Friday, 12 July 2013

Mastermind written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Ken Bentley

What’s it about: The Vault – an archive of alien artefacts securely stored deep beneath the Angel of the North. There's also a prisoner in the Vault. An extraterrestrial known as the Master. He has been on Earth for some time, but now he's under lock and key. This is his story. Or, as Captain Ruth Matheson and Warrant Officer Charlie Sato discover… perhaps it is theirs.

You Will Obey Me: What an awesome idea it was to tell a first person story from the Master’s point of view. We haven’t seen anything quite this innovative as far as the shows villains are concerned since the trilogy of adventures that focused upon three of the most infamous at the close of 2003’s experimental run. As soon as Geoffrey Beevers joins the story and deploys that dark, hypnotic, menacing voice of his the story automatically went up several notches. He brings something truly malevolent and skin crawling to his stories that is not to be underestimated.

The Master arrives with an ominous chiming of the grandfather clock that happens to be his TARDIS in disguise. When it sounds, it always means he is going to wake up. He’s categorised as alien artefact number one, which might put him at the top of the priority list as far as the Vault is concerned but seems like such a dull official label for such a great character. He’s locked in a vault within and vault because you can never be too careful with the Master. He only wakes up every five years or so for an hour and fortunately this time round we are privy to that 60 minutes. A master of mind control and psychological manipulation, UNIT has had too many dealing with this criminal to deal with his security lightly. Others have made the error of underestimating him and paid the price. As far as this psychopath is concerned, there are few things more satisfying than taking the life of an innocent. While it looks as if the Master might take a moral stance over pushing forward humanities technological progress in order to expedite his experiments, the truth is he was worried that doing so would attract the attention of the CIA and the Doctor. The Master’s waltz through the 20th Century reminds me of the experiences that the Doctor had when he was trapped on Earth during the same period in the novel line. It is great to compare their approaches, the Doctor using the time to study and broaden his horizons as much as he can whilst trying to stay in the shadows and not make too much of a fuss. In comparison the Master is drawn to the power, taking over the bodies of a succession of influential men and building up an impressive business Empire. He’s so effortlessly cool that being held up by a Mafia assassin amuses him greatly. Once UNIT have him in custody they want him to work for them, giving them the benefit of his knowledge during potential alien incursions. How that would stick in the Doctor’s throat.

UNIT Officers: As soon as Charlie excitedly boasts that he is going to be interviewing the Master I envisaged a terrifying future for the lad. His influence is so strong he can force people to murder themselves, to act against their own sense of self preservation, an ability that truly disturbs Ruth. The Master is an expert manipulator and he offers Ruth a glimpse of a changed past, the ability to bring her murdered unit back to life if only she releases him. Would he uphold that bargain if he was at large? Who knows, but the tantalizing truth is that what he is telling her is possible. Charlie became a soldier to honour his fathers memory, but the Master offers him the chance to save his father if he lets him go.

Standout Performance: The material that Beevers is given in Mastermind is miles beyond the one dimensional villainy that was foistered upon him during the first season of 4DAs. He’s afforded the opportunity to play all manner of guises as the Master and adopt a number of accents and personalities, all of which convince. However he is at his best when he gets to bring his voice right down and purr in the ears of the UNIT operatives, quietly and threateningly inveigling his way into their minds… 

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I have worn many bodies over the years but always they revert to my true form. I am the living embodiment of entropy, rotten to the core…’

Great Ideas: Given that these are the UNIT vaults it makes perfect sense for Jonathan Morris to plunder old stories for continuity references (especially in the 50th anniversary year but there is no reason why you wouldn’t do this anyway since the situation has presented itself). In this case there is mention of Excalibur from Battlefield. A grandfather clock and the Tom Baker theme tune seems to suggest that this is the Master from that period, either somewhere between The Deadly Assassin and The Keeper of Traken or post Traken and pre-Logopolis. Dalek scorch marks detected on his TARDIS could mean be suggesting that was why he was suddenly an emaciated corpse when we caught up with him in Assassin, but ultimately it turns out that this is a post-TV Movie version of the Master set after he escaped his prison in the Doctor’s TARDIS. A shame, it might have been fun to wind up those people who agonise over where stories are placed by leaving the placement ambiguous. However it is pleasing to fill out this previously unexplored (except for a suggestion that the Master is still in the TARDIS at the end of the 8th Doctor novel Sometime Never…) part of the Master’s life. There is a fascinating and dramatic story to be told between the TV Movie and his resurrection in Utopia. His TARDIS was discovered in a burial chamber in the Valley of the Kings over a century ago, which means he has been trapped in the Vault ever since. If it is suspected that UNIT soldiers have been taken over by the Master they can be incarcerated for up to fifty years until they are certain that the influence has passed and no hidden instructions have been left to fester in your mind. Perhaps Charlie should have been made aware of these conditions before he stepped foot in this section of the Vault. It is quite sweet to have a story written for characters played by Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso featuring the Master. It turns out that the viscous state that the Master found himself in during the TV Movie was a death worm morphant and it was a necessary measure to ensure that he survived execution by the Daleks on Skaro. It also allowed him to exist within the Eye of Harmony. So there to anybody who snubbed the idea, it makes perfect sense after all (I am talking myself more than anyone else). One of the Doctor’s companions, Edward Grainger (I wonder if we will ever see that story emerge in the eighth Doctor line?) made contact with the Master in the TARDIS, opened the Eye and allowed him to escape in a vaporous state. He surged from the TARDIS into the year 1906 in a precarious, gaseous existence, his mind only held together by his unconquerable will. He found the perfect hiding place within a human being, so discreet that the Doctor would never be able to detect his presence within his mind. The Master’s greatest fear and strongest motivation is to stay alive and it seems that whatever method he chooses always comes with an inherent flaw. In this case the body accelerated in age, brought on by his possession and decomposing to the state that it is now. He eventually wound up on the Titanic and stole the place of one of the survivors when it crashed and eventually took over the body of one of the Hudson Dusters, a New York street gang. Just that sentence alone could provide enough substance for several stories. To hear the Master being played by Beevers as a Godfather figure is a delight. I could have happily have spent much more time around this character and learnt of his brutal, unlawful acts in the early 1900s. After taking over the Don’s son, the Master soon realised there was another resource that was abundant on the planet and that brought with it great power – money. He bought a casino and started to exploit the greed inherent in humanity in order to harness the power of the nearby Hoover Dam, a necessary plunder to fuel his experiments to return his body to its previous, undecaying state. Another great full length story to be told there. Soon he was running all the casinos, pulling the strings but remaining in the shadows. Come 1973 he had spent two decades practically confined to his penthouse, leaving the every day running of his business Empire to his son Frankie. Just when you think you exactly how the story is going to play out with the Master moving successfully from body to body he hits a snag in the form Frankie. He’s figured out exactly what has been polluting the family line over the years and that he will be next and turns the Master’s own toys against him. After being trapped in his apartment by his son it isn’t until UNIT recovered him that he saw the light of day again.

Audio Landscape: Footsteps, marionettes clinking, a chiming grandfather clock, retina scanner, the Master screaming inside the Eye of Harmony, Big Ben, the screaming maid, seagulls screaming, the sound effect of the Master seeking out a new body in gaseous form is genuinely spine tingling, slot machines, casino atmosphere, cocking a gun, the mechanical airlock, opening a bottle and pouring a drink, brewing coffee, bombs falling, children screaming, canned laughter, rubble falling, alarms.

Musical Cues: An appropriately brooding, dramatic and exciting score for a release spearheaded by the Master, Daniel Brett has delivered his best work yet. The piece that plays over the Godfather Master’s possession of his ‘son’ is a genuinely riveting passage and sax score that kicks in during the casino sequences has a sensual atmosphere all of its own.

Standout Scene: I was waiting patiently throughout to see when the Master would make his move and what trick he would play in order to escape from UNIT confinement. When the moment comes, it doesn’t disappoint. He’s such a devious bugger he allowed himself to brought to the UNIT vault as a prisoner in order to obtain his property previously lost – his TARDIS. His trap sprung, he soon makes his mistake. Let’s hope we get to stow away on board with him one day.

Result: A gripping story that charters the Master’s struggle through 20th Century America, Mastermind is an ground-breaking way to open the final season of companion chronicles. In a way it is a shame that such a transfixing story of the Master’s passage from the TARDIS to the Vault is told in so short a space of time and in the first person. It is such an engaging story I would have liked to have seen Jonathan Morris turn this into a much longer, full-cast story and for it to be marketed as the next box set from Big Finish. The story as recounted would have been better than Dark Eyes and UNIT: Dominion combined. Their loss is the Companion Chronicles’ gain and I cannot imagine anybody not getting excited by the journey we take with the Master following the TV Movie and leading up to his incarceration in the Vault. Geoffrey Beevers is the living embodiment of malevolence in this tale, his voice dripping with malice. Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso prove they are no slouches either, effortlessly resurrecting their parts from Tales from the Vault but taking on other roles within the flashbacks. Anybody bemoaning the fact that Jonathan Morris has been turning up in the schedules rather frequently of late should remember that his latest work has consisted of Protect and Survive, Prisoners of Fate, The Auntie Matter, Guardians of Prophecy, The Age of Revolution…basically the best of their respective ranges. It would appear that his imagination knows no bounds and he is still producing work as innovative and startling as his very first novel way back in 2000. Mastermind lives up to it’s title, offering a deceptive piece with a great sting in the tale. It is written with plenty of intelligent historical detail and cheeky moments whilst always focusing on the hypnotic storytelling abilities of the Master. Once you have reached the heart stopping climax you will be cursing the end credits because there is so much more of his story to be told. If the success of this release doesn’t convince Big Finish to give the Doctor’s nemesis his own spin off range then nothing will. Oh and one more thing…if your partner ever comes home a changed man, it’s time to get very worried indeed. A fantastic listening experience, the companion chronicles shave struck gold again: 10/10


Paul said...

Excellent review Joe. I've been looking forward to this one a lot. I adore GB as the Master...

Anonymous said...

Sounds very intriguing! I wish they could do an audio spin-off with Master and then somehow solve there a problem with a Master incarnation from UNIT Dominion.

BSC SSC said...

Great review, but all these Masters are getting confusing.

BSC SSC said...

Does Mastermind fit in continuity with The Glorious Dead and Unit:Dominion.

Anonymous said...

Edward Grainger and the release of the master is covered in a Short trips compilation called "The Centurian"