It’s amazing the difference a few weeks can make. Back in December, this intrepid reviewer took the reigns to dissect the much awaited release for the Eighth Doctor in The Time War: Series 1. While the release was pretty damn marvelous, it was where one felt the line regarding the Time War may perhaps be better left at the obscurer end of Doctor Who lore. Rather than exploring every avenue of the war, it may be preferable to leave it to myth and legend rather than “fact”.
But that was a while ago, and so much has changed in the world of Doctor Who on television alone; just a sole week is a long time in politics, even longer in Doctor Who.
In short, The War Master: Only the Good is Big Finish’s finest work when it comes to delving into the war.
We know the Doctor was front and center in the war: that’s obvious and a little stale by now. But having the Master as the central protagonist works wonderfully. It takes us out of the central war and into the lives of the people who watched the universe begin to burn as the Time Lords and the Daleks fought one another. Whilst the Master takes center stage here, the big picture focus is on the innocents of the Time War. It’s been addressed before in the War Doctor and Eighth Doctor box sets, but the exciting thing here is that literally anything can happen to the innocents. We know the Time Lords corrupted themselves for the war, the Daleks were already bad seeds – but with the Master being relied upon for help, the listener is instantly aware that the survival rates will not be high. It’s a bold move to make a psychopath the lead but it adds such depth to the history of the war that anyone with an interest in the last great time fight will find this crucial listening!
This is obviously the Master’s story, played with effortless glee by Derek Jacobi. Although the actor hasn’t touched the character of the Master in over 10 years, he slips effortlessly back into the role as if he were the only person to ever play it.
There’s a whiff of the psychotic mixed in with gentlemanly grandeur; this version of the Master is one that you could sit down with and have a great meal and stimulating chat, unlike his successors who couldn’t keep still for more than a minute. Jacobi always stated that he wanted to explore that character in more depth and with this release he doesn’t waste one minute letting listeners know that if he had had the chance, he would have made an amazing recurring version of the character. He rests somewhere between the Roger Delgado and Alex Macqueen incarnations – his patience may be on the slim side but his desire to explore the people he meets to find out what makes them tick is unquestionable. More so, it plays out his version of the war in such an interesting way as there is no ‘plan for the people’ with this Time Lord, just an arrogant sociopath hell bent on his own survival at any cost. The Doctor, even in his War incarnation, still tried to help where he could, even when going against his nature and mantra (you know the one, the Twelfth Doctor reiterated it at the end of his life).
The Master has his own designs to win the war for himself. The Daleks, the Time Lords, even the Universe itself are fair game. And at the heart of it, that’s what makes this release so, so good.
It also may be quite the round trip. What starts out as an exploration of the Master’s deeds during the great war leads (almost) up to events in Utopia (2007). And what deeds they are.
Beneath the Viscoid and The Good Master showcase Jacobi’s talents as the arch manipulator but The Sky Man is where his Master really starts to let loose, without doing anything at all. Events culminate in The Heavenly Paradigm where the full extent of the Master’s plans are revealed and they go way beyond playing a long game. Some of the things this Master does are truly horrific.
If this was to be the only Jacobi-related Master release then it would sufficiently plug the gap that followers had not been clued in on after seeing his only televised adventure, but with stories this good, one can only hope for more tales of the Master’s Time War in the near future.
The War Master: Only the Good is available now from Big Finish.