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Book and Audio Drama Reviews: Master Who?

I’m not quite sure what this says about me as a Doctor Who fan (and as a person), but I’ve always been a big fan of the Master—in all his and her incarnations. Well…almost all of them. I could have done without the snake-possessed-American-EMT in the 1996 TV movie, but he doesn’t exactly count.

In classic Doctor Who, the Master was often little more than your typical mustache-twirling villain. But over the years, the character has been cleverly reinterpreted in both the TV series and spin-off media, adding some fascinating layers to his psychology. In the finale of Doctor Who Series 10 (SPOILER WARNING), the Master’s journey apparently came to an end, when the John Simm incarnation of the Master killed Michelle Gomez’s Missy, leaving her unable to regenerate. It was a surprisingly fitting end for the character, and a poignant plot twist since Missy showed signs of redemption mere seconds before her demise.

But, let’s be honest. As Missy once said, “Death is for other people.” I’m sure she’ll be back in a new guise eventually—Sharon D. Clarke, if my guess is right. Until her inevitable return, however, we have a new short story anthology which inspired this post…

The Missy Chronicles

I’m aware that not all Doctor Who fans are particularly fond of Missy. I had mixed feelings about this version of the Master upon her introduction. However, in my opinion, the character improved quite a bit over time, especially as Steven Moffat delved deeper into the frenemy relationship between her and the Doctor. She ended up with a fascinating character arc during the Twelfth Doctor era, and Michelle Gomez’s acting in the role was superb.

So I was happy to hear that the BBC planned to release a short-story collection featuring Missy, and I eagerly snapped it up upon its release. It did not disappoint. The six stories in this volume examine Missy at different points in her timeline, leading all the way up to her final days.

“Dismemberment,” by James Goss, is set shortly after Missy’s regeneration and details her revenge against an exclusive gentlemen’s club which revokes her membership on the grounds of her no longer being…well, a gentleman. The Missy shown here is the completely unhinged version we met in Series 8. It’s a dark tale, perhaps too dark for some, but these moments feel earned given what we know of the Master’s ruthlessness. Plus, there are some great moments of Pratchett-esque humor to balance things out.

Fans of the Doctor’s home planet will find Lords and Masters, by Cavan Scott, very satisfying. We get a glimpse of post-Time-War Gallifrey, which doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should this days. We also get a few more details about the period of the Master’s life immediately following The End of Time. But most exciting of all, we see inside the Master’s TARDIS, and learn a little more about how it functions—which ties into the clever sci-fi premise at the center of the story.

A Mary-Poppins-themed Missy story pretty much had to happen at some point. Paul Magrs’ “Teddy Sparkles Must Die!” expertly weaves together Whovian sci-fi and a P.L. Travers pastiche. Unlike the previous two stories, this one has a more-or-less happy ending. Missy’s evil plot is foiled, and we almost catch a glimpse of kindness somewhere beneath her vicious exterior—though not quite.

“The Liar, the Glitch, and the War Zone,” by Peter Anghelides, features Missy dealing with a temporal anomaly in Earth’s history—but since she’s the Master and not the Doctor, she’s busily making things worse instead of better. Lots of cool timey-wimey stuff here, plus a very surprising guest appearance.

“Girl Power!” by Jacqueline Rayner is set during Missy’s imprisonment in the Vault during Series 10, and consists of a series of messages sent by her, the Doctor, Nardole, and a surprising array of historical characters. It’s hilarious, especially when Missy’s homicidal feminism is turned against her. The character interactions here made me laugh out loud.

“Alit in Underland” feels like a deleted scene from “The Doctor Falls,” with both good and slightly disappointing results. It ends a little too abruptly, since it leads into the big Missy/Master confrontation of the TV episode. However, on the bright side, we get more interactions between the two Masters, and some interesting comments from both on the past events of the character’s life. Not the strongest story in this anthology, but still very much worth reading.

I’d recommend The Missy Chronicles to all Doctor Who fans, even if you’re not sold on Missy as a character. This book helps to flesh her out, and ties in nicely with the rest of the Master’s convoluted timeline.

 

Now, while we’re on the subject of the Master, let’s talk about an audio drama box set you should definitely get your hands on if you’re a Doctor Who fan.

 

The War Master: Only the Good

It’s a shame that we didn’t get to see more of Derek Jacobi as the Master. That incarnation only featured in one episode, and spent most of his time thinking he was Professor Yana. When he was finally unveiled as the classic villain reborn, Jacobi played the role to perfection, only to be killed off a few minutes later to pave the way for John Simm. Fortunately, Big Finish productions have given Jacobi’s version a new life on audio, as well as a new title—the War Master.

I have a feeling that those who didn't care for John Simm or Michelle Gomez as the Master might react more favorably to Derek Jacobi's interpretation. Unlike his later selves, The War Master is not unhinged. He doesn't want the universe to end; otherwise what would he rule? So he's determined to stop the Time War by any means necessary–no matter how brutal. These four stories explore his journey through the darkest days of the conflict.

I’ll keep my comments on the individual episodes brief, so as to avoid spoilers–it’s best to enter into these without a lot of foreknowledge. In the opener, Beneath the Viscoid, the Master masquerades as the Doctor while (seemingly) working to save an alien planet from the Daleks. Jacobi shifts effortlessly between charm and menace as he manipulates unwitting pawns towards their doom. The Good Master delves into the Master’s morality, or lack thereof, with fascinating results. It also grants the War Master a companion–a young pilot named Cole (played by Jonny Green). There are some clever touches hidden within the expert sound design, so listen carefully. The Sky Man puts Cole in center stage as he tries to save a doomed world, but this is still very much a Master-driven story–and a brilliant take on a very familiar Doctor Who concept. The Heavenly Paradigm brings the Master to Earth to reveal his true designs. The story is gripping, and the conclusion ties into certain plot points of the TV series in a surprising way.

The War Master is an essential listen for Whovians. A full-cast audio drama centered on the Doctor’s greatest foe in the heart of the Time War sounds like something that can’t possibly live up to expectations, but “Only the Good” easily exceeded mine.

Thanks for reading these reviews! I’ll be back with my thoughts on a certain popular indie novel next Friday, so be sure to stop in again.

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Comments (2)

Okay, so now you have just given me a list of things to listen to/read/watch. I haven’t listened to or read any of the addtional Doctor Who material. I actually just entered the fandom last year, I think, or maybe a couple months before that. It was recently anyways. Currently watching the First Doctor, (the very first) and almost finished with that. It’s a good series!

That’s awesome! Doctor Who is a great fandom to join because the spin-off media is of particularly high quality in comparison to other fandoms. All the previous Doctors live on in audio dramas and books, and some things that were only lightly touched on in the TV series get explained in detail elsewhere. Plus, the audios tie together the classic and revived series, which is pretty cool. 50 years of awesomeness. Let me know if you ever need help navigating the Whoniverse; I’m always happy to recommend stuff.

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