Softer Six: We have the best of both worlds with the Doctor and Peri these days. Once the black sheep of the Doctor/companion family, they have both matured exponentially on audio to a point where the characters are older and wiser and the actors are intimately acquainted and the net result is a partnership that rivals the best of the best. I've always enjoyed the spiky relationship between this pair but if you were to tell me that the day would come when they would be my favourite Big Finish team over any other combination of regulars I might have laughed in your face. There is a genuine warmth and affection between them now that is palpable. And yet there is still that spikiness and tension that rippled between them too, that can erupt when you least expect it. The Doctor admits with a laugh how much he has missed her these past five years. The Doctor has promised Peri a fresh start and complete honesty. Like an authentic take on the first Doctor's adventures, the Doctor is prevented from returning to the TARDIS to aid his rescue of Peri when it is swallowed whole by a bog. Instead he has to ride across country in a motorcycle, an image I would have loved to have seen on screen. It goes against everything that he believes in but the Doctor cannot get involved. He doesn't give a fig about the Web of Time, he just doesn't want to give the Daleks the heads up about himself or the TARDIS. Trusting Peri with this information, he asks her to do whatever it takes to prevent the Daleks from capturing him and finding out his role in their demise. Even if that means extreme action... This might be the only time in the Doctor's life where he has given his companion permission to kill him, that's how high the stakes are. The Doctor promises to never let Peri down again, a big guarantee to uphold. Listening to the sixth Doctor talk about Dodo is just surreal. He chooses his friends very carefully and his enemies usually choose him.
Standout Performance: Concentrating the story in Scotland is another unique aspect, giving the story a distinctive location via the actors' brogue. It's a great cast of actors with very natural chemistry, something about how all the characters are working together desperately to survive that gels them into a strong unit.
Sparkling Dialogue: 'Like brutal barons of old, the Daleks have cleared the Highlands.'
'I've parked better.'
'Watch out the human race is coming...'
'The Daleks are evil...but they exist. It's not for the likes of me to sign their death certificate.'
Musical Cues: I really enjoy Nick Briggs' soundtracks and don't think we get nearly enough of them these days. He is more in favour of ambient music rather than melodies which reminds me of the scores of stories such as The Dalek Invasion of Earth ad The Daleks' Masterplan. There were moments in Masters of Earth that reminded me strongly of Jubilee, The Apocalypse Element and Dalek Empire. That's a good thing.
Isn't it Odd: It was a creative decision to update the quality of the Daleks voices in Masters of Earth (the ones from Invasion Earth were particularly effeminate dictators) and yet Briggs chooses to keep the slurred voices of the Robomen authentic. I would have been bold and changed those too because at times the remedial brogue of the metallic slaves makes this sound like amateur hour. 'Escaped prisoner has escaped!' - Daleks have never been known for their scintillating conversation but this bunch are validly crass. With so many moments of high drama there were a few occasions when the story descended into an awful lot of hysterical shouting.
Result: I have often complained in the past about certain Big Finish stories coming across as big brash action adventure stories that feel like soundtracks to missing stories, presenting big set pieces that should be seen rather than heard. Rather than exploiting the audio medium for its greatest strengths, the exploration of language and ideas, the stories instead indulge in lots of shouting and explosions. Well I'm going to go against my own argument when it comes to reviewing Masters of Earth because it features more than your usual handful of action sequences and yet delivered by director supremo Nicholas Briggs I was able to shut my eyes and see every frame of the action taking place. Desperate rebels travelling across country and pursued by Daleks at every turn, Masters of Earth presents a gripping scenario that is well dramatised by the authors and expertly brought to life by the director. The action is fast and furious and I was helplessly caught up in dramatic kisses to Dalekmania throughout. The characters feel much more vivid than your average 2014 main range adventure too; battered , bruised and desperate, this band of unlikely friends have developed a no nonsense attitude to life that sees them through the hardships of this story. It's an unusual Dalek story insofar that the writers aren't in the position of having to put a stop to the threat because that has already been dealt with elsewhere so they can concentrate on their own band of characters and their journey exclusively. I thoroughly enjoyed the Scottish setting and it was a delight to hear so many distinctive accents in play, another unique selling point. Even the dynamic between the Doctor and Peri has been given a fresh lick of paint. Whilst they are far more comfortable with each other now they are older and wiser, her return has brought a bit of that spikiness back to his character and she is no-nonsense these days in an extremely forceful way. They make a great team but there is room for some very interesting tension that comes from knowing each other so well and trying to discover each other again after five years apart. That I wasn't expecting. The final surprise is the fourth episode, which from nowhere reveals that everything that we have been through in this story to that point has been for a purpose. What appeared to be a plotless jaunt through the Dalek invasion coheres into a very strong and well thought through narrative. I was prepared to be very cynical about another Dalek story (tenapenny these days) but this was much, much stronger than I was expecting. I thought the setting and characters were brawny enough that this could have been a pilot for a spin off series - mixing Terry Nation's Survivors and Dalekmania. I'd buy them if they were as good as this: 9/10