The eighth and final series of the Companion Chronicles kicked off with Jonathan Morris’s Mastermind, a chance to re-visit the UNIT vault with Ruth Matheson (Daphne Ashbrook) and Charlie Sato (Yee Jee Tso) as they spend time with The Master (Geoffrey Beevers)! We were introduced to Ruth and Charlie in Tales From The Vault (reviewed as Midnight in the Museum of Terrors!) in which we were treated to several mini-tales with a range of companions.
In this tale we don’t, at least technically, have a companion but we do have more to worry about as the clock strikes once more…
The synopsis on the Big Finish product page is brief: The Vault – an archive of alien artefacts securely stored deep beneath the Angel of the North. There’s also a prisoner in the Vault. An extraterrestrial known as the Master. He has been on Earth for some time, but now he’s under lock and key. This is his story. Or, as Captain Ruth Matheson and Warrant Officer Charlie Sato discover… perhaps it is theirs.
Once again we start with Ruth Matheson showing Charlie Sato round The Vault. This time we don’t have a story about artefacts but about a prisoner – The Master. The Master is awake; Ruth and Charlie take it in turn to spend five minutes at a time questioning him. Through this process we learn how he survived the events of The Movie and the vile means by which he has survived for decades preying on a Mafia-like family and scheming to restore his body to its previous form.
Meanwhile The Master is scheming away and executing his escape plan and the episode ends with the worst possible outcome for Ruth and Charlie.
A lot to like in this story though I also have some thoughts on elements I felt disappointed with or at least could bear further scrutiny and reflection.
The good bits
The concept of The Vault still works well and the two narrative characters (Ruth and Charlie) are engaging. The story gives us plenty of chance to learn about back story and also to enjoy The Master’s story although he is evil through and through. This even gave some minor other parts to Daphne Ashbrook and Yee Jee Tso. This was a leisurely jaunt through twentieth century US history as seen through the eyes of the criminal elite. The link back to The Movie in which the two actors appeared is well done and Jonathan Morris also draws in the character of Edward Grainger.
Although I was unaware, Big Finish produced a set of short stories entitled Short Trips: The Centenarian which gave Edwards life story as seen through a myriad of interactions with the Doctor in his various regenerations.
By the time the story ends we want to know what happens next and are keen to spend more time with Matheson and Sato.
Further reflection needed
I was so engrossed with enjoying the Master’s back-story that I lost track of the fact that this was only a single disc release. The framing concept of taking over a succession of men in the same family was wearing thin by the time that the characters took events into their own hands and cut the story short, leaving the Master incarcerated until his discovery by UNIT.
Very little happens in the present and the story arc (from the POV of Matheson and Sato) is one of failure and entrapment. Not very positive. I do feel that we need more and unless the three Companion Chronicles with no details in Vortex #53 are about them then I hope the idea of the boxset alluded to in the extras happens. This is not a satisfying ending!
I also wonder about the lack of a Companion in this story – don’t forget neither Matheson nor Sato has met the Doctor even though the actors did as other characters. My conclusion is that The Master is the ersatz companion for this story and indeed from his POV there is a good narrative arc, that of escape!
A good story that let me down largely because there wasn’t more of it. Give me a boxset with the two heroes on the run trying to recapture The Master with stolen Vault technology then I will be as happy as anyone. Until then I have to be just the smallest bit disappointed.
What do you think? Let me know!
Tony, July 2013