❉ More so than any other of Big Finish’s Doctor Who range, the Short Trips have the ability to get to the heart of a character. ‘I Am The Master’ demonstrates why.
The chance to spend more time with underused characters from the TV series remains one of the true joys of Big Finish Productions’ Doctor Who audio dramas. At first blush, it might seem odd to put the Master in that category, but very little is typical when it comes to the Doctor’s best enemy. Of all the program’s recurring characters, only the Doctor has been played by more actors, and half of those playing the Master made only one on-screen appearance.
Among them is character actor Geoffrey Beevers. A veteran of drama series ranging from The Jewel in the Crown to A Very British Coup, Beevers was not just the first of his TV fellows to reprise the role for Big Finish, prior to 2017 he was the only one. Appearing opposite Doctors ranging from Tom Baker to Paul McGann, he established a niche as a sort of fundamental incarnation of the character, particularly in the Companion Chronicles story Mastermind. With I Am The Master – the latest story in Big Finish’s Short Trips range – Beevers joins the even more rarified group of Doctor Who actors who’ve written stories for their own character.
For the past few years, the Short Trips series has been the unsung hero of Big Finish’s Doctor Who line. Though closest in production style to a traditional audiobook, they make a virtue of their ostensible limitations. The immediacy of the first-person narrative and its ability to depict anything that can be described allows for both greater intimacy and limitless scope. Both of these traits ideally suit a story told by the Master, giving the listener a chance to experience a plan for conquest from his point of view.
Beevers is particularly well suited to the first-person presentation. Gifted with a marvellous voice, he effortlessly conveys both a highly pragmatic approach to his scheme and thinly veiled contempt for all those he views as beneath him, which is to say nearly everyone – including the Doctor. However, while the other Time Lord is certainly a factor in the story, he’s sensibly kept on the edges. This is every bit the Master’s story – and a necessary one at that.
From a narrative standpoint, the problem with the Master is that his overall failure rate calls into question the premise that he’s as intelligent as the Doctor. By portraying his plan methodically – almost thoughtfully – I Am The Master provides something of a counter-balance to the gaffes of other stories. While his current effort also hits a Doctor-sized roadblock, it almost invites admiration for the Master.
Beevers’ text likewise merits admiration. With just a few telling details, he accomplishes an effective piece of world-building while also providing a perfect rationale for incorporating the recording medium into the story itself. There’s also a fitting streak of gallows humor throughout.
“Everything started to fail. It was then that I became a politician. That’s the place to be if you really want to ruin everything.”
Beyond simply being a wonderfully pithy observation – especially when combined with Beevers’ delivery of the line – it’s also a fun piece of retroactive foreshadowing of the character’s later exploits. More so than any other aspect of Big Finish’s Doctor Who range, the Short Trips have the ability to get to the heart of a character. Putting an antagonistic character in a sympathetic light while maintaining that character’s essence places I Am The Master alongside standouts like 2016’s A Full Life as a quintessential release in the series. As Big Finish’s sheer volume of Doctor Who releases raises questions about the company’s ability to maintain the line’s quality, I Am The Master demonstrates why those questions matter.
❉ Doctor Who – Short Trips: ‘I Am The Master’, written and performed by Geoffrey Beevers, is available on download (only) at £2.99 from Big Finish, RRP £2.99. Or you can save money with a subscription to the Short Trips range and get 12 stories for £30 a year.