Two of the Master’s television incarnations being brought back to life in performance for the first time since their broadcast appearances, and in the same release, makes Big Finish’s Time Lord Victorious Short Trips special a very attractive release. But what of the two stories that lie within it?
The A-side (if this were a vinyl, rather than a digital download) is Master Thief and brings back Roger Delgado’s portrayal of the Master, now in the hands of actor and famous impressionist Jon Culshaw. And let me assure you, he is acting the role of the Delgado Master in this story and not doing an impression.
Not unsurprisingly, this story is about the Master trying to be a top thief by breaking into, and then out of, an intergalactic vault. He starts off as the polite, suited individual who uses good manners to get his own way, and, as the Master often does, realises such behaviour only takes you so far and resorts to using high-tech weaponry against anyone in his path. On this occasion, he’s armed with a laser gun that devolves its targets, and the subject of devolution continues to pop up as he zaps his way to the item in the vault he has come for.
It’s certainly a direction change when this takes over from the heist storyline, and presumably has a greater meaning within the Time Lord Victorious multimedia event as the Master is riddled with invasive creatures eating his feelings, and making him feel remorse for those he has killed… before they eats his brains out entirely and look to do the same to any other lifeforms they come across.
How the Master effectively dies, without needing to regenerate, does actually set-up a very well written and played final scene that is probably the most exciting of the story and leaves the action on what is effectively a personal cliffhanger for the renegade.
While the Time Lord Victorious integration isn’t entirely clear in Master Thief, the follow-up Lesser Evils works incredibly efficiently as demonstrating how the Time Lord Victorious narrative is going to be spread across so many different outlets and how the Master can be introduced into the equation.
This time, it is post-Cheetah Planet Master (aka as seen in Survival), played by Anthony Ainley on TV and once again performed by Culshaw in this audio. Unlike the stand-offs in the vault of the first story that mostly ended with a shot of a laser gun, this plays out as one long expertly timed dialogue between the Master and a member of Kotturuh, one of the big bads in Time Lord Victorious.
Having expected this purple-skinned species from the Dark Times to be menacingly evil, as they are equipped with the power of bringing death to other species, the individual who meets the Master in Lesser Evils is actually a developed character.
What this means is the power play between the two doesn’t go down the ‘I’m more superior than you’ route, and instead follows a line of arguments about what makes one species’ impact on its surroundings more important than another’s, and ultimately what the meaning of life is, in between moral debts. There’s enough beats in this debate that it occupies most of the story’s running time without ever getting boring.
The moments where it escalates bring dramatic tension, and usually follow sections where the listener is given a false sense of security as they explore the meaning of what’s being said and arguably the world-view behind it. While you’re being enchanted by the Master’s purring nice-guy act as he plays conservationist for a species of small tree-bound creatures, both of you may be taking your eyes off what’s really important…
The modulation of the female Kotturuh’s voice is a brilliant contrast to the Master’s soft tones, and both speech is full of pauses. Just like a real conversation. Their encounter ends with no clear winner either, but there’s in an in-story audience that can pass judgement (as the Kutturuh planned to do). Remember those little fellas in the trees? They’ll decide who is really the lesser evil.
Oh, poor, poor Master.
Time Lord Victorious: Master Thief / Lesser Evils is on sale now from Big Finish.