The Syndicate Master Plan comes to an appropriately masterful conclusion. Full of deception, double crosses and triple crosses, it places the Doctor in a high stakes game of chess with the fate of the universe at stake. But has the gamble of this epic adventure paid off for Big Finish?
First, a word of caution. Blogtor Who’s not quite sure why anyone would choose to read a review of the last two episodes of a sixteen part Doctor Who epic without having listened to anything that came before them. Suffice to say this review assumes you’ve already listened to the rest of the The Syndicate Master Plan. If not, you may want to go back and get up to speed on the Fourth Doctor Adventures Series Eight.
In an epic climax that wouldn’t be out of place in 21st century Doctor Who, the Doctor faces stakes higher than just the universe.
What’s most impressive about the second half of The Perfect Prisoners is that it keeps revelations, double crosses and plot reversals coming one after the other. What is the actual endgame of the Syndicate’s plot to flood the universe with mind control technology to make everyone everywhere the ‘perfect prisoners’ of the title – slaves who don’t know they’re slaves. Who’s really pulling the strings? Is the Doctor going to turn out to be the grandest chess master of them all?
In this final climax the Doctor returns to the centre stage. For a little while now he’s been sidelined by his own companion. However, this instalment positions the Doctor as a towering and commanding presence. One who, finally understanding what he’s up against, turns the tables on them and returns to his usual methods of overturning an entire society in revolution and regime change in time for tea and Battenberg cake. It also benefits from a tactic that’s been used surprisingly rarely in the Fourth Doctor Adventures. That is, placing Tom Baker’s performance in a very modern type of Doctor Who story. The Perfect Prisoners wouldn’t be remotely out of place as a season finale from the pen of Russell T Davies.
As the Doctor and the villain exchange pleasant death threats, the Time Lord has rarely been more dangerous.
It pushes the Doctor into similar places as epic stories often do. The Doctor is personally affronted by the way he’s been manipulated. This causes him to slip into a distinctly Tennant-like ‘No Second Chances’ mode at crucial moments. There’s even a scene where the Doctor and the now unveiled villain jovially exchange veiled death threats over tea and scones, each convinced they both have the winning hand and are about to completely destroy the other’s world. On television it would have become an iconic moment, and it’s striking how Tom Baker excels at such material.
In places it possibly gets a little too modern to be believable. At one point there’s the kind of bravura, pin point, TARDIS piloting that the Eleventh Doctor was particularly fond of. Which the ship, let’s face it, showed little sign of being capable of in the 1970’s. But it does also give us an emotional coda to the season of the type we get these days.
The Syndicate Master Plan has proven a worthy experiment, which hopefully won’t spell the last we see of its characters.
An eternity ago (by which I mean last month) I saluted The Sinestran Kill for giving the Doctor and Ann a proper grown up conversation about whether she should join the TARDIS. That reminded me of nothing so much as the ending of the recent Arachnids in the UK. Now the pair’s final conversation here recalls the bittersweet epilogue to 2007’s Last of the Time Lords. It also, if one cares about the continuity of such things, enhances rather than detracts from the Fourth Doctor’s later borderline sense of resentment in Logopolis at this incarnation’s various companions.
Looking back on it as a whole, The Syndicate Master Plan has been an conclusive success well worth the experiment. It does feel like The Sinestran Kill writer Andrew Smith needed to be told a little more about the arc plot. Elements he introduces there wind up completely unused. (Though in the extras director Nicholas Briggs admits they had to go back and re-record certain scenes in earlier instalments). This series has given us such brilliant stories as Planet of the Drashings, The False Guardian/Time’s Assassin and The Perfect Prisoners. It certainly leaves you longing for further appearances by Anya Kingdom and by Frank Skinner‘s DCI Nielsen from The Sinestran Kill. There is no better sign of success than that.
Written By: John Dorney.
Directed By: Nicholas Briggs.
Tom Baker (The Doctor), Jane Slavin (WPC Ann Kelso), John Leeson (K9), Ronan Vibert (Zaal), Simon Bubb (Jodor Colwyn), Christopher Naylor (Malpha/ Trooper), Francesca Hunt (Celation/ Drarn). Other parts played by members of the cast.