The disfigured and enigmatic Doctor John Smith invites
his closest friends to dinner to celebrate his birthday. Following
a series of gruesome murders, the conversation turns to questions
of morality and nature versus nurture. Is it possible for
a killer to be motivated by nothing more than pure evil? Then
an unexpected visitor arrives - another Doctor...
This, the final entry in Big Finish's loosely themed "villains"
trilogy of character studies, is even more intensely focused
than last month's Davros. Writer Joseph Lidster goes
for a stage-play approach, using a minimal cast and a single
primary location, a house on an Edwardian-styled colony world.
Like the creepy Edwardian mansion in Robert Shearman's The
Chimes of Midnight, you get the distinct impression that
all is not as it should be, especially when the guests, Adjudicator
Victor Schaeffer (Philip Madoc) and his wife Jacqueline (Anne
Ridler), start making bigoted and hurtful comments that seem
entirely out of character.
Their host, an amnesiac Master, is portrayed by Geoffrey Beevers,
who previously played the part in The Keeper of Traken
and in Big Finish's Dust Breeding. The actor's
velvety tones work just as well in the mode of amiable and
(temporarily) innocent physician as they did in the guise
of the Doctor's arch nemesis.
a villain, the Master has often been derided by critics for
lacking convincing motivation, doing the wicked things he
does simply because he is evil. The writer latches on to this
character flaw and makes a plot point out of it, revealing
a shocking detail from the Doctor's past along the way. Lidster
manages to reconcile the fact that the Doctor has sometimes
regarded his former friend with pity and compassion (in The
Sea Devils and the TV movie, for example), while at other
times considering the villain to be irredeemable (in stories
such as The Deadly Assassin and The Mark of the
Rani). He also ties in the Seventh Doctor's occasional
dealings with the forces of Death and Time in Virgin Publishing's
New Adventures novels.
fans were disappointed that Beevers' role as the "degenerated"
Master in Dust Breeding seemed to contradict the character's
regeneration into a new body in the New Adventure,
First Frontier. However, this story, with its hints
at the imminent events in the TV movie, adds weight to my
own theory that the Master's meeting with the Doctor and Ace
in Dust Breeding actually takes place after First
Frontier and Happy Endings as far as the Master
is concerned. Such continuity building is undermined slightly
by the Doctor's comment that the Master always travels alone
(he had a companion called Ailla in the novel The Dark
Path and was accompanied by Glitz in The Trial of a
Time Lord), but the Doctor is clearly generalising.
story's ending is necessarily inconclusive, but otherwise
this is a quite masterful analysis of a notoriously difficult