Friday, 9 August 2019

The Missing Link written by Tim Foley and directed by Scott Handcock

What’s it about: On a desolate world in the distant future, the Master embarks on his latest scheme, aided and abetted by a team of brilliant scientists. But who is he truly working for? And in a universe at war, is there anyone left in all the cosmos who can stop him?

War Master: Imagine the Master running a facility that awards an ‘employee of the month’ where he congratulates them directly? What would you have to do to impress this evil fiend? The prime they are doing could have implications for the Time War but the Master has another agenda as well (plans within plans, he’s always had an overcomplicated mind). When the entire universe is going up in flames it takes a true genius to make it blaze even brighter. Is the Master working for powers within the War or is hiding from it? There’s an implication that he is running scared. Only the Master could be so utterly glib about genocide and then boast that he has kept the only member of that race alive and in full knowledge that they are the last of their kind. He won’t let the Time War make him feel powerless. Why does his facility work better when he is out of the building? Remember when Vorg asked Shirna to put her finger on a live circuit in Carnival of Monsters? There’s a much darker version of that that plays out in this story, but the Master’s victim receives far more than a little shock.

The Doctor: How could they resist the thought of bringing together Jacobi and McGann? Even if there is some lame technobabble explanation as to why the eighth Doctor met the War Master and doesn’t remember him when he meets him again as the tenth…the thought of bringing those two actors together is too enticing to resist. A man who is on the fringes of the Time War, battered, holding on for dear life. There is some very right about the Doctor turning up to save one of the Master’s prisoners, but only after she has already freed herself from captivity. Things aren’t looking bright for Alice and the Doctor turns up like a beacon of light, which is exactly what he should be. Where else would the Doctor be but trapped in a ventilation shaft? This isn’t the battle weary eighth Doctor from the recent Legacy of Time story so it must be set reasonably early into the Time War. He’s still got that Tiggerish charm, a way with the ladies and is up for the adventure. The Master calls the Doctor’s adventures ‘petty.’ In this incarnation it is hard to tell the difference between the blathering idiot he has become thanks to Alice and how he usually behaves. The Master really doesn’t have time for number eight.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘All War is senseless but this War makes no sense…’ – there’s a very Russell T Davies-esque description of the Time War that is far more interesting than practically anything that has been told by Big Finish to date.

Great Ideas: When the Master has extracted their unique abilities, he usually disposes of the people who wield them. If you’re kept alive after your usefulness has ended, he must have a soft spot for you. The genetic skills that he has amassed are invisibility, super strength, levitation, luminescence, camouflage. Clearly the Master’s employees haven’t been working for him long enough to get to know him. One questions the logic of him creating a base only to destroy it before achieving his objective. Like he wouldn’t be crazy enough to throw it all away on a whim. This is the man who let half the universe blink away simply to hold the other half to ransom. God bless anyone who agrees to work for him. They’re less than dust beneath his feet. The Missing Link to the Master’s plan was a rogue Time Lord.

Isn’t it Odd: There has been an awful lot of grumbling that the Master hasn’t been front and centre of his own series (that work to glorious effect in Master of Callous) and to be honest I’m not sure a series where we follow the Master behaving like the Doctor and off having adventures would work. It’s far more effective to have him on the sidelines; prodding, poking, plotting and watch how his plans effect those around us. I don’t think the Master should ever be an identification character – he’s an evil sonofabitch – more a springboard to understand the characters that fall into orbit around him. Plus, it makes stories like this one where he is out in the open and working all the more vivid. I’d rather hold back Jacobi a bit to make his moments all the more delicious when they come. You can certainly have too much of a good thing and I wouldn’t ever want to get to the point where I’m tired of this most sinister of iteration of the character.

Standout Scene: For one fascinating scene the Master’s psyche is laid bare as Alice reads his mind and sees precisely what he thinks about the Time War and the Doctor…

Result: ‘Perhaps he can shed some light on this…’ What happens to all of these people that the Master collects for his nefarious schemes? Now it’s time to find out…in that respect this has been an intriguingly structured box set. Usually we come in at the end of all this, during the Doctor’s adventures and witness the Master turning up with all these madcap elements already in operation. This time we are looking at things from the opposite perspective, following the Master’s narrative with the Doctor popping up in ‘his’ adventure. Where we would usually begin is where the fourth story of this set is placed. Everything beforehand (whatever you or I might think of its quality) is a refreshing, never before seen, perspective. This is also the story for those of you who want a full-on story with the Master at the heart of the action. Essentially this is an hour worth of people saying ‘the Master is up to no good…but what is he doing?’ but to summarise it that way you would be missing on Paul McGann’s Tiggerish Doctor returning, a fascinating insight into the Master and his true feelings on the Time War and as previously mentioned the unusual backdoor exposure of one of the Master schemes in the making. There’s no great subtleties of characterisation beyond the central players but the performances are all fantastic and it paces along at a decent lick. I still question whether we needed quite this much set up – I think this would have worked far better as a three-part set – but at least we’re getting to the good stuff. The Missing Link is all foreplay, but I have to say it has gotten me very hot under the collar. Let’s hope the main event is explosive: 8/10

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