It’s time again to delve into the Time War with another Big Finish box set; we’ve heard the beginning of the Eighth Doctor’s efforts, the conflict of the War Doctor, and next year, we’ll get to see how the politics on Gallifrey will be upheld during this time. But now it’s time to see what the Doctor’s best frenemy, the Master got up to during this utter chaos. Today, I’ll be reviewing the first story in Only The Good, Beneath The Viscoid by Nicholas Briggs.
On the ocean planet Gardezza, deep beneath the Viscoid, a mysterious capsule is recovered from the Time War, and an equally mysterious stranger found within. The Doctor’s reputation precedes him, even here… but can he be trusted?
Here we go then. Finally, Big Finish have decided to give the Master their own series; after decades of being in the shadow of the Doctor, we now get an insight into what the Master does in their downtime. Albeit, their downtime amidst the Time War; but, at the moment, the Master doesn’t have to worry about the Doctor. This should be interesting…
Okay, first thing’s first, Derek Jacobi. What a legend. We only got about four minutes of him actually playing the Master before he regenerated into John Simm; but those four minutes were absolutely chilling, and I’m so glad he’s coming to Big Finish in a seemingly big way.
Now, second thing’s second. The War Master theme. Wow. Ioan Morris, the composer of the theme, is quite frankly a genius. It’s got the familiarity of the Doctor Who theme tune we’ve become so accustomed to, but there’s discord, anarchy and a menacing, foreboding effect that really puts you on edge. This is what the Master’s theme should always be.
Underwater Daleks. I’m not even two minutes in, and look how much I’ve been able to talk about. Now, there’s underwater Daleks. What a terrifying thought, and one I’m surprised hasn’t been used in the new series; the image of a Dalek being more like a submarine than a tank, exterminating people in the ocean. Jaws meets Skaro. What a great idea. I’m never going in a swimming pool again, just in case. Thanks Nicholas Briggs. Another phobia to add to the list.
When we finally get to hear the Master, it’s not as you expect; the Master appears to be in some… difficulty, and there’s a moment where you wonder how much of the Master’s actions are actually methodically planned, and how much is him just having some twisted fun.
What’s really interesting is that we get to see glimpses of how Jacobi’s Master acted before he used the fob watch preceding the events of Utopia, and the idea that the identity of Professor Yana was partially shaped by who the Master was beforehand. The Master here is, and always has been and should always be, a scientific genius.
I absolutely adore how different the Master is without the Doctor around. Now, I know I’m probably going to get some backlash for saying this, but for me, a lot of the Master’s “Masteriness” is due to him wanting to show off in front of the Doctor; much like how Missy acts when she gives the Twelfth Doctor a Cyberarmy. It’s almost as if the relationship between the Doctor and the Master is one of a parent and a child, who is constantly begging for attention and praise. Take the parent out of the equation, and you get to see a different side to the child. Speaking of which, the childish playfulness of Jacobi’s Master really is a delight to listen to, and it’s clear that he’s having an absolute ball playing the part.
It’s great to hear the Master using his hypnotic abilities too, easily manipulating those around him to do his bidding. Let’s be honest, if any of us had the skill of hypnosis like the Master, we’d use it to our advantage too. Can you imagine the freebies you’d be able to get?
Nicholas Briggs also manages, around the 43 minute mark, to put in a little Easter egg to those of you who frequently listen to the Big Finish Podcast (and if you don’t, I highly recommend you buck up and do so, it’s a really entertaining podcast), and I can only imagine the smile he gave himself when he typed those three fabled words.
The Master, towards the end of Beneath The Viscoid, gives an absolutely stellar little monologue to another one of the characters, and my god it’s beautiful and poetic and raw and honest and I don’t trust it whatsoever. In a universe where the Doctor and the Master are normally seen as polar opposites, could it be that the War Master (alongside the previous War Doctor box sets) will portray these characters more as shades of grey, instead of purely black and white? This is why I adore Big Finish; it makes these character’s appear much more three dimensional than the show tends to do nowadays.
Overall, Beneath The Viscoid is an incredibly strong opener to the Only The Good box set, Nicholas Briggs gets these characters, and I’m still surprised he’s never been asked to pen a televised Dalek episode, because it would almost certainly be a critical hit.
Derek Jacobi is absolutely fantastic too, and his performance is one of the strongest Master performances I’ve heard in a long time; and that’s after hearing him for just shy of an hour. I can’t wait to hear what the next three stories have in store.
Should you want to purchase The War Master: Only The Good, it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £20 for a limited time on digital download, and £23 for the CD box set.