Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dust Breeding

(With this blog it kind of goes without saying, but spoilers ahead. I generally try to avoid dropping big spoilers in these reviews, but it's impossible to discuss this story without revealing something. If you haven't heard this then I would just check out the rating and move on. Suffice it to say, you should check this story out. OK, the big spoiler is in the next sentence, so this is your last chance!)

"Dust Breeding" is perhaps most famous for bringing back Geoffrey Beevers in the role of the Master. Big Finish had plans to bring in Antony Ainley to reprise the role of the Master, but Ainley made big demands on money, script control, and casting control which ultimately made it impossible to bring him in. Frankly, while Ainley terrified me as a kid, his portrayal of the Master doesn't do nearly as much for me now. I actually find myself enjoying Beevers' portrayal in the "Keeper of Traken" much more (not to mention Ainley's good-guy portrayal of Tremas), and think it's a shame they didn't just carry on with Beevers in the role. Beevers has the wonderful, silky smooth, yet evil timbre to his voice, which makes him even more perfect to be the Big Finish version of the Master. The big reveal in the cliff hanger of part 2 is simply amazing and is something to hear.

The story has a lot of interesting ideas in it. Sentient dust from an alien weapon that spends centuries trapped in the painting "The Scream", the Krill from writer Mike Tucker's Doctor Who novel "Storm Harvest" (co-written with Robert Perry), the Master, and the Doctor showing up to save (ahem, steal) "The Scream" before its destruction. Actually, that last thing is somewhat interesting. It seems a bit out of character for the Doctor to sneak in and take a work of art before it's "historic disappearance or destruction". This seems like the kind of rationalization that the Meddling Monk or Braxiatel would use. Besides, it's not like the Doctor ever just sneaks in and out of somewhere without interfering. He would seemingly be involved and responsible for the events that caused the work of art to go missing in the first place!

Also cast in this story (in part to try to keep the reveal of the Master a secret) is Beevers' wife Caroline John. John, of course, was Liz Shaw in the first season of Jon Pertwee's Doctor. Here she is (sadly) not returning as Liz Shaw, but is instead recast as the nefarious art dealer Madame Salvadori. It would be safe to say that John's accent and performance are a bit over the top, although that isn't to say she isn't entertaining. Also returning is Louise Fualkner as Bev Tarrant who featured in Tucker's first Big Finish play "The Genocide Machine". I never found Tarrant to be a particularly interesting character, but she was included in this to have a surrogate companion for the Doctor without needing to introduce someone new to the Doctor and Ace, so it works fine. Speaking of "The Genocide Machine", the Daleks are also featured in this story (in a way). The old legend of the planet Duchamp 331 (where most of the story is set) is that the odd screaming always heard in the background is not the sound of "dust sharks" (the rational explanation), but that a Dalek saucer crashed on Duchamp 331 many years ago and the Daleks were sucked down into the omnipresent dust covering the planet. The sound (which is clearly the screams of Daleks) does add quite an impressive atmosphere to the outside scenes. It's quite a thing to hear to constant cries of Daleks - not something I've heard before or since.

The Master's plan is to bring the Krill, to lure out the sentient weapon (the "Warp Core" which was designed to destroy the "all powerful" Krill) and harness its power. As with many of the Master's plans, it doesn't all go quite as planned, and the Doctor intervenes. It's neat that Big Finish did not set this in the Master's past (before Traken), but explained that the Master had his stolen Traken body stripped away in his first encounter with the Warp Core and reverted back to his emaciated form. My one issue with the story is that when Ace, Bev, and the Doctor are trapped near these supposedly lethal Krill, they don't come off as being all that lethal.

That complaint aside, this is a pretty fun story, with a lot of good performances. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Johnson Willis' portrayal as madman Damien. It's quite good, and gets even madder when he joins with the Warp Core. Ian Ricketts is also enjoyable as the haunted, grizzled, and heroic Guthrie. I don't think I like the plot of this one as much as "The Genocide Machine" but hearing Beevers recreate his nasty portrayal of the Master is a delight, and this one is not to be missed.

Rating: Great

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