Monday, August 26, 2019

Master Pieces - Building the Jigsaw

Over the last few months I’ve been putting together a collection of short stories starring the various incarnations of Doctor Who’s arch-enemy, the Master. This is the first fiction anthology I’ve edited and I’ve enjoyed the new challenge immensely. It’s been a big learning curve, made easier by having a wonderfully talented and generous bunch of authors on board, who have been a pleasure to work with.

Some of you will know that the project began in 2016, under the excellent stewardship of Scott Claringbold of Red Ted Books. When the baton was passed on to me, I already had around twelve accepted stories, approved but waiting to be edited. There were very few restrictions in place, with the collection pitched as being open and diverse. The story must star the Master, either an existing incarnation or one of the author’s own making, and to make Master Pieces stand out from other Doctor Who collections, writers were told that the Doctor was not to feature as an active character. That was as far as it got at that stage – no overriding arc, no continuity links between stories, and no methodology on how the collection would be structured. This wasn’t an act of laziness – the idea was to allow for as much freedom as possible and see what came out of it.

The first job was to put out a new call for stories to fill in the gaps. I wanted to make sure that all the televised Masters had equal billing, and so individual authors were approached with specific Masters in mind. The response was fantastic, humbling and heart-warming given that authors were writing for free, with all proceeds going to The Stroke Association. We were able to increase the roster of writers to 20.

There had been some early talk about a connecting group of flash-fiction stories, scattered between the more substantial ones, all supplied by one of our fine writers, and these would have been fantastic. I decided, however, against this approach because it allowed us to include many more authors than originally envisaged. Pleasingly, that work has not gone to waste and will be appearing in other forms. A couple of unused pitches were also revisited and the writers in question rose to the challenge and turned their initial ideas into terrific stories.

Deciding on an opening story was straightforward and allowed for a logical and simple ‘in order of the incarnation’s appearance’ structure, notwithstanding the fact that some of our Masters are either from alternative dimensions or new creations who could, in theory, be slotted in anywhere. Chris McKeon’s opener also sets up rather neatly the conceit of the Doctor’s absence throughout the book. That absence provided the basis for the final story in the collection, which serves as both a bookend and a way into any potential sequel. 

What is fascinating is how hard it is to write about the Master without the Doctor. This should be of no surprise, given that the character was rooted in the idea of the Doctor having an arch-enemy from his own race. He is, as if often cited, the Moriarty of Doctor Who. But if Sherlock’s nemesis can gain his own billing, thanks to the genius of Anthony Horowitz, then why not the Master, too?

When I was researching the character for Obverse Books’ Black Archive on the 1992 TV Movie, Doctor Who, I came across an excellent piece in an old Doctor Who Magazine by Lance Parkin. He notes how the character became a generic evil guy – the go-to of Doctor Who villains. Making sure that our collection added light and shade to the Master was an important consideration when it came to selecting and editing the stories. The very concept of Master Pieces was an excellent opportunity to explore the character beyond the lazy stereotypes. 

You’ll find in the book stories that explore the nature of good and evil and question the reasons for the Master’s villainy and indeed the Doctor’s, perhaps unwitting, role in all of that. At the same time, I’ve avoided overly retconning the facts as we know them, and hopefully the unmistakable voices of all the TV incarnations all leap from the page. He and she is the same character we love to hate, or hate to love. The collection reflects the variety of its parent show. There’s black humour, the surreal, alternative universes, bases under siege, swashbuckling adventures, heists, horror, space opera, political intrigue, even a touch of romance.

One night, when I was waiting for a couple of new entries, I did a very rudimentary statistical analysis of the stories we had in, partly out of curiosity, but also to ensure we had the balance right. Here’s what I found:

  • 9 stories discuss or feature the Master’s use of hypnosis.
  • 8 stories discuss or feature the Tissue Compression Eliminator.
  • 13 stories include the phrase “I am the Master” and 7 of these use the catchphrase “I am the Master, and you will obey me,” or a variation thereof.
  • In 11 stories the Master assumes a false identity, but only in one of these does he wear a disguise (in another 2 he discusses his love for dressing-up).
  • 9 stories mention or feature Gallifrey.
  • 1 story features the Daleks and 6 others name-check them.
  • 1 story features the Cybermen and 3 others name-check them.
  • 1 story features the Rani, who gets a name-check in one other.
  • 7 stories do not mention the Doctor by name. In total there are 203 uses of the word Doctor (a couple of these in reference to another doctor).
  • 2 stories do not mention the Master by name (one of which is a Missy story). The word Master as a title is used 678 times in total.

We are planning to publish this Autumn, so keep checking the Altrix Books social media accounts for news, including the cover reveal, the full roster of writers, and ordering information. In the meantime, we have been releasing teasers for each of the stories on our Facebook and Twitter pages.

I hope you enjoy reading these misadventures as much as I have editing them.



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