Tony Fyler finds an extra dimension.
As the newest take on the Master prances gleefully about on TV, it was irresistible to go back and listen to UNIT: Dominion with Sylvester McCoy, the box set which introduced Alex Macqueen to the universe of Who.
The idea behind Dominion is that while the Seventh Doctor and Raine Creevy are in another dimension, they are visited by a ‘Future Doctor,’ who tells them to absolutely not help the indigenous population, the Toleans, who are being wasted away and killed by an artefact which essentially sucks all kinds of power from its environment. Meanwhile, this ‘Future Doctor’ turns up on Earth and presents his credentials to UNIT – and in particular to Elizabeth Klein, UNIT’s scientific advisor, who has a bad history with ‘The Umbrella Man,’ as she calls the Seventh Doctor. The Future Doctor offers to help with the problem of a mysterious artefact that has appeared in
and appears to be growing. London
The Seventh Doctor makes the typically hubristic decision to help the Toleans anyway, using technology that belonged to the Dimensioneers – figures from Time Lord bedtime stories, who worked out pathways between the dimensions. He opens up a portal to another dimension, and sucks energy in to the Tolean home world from elsewhere, reviving the creatures and their planet. Things go quickly awry though, and the Doctor and Raine find themselves all dimensioned up with no place to go. Meanwhile the Future Doctor is on hand on Earth to deal with a mysterious dimensional rip that seems to have opened up, allowing all sorts of interdimensional travelers to make their way to the Earth, as their own dimensions collapse. And a parade of oddities they are too – there are floating heads who can blow like the wind, exploding weaponized cubes, demented, multiple-personality squid who hate the smell of humans and the like. When the Seventh Doctor and Raine manage to find their way to Earth, they find UNIT less than entirely friendly or trusting of their offers of help, but the two Doctors working together manage to Do Clever Things to help keep the situation at least a little under control.
Except of course, as it’s easy to tell with hindsight, the Future Doctor is no kind of Doctor at all. He’s the new Master, manipulating dimensions and people and forbidden knowledge to build the ultimate MacGuffin and rule all the dimensions. Like ya do.
In a complicated story that spans four hour-long episodes, there’s much to recommend to the listener – the story, while being loopy and dependent on pretty much combining a pair of MacGuffins to make an UberGuffin, is delivered with pace and a kind of makes-sense-at-the-time earnestness that manages, against the odds, to sell a range of increasingly bizarre scenarios. The range of extra-dimensional creatures are silly, bordering on the demented, but they are each given a particular storytelling role to fulfill and they do it well. Characterisation is delivered with extra-special care, so that when people die – and they do, because this is a UNIT story, and you wouldn’t buy into it if they didn’t – you’ve invested enough in their stories that to lose them really rather hurts, and Raine Creevy, the pre-cursor to Lady Christina DeSouza in terms of her posh girl thievery, holds her own, sounding sometimes like a wannabe-Mel, but at other times bringing her own specific character traits into play.
Really though, UNIT: Dominion is a three-hander between Sylvester McCoy, Tracey Childs as Klein, and Alex Macqueen as the Master. Each of these roles is written in UNIT: Dominion to be playable in a number of ways, leaving the actors themselves to bring their skills to the interpretation. McCoy of course has been playing his Doctor on and off for decades now, but still brings a freshness to his scenes with practically everyone here – rejuvenated by Raine, regretful and a little glum at his relationship with Klein, and positively dripping in unimpressed scorn for his ‘Future Self’. Indeed, there’s a little dig at New Who slyly stuck in here when Macqueen uses modern parlance, and McCoy delivers a line along the lines of ‘If I ever start talking like an idiot and bouncing off the walls, shoot me in the head’ with utter contempt for the very idea. He’s very much on form as the Seventh Doctor throughout this one, and especially in later scenes with the revealed Master, you really could believe in McCoy the student Time Lord – when the Master reveals the demented grandeur of his plans, there’s a long pause before McCoy pierces his pomposity with ‘Were you waiting for applause?’
Tracey Childs also brings her A game to this box set, playing Klein as thorough, hard-headed, like an older Liz Shaw with perhaps just the slightest tendency to punch you in the face. She’s very much an anchor in all the more preposterous scenes of flying heads and exploding cubes and mad personality squid, and her inability here to find fun in almost anything plays against the grain of some of the levity brought by other characters, driving the listener on to the end.
Did we say levity?
Welcome Alexander Macqueen. For the majority of this story of course, he’s playing the Future Doctor, and he bounces off the wall quite as much as David Tennant or Matt Smith ever did. He’s camp and funny, but in a way you can actually see working as a Future Doctor. Until the veil drops, and he’s the Master, and the whole thing makes so much more sense. He’s absolutely the Anti-Doctor, and it would not be unfair to say that if you were looking for a Master to inform Michelle Gomez’s Missy you should look more to Alex Macqueen than to any other incarnation. He bounces and dances and laughs his way through the story like a Master who’s found the fun again after decades of being Anthony Ainley. This, for all he’s described as looking like Macqueen himself – bald, principally – is the most teenaged Master you’ve ever seen or heard, quixotic, powerful, vicious, laughing at the universe and himself and impossibly, bravely, madly bold in his intentions to conquer not just the universe but all dimensions. He throws away the grandstanding lines, the scenes when he could be Eric Roberts in his power – he’ll just chuckle, and throw a line to the gutter, then shrink you to death without a second thought and move right the hell along. It’s inspired, note-perfect stuff.
If you were going to re-imagine the Master from the ground up, while taking note of everything that had gone before, this is exactly what you’d come up with, both in terms of the script and a performance by Macqueen that blows the doors off not only this box set but the whole Big Finish universe – after this performance, it would have been impossible to not have Macqueen back, but to justify that return you have to have a story big enough to befit his Master’s scope of ambition, as the Dark Eyes series did. It’s the kind of performance that turns a good box set into a must-have, because every minute of Macqueen time is a ridiculous, unpredictable joy.
One to get then? Yes, beyond a shadow of doubt – if you’ve embarked on the Dark Eyes series, go back and get this, to give yourself a primer in the character that, to be fair, is a large part of what makes at least the last two instalments worth listening to. If you haven’t, get it because it’s McCoy on great form, Childs on great form, a bonkers storyline that still seems somehow to make sense, and because Macqueen will rip your heart right out of your chest and run off with it, prodding it with sticks all the while. He becomes, with this single release, a real contender for the Best Master award, at least nipping at the heels of Delgado, if not actually elbowing him out of the way. UNIT: Dominion is never anything less than surprising. When Macqueen takes the stage, it becomes a thing of dancing, insane wonder.