25 years on from his first appearance, Eric Roberts’ Master finally receives the honour of his own box set courtesy of Big Finish!

If that’s not enough to excite you, just listen to Howard Carter’s theme music at the start of each story. The creepy and fantastical energy sets the tone perfectly for what is to come. Master! features a cast of characters that thrive on ambition, manipulation and greed (none more so than The Master himself). It is those characters, and the detailed, bleak world they live in, that makes this a set worth listening to.

Faustian by Robert Valentine

The set opens up with a slow-burn of a story. It takes the time to set the stage of this “post-Dalek invasion” society. This is a world where every character is out to get something, be it money, power, freedom, or glory. It’s just a question of what they’d be willing to sell to achieve their desires. Dr. Lila Kreeg is actually the main character of this first story and Laura Aikman draws you in to her character right away. She has a thirst to prove herself, hungry for the glory that would prove her doubters wrong. Her selfish choices and superior attitude make her both unlikeable and intriguing at the same time. They also make her the perfect ‘companion’ for the ultimate charismatic narcissist that is The Master.

The only downside to this story is that The Master’s scenes of skilful manipulation are so brilliant to hear that it’s hard not to wish he was in more of this first episode. For most of the story he is like a ghost, floating in and out, encouraging Lila’s darkness for a moment here and there. However, the moment he truly arrives provides an excellent payoff. Eric Roberts conveys so much intensity with his Master. His language has drama and theatrics but his overall demeanour is one of a sinister calm. There’s no better way to say it; he is a master of manipulation and it is always a pleasure to watch a master at work.

Robert Valentine’s script builds an absorbing world that feels tailor made to The Master. The story is concise and the character of Lila is well balanced in her dynamic with The Master, while also being very interesting on her own. I loved how the repeated narrations created a sense of an out of body experience for Lila when she was at her most scared. It was an interesting way for the audience to feel an emotion that she would never admit out loud. It’s a promising start to the collection.

Prey by Robert Whitelock

Prey was my favourite of the set. It is an action-packed, cat and mouse chase through the streets (and underneath them). We get a deeper look into how the society of this Earth is set up and how the landscape of London has changed in many different ways. When the characters reach the underground there are some exciting sequences and very tense moments. The mutated ‘Trogs’ are especially creepy and add even more urgency to the chase.

Master! – Eric Roberts and Chase Masterson (c) Big Finish

The real stand out of this adventure is Vienna Salvatori. Vienna is a character with her own range of Big Finish stories but not all listeners may have come across her. As someone with no prior knowledge of her, she was an entirely unexpected delight. This “impossibly glamorous assassin” is like a mixture of Han Solo and Xena. Chase Masterson is wildly entertaining. I’m sure many listeners will be adding her previous adventures to their lists (I definitely will be). Of course, what’s a cool assassin with a heart of gold without her plucky robot sidekick? Andrew James Spooner’s Artie steals the audience’s hearts right along with Vienna’s. The two are a great team with an almost instant connection and a great counterpoint to the rather strained ‘teamwork’ from The Master and Lila as they try to keep ahead of the assassin and the other dangers of the city.

Lila did see a demotion from the main character of the previous story to a more minor figure here but it was interesting to see how her partnership with The Master holds up once the pressure is really on. The Master as well has fewer chances to show off his menace, being on the back foot for most of this adventure. But he still has his moments to show off and there’s a particular scene in the underground where he lets off some steam that really sets up his state of mind going into the next story. Prey is exciting and keeps the momentum of the set moving perfectly.

Vengeance by Matt Fitton

Now is the time for The Master to truly shine through every scene! The sinister calm from the previous entries has started to slip into something a little more chaotic in his interactions with the Daleks, but only just. It’s an incredibly well balanced performance by Eric Roberts. Writer Matt Fitton also really understands the character and almost every scene has a stand out line or speech from The Master. The second half of the story was full of his charisma, darkness and an earnest unpredictability.

The Daleks are villains with even more history than The Master and due to their history together they were a great choice to end this set. The Dalek Litigator has an even creepier voice than others encountered before. Nicholas Briggs oozes slime into every robotic word. That character is what keeps the Dalek scenes feeling fresh and added an interesting dynamic to the Dalek forces.

One thing I was looking for was more development for Lila in this story, and particularly her relationship with The Master before we reached the conclusion. I enjoyed her interactions with Vienna but wanted more insight into her state of mind. Audiences will spend much of this story wondering how it could possibly conclude for her. She did make a deal with the devil after all! I won’t spoil what happens; that uncertainty is part of the fun of listening. But I did like how the story was concluded, for her in particular.

Overall

This box set has the benefits of an incredible production team and cast. They created a well-realized world that absorbs the listener. The three stories feature an intriguing opening, an action-packed middle, and an intense ending. There’s plenty of backstabbing and excellently skilled lying that befits the title of Master! 

My number one wish after listening was for more of this Master. The set was titled for him, but for much of the time he felt like a secondary character. The other main characters were very engaging and such enjoyably excellent liars and backstabbers. Almost every side character was incredibly engaging. So, it’s hard to be too mad that they were highlighted so well. The only solution I can see is to give us another Eric Roberts box set. I’ll be first in line to listen!

MASTER! (c) Big Finish

Synopsis

This title was released in March 2021. It will be exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 April 2021, and on general sale after this date.

Abandoned in the Vortex, the Master’s lost incarnation is about to be thrown a lifeline.

Earth rebuilds in the aftermath of invasion, and power rests with those who innovate. Genius Lila Kreeg makes a deal with the devil to see her dreams fulfilled.

As the Master returns, there are those – like Vienna Salvatori – who wish to hunt him, and those upon whom he wishes vengeance himself…

  1. Faustian by Robert Valentine

Drake Enterprises is the most powerful company on Earth. Dr Lila Kreeg is its most valued asset. But her experiments open a doorway which allow an evil back into the universe. The Master can offer Lila the world, so long as she obeys him…

  1. Prey by Robert Whitelock

Impossibly glamorous assassin Vienna Salvatori has a new target. Crossing time and space, Vienna takes one final job to free her from this life.

But when the Master is hunted through the slums and ganglands of London, the line is blurred between predator and prey…

  1. Vengeance by Matt Fitton

The Daleks are returning. Their plan, long in the making, is complete. Earth will be theirs once more.

But someone stands against them. Someone with his own reasons for revenge – and Vienna and Lila are caught in the crossfire. Because Earth’s greatest hope against the Daleks lies with the Master.

Cast

  • Eric Roberts (The Master)
  • Chase Masterson (Vienna Salvatori)
  • Laura Aikman (Lila Kreeg)
  • Rachel Atkins (Cathrin Travers / Inga)
  • Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks)
  • Susan Hingley (Sassparilla / Li Zhao)
  • Glen McCready (Eddi Bhole)
  • Alistair Petrie (Magnus Drake)
  • Andrew James Spooner (Artie / King Muggy)

Credits

  • Cover Art by Simon Holub
  • Directors: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Jamie Anderson
  • Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
  • Music by Howard Carter
  • Producer: David Richardson
  • Script Editor: Matt Fitton
  • Sound Design: Howard Carter
  • Written by Robert Valentine, Robert Whitelock and Matt Fitton

Master! is available now from the Big Finish website. This title is priced at £19.99 on CD and £16.99 to download. The Big Finish App, available for free on Apple and Android devices, makes listening even easier.

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