Image Credit: Big Finish (Fair Use)
Image Description: The cover of Short Trips: Master Thief and Lesser Evils
By John Salway
Name: Short Trips: Master Thief
Type: Audio Download
Price: £4.99 (with Lesser Evils)
Current TLV investment: £82.19
Big Finish, that ever-present monolith of audio Doctor Who, begins its aural contributions to the Time Lord Victorious project with an interestingly oblique approach. Its first release is a pair of short stories, performed by Jon Culshaw, that follow not the Doctor, but his oldest frenemy the Master. While the stories themselves aren’t narratively linked, and follow different incarnations of the character, they aren’t sold separately, so if you want one you have to get the other. But I shouldn’t worry – you’ll be getting two quite compelling adventures for a very reasonable price. As with most of the Short Trips range, however, this release is available as an audio download only, with no physical release.
The first story, Master Thief, follows Roger Delgado’s smooth, confident incarnation as he executes a well-planned heist of the Repository, an exclusive vault kept deep beneath a vast ocean. But a single unlucky break causes this scheme to have a profound effect on the Master personally…
Jon Culshaw is well known as a great impressionist and actor, not to mention being a big Doctor Who fan, so it comes as no surprise that his interpretation of the Master is quite excellent and a superb tribute to Roger Delgado’s beloved villain. This script quite deliberately pushes the Master into new, more emotional territory than was ever seen on TV, and Culshaw’s performance wonderfully grounds these moments in the mannerisms and tone we’ve come to know and love. It is an absolutely authentic recreation that is key to making this story a success.
While initially I was slightly disappointed by the straightforward and uncharacteristically blunt approach undertaken by the Master at the start of his heist, the story finally clicks into place when the Master’s best-laid plans start to go awry; the unexpected reason why they do being a great reversal. It’s sharp and just retribution, like some of the best Tales of the Unexpected, but as in those stories, you can’t help but feel sorry for the Master, no matter how much he deserves his fate. Events climax with an open-ended conclusion that reveals a door to many new dramatic possibilities – while the story still makes sense as a standalone, I hope this thread is continued.
Intriguingly, I’m not yet clear what, if any, connection this particular story has to the Time Lord Victorious plotline. It doesn’t seem to take place in the Dark Times, and doesn’t feature any of the key races in the saga such as the Daleks, Vampires or Kotturuh. But that unusual ending leaves me hopeful that there’s more to this than meets the eye – perhaps the Master will be making a surprise appearance in some future releases?
Master Thief is a very thoughtful peek into the mind of Doctor Who’s most beloved villain, and one that puts him into a situation quite unlike any we’ve seen him in before. It would almost justify the asking price alone, but packaged with another, similarly high quality Master tale (that I’ll go into more detail about next time), the double pack becomes the best value Time Lord Victorious release so far.