Big Finish: Doctor Who - THE WAR MASTER: THE MASTER OF CALLOUS Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

Home Top Ad

Post Top Ad


Matthew Kresal catches up with the War Master.

How do you follow-up something like Only the Good? That first War Master set not only saw Sir Derek Jacobi return to the role of the Time War era Master but told an incredible adventure across four CDs, the last of which rounded off his story rather neatly. So with three further sets announced, where would Big Finish take the character, and how? December 2018 offered up an answer to that question with the release of The Master of Callous, the second box-set in the range.

If Only the Good offered up a universe-spanning epic, then Master of Callous offers up a quite different approach. Set in a gap between discs one and two of that opening set, this one is far more anchored than its predecessor. This time, it's set entirely around the colony world, and just what this Hannibal Lecter-esque incarnation of the Master is up to on this desolate, rainy planet. It's a definite step away from the nature of the first set, which might explain some of the mixed reactions it got upon release. Does that mean you can write it off already?

Nope. Far from it, in fact.

The set opens with a brave experiment: a Master-lite tale. Call for the Dead by James Goss presents a portrait of a planet and its people in trouble. Remember those colony worlds from countless Third Doctor stories and their various pastiches? That's Callous, with a mine full of riches, if only someone could get to it without being driven mad. Elliot King (Simon Ludders), who owns the mine and founded the colony before sending his wife and daughter Cassie (Maeve Bluebell Wells) away, is under increasing pressure from IMC's governor Teremon (Pippa Haywood) to turn a profit. Meanwhile, wild Oods stalk the forests near the colony, with one carrying a phone that keeps ringing. And the voice at the end of the line?

Well, guess who it belongs to, there's a good chap.

Taking some cue perhaps from Goss' own The Star Man in the first War Master set, Call for the Dead portrays a people in an increasingly desperate situation. One in which the Master can sporadically make an appearance nudging things along. This first episode is as much a character piece as anything else, introducing us to the King family, including Cassie's wife Martinee (Samantha Béart), Governor Teremon, the colonists, and, of course, the Ood. Those expecting a wham-bam opener might be disappointed, but those with a taste for drama will find much to enjoy in the opening episode.

Where the story kicks into gear, and the Master comes out of the shadows, is with the second episode. Once more written by Goss, The Glittering Prize sees the Master, known as Mister Orman, living among the increasingly prosperous colonists. But, as the Second Doctor might have put it, "all is not well with this colony." Tensions are still simmering on all fronts, between Cassie and her wife, the colonists, and with an increasingly greedy IMC. Oh, and a group of Ood working the mines prone to saying odd things. Glittering Prize is another beautiful piece of world-building, one which builds nicely on the first episode and injects a further sense of drama into proceedings, especially as things pick up speed in the latter half.

Guy Adams' The Persistence of Dreams, the third episode of the set, you might think would pick-up on the cliffhanger Goss left him with the previous story. Instead, and to Adams' credit, he throws the listener a heck of a curveball. Martinee, Cassie's wife, becomes the focus as both she and us go on the sort of head trip Big Finish hasn't really offered up this side of Zagreus and Scherzo. That's not a bad thing, either, this reviewer hastens to add. Harkening back to a more experimental time in the company's history, and once more making striking but limited use of Jacobi, the tale messes with perceptions for both Martinee and the listener, leaving both potentially unsure of just what they're experiencing. It's a superb piece of audio drama and worth the price of admission on its own.

Adams then brings the set to a close with Sins of the Father. Picking up the story a little while after the second disc's cliffhanger, things on Callous have managed to go from bad to worse. Governor Teremon has the Master, determined to break him, and the colony itself is reaching breaking point. With IMC troops marching through the streets and Ood massing, just what is the future hold for everyone? The answer, given this is a War Master release, makes listening to this final story like having a great tragedy unfold through your ears. It isn't always a pretty picture you'll have in your mind, but it's a great piece of storytelling all the same.

The best way to think of Master of Callous is that it's a serial in four parts. If Only the Good told a universe hopping story, than this one is more firmly rooted in one time and place. We follow the same characters, across the four episodes. We get to know them, their strengths, their weaknesses, and eventually, even their fates. In that way, this second War Master set is more akin to a limited series on TV than it is your typical Big Finish release. What it offers, as a result, is something we so rarely get to see as fans: a chance to see the Master play one of his long games, even seeing just how this little colony world ties into the larger Time War story.

It's also something that brings out the best in its cast. Having Derek Jacobi back once as the War Master was certainly a thrill, and this second box-set ever more firmly plants his characterization. Playing the kindly Orman in the second disc shows off a fun yet more manipulative side of this Master, the latter being something that shines throughout all four episodes, even when he seems firmly under lock and key. It's a performance that continues to deliver on those promising few minutes toward the end of Utopia on TV all those years ago.

The supporting cast is equally strong as well. Silas Carson returns as the voice of the Ood, a creature that, like the Weeping Angels, one might not think would have much presence on audio. Carson's vocal performance brings out so much presence that one doesn't need the visuals, the listener being able to conjure up sometimes horrifying imagery all on their own. The cast, made up of both newcomers and Big Finish regulars, proves more than up to the task of populating the world of Callous from Maeve Bluebell Wells as Cassie trying to keep her father's world together to Samantha Béart as her wife, Barnaby Edwards, Richard Earl, and Kai Owen as colonists, and Pippa Haywood as IMC's seemingly in control Governor Teremon who has issues all her own. Combined with evocative sound design and music from Robert Harvey, and you get something that highlights all the strengths of Big Finish.

While it might not be the Time War epic listeners might be expecting, The Master of Callous has its reasons for being considered an epic. Following the fortunes of a single colony world caught up in the machinations of the Master and others, it's a rare opportunity to see a different side of the Doctor Who universe explored. While Goss and Adams present a vision that's less cozy than listeners might be comfortable with but, for those with a taste for fine drama, The Master of Callous is a masterful piece of work to behold.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Post Top Ad