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

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Big Finish: Doctor Who - THE WAR MASTER: RAGE OF THE TIME LORDS Review

Matthew Kresal feels the rage.

After two releases, Big Finish could count themselves two for two with their War Master series. Only the Good had firmly established the character as well as telling an epic Time War tale while The Master of Callous revealed how manipulative this incarnation could be and how far he was willing to go to achieve his goals. Returning for a third box-set, Sir Derek Jacobi's Master would find himself meeting with the one person we least expect him to face: Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor.

Before we get to that, there are two stories to take in. First up is the opening tale The Survivor by Tim Foley. Foley's story takes place in a tranquil English village during the Second World War, a place with a lady of the manor and Land Girls working to cultivate crops on the estate. One of them is Alice Pritchard (played by Katherine Pearce), who is seeking every chance to contribute to a war effort she feels left out of. When the Reverend Magister offers her such a chance, she takes it, coinciding with the return to the manor of the prodigal heiress Hannah (played by Laura Riseborough, who is fast becoming a Big Finish regular). This village isn't as serene as it seems with events revealing secrets and lies and a people living on the edge of terror. Which is just where the Reverend wants them...

The Survivor might at first seem like an odd entry to start this third set with, as for much of its length it plays very much like a period drama. Indeed, one couldn't help but think of Arthur Miller's legendary play The Crucible when listening to parts of it with village tensions and eventually paranoia. But it's that sense of drama that makes it all the more compelling as Jacobi's Master (using his old alias from The Daemons in a fun fan nod) shapes Alice and the community at large. Jacobi's chemistry with Katherine Pearce goes a long way to sell things as well, as does the uniformly solid cast. What starts as a seemingly odd story instead offers up much for listeners to take in.

The Coney Island Chameleon by David Llewellyn is the second of the stories. Moving back in time to the 1890s in New York, the story centers on Italian born strongman Sabatini (Youssef Kerkour) and the titular Esther (Taj Atwal), who find themselves attracting the less than benign gaze of a man named TS Mereath. Mereath's identity will likely come as no surprise to listeners, though being afforded the chance to hear the actor playing them putting on an American accent is fun. In fact, the American accents throughout the story are universally strong, give or take one or two minor background characters who briefly come to the fore. It's a sign of how far the company has come since the days of the infamous Minuet in Hell that they can not only set a story across the Pond but get the accents right, to boot. Llewellyn offers up an intriguing chase story, one which presents some interesting implications for the set as a whole and set the stage for what's to follow.

The final two episodes, The Missing Link by Tim Foley and Darkness and Light by David Llewellyn, are in reality a two-part story. One which ties together the War Master's action in the previous two adventures (and indeed his appearance in The Diary of River Song Series 5) to reveal what his latest project is. And, also, the frightening implications behind the box-set's overall title. Between the two of them, Foley and Llewellyn tell a story that feels large in scale, taking place on a futuristic research facility with a full smattering of science fiction trappings in the process. Despite its scale, it's also a very claustrophobic story and one that manages to back a series of surprises and punches along the way.

Not least because it's here that Mr. McGann comes into proceedings. The Eighth Doctor's first appearance in the set comes as both expected but also as a surprise, bringing a smile to this listener's face instantaneously. While one might worry if the Doctor's presence might hijack the set, shifting the focus away from the Master, Foley quickly sets that worry to one side. Indeed, there is a very good reason for the McGann Doctor to be popping up when and where he does. Llewellyn's second episode picks up on those threads, including the cliffhanger, wonderfully, allowing these two adversaries to play off one another as much as they face each other, examining the episode’s titular characteristics in both of them. Not to mention solving something of a potential continuity conundrum before it's all over with.

The main selling point of this set is going to be having Jacobi and McGann together and Big Finish does not disappoint. Listening to the two of them interacting and with each other is worth the price of admission alone, bouncing off one another like the old friends the Doctor and Master are said to be one moment while condemning the other their next breath. It's also something which makes the sometimes exposition-heavy sequences all the easier to take in, especially when you have actors of their caliber delivering it.

Being a Big Finish release, this third set has strong production values to aide its storytelling. Peter Doggart's work deserves particular praise given he's creating soundscapes that take us from an English village in 1940 to 1890s New York and a research base on an alien world. That's what you call range, I suppose, and Doggart proves more than up to the task. Ioan Morris's scores are likewise evocative of the worlds in which the stories take place in, adding immensely to their sense of atmosphere. Their combined work serves as a testament to the thought and effort that goes into bringing the most out of scripts and performances, putting the listener into the sometimes fantastic places.

At the end of four discs, Rage of the Time Lords takes its place alongside its predecessors as another fine entry in the War Master range. Foley and Llewellyn present four excellent stories, offering the chance for Jacobi to once more sink his teeth into one of Who's greatest villains, while the addition of the Eighth Doctor to the mix is just the icing on the cake. Given its standalone nature and the inclusion of McGann's Doctor, I might even go so far as to say that, if you're only going to hear one War Master set, then this should be the one to hear. And with a range as good as this one has been, that is saying something.

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. 

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