❉ As examples of what Big Finish can do, these short stories are sublime, writes Bryn Mitchell.
“As Sophie Iles’ first widely available contribution to Big Finish ,’Master Thief’ is a fantastic showcase for her abilities in prose, and, if this is any indication of the general quality of her work, I’m hopeful we get to hear much more from her in the future.”
With the Time Lord Victorious event well and truly underway now, Big Finish joins in the party with two short but sweet tales, as Jon Culshaw gives us his take on two classic Masters in stories from newcomer Sophie Iles and stalwart Simon Guerrier. These stories are curious side pieces as far as the Time Lord Victorious narrative is concerned, giving us brief glimpses into the lives of the Master, the first in particular with little obvious connection to TLV. The Short Trips range has often been a bit of a hidden gem for Big Finish. Despite full cast audio being the company’s USP, they excel at these short single-reader audiobooks, and this pair of two very different stories demonstrates that nicely.
In Master Thief, the incarnation of the Master originated on-screen by Roger Delgado, dressed for the occasion in suit and gold tie, seeks to steal from the Repository (A famously secure vault housed inside a pyramid) under the pseudonym Director Maelstrom. The story capitalises on the character’s distinguished charm, differentiating him from some of the later Masters. There’s a nice moment where the audience might think he is about to hypnotise a young employee, Georgina, but instead he elects to manipulate her through subtler means. This reminds us where the character’s real power lies (even if his decision not to hypnotise her comes back to bite him later in the story).
Here the Master is on his own, unfettered by the Doctor’s presence, and racking up quite an impressive body count with a unique and recently acquired weapon. Regardless of his brutality, you can’t help but root for him as he treks through a vault of priceless objects, methodically focussed on a single, clear goal: securing a particular map. The sequence of him within the vault also features one particular fannish indulgence which genuinely made me pause to giggle (trust me — you’ll know it when you get to it).
“Jon Culshaw is a compelling reader, and differentiates the characters’ voices well, even if his Delgado isn’t pitch perfect. But the story here isn’t a vehicle for impressions, just a well-written piece in its own right.”
Cleverly, the Master’s weapon, at first seemingly a bit overpowered, is far more than just a plot convenience for dispatching people. It creates a great deal of problems for the Master — I won’t say how — and as a result, we get a slightly different side to his character, albeit one equally determined and hell bent on success. It’s from this development that the story brings in themes around identity, questioning “What is the point of a Time Lord without his history?”. At times I was reminded of discussions in the television series around the Doctor’s identity and the significance of his chosen name as something to live up to.
Jon Culshaw is a compelling reader, and differentiates the characters’ voices well, even if his Delgado isn’t pitch perfect. But the story here isn’t a vehicle for impressions, just a well-written piece in its own right. As Sophie Iles’ first widely available contribution to Big Finish (with her previously having written a subscriber-only Short Trip) this is a fantastic showcase for her abilities in prose, and, if this is any indication of the general quality of her work, I’m hopeful we get to hear much more from her in the future.
In Lesser Evils, Culshaw captures Ainley slightly better than he does Delgado, which is to the story’s advantage, given it is primarily a dialogue between the Master and a Kotturuh. Here the Time Lord Victorious tie-in is clear from the off, and it’s the most in-depth look we have gotten so far at how the Kotturuh operate, focusing on a single one and answering questions that the other stories have thus far failed to, like how the Kotturuh deal with a planet that (like our own) has a huge range of different species beyond just the sentient humanoids focused on by the novel The Knight, the Fool, and the Dead and short story Dawn of the Kotturuh. It also raises the idea that, for this particular Kotturuh at least, species’ lifespans are designated mostly on a whim, which is curiously different to how we have thus far seen them depicted as cold and calculating – and may cause us to view other stories in a different light.
The additional details are nice, but it’s a very lengthy description of a process we already know from other stories. The Kotturuh spends over eleven minutes alone before the Master appears. It’s a slower, more precise story, almost in real time, and it’s a long while before the Master’s intentions become clear, so a lot of the story is spent wondering why exactly he is doing what he’s doing. This contrasts hugely with the pacy opening story of this little bundle, but that’s no bad thing. Certainly, the two very different stories will appeal to two very different sorts of listeners.
“This release is representative of what Big Finish has started to do really well in recent years, of having stories by brand new, exciting voices placed directly alongside reliable and solid writers who’ve been around since the early days of the company.”
While the Time Lord Victorious connection is nice, neither of these are essential stories for understanding the ongoing narrative. They are, however, very good stories, well worth listening to regardless of one’s thoughts on the multimedia event they are a part of. As examples of what Big Finish can do, to a potential new audience bought in by Time Lord Victorious, they are sublime. The recording quality and sound design work are unimpeachable, which will undoubtedly help new listeners settle into stories in a potentially unfamiliar medium.
Like many of Big Finish’s Short Trips, these stories combine a cheap price with quality production, an elegant reading, and just plain good storytelling. I would definitely recommend picking them up if you’ve enjoyed past Short Trips, want to get a better insight into the Kotturuh, or love these two Masters (versions of the character that historically haven’t had much of a look-in at Big Finish for obvious reasons). This release is representative of what Big Finish has started to do really well in recent years, of having stories by brand new, exciting voices placed directly alongside reliable and solid writers who’ve been around since the early days of the company. It’s a trend I’m always happy to see continue and – looking forward to Big Finish’s Eighth Doctor Time Lord Victorious audios, two of which are written by people with only one other Big Finish credit – I’m excited to see what other joys new talent can provide.
❉ Doctor Who – Time Lord Victorious: Short Trips: Master Thief / Lesser Evils is now available to download exclusively from the Big Finish website for just £4.99.