What's it about: The Master: wanted for crimes without number, across five galaxies. The Master: escaped his pursuers. Last known location: rural Hexford, England, Earth. The Master: dead and buried in an unmourned grave, in a lonely churchyard. Apparently.
An English Gentleman: It's unusual to enjoy a solo fifth Doctor adventure, usually he is encumbered with companions and it's rather pleasant to see him left to his own devices. Amazing how much easier things are without argumentative kids getting in his way. The Doctor thought he had the Cranleigh cup already. He forgets the golden rule of an auction house, don't bid too high, too quickly otherwise everybody thins what you are after is valuable. The fifth Doctor is the one incarnation I can imagine seeking out the Master for reasons other than to ensure that he is up to no good, simply to do a good deed by his old friend. They might have had their differences but there is an element of concern. When the Doctor attempts to exhume the Master's body he assumes he is the closest thing to the next of kin to him than anybody on the Earth. The Doctor's TARDIS was parked down the road in Little Hodcombe, which dates the story very nicely chronologically (I've noticed that Barnes more than any other writer likes to position his stories within the TV series).
Batshit Crazy: The Master was handsome once, maybe even twice. The idea of the Master living out his days in a dilapidated cottage in the country, a ghoul in a forgotten shell of a building is an alluring one. I felt sorry for him, relying on this bunch of not terribly interesting kids to facilitate his recovery. As soon as he appears the story automatically lifts, he's so unapologetically evil he gives the tale a massive kick in the teeth. The Master as some kind of cut price Fagin sending his little gang of teens out onto the streets to do his bidding? I'm not certain that is an exercise worth investigating. He's desperate and a little scared of being discovered.
Standout Performance: There's little that is convincing about Sheena Bhattersea's performance, regardless of which character she is playing. Frankly I lost track of who she was supposed to be after a while and didn't care to backtrack and find out.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'The clock is a time machine!' 'What clock isn't?'
Great Ideas: The Doctor is trying to buy an ornamental grandfather clock that he believes to be the Master's TARDIS. The building that the Master was holed up in was burnt to the ground and all that was left was a body and a grandfather clock. The Doctor cannot let the Earth become a battleground for intergalactic assassins. Why did the Master hide himself away 30 years ago? Was he hiding from assassins? Has he regenerated and in his post-regenerative state he has forgotten that he was evil (wishful thinking, Doctor).
Audio Landscape: A stunned auction house crowd, traffic, a car on gravel, birds wheeling in the sky, travelling in a car, a staser. Do you think sound designers get thrilled or dismayed when they are asked to bring to life giant dragonflies that can talk?
Isn't it Odd: Barnes does have a bad habit of including some very strange, unnaturalistic dialogue at times. A very minor example is the Doctor opening the glove compartment of a car and declaring 'Gummie sweets!' in a very casual manner. I just don't know a soul on this planet or anywhere else in the cosmos for that matter who would say that. And the story is littered with such examples, moments where characters say some pretty unusual things to add unnecessary detail or simply to be a little quirky. Some people have a knack of pulling naturalistic dialogue out of their ass (Russell T. Davies), others don't (Moffat) but have their moments. Others simply struggle and I would put latter day Barnes in the third category. By the end of the first episode (with a pretty limp cliffhanger) the story has already started to falter and singular lack of the Master in a story that signposts his presence is annoying. The dragonfly assassins really aren't as memorable as Barnes seems to think they are, they remind me of the Terravore from Jonny Morris' script but put together with half the imagination. The Doctor doesn't much care for violence and as such sucks a pair of giant dragonflies out the main doors? Seems a little out of character. 'Staser not laser?' 'Taser not staser?' It feels like the 'Brickyard' gags in Trial of a Time Lord, a joke that is flogged to death. The Doctor makes the kids realise that the things that the Master promised them were in their power all...they are a gullible bunch, aren't they? Davison gives an impassioned performance but this material really is obvious. 'You Will Obey Us!'
Result: It almost feels like a deliberate subversion of the norm in the Davison era. The Master is usually trussed up in a disguise and pops up completely unexpectedly halfway through a story. And You Will Obey works in the opposite way; everybody knows about the Master but he is nowhere to be seen and the surprise is that he doesn't show up for the length of the bible. I prefer the original approach. And You Will Obey did little for me until Beevers did show up, the story proving to be a typically confused, continuity ridden mess that I have come to expect from Barnes of late. There's little in the way of engaging characters, plot or dialogue, indeed each of these things was clunky in the extreme, testing my patience throughout. I started doing weights halfway through episode two just to give myself something to do. I realise this is part of a trilogy and plot points here may be vital later down the line but that doesn't mean that this has to be such snooze fest in its own right. It reminds me of The Defectors in the locum Doctors trilogy, a tedious misstep at the start of a three part epic that gets things off on the wrong note. Realistically, this could happily be cut down two episodes and start with episode three where all the exposition begins. The whole Master/Fagin angle with his army of little tykes has potential but it takes ages to get to the point of the story and the characters are insufficiently developed to make their liberation from his influence worth investing in. It should be triumphant but it's written in such an obvious way. Beevers gets the short shrift, this is supposed to be his showcase in the trilogy and he's barely gets to appear. The main range has proven that it can pull it socks up with the recent fifth Doctor, Tegan and Nyssa threesome (oo-er) but it is stories like And You Will Obey Me that do little that is fresh and interesting and instead rely on popular villains being written for in ineffective ways to generate sales. By any stretch of the imagination this simply is not good enough. Borrow it from a friend: 3/10