Review by Doctor Squee
(Host of Gallifrey Stands Podcast)
Big Finish have clearly finished with everything we always knew we wanted in a Doctor Who story and now are going for things we never knew we always wanted. Enter the War Master! Who doesn’t want to see Derek Jacobi playing the Master again! Last time, as great as he was in the TV episode Utopia, he only became the Master for real in the last few moments in time to become John Simm. Now we get a longer look at the Master he can be & it’s delicious!
In the same way that we see how far the Doctor might go toward the dark when faced with the time war (although we know there are lines he can’t cross), we get to see how the Master’s interests might aline with the side of good in such chaotic times (even though we know his motives will always end in darkness).
The first story Beneath the Viscoid by Nicholas Briggs sees the Master on the run from the Daleks after double crossing them. He takes the guise of the Doctor to fit in with some fellow travellers. This is a really nice start. You get to see the Master sending up the Doctor whilst having a day in his shoes. The way they wrong-foot the Daleks to make them not able to blast the Master & his new ‘friends’ out of the sky is really nice and makes sense. Basically, who doesn’t want to see the Master against the Daleks? It’s like top trumps of the Doctor’s foes!
The Master dives right into the weird wonders of the time war in The Good Master. This time posing as a Doctor, if not ‘the’ Doctor. He is after the secrets of a planet where people don’t seem to be dying in the heart of war. What happens if the Master manages to harness such powers? This is nice in the fact that it has some themes in common with the first story, but is distinct at the same time. Where the first story has the Master hiding for his own safety, this time he hides who he is to get information people might not be too happy to give his real self. And this really feels like a mystery the Doctor might face & so gives us more of a window into what happens when someone less noble than the Doctor plays his game.
The Sky Man is probably my favourite story in a really strong set. Which doesn’t surprise me from one of my favourite Big Finish writers James Goss. The Master’s new travelling companion, Cole asks if he can save just one planet. Once the Master agrees and makes Cole choose which planet to save, Cole doesn’t immediately see what needs to be done to save the planet; but when he does he works as quick and as hard as he can to do so, spurred on by his new lady friend. But he soon discovers the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
Jonny Green is great as Cole and the love affair he embarks on is done quickly but very believably. The way the Master just gives him enough rope to hang himself and his desperation to save this planet and people plays really well & gives us an idea of how a Master’s companion might be toyed with. It’s also an interesting parallel to have how the 7th Doctor’s manipulation always just about works out as good and the difference if someone had less morals about it. There is also a lot to call to mind a certain Doctor Who enemy in this story, but very pleasingly they don’t mention that race. I think to great effect. It all ends with the Master getting to pretend to be acting as the hero when he is doing anything but.
Finally we have the Guy Adams penned The Heavenly Paradigm. This set works at a cracking pace and this last story really delivers a good ending. The Master takes Cole to Earth in the 70’s to a seemingly quiet village that just so happens to hold a Timelord’s hideout for some of their most dangerous devices. When the Master arrives it’s no surprise they aren’t happy to see him. Especially when he wants to get his hands on the Heavenly Paradigm.
Again this covers a very different side to the Master than the other stories. He is all out in this story wanting to get hold of a device that could not only end the time war, but also reshape the universe in his image. This throws up shades of ‘He Jests at Scars’ from the Doctor Who Unbound range where we get to see what would happen if the Vallyard won and would the victory be as sweet as he imagined? In this world where the Master is the focal point of the adventures, when & if he wins big what will that look like? Does the Master secretly really need the Doctor to rail against? We also get a conclusion that makes sense for this set compared to the TV show, which is a lovely bow to put on it.
In general… this set delivers on all fronts. The theme tune calls to mind something that could have been the Doctor Who theme if the composer had made a few different choices earlier on… much like the Master to the Doctor. Derek Jacobi is wonderful as the Master and gives nuance to the character he didn’t get the time to in the TV show. When he talks about what the Master wants and who he is compared to the other enemies of Gallifrey it makes complete sense and makes him very three-dimensional. Each writer gives a unique perspective but makes it still feel like the same character. The guest cast is top notch and gives Jacobi something real to play against.
10/10. Really hope we see more of the Time Master soon!
You can buy this set for download or on CD here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-war-master—only-the-good-1681