Big Finish Folly, Part 113a – Vampire of the Mind, by Justin Richards
Somewhere off the South Coast of England, there’s a lonely island. On that island stands a solitary castle, long since abandoned – haunted, they say. But the truth is, that castle houses something far worse than mere ghosts.
The castle is what lies at the end of a trail followed by the Doctor in search of several missing scientists – all of them connected to the top secret Dominus Institute and its elusive CEO, Sir Andrew Gobernar…
But the Doctor will soon discover that he’s the one being haunted, by a ghost from his past… or perhaps, his future.
The second part of this year’s multi-Doctor and multi-Master trilogy keeps us bang up to date in the information age – and with a version of the Master that ol’ Sixey hasn’t encountered before. Which is a bit of a time-twister, since gazing into the future suggests that the Doctor won’t actually cross umbrellas with this incarnation until deep into Sly’s reign.
It also harks back to the distant Pertwee era in its setting, which is apt because Vampire of the Mind is one of the Master’s over-complicated nefarious schemes that would have fitted right into the Pertwee years. Scientists going missing? Shenanigans on an island? Alien in the tower? All this story needs is Liz Shaw! What it has instead is Kate Kennedy as Doctor Heather Threadstone, enlisting the Doctor’s help to find her missing father, who himself has gone off to find a missing friend.
There’s a sort of self-aware joy to Kate’s performance that takes a little while to get used to. I kept expecting her character to be much more than she actually was, if that makes sense, but it turns out she’s along for the ride and enjoying herself immensely – fair play, I suppose!
Catriona Knox has an excellent turn as the other victim of the Master’s convoluted planning; the plot turns on the Doctor rescuing her in haste and repenting in leisure. Unfortunately she’s also the Maguffin that allows continuity to snap back into place so that the Doctor can meet Alex MacQueen’s Master for the “first time” in the future… It’s the first time I’ve met MacQueen as the Master too, and it’s a pleasure to report that he’s as engagingly over the top as the Master should be. He’ll be an excellent adversary for Sly’s Doctor.
The biggest problem Vampire of the Mind has is that like so many middle stories in trilogies…. it isn’t really all that necessary, and to be honest, it knows it. The story doesn’t really resolve anything, and in fact introduces more elements that have to be resolved in the final story. It keeps the beat, varies it with a couple of paradiddles along the way, and always keeps one eye on the reset button as far as narrative continuity goes, but while any Doctor/Master confrontation is bound to be a fan-pleaser, it doesn’t quite deliver for me as someone who is far more of a story purist in some respects. Mash-ups and crossovers are fast, blingy, appealing to a modern generation of Who fans, perhaps, but I’m not one of those. And just because you can make an earlier incarnation of the Doctor meet a version of the Master out of chronological order (albeit with a predictable amount of memory wipes at the end of the process), it doesn’t necessarily mean that you should. There are just as many great stories that you can tell in Doctor Who without resorting to such methods.
So while the zombified scientists, secluded setting, and other elements all point back to the Pertwee era, even with the technological trappings of the modern day, I don’t think I’m the target market for this particular story, which is a bit of a shame. I’ll certainly try it again, as it’s not a bad story, but I’m afraid it’s just not for me…