Tuesday, 3 April 2018

The Good Master written by Janine H Jones and directed by Scott Handcock

What’s it about: The Time War rages around Arcking - a planet serving as a sanctuary for the sick and injured. But Arcking is protected by a mysterious, powerful force: a force the Master will stop at nothing to harness… even if time itself is against him.

War Master:
Much like Delgado, Jacobi isn’t just a snarling, giggling villain but a rounded character. He rarely comes across as a ‘villain’ at all, except in climactic moments but rather a dark sort of character who is capable of doing good deeds if the situation calls for it. I much prefer that than the Ainley or Roberts approach when the poor guy couldn’t have any screen time without laughing like a loony or making some grandiose statement about how monstrous he is. It’s almost a shame that he has to take on a guise in order to take on a benevolent air. I would have quite liked the Master to simply be himself but behaving in generous way. It would make his acts of villainy stick in the craw even more. I really enjoyed his speech about doing as much as they can to save the lives of the patients for as long as possible…why wouldn’t the Master be down for that, if it didn’t get in the way of his masterplans? Just don’t tell the Doctor. When you think about the Master and the Daleks have quite a long history that stretches back to Frontier in Space (‘stupid tin boxes…’), through to the TV Movie, onto Big Finish (especially Dark Eyes) and the books (Legacy of the Daleks). He’s always exploiting them, I’ve noticed, and now it’s payback. He calls surgery ‘primitive childsplay’ but he does know his way around a scalpel. The Master came to Arcking to discover the force that the planet is imbued with and harness it. When his life is in danger he can even stroke somebody’s ego and calm them down enough to get himself out of that situation. Time and again the Mater has been on Arcking, first to try and take the heart for himself and now for others. Whereas the Doctor likes an inquiring assistant, the Master thinks that Viola ask far too many questions. Unlike the Monk with Tamsin, he shows no remorse whatsoever at her demise.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘I’m the Master. It’s what I do. Infiltrate, exploit, win.’
‘One day soon and out of his own free will, the Master will choose to make the universe a better place.’

Great Ideas: Why would the Daleks attack an unarmed civilian ambulance? Because that’s what Daleks do. For all I complain about the overuse of the Daleks on audio, the producers of the various ranges at least manage to remember the thing they do best: they kill. The New Series sure forgot that for some time. Time passes very differently on Arcking, the anomalies distort the gravitational field and quite by chance as result Arcking projects a field of protection. A powerful force trapped on a planet lost to the fringes of the Time War. Some of this planet keeps them protected from the ravages of the Time War, something ancient and powerful. A state of grace. Nobody can be killed unless it is their time. Whatever it is it promotes longevity and extends life. Imagine the Daleks with a weapon like that at their disposal. I would never get bored of watching/listening to Kamikaze Daleks, turning themselves into enormous fists to punch through into their desired location. Risky, but effective. The heart of the planet is a sentient life form. Arcking was always going to be destroyed on this day, that’s how the heart was able to manifest itself in the first place. The trigger of its own destruction.

Standout Scene: There’s a beautiful moment where the Master stands back from the situation and talks to himself about the mess he has got himself into. It’s a stunning little monologue from Jacobi that reminded me of the moment in The Massacre where the Doctor expresses his woes at the console. Maybe he’s left it too long this time. The universe is going to hell. Maybe his number is up. It’s great to see him expressing his weariness at the extremity of the Time War. When a character designed to fight has had enough it brings home just how bad things have gotten.

Result: An interesting concept sits at the heart of The Good Master, one that sees a planet at threat because the Master happened to land there. How far would he go in order to protect himself? How many people would be manipulate and exploit and dispose of? Arcking is an interesting planet to visit because it shows the fallout of the Time War in a very different, subtle way. We get to experience the suffering of those races that have been caught in the fallout of the Time War without having to wade through endless noisy battles. How refreshing to have a new female writer introduced and the writing has a freshness about that comes from a new voice. It’s not a guns blazing war story that we have been used to as Big Finish has dived into the murky waters of the Time War but an altogether more thoughtful affair and I really appreciate that. The Time War touches The Good Master but it doesn’t dominate it. There’s no hysterics or angst, the story plays out very logically with people reacting to the situation in a reasonable way. Some of these Time War stories have been pitched at the hysteria level of a soap opera. I like the mystery of what is at the heart of Arcking is, the Master is at the heart of a proper SF conundrum. Just listening to Jacobi’s silky smooth voice is a joy for me. His continuing involvement in the extended Doctor Who universes shouldn’t be taken for granted. He’s one of the finest actors this country has ever produced and he’s playing the Master. Soak that in. And this set is giving him some delicious opportunities to play the Master as a rounded character, with a sinister edge. It’s a fascinating take on the character and I can’t wait to explore more. The Good Master is a very enjoyable story, if not one of the big hitters. You’ve got a smart plot, decent characters and an intriguing take on the Master: 7/10

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