One of Big Finish’s strengths has been the way that its creative forces find lateral approaches to stories: series like Counter-Measures and Jago & Litefoot have taken elements from the main Doctor Who show and shone a spotlight on them, in the process perhaps illuminating aspects of the Doctor that otherwise would remain hidden. The Companion Chronicles series may have begun as a way of telling stories for the early Doctors, but they have become much more, producing some of their finest examples in their more experimental tales.
Mastermind picks up on Tales from the Vault, featuring the TV Movie companions Yee Jee Tso and Daphne Ashbrook (unfortunately as new characters – maybe one day we’ll get some more Grace Holloway/Chang Lee tales) as UNIT personnel. In Mastermind, they have to interrogate UNIT’s sole living artefact, the Master, as personified by Geoffrey Beevers.
From the start, even before Beevers’ Master starts to worm his way into both the characters’ and the listeners’ mind, the story poses puzzles regarding the set-up, the answers to which Jonathan Morris doles out slowly throughout the story. This isn’t a standard Doctor Who adventure (part of me is actually surprised that they used the theme tune at all) so there are no episode breaks, just a steadily increasing tension, coupled with some black humour, cheeky parodies, incorporation of some earlier theories regarding the Master, good use of incidental music, and, above all, the Time Lord’s insidious voice. Sometimes when real life incidents are brought into Doctor Who dramas, the clash of fantasy and reality jars, but here it doesn’t (you’ll know the bit when you reach it), and the listener is drawn in to the Master’s plans as much as the two UNIT soldiers.
It’s very rare that reviews on this site give full marks – the item in question needs to excel in a way that only very occasionally happens – but the moment that the closing theme ended (and Nick Briggs’ reassuring tones started the trailer for the next story so I was absolutely certain there wasn’t a further twist to come), I knew this had earned it. This may be the final season of the Companion Chronicles, but the bar has been set extremely high. Kudos to all involved, especially Morris and directors Ken Bentley and Jason Haigh-Ellery
Verdict: Doctor Who audio drama at its best. 10/10