Big Finish: The War Master Vol 6 - KILLING TIME Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: The War Master Vol 6 - KILLING TIME Review

From the worlds of Doctor Who, Matthew Kresal reviews the latest War Master box set from Big Finish.
Given he played the role on screen for part of a single TV episode back in 2007, it's remarkable to think how much life Sir Derek Jacobi has brought to the role of the Master at Big Finish. Across five box-sets, he and the War Master range have gone from strength to strength. It's something that makes listening to the sixth set, Killing Time, both an exciting and daunting task, especially with it putting Jacobi's incarnation against two Classic Who companions. So how does Killing Time stack up?

A note before this reviewer gets too far into proceedings: This set was recorded fifth in the series run but had its original release slot taken by Hearts of Darkness released last autumn. The reason for that becomes clear quite early on in the opening installment penned by James Goss: the Stagnant Protocol has a plague, one which its rulers seem all too keen to underplay while scientists battle to keep it contained or even curable. Though the scripts by Goss and Lou Morgan date from 2019, with recordings taking place that December, listening to them in the summer of 2021 affords them an air of realism that's perhaps a little too close to home at times. It's something that becomes even stronger given some of the plot twists as the set unfolds and many conspiracy theories in the air as I write these words. None of which is a reason not to listen to Killing Time, but it's both a curious case of life imitating art and perhaps a warning of sorts to those fatigued by more than a year's worth of pandemic coverage. If you're looking for absolute escapism, one of the other War Master sets might be a better choice for the moment.

Otherwise, you're in for a treat.

Killing Time is divided between its two writers, with Goss penning the bookending installments while Morgan takes the middle ones. Goss's episodes, The Sincerest Form of Flattery and Unfinished Business, are set within the Stagnant Protocol, an empire of immortal people adversely affected by the earliest days of the Time War and sealed off from the rest of the universe. At least, until the War Master comes bearing greetings and a plan of his own. A scheme that runs afoul of the ambitious Calantha (a fantastic Alexandria Riley), whose rise brings her into contact with the Master at every turn. Goss pens two tales of political intrigue in extraordinary times that fit the Master as played by Jacobi well (famous for his role in the BBC's legendary costume drama I, Claudius with all of its Roman politics). Even better is that producer/director Scott Handcock gives him a fine sparring partner in the form of Riley, giving new meaning to "best of enemies" in the process.

The middle installments by Morgan are especially good. The second episode, A Quiet Night In, features a War Master reunion with Katy Manning's Jo, who debuted with the original Master in 1971. The hour or so long episode is nothing short of an emotional wringer for Jo, whose titular evening with her uncle quickly becomes something else entirely. What that is, and the War Master's role in it all makes for compelling listening as Morgan puts Jo and the listener alike on a rollercoaster where nothing is quite what it seems. Morgan's writing is further aided and abetted by the chemistry between Jacobi and Manning, which shifts back and forth as the episode unfolds until it reaches its devastating climax. Indeed, the episode may well feature Manning's best performance as Jo in any medium, as well as a chance for Jacobi to show off his range as well. If there's a single reason to give this set a listen, it's this episode on its own.

Morgan's other script, The Orphan, features another returning companion in the form of Sarah Sutton's Nyssa. If there's any Classic Who companion whose tale so intertwines with the Master, it's Nyssa who lost her father and even her home planet to the villain. Here, years after she left the Fifth Doctor's TARDIS behind and now a scientist dealing with plagues, Nyssa is reunited with another Master, though, like Jo, she doesn't know it at first. There's a ticking emotional time bomb at the heart of The Orphan that Morgan and director/producer Handcock put to use, playing heavily on the listener knowing something that Nyssa doesn't. It's something that makes it a heartbreaking listen at times, nearly as much as A Quiet Night In before it, especially when it reaches its climax and Jacobi pulls out all the stops in the process. That's not forgetting Sutton, often underrated as a performer in her TV tenure, who pours much heart and soul in this older Nyssa, something that makes what happens along the way all the more heartbreaking as a listen.

Last but not least, there's the strength of the production itself. Rob Harvey's sound design work deserves particular praise given the range of locations from the alien yet familiar sounds of the Stagnant Protocol's homeworld to the old mansion of A Quiet Night In and the medical vessel in The Orphan. Harvey also scores the set, creating very different accompaniments for each episode, adding to the psychological undertones of Morgan's scripts and a classical feel to the political intrigue of Goss's. Combined with the performances, especially with Jacobi given a chance to show off so much of his range, it's something that brings out the best Killing Time has to offer.

Even after six sets, the War Master continues to be one of Big Finish's most gratifying series. Ranging from political intrigue to devastating reunions, Killing Time is another triumph for the War Master range. While it might hit a tad too close to current events for some, even after nearly a year's delay in release, for those who enjoy good drama with an SF twist, this set comes recommended.

The War Master: Killing Time is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 October 2021, and on general sale after this date.

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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