueen’s Master is on and he just says disapproving remarks about Missy. 😐
I would have been more excited for a Master that we’ve never seen or heard before in TV and audio like Charles Dance as the Master, which I’m sure many fans would’ve wanted than Missy. I would’ve liked a female version of the Master played by Sarah Sutton who took over Nyssa’s body and killed her.
I’ve got to cast Sarah Sutton as the Master at some point. 😀 My point being is that Milo Parker’s Master did seem rather pointless in the story and wasn’t really needed. It would have made much more sense to have Roger Delgado, who was the first Master, to make an appearance in this story. 😐
Incidentally, just to side track a bit, why wasn’t Roger Delgado’s Master in the story? Jon Culshaw voices Kamelion who took on the form of Anthony Ainley’s Master as well as Jon Pertwee’s Doctor when he interacted with Jo. You could have had Kamelion be Roger Delgado’s Master for a bit in this. 😦
It’s ironic that a story called ‘Masterful’ which is meant to feature all of the Masters in ‘Doctor Who’ doesn’t even feature the first one as played by Roger Delgado in the TV series. Granted Roger Delgado sadly got killed, but it’s pretty baffling how Big Finish didn’t include him in this audio drama.
Now you may argue, “Well, Jo Grant is there to represent Roger Delgado’s Master as she was in ‘Terror of the Autons’ and this is also her 50th anniversary as well as the Master’s”. Okay, I suppose I could accept that argument, but I feel Jo Grant should have her own anniversary story to celebrate that. 😐
Don’t put Jo Grant in ‘Masterful’ to celebrate 50 years of herself as well as the Master whilst also representing Roger Delgado. Have her appear in her own story to celebrate Jo Grant and have the Master out of it. In fact, Nyssa and Tegan should have their 40th anniversary stories, shouldn’t they?
Anyway, I digress. Let me talk about John Simm’s Master, the reason why I purchased ‘Masterful’ in the first place. Now I just want to stress, I really like John Simm’s performance in this story. I hope this will be the first many Big Finish audios featuring John Simm’s Master for so many years to come.
But as a debut, I feel John Simm’s Master was overshadowed by everyone else. He does everything he can to get his moment to shine and demonstrate how he’s easily loveable to hate. But I feel that Russell T. Davies’ writing for John Simm’s Master is superior than Steven Moffat’s and James Goss’. 😦
In fact, James Goss seems to have gone more for the Steven Moffat approach to writing John Simm’s Master as opposed to Russell T. Davies’. I recall John Simm’s Master being more intimidating under RTD’s reign of ‘Doctor Who’ than being in the adventures penned by Steven Moffat and James Goss.
There are moments when John Simm’s Master was excellent however. That moment where he says Anthony Ainley’s line of “Peoples of the universe, please attend carefully! The message that follows is vital to the future of you all!” Hearing John Simm say that line as the Master was incredibly magical!
I want to star in a version of ‘Logopolis’ where I play the Doctor and John Simm is doing Anthony Ainley’s Master and he says all the lines Anthony Ainley said with such passion and edge. Can you imagine John Simm’s Master being excellent in ‘Logopolis’? Oh I pray my dearest dreams will get to happen! 😀
And now let’s talk about Michelle Gomez as Missy. I’ve made criticisms about Missy before in previous reviews, and I’m going to keep doing so now. Missy does not work for me as a female incarnation of the Master in ‘Doctor Who’. She is way, way over the top in this audio story she’s in. 😦
That’s not just to do with the Mary Poppins outfit she wears (though it’s hard to take her seriously when she’s in that get-up), but she’s acting like everything’s a joke to her. She sounds like a drunken lunatic and won’t take herself seriously. If she isn’t being serious, why should I take her seriously? 😐
The reason why Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor works for me is that she takes things seriously. Michelle Gomez doesn’t seem to take on the villainous role of the Master seriously. She should be intimidating and frightening, but she comes across as a ‘mopey’ teenager who won’t learn to grow up.
Missy also doesn’t say the traditional things that the Master would say like “I am the Master/Mistress and you will obey me!” In fact, ‘Mistress’ is a much more intimidating name than ‘Missy’. Why can’t she call herself ‘the Mistress’ to get the attention she wants and to control everything?
There is one Master that perhaps none of the Masters expected to turn up in their universe. That’s Mark Gatiss a.k.a. Sam Kisgart as the Unbound Master. I’ve heard Mark Gatiss’ Master in one audio story and that was ‘Sympathy For The Devil’. I’ve yet to hear him in other ‘unbound universe’ stories.
I enjoyed Mark Gatiss’ Master performance in ‘Masterful’, which was directed by Scott Handcock. But like Milo Parker’s younger Master, he didn’t really do much. He just appears for some reason; has a few scenes with Missy and has some scenes with Kamelion; invades and destroys Gallifrey at some point; and…um…yeah, that’s about it.
I don’t quite see what Mark Gatiss’ impact of being in our universe had anything to do with the story. It would’ve been better if he met all the Masters in our universe and they were surprised to see him. But that doesn’t happen in the story and it does make Mark Gatiss’ Master pretty wasted.
Even though the story is meant to have many incarnations of the Master in it, there’s not even an appearance of Sacha Dhawan as the Master. I can’t believe how Big Finish didn’t include Sacha Dhawan as the Master, especially since they’ve worked with him before on many audio productions.
And yes, I know this story was recorded before the reveal of Sacha Dhawan’s Master in ‘Spyfall’. But surely Big Finish could’ve got Sacha Dhawan to record a special scene during the time we were in lockdown in 2020. Sacha was living with Aniji Mohindra, right? She did audios with Big Finish in 2020.
When I listened to the ‘bonus scene’ of ‘Masterful’, which is available to Big Finish subscribers who purchased the limited edition CD box set, I was hoping for it to feature Sacha Dhawan’s Master rescuing Jo or something. Instead, we have Mark Gatiss’ Master with Kamelion in his TARDIS, I think.
It was very disappointing. It’s also a shame that James Dreyfus’ Master wasn’t in ‘Masterful’, though that would account for the transgender comments he made around the time ‘The Psychic Circus’ was announced in 2019. So tragic! If only James Dreyfus had been careful with his words at the time.
Incidentally, meant to say, I saw and met John Simm at the ‘London Comic Con Spring’ back in March 2019. I even had a photo with John Simm. And in my Tom Baker scarf! 😀 This story also features Gina McKee as the Lumiat, who is a female version of the Master that’s actually good and not evil here. 😐
The Lumiat has appeared in the ‘Missy’ series alongside Michelle Gomez. Unfortunately, the Lumiat appears in one scene with Missy and Jo Grant and that’s it. I would have thought the Lumiat could’ve appeared more. It also turns out the entropy wave is the final incarnation of the Master. 😐
I suppose it’s rather fitting considering the Master and entropy are linked as established in ‘Logopolis’. Aurora Burghart also plays Carola in the Derek Jacobi/John Simm storyline whilst Glen McCready plays the Butler, a Castellan and some drones, often appearing throughout this audio tale.
The story’s ending is so confusing. Most of the Masters get killed by the entropy wave, including Geoffrey Beevers, Alex Macqueen, Derek Jacobi and John Simm. Michelle Gomez’s Missy is the last one to remain but she causes a paradox. This in turn causes the current timeline to collapse entirely.
At least I think that’s what’s meant to happen. I’m not sure if time got restored and Katy Manning’s Jo Grant was alive and well since Missy killed her in the story. Not even the ‘bonus scene’ to Big Finish subscribers could explain whether everything in the universe had restored back to normal. 😡
So yes! ‘Masterful’! It’s so messy. I can’t deny there were some good moments to enjoy from this audio drama and it was nice to hear some Masters interacting with each other like Geoffrey Beevers and Eric Roberts. John Simm’s Master had his moments to shine when hearing him in the audio tale.
But this ended up being rather disappointing and with so many missed opportunities made. This should have been a compelling story to celebrate 50 years of the Master in ‘Doctor Who’. Instead it was underwhelming and didn’t allow equal moments of opportunity for each Master to shine here.
Like I said, this should have been six-part story rather than a three-part story. If more time was spent on giving the Masters more explorations of their characters and perhaps if we had a group of companions fighting against the Masters in a doomed cause, this would have been very epic indeed.
And I would have put Sacha Dhawan’s Master in the story as well as introduce Charles Dance as the Master. I’m sure the fans would love it if Charles Dance’s Master was a thing in ‘Doctor Who’. Also, Sarah Sutton’s got to be the Master at some point, hasn’t she? I know that she can do evil very well.
‘MASTERFUL’ – BEHIND THE SCENES
Disc 8 of the ‘Masterful’ limited edition CD box set is a behind-the-scenes documentary into the making of the three-part story celebrating 50 years of the Master in ‘Doctor Who’. We start off with writer James Goss explaining the origins of how he was commissioned to write this celebratory tale.
I will give James Goss credit. Despite me feeling underwhelmed from hearing ‘Masterful’, at least he had good intentions behind the thought-process of writing this celebratory story. We then have producer David Richardson and director Ken Bentley being interviewed on the making of this story. 🙂
We soon have interviews with the Masters themselves. This includes Sir Derek Jacobi and John Simm. I like how Derek and John finally get to meet and work together in ‘Masterful’ since John wanted to meet and work with him in ‘Utopia’ but he never got the chance to, which was a shame.
There are then interviews with Milo Parker and Alex Macqueen. It’s intriguing to hear that Alex Macqueen worked with Milo Parker before in one of the episodes of ‘The Durrells’. Alex Macqueen also worked with Derek Jacobi in ‘Horrible Histories: The Movie – Rotten Romans’. I haven’t seen it yet. 😐
There are interviews with Eric Roberts, who, like I said, recorded his scenes in L.A., as well as with Michelle Gomez. Despite my criticisms and reservations about Missy, at least Michelle Gomez is enthusiastic about playing her female version of the Master. I wish my reaction to her matched her enthusiasm.
Katy Manning also gets interviewed in the ‘Masterful’ behind-the-scenes documentary. It’s interesting that Katy’s a Missy fan. I suppose Missy has won quite a number of people’s hearts. There are also interviews with Geoffrey Beevers and Mark Gatiss during the making-of documentary.
There are also interviews with Jon Culshaw, Abigail McKern, Aurora Burghart, Zaqi Ismail and Glen McCready. An interesting fact to mention is that Zaqi Ismail was in the ‘Doctor Who’ TV series playing Tim Lunn in ‘Under the Lake’/’Before the Flood’ with Peter Capaldi. I hadn’t realised that. 😀
The ‘Masterful’ section of the behind-the-scenes documentary comes to a close with people sharing their thoughts of the 50th anniversary of the Master in ‘Doctor Who’ and sharing their enthusiasm about it. There’s clearly passion behind the making of ‘Masterful’, even if it’s a pretty flawed passion.
The limited edition CD box set of ‘Masterful’ has been an enjoyable collection of stories to celebrate 50 years of the Master in ‘Doctor Who’. I do feel though that the stories ‘I Am The Master’, ‘The Switching’ and ‘Terror of the Master’ were far more enjoyable stories compared to ‘Masterful’ itself.
It’s a shame as I was hoping ‘Masterful’ would be a worthy celebration of celebrating 50 years of the Master in ‘Doctor Who’ by Big Finish. In some measure it is in having most of the actors who played the Master appearing in it, but in another, there are missed opportunities and the ending’s convoluted.
Maybe at some point I might write a Master story to emphasise how I feel an anniversary celebration of the character should be handled. I can’t fault Big Finish for trying as it is a brave attempt to get most of the Masters in a celebratory tale as this, but in the end, it was unsatisfying. 😦
‘Masterful’ rating – 4/10
The previous story
For the Master was
For the Unbound Master was
For Jo was
For Kamelion was
The next story
For the Master is
For the Unbound Master is
For Jo is
For Kamelion is
|Return to The Master’s Timeline|
|Return to The Unbound Master’s Timeline|
|Return to Jo’s Timeline|
|Return to Kamelion’s Timeline|
|Return to The Monsters’ Timelines Index|
|Return to The Companions’ Timelines Index|
|Return to Doctor Who Timelines|
|Return to Doctor Who|
|Return to Sci-Fi|