Time Lord Victorious is a gigantic Doctor Who story running across innumerable tie-ins: novels, comic books, comic strips, audiobooks, audio dramas, a cartoon, even an escape room. Big Finish’s contribution begins with a pair of Short Trips about the Master, Master Thief by Sophie Iles and Lesser Evils by Simon Guerrier, both narrated by Jon Culshaw.

Sophie Iles gets you inside the Master’s head in a way that feels plausible

These are the first pieces of Time Lord Victorious product I’ve heard, so my understanding of the whole is a bit hazy; I did read a review of the BBC Books novel The Knight, the Fool and the Dead, so I have a vague sense that (at least in part) it’s about the Tenth Doctor trying to stop the Kotturuh, a race that created death itself. The Daleks are in it a lot, too, though not these particular instalments. Beyond that, I don’t really know, and these two stories kind of work on their own and kind of don’t.

Master Thief sees the Master carrying out a heist, stealing an artefact from an alien vault. He has a new weapon, which de-evolves its victims, but this de-evolution has some unusual side effects. Iles and Culshaw do a good job of capturing the Roger Delgado incarnation of the Master; Iles gets you inside his head in a way that feels plausible (not always easy for someone like the Master, in my opinion), and Culshaw doesn’t do a total recreation of Delgado, but evokes the actor’s efficient, clipped way of speaking. The story is engaging, as the Master struggles with something he’s not used to, and the way what’s going on very subtly sneaks up on the listener is well done. Up until the end, it felt like a standalone tale, something that probably had greater significance if you’d read/heard/seen other parts of the Time Lord Victorious jigsaw, but didn’t need them. But then the end was totally obscure to me, and sort of a non-ending. I hope this gets picked up and explained in a part I end up taking in!

Jon Culshaw is an engaging reader, but the low energy of Lesser Evils gives him little to work with

Lesser Evils depicts a confrontation between the Anthony Ainley Master and one of the Kotturuh, who is using her power to give finite life-spans to the inhabitants of a planet that the Master has been exiled to. This I found obscure in the sense that I wasn’t really sure what the story was actually supposed to be about. A long time is spent on the Kotturuh woman wandering around the planet; then, she and the Master have a long conversation that doesn’t seem to go much of anywhere. Then it all comes to an end. Culshaw is an engaging reader in general, but this story’s low energy gives him little to work with — except that he does a decent Ainley, and completely nails the chuckle. But why is the Master on this planet? What is actually at stake when he argues with the woman? What does the end mean? I wasn’t sure of any of it. I felt like too much of the story traded in uncertainty, giving a listener little to care about. Other Time Lord Victorious stories might provide necessary context for all I know, but on its own it doesn’t really work.

A multi-media multi-platform event (everything about Time Lord Victorious reminds me of the 1990s’ Shadows of the Empire, which was like everything that goes with a Star Wars movie except for the actual Star Wars movie) has a tricky balancing act, I reckon: it has to feel worth it to people who get all of the parts, and it has to feel worth it to people who don’t. I don’t know if, based on this one data point, Time Lord Victorious is striking that balance. I will know more as I get deeper into it!

(If you’re interested, dear reader, I suspect I will hear all of the Big Finish components, read the Una McCormack novel, and read the Doctor Who Magazine strip. Though I’m very behind on my DWM, so it could be quite some time before I get to that one! I don’t know how much of the picture this will give me, but I guess I will see.)

Master Thief / Lesser Evils (by Sophie Iles, Simon Guerrier; read by Jon Culshaw) was released by Big Finish Productions in October 2020.