Act Two of The Two Masters trilogy; Vampire of The Mind is the latest release in Big Finish’s Monthly Range. This is the first time this year that the Monthly Range hasn’t featured Fifth Doctor, Peter Davison; and is the only time that Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor will be present in this range until November (I can hear Ben Lett quietly sobbing at this fact). So, if you’re a fan of Sixie; this is your opportunity to seize him. Will it be a title worth grabbing though, or should you let it pass through the net?
Somewhere off the South Coast of England, there’s a lonely island. On that island stands a solitary castle, long since abandoned – haunted, they say. But the truth is, that castle houses something far worse than mere ghosts.
The castle is what lies at the end of a trail followed by the Doctor in search of several missing scientists – all of them connected to the top secret Dominus Institute and its elusive CEO, Sir Andrew Gobernar…
But the Doctor will soon discover that he’s the one being haunted, by a ghost from his past… or perhaps, his future.
Imagine, just for a moment, that your doorbell is ringing. Go on, close your eyes and imagine it. Are you still imagining it with your eyes closed? I can tell you’re not because you’re reading this. Telling you to close your eyes and “Just imagine” whilst reading a review is utterly futile; nothing will ever get done. So just imagine, with your eyes open that your doorbell is ringing. Then imagine that you open the door and there’s a blonde, curly haired man in an outlandish coat standing there, expecting someone else. That’s the first forty-four seconds of Vampire of The Mind. Thankfully for you, I won’t make you imagine the whole story through my description, as Big Finish does a much, much better job of that with their actors and sound design and music and whatnot. Just thought it was an experimental way to start a review. Anyway…
The Doctor is on the lookout for an old friend, Professor Threadstone and, being the Doctor, he arrives slightly later than anticipated. Not too late though; at least the Professor is still alive. Early on, Justin Richards reminds me why I love these two hour long stories; they allow time for the small moments that help shape and define a character. It seems unlikely that in a forty-five minute tale you’d have the time to have the Doctor try and pinch a biscuit to accompany his tea. Or two.
One thing that’s slightly disorientating is hearing classic Doctors like the Sixth talk about contemporary technology and using things like computers and the internet; now I know that the Doctor is a time travelling alien from a civilisation far superior to ours; but, never having seen the Doctor in the classic series ever mention the internet, (How could he? None of the writers knew it was going to exist.) it seems rather jarring to have him talk about this technology now. I have to admit, hearing the Doctor use the internet to try and get to the bottom of a mystery reminded me very much of the scene in The Eleventh Hour when the newly regenerated Eleventh Doctor and Geoff helped save the world from the Atraxi and Prisoner Zero.
If you regularly read my reviews (and why wouldn’t you? They’re fairly alright!) you know that one aspect of any Doctor Who story that can bug me is what I call ‘the exposition scene’ where there’s normally a conversation going on which gets you up to speed with all the relevant information to understand the narrative and the backstory. Vampire of The Mind does have an exposition scene; but it feels so much like a Classic Who exposition scene that I don’t really mind it at all, in fact for some unknown reason it reminded me of Terror of The Zygons. If you listen to this story and feel like you can tell me why, please feel free to tweet me @GallifreyRchive because it’s really annoying me not knowing.
Towards the latter end of the first of these four episodes; Doctor John Smith and Doctor Threadstone get the chance to acquaint themselves with Doctor Damian Scott. Doctor Scott finds it amusing that there’s three doctors are having a conversation; Doctor Threadstone, however, shoots him down some absolutely brilliant sass. I love a sassy character with sassy dialogue. Sass.
I really like the dynamic between the Doctor and Doctor Heather Threadstone, she seems like perfect companion material; especially for the Sixth Doctor. She’s sassy, sarcastic, intelligent and overconfident. Her and old Sixie make quite a team.
The cliffhanger to the first episode is really rather good; and it was downright hilarious at some points. Normally cliffhangers are filled with broodiness and foreboding; but that isn’t the case of the first episode. The Doctor isn’t always right, and there’s a great case of mistaken identity. Don’t you love it when you know more than the Doctor does in a situation? It kind of makes me feel like I’m at a pantomime; “Oh no it isn’t, Doctor!”
To me, the first episode of Vampire of The Mind seemed to manage to put most of the characters in their necessary places for the story to develop; something I’m glad happened in the first episode, as, when it happens in the second, or sometimes even in the third, it can leave the remaining acts feel all too crowded.
The second episode starts with a nice recap of the events at the end of the first; which is perfect for if, like me, you’ve had to take a break between the episodes because that life thing gets in the way (it’s so annoying). The Doctor and Heather are on the island where the Dominus Institute is situated; and it seems to be a fairly desolate place. There’s a pub though, and probably a little shop (I love a little shop.)
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Heather is perfect companion material. She’s adventurous, she speaks out loud (very important when a Big Finish companion) and she has an unrelenting sense of intrigue. In my opinion, Heather could easily be the next Liv Chenka.
I know that the title of the story references vampires, (just a reminder that Big Finish’s version of Dracula is due out this month too) but there are also allusions to zombies in this tale. Not only that, but for some reason, the second episode of Vampire of The Mind reminded me a lot of The Mummy movies. Not a clue why; I haven’t even seen The Mummy in years; I was just reminded of them. Funny how your mind works.
Now, I know that the odds are that whilst Vampire of The Mind was being written, so was Nightshade; so the similarities are probably just mere coincidences; but I must say that there was a sense of deja vu with the Doctor going to the pub for information like his future incarnation will in Nightshade (time travel is all very complicated).
It’s not Doctor Who without some breaking and entering; especially when the stories are set in the era of the show when the Doctor was without his Sonic Screwdriver. It’s a great thought to have the Doctor crouching down at a door picking a lock instead of just waving his magic wand at it, and it miraculously opening.
The cliffhanger on the second episode is rather tame in comparison to some of the other cliffhangers in recent Big Finish stories; just your standard ‘Doctor being cornered’ scenario.
The penultimate episode starts with a reunion that I didn’t really expect at all; the Doctor and Heather are reunited with Professor Threadstone, Heather’s dad and the man that the Doctor was originally paying a visit to. I know how I said the second episode reminded me of The Mummy movies; but the opening scene of the third episode reminded me of the Uncharted games, with the escape in a car from a gang of zombified test subjects.
One thing that I love Justin Richards for, is the fact that he includes small and subtle references to past adventures with the Doctor, and in this case, the Master too. It transpires that UNIT had locked the Master up in a prison on the island after the events of Devil’s End (viewers of Classic Who will know that the story in question is The Dæmons featuring the Third Doctor).
I often listen to Doctor Who stories from Big Finish and wonder why the Doctor’s don’t get in touch with UNIT a lot more to help out; they seem to be rather good at what they do; and, seen as this story is set in 2016, it means that we have the possibility for Kate and Osgood to help out the Sixth Doctor. (Big Finish; that’s a crossover waiting to happen. Classic Doctors, New UNIT. Please. Pretty please.) Of course, with the Master being involved, things don’t go quite to plan.
It’s not until just after the half way mark of Vampire of The Mind that Alex Macqueen really gets to flex his evil muscles playing the Master being the Master, instead of playing the Master playing a character. Luckily for the listener, Macqueen’s performances of Damien and the Master are different enough to make it easy to understand that he’s playing his full, evil self; but does it with such subtlety that you know it’s definitely the same actor. Macqueen’s performance in this story rivals Mark Bonnar’s portrayal of the Eleven from Doom Coalition.
The Master’s plan is somewhat tame for a plan of the Master. His TARDIS is on the blink and he needs help getting it repaired; I wonder if it’s insured… The Doctor and the Master’s relationship and past are touched upon lightly too, with the Doctor saying that if the Master had asked, he would have helped him try and fix his TARDIS; I really love it when the Doctor and Master aren’t portrayed as sworn enemies, instead it seems that their relationship is more of a mutual respect with differing opinions and outlooks.
Andrew Gobonar, the CEO of Dominus seems to be more of a protagonist in the third episode than the Doctor or Heather, which was surprisingly refreshing. Having the Doctor have to try and get Gobonar’s free will back from the control of the Master was a really interesting way to help propel the story forward. Of course, with the Master being involved, Gobonar’s fate isn’t all sunshine and rainbows.
One thing I noticed in Vampire of The Mind is that you’re not really a good Doctor Who villain unless you have a less intelligent subservient race at your disposal; in the Classic era the Daleks had the Ogrons, in New-Who, Satan used the Ood and now the Master gets his blanks. Sure, he more or less created them himself, but it’s good to have an army that holds no sentiment to you whatsoever.
The final cliffhanger of Vampire of The Mind is more exposition than something that would fill the listener with anticipation; with the Master having caught a Mind Leech (I wonder if they’re related to the Memory Worm?) which he is using to drain the memories of anyone and everyone he can get his hands on.
The Mind Leech is very, very hungry; it’s a shame that it doesn’t fancy any Malteasers, as I’m eating them whilst writing this review and would happily give it a handful to keep it going until dinnertime. But it wants minds, and I kind of need mine. Sorry, Mind Leech!
The Doctor’s compassion is very apparent in this final episode; wanting to help free the Mind Leech instead of outright wanting to destroy it; which would seemingly solve all of his problems anyway. Like Davros normally says, his compassion will probably be his downfall.
The main part of the final episode seems to be somewhat reminiscent of The TV Movie with the Master needing the Doctor with his eyes open, and with the Master seemingly dying; but not physically.
We also get a flashback that I didn’t expect at all, and I thought that Big Finish would always keep that scene away from it’s listeners. I love being pleasantly surprised. Don’t expect me to tell you which scene we get a flashback of either. Buy the story and listen to it to find out; trust me, it’s worth it.
Overall, Vampire of The Mind is a lot darker and more sinister than And You Will Obey Me, and I love it. There’s a lot of death, deception and dastardliness. This is Doctor Who at it’s darkest; and it’s delightful. There are no weak performances in this story at all; from any of the actors or the technical crew; everyone involved deserves a round of applause. Even the ending, which seemingly foreshadows next months The Two Masters is extremely dark and twisted, making me look forward to it even more.
Justin Richards really has to be complimented for his writing in this story; it goes from being scientific technobabble to having the Doctor fall victim to a spam Russian dating ad in an instant. If that’s not Doctor Who; I don’t know what is. He also manages to make the Master seem even more monstrous than he did in last months And You Will Obey Me, where the Geoffrey Beevers Master seemed to be somewhat empathetic, (for the Master that is), in Vampire of The Mind, it appears that he’s not afraid of experimenting on the weak and the venerable; even testing on an Alzheimer’s patient.
I know I don’t mention it anywhere near as often enough in my other Big Finish reviews; but the music in Vampire of The Mind is something really special. It’s not as epic and fast paced as Murray Gold’s more modern arrangements, nor should it be; this is a slower paced story that deserves equally tranquil music. Andy Harwick deserves a fair few pats on the back for his work here.
The rating system on the GallifreyArchive is achieved on a scale of 1-10.
For Vampire of The Mind, I will give a rating of:
Should you want to purchase Vampire of The Mind, it’s currently available physically for £14.99 and as a download for just £12.99, which you can purchase by clicking here!