Wednesday, 28 March 2018

Beneath the Viscoid written by Nicholas Briggs and directed by Scott Handcock

What’s it about: 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?

War Master: He was a prisoner of the Daleks when he escaped them. One is not usually a guest when one has to escape. The Master is having a whale of a time pretending to be the Doctor, trying to wave away his reputation with false modesty. Heading into this adventure incognito does address one of the problems that I had going into this box set and that is if the Master is a truly evil bastard who is out for himself, how does he drive the stories and help people out? But if he is taking on the persona of the Doctor then this can be driven in quite a conventional way. At least for now. I wouldn’t want every story to play out like your typical Doctor Who story, but as a way of introducing people to the idea of stories featuring the Master it makes a lot of sense to do it this way. He might be a conniving son of a bitch but that doesn’t mean he cannot marvel at a scientific wonder or praise a society that has lifted itself out of the mire technologically. The Master (well maybe not the Ainley but certainly the Delgado version) was always much more interesting than a walking evil cliched villain. He has a glorious moment when he gets to admire the Gardezzans for their strength at resisting the Daleks, a very Doctor-like speech that Jacobi delivers like an over excited puppy. The Master is clearly loving this guise. He considers himself a natural ally to the Daleks because he wants to crush the Time Lords and the Doctor as much as they do. Now that would be an interesting idea for a story, one where he completely allies himself with the race his people are at war with to meet his own ends. Would the Master sell out Gallifrey so completely? Of course he would!

Great Ideas: It’s made distinctly clear that if the Time Lords weren’t fighting the Daleks then the people of Gardezza wouldn’t be under Dalek occupation. They are using the power of the Viscoid to power a transportation network. The seabed bases used to be for their storage and energy distribution needs. When they Daleks invaded, they retreated beneath the surface. An alien artefact was discovered when they took refuge under the sea. The Master recognises his TARDIS but keeps his poker face fixed tight and all the survivors of Gardezza recognise is that it has an immense power source and they are hoping to defeat the Daleks with it.

Audio Landscape:
I thought Big Finish had portrayed the Daleks in every possible way before now, such has their exposure been on audio but I cannot recall them ever turning up immersed underwater before. It’s a novel experience and it sounds absolutely genuine. I’m I really using ‘novel experience’ and Daleks in the same paragraph when it comes to a Big Finish story?

Musical Cues:
A very impressively conceived and executed musical titles, combining the sort of bombastic punch that we expect from Doctor Who but strained through a darker, less optimistic lens.

Result: ‘He’s going to be an orphan now, poor little chap…’ Beneath the Viscoid is one of those stories that plays out with a crushing sense of inevitability…but it’s one of those times when it is perfectly okay because the predictable ending is what you are waiting for throughout. Having the Master pretending to be the Doctor is cute but I was on tenterhooks waiting for the moment where he throws off the disguise and turns on the Daleks. It’s a story with an extremely vivid setting, thanks in part to the atmospheric direction that brings the underwater setting to life so well but also because it sketches out a race that has been heavily affected by the Time War and details a pivotal moment when they push back against the Daleks. Had the Doctor turned out to be their saviour things might have worked out very differently for them but they were saddled with the War Master who is only out for himself (whilst smiling and pretending otherwise all the way). There’s nothing especially original happening here (but then with Briggs that ship sailed a long time ago) but it’s a story told with real efficiency with some lovely ideas like the Master appearing to be aiding the Daleks. If you’re a fan of Jacobi (and who isn’t?) this is such a treat. You get both his take on playing the Doctor and more of his burning eyed Master that made such an impact is Utopia. This is less pantomimic than Anthony Ainley and Michelle Gomez and far less manic than John Simm. Jacobi gets the closest to Delgado’s original Master; suave, intelligent and dangerous to know. If you greeted the idea of this box set with disdain it might be worth giving it a listen just to hear this iteration of the Master come to fruition. It shows what a crushing shame it was that we couldn’t have had more Jacobi on the telly. I’m game for more of this sinister incarnation now we’ve got the traditional Doctor Who story out the way, albeit with a very dark slant towards the climax: 7/10

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