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Audio Drama Review
Somewhere off the South Coast of England, there’s a lonely island. On that island stands a solitary castle, long since abandoned – haunted, they say. But the truth is that the castle houses something far worse than mere ghosts. The castle is what lies at the end of a trail followed by the Doctor in search of several missing scientists – all of them connected to the top secret Dominus Institute and its elusive CEO, Sir Andrew Gobernar… But the Doctor will soon discover that he’s the one being haunted, by a ghost from his past… or, perhaps, his future…
The second part of Big Finish’s Master trilogy pits Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor against Alex Macqueen’s unique-to-audio Master.
It does seem that whenever old Sixie encounters his arch enemy in a Big Finish production, he fails to recognise him. The last time this happened was in The Lost Stories: The Hollows of Time, in which the Master (who would have been played by the late Anthony Ainley had the original television production gone ahead) remains disguised throughout as Professor Stream, portrayed by David Garfield. In Vampire of the Mind, the Master spends much of his time masquerading as another scientist, Damien Scott, though no disguise is necessary this time, because the Sixth Doctor has never met this incarnation of the villain before.
Continuity-conscious fans (such as myself) may experience some unease when on this occasion the Sixth Doctor does eventually suss out the Master’s identity. How can this be, you may ask, when the Seventh Doctor was unfamiliar with Macqueen’s incarnation when they crossed paths in UNIT: Dominion? Fear not, folks, because writer Justin Richards has an explanation lined up – this is a story about mental leeching, after all. In fact, perhaps the writer lays his explanation on a bit too thick, spelling out the implications when I think most listeners will have got it already.
For me, Macqueen’s Master has always been more reminiscent of the new series Masters than the old, with the villain’s insanity manifesting itself in comic/creepy moments of eccentricity, like those of John Simm’s Master or Michelle Gomez’s Missy. However, this trilogy is all about mixing and matching, and the pitting of these two incarnations of the rival Time Lords, Baker versus Macqueen, makes for exciting listening.
While we’re mixing things up, the Doctor is travelling without a companion at the beginning of the story, but he soon picks up a useful ally in Heather Threadstone (Kate Kennedy), the daughter of a missing scientist of the Doctor’s acquaintance, Professor Threadstone (John Standing). Heather is a capable scientist in her own right, reminding me somewhat of the dynamic between Anne and Professor Travers in The Web of Fear – though as a companion a more obvious comparison would be to Liz Shaw. Having known the Doctor since she was a little girl, she takes old Sixie’s ego with a pinch of salt and enjoys taking him down a peg or two when her own scientific endeavours prove more successful than his.
During the 15 minutes of interviews at the end of Disc Two, Colin Baker remarks upon the effectiveness of the companion figure as a sounding board for the Doctor, so that the hero does not have to spend the whole adventure talking to himself – though ironically in the second episode there is an extended sequence in which Heather talks to herself as she pursues the Master down a mysterious corridor.
The shambling victims of the Master’s brain drain – known as Blanks - reminded me of the scientist victims of Skagra in Shada, though it eventually becomes clear that the image the production team is seeking to conjure up is that of the classic ‘walking dead’ zombie.
Unlike the Master’s brain drain, this story won’t tax your mind as much as the twists and turns in last month’s And You Will Obey Me. Indeed, for much of the story the listener knows more than the Doctor does – for example, he and his allies seem remarkably slow on the uptake during the build-up to the end of Part Three. But it’s an entertaining romp, and it sets things up nicely for next month’s finale…
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