Doctor Who: Short Trips: I Am The Master – Written & Performed by Geoffrey Beevers & Directed by Lisa Bowerman – Download (Big Finish)
Simply the name of this new Short Trips release from Big Finish has had fans slavering at the mouth since it was announced. All the indications were that, being both written and performed by Geoffrey Beevers, voice of one of the smoothest, creepiest, milk chocolatey Masters, this would be a cosy fireside chat with the most evil being in the history of the universe. Fans dared to dream it might even hit the heights of stories like Master, by Joseph Lidster, or the Companion Chronicle release Mastermind, by Jonathan Morris. When the Beevers Master stops to chat, it’s usually superb and dark and breath-taking.
So does I Am The Master measure up to such august company?
No perhaps mostly because the example of Mastermind has taught us that any time the Beevers Master stops to chat, there’s an ulterior motive, and while that motive changes throughout the course of this story, the initial reason he deigns to talk to us this time round is easily guessed, and borrows a dramatic touch from the likes of Sleep No More in terms of its meta-purpose, giving us a drama that entertains while using the listener themselves as a tool. It’s a technique that was effectively used by James Goss in the Tenth Doctor audiobook Dead Air, too, and the reason people keep coming back to it is that it works to involve the listener in the plans of the theoretically fictional villain. The reason it doesn’t quite work so well here is because it’s become something of a trope in and of itself, so this time round, we hear it coming.
No also possibly because Beevers’ writing of his Master sometimes errs a little too much on the side of Beevers the man – he is, reputedly, among the singularly nicest of human beings, and his Master here is rather more cosy and chatty and colloquial than he’s generally been painted by others, dropping into the darkness of the character usually with an audible octave-drop. On the other hand, there’s something that lifts the Beevers Master here too, in that the actual words he says are ghastly, hideous, talking about the poison, the torture, the destruction of worlds, with all the light-hearted aplomb of a man in a dog collar holding out a toasted crumpet on the end of a very sharp fork. You know you probably shouldn’t take it from him, but you also know you’re going to.
Should you wish to pick the story apart, you could also make the case that the Master here is overly simplistic, and overly concerned with the apparently inevitable cyclic victories of the Doctor whenever they meet. It smacks a little of someone aware they’re speaking to fans of the Doctor, rather than of someone who honestly believes themselves to be the cleverest life-form in any room.
That’s it. That’s all there is to even vaguely claim against this story.
What it gives you though is awesome.
What it gives you is exactly the kind of fireside chat you were hoping for. If Mastermind was a kind of Interview With The Vampire experience, the Master sharing his untold history with the UNIT staffers, and so with us, I Am The Master is a kind of elegy on how to kill planets and influence people – it’s him waxing poetical and preachy and philosophical about the various ways to bring a planet and its people to dust, many of which we’re notably doing for ourselves as we speak. And it’s all delivered with the trademark Beevers Master charm and calm and light-as-a-feather whimsy that drops out from under you and plunges you to Hell. That trademark Beevers Master warmth, earworming its way into your mind and laughing that laugh.
And yes, of course, it’s a trap. You knew it was a trap the moment you set it running. And so did the Master, because that’s what he does – he shines his mind through a magnifying glass and burns the universe to dust. And he and you both know you’re going to listen to I Am The Master more than once, despite knowing the ending. You won’t be able to stop yourself. You’ll want to feel the beats of the story’s progression, and of Geoffrey Beevers’ sibilant insinuation into your brain, a second time. And then a third.
I am The Master earns itself a special place in your Big Finish collection by virtue of the inevitability of its plot-twist, the philosophy of the Master revealed by the man himself, and the moments of casual psychopathy that lighten his lessons of planetary destruction. It’s the Beevers Master at possibly his most insidious to date, being friendly, being casual, being the Master you most want to trust, and the one you can least afford to. Pop this earworm in your lughole – you may never be quite the same again. Tony Fyler