The War Master: Hearts of Darkness (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Wednesday, 3 March 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Hearts of Darkness (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: David Llewellyn & Lisa McMullin

 

Director: Scott Handcock

 

Featuring: Derek Jacobi, Paul McGann, Seán Carlsen, George Fletcher, Sam Hallion, Sandra Huggett, Alex Jordan, Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo, Colin McFarlane, Tanya Moodie, Henry Nott, Julia Sandiford, Amanda Shodeko

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released: October 2020

Running Time: 5 hours

I have found that when it comes to Big Finish, and maybe just anything Doctor Who related, the things I am looking forward to most are the next instalments for the Eighth Doctor and the War Master.  I have long enjoyed McGann’s interpretation of the Doctor...but the evil machinations of Derek Jacobi’s War Master have been really great to listen to.  Luckily, we get the two brought together again here in this latest War Master set. I can say I recommend the set, but if you want some more details I will have some SPOILERS AHEAD:

The set begins with the Master being tasked by the Celestial Intervention Agency with tracking down and capturing the Doctor, who is allegedly up to something the Time Lords are frowning upon.  In the opener The Edge of Redemption, the Master begins his search by putting together a ragtag team to get to a remote planet and find the Doctor, but in order for the pilot to take the Master there, they must steal back his ship.  This is essentially a simple heist story, but it is a great way to launch the story and introduce the new characters.  

The Master and his pilot are on the way to the Doctor but are boarded by Space Pirates.  The leader of the Pirates wants to kill the Master as he played a heavy role in her downfall.  This episode, titled The Scaramancer after the lead pirate, ends in a great big twist.  I had been thinking that usually in the War Master sets, he plays the good guy for a good chunk until it no longer serves his purpose, but even then you can usually tell he is scheming. I had this weird sense that he was seemingly being too good this time around and that maybe Big Finish was starting to make him seem too much like the Doctor, they were lacking that underlying sense of evil that usually comes with the character.  And then they drop the bombshell...he isn’t the Master at all...but the Doctor. 

The third episode, The Castle of Kurnos 5, goes back and explains how the Doctor ended up looking like the Master.  In essence, the Master is planning to get some sort of grand weapon created by a long-dead crazy Time Lord scientist, so the Master resurrects his mind on a planet where the Time Lord once set up shop, but the Doctor is on his tail trying to figure out what he is up to. But the Doctor snooping around was all a part of the Master’s plan.  He intended for the Doctor to find him, swap bodies with him, which while the Time Lords wouldn’t be fooled for long, would at least give the Master enough time to get away and make his way to the weapon.  

The set closes with The Cognition Shift which has the Doctor (in the Master’s body) finally catching up to the Master (in the Doctor’s body) and finding a way to put a stop to the Master’s evil plan...which is one of his bigger and more mad ideas.  The true joy of this finale is McGann having a go at playing the Master, while Jacobi gets a chance at the Doctor.  Both are always so good in their usual roles, it is no real surprise that they can also nail swapping them for an episode.  

Honestly, I don’t think a Big Finish series has been more consistently good than the War Master.  I love McGann as the Doctor but even I can admit that his sets and ongoing stories aren’t always top-notch.  I usually end up liking them for nothing more than his portrayal as the Doctor.  But the stories in the War Master sets have been so fantastic.  The evil of the Master showcases the horrors of the Time War far better than the Time War sets focused on the Doctor can.  Even the John Hurt sets had to keep the Doctor firmly in the role of hero, but having an utterly evil bastard at the heart of the Time War makes the stories far more engaging than any other foray Big Finish has had into that era of the Doctor Who lore. I can’t recommend this enough. 






Masterful (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Friday, 19 February 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Masterful  (Credit: Big Finish)

Writer: James Goss, Geoffrey Beevers, Simon Guerrier, Trevor Baxendale

 

Director: Lisa Bowerman, Nicholas Briggs, Ken Bentley

 

Featuring: Geoffrey Beevers, Mark Gatiss, Michelle Gomez, Derek Jacobi, Eric Roberts, John Simm, Alex Macqueen, Milo Parker, Jon Culshaw

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released: January 2021

Running Time: 4 Hours (Standard Edition)

8 Hours (Limited Edition)

It has been 50 years since the Master made his first appearance in Terror of the Autons, and as such, the character is being celebrated by Big Finish in a big way. Almost every incarnation of the Master still alive comes together in the story “Masterful.”

Before we begin, can we just discuss how difficult it can be to discuss multiple versions of the Master? With the Doctor, we have definitive numbers, but the Master never really got that. This issue is only complicated by the multiple Masters from spin-off media where their placement in the timeline is not always clear. Sure there is the “War Master” and “Missy” but do we call Simm “Saxon”? I will likely just use the actor’s name to help clarify which incarnation is being discussed, with the War Master and Missy being possible exceptions.  

At any rate, this story involves the Simm Master bringing several of his past incarnations together, as he claims he has finally won and is the ruler of the universe. Missy shows up and is bent on exposing him to be just as big a failure as the rest of them, and scatters the Masters in time. But they all seem to land somewhere connected to the same planet and event.  

All of the Masters together is really what this is all about.  Almost all the TV Masters (up to Missy) are represented with Beevers, Simm, Jacobi, Gomez, and Roberts reprising their roles.  The Ainley Master is brought to life (sort of) by Jon Culshaw.  Delgado’s Master does not appear, as the Time Scoop meant for him has accidentally taken Jo Grant instead (well...he did PUSH her into it).  In addition to those incarnations, we also get two Big Finish originals: the Alex Macqueen Master who appeared alongside McGann a few years ago and the Mark Gatiss Master from an Alternate Universe (from the Unbound series from even longer ago).  Milo Parker also appears as the first incarnation of the Master, who is still a teen and hasn’t quite gone completely evil yet.  

Having all these Masters bounce off of each other is the real joy. I must say I find the meta-humour that comes with Missy doesn’t always work for me. Too often the joke seems to be “boy I sure am an evil mustache twirler, huh?” and it feels like it is always undercutting the character’s impact.  At least they tried to do something more with her in Series 10, but in general, this was her characterization.  Too self-aware for my tastes. I could’ve used more Simm in the story, as I think he is a great incarnation.  Give me a boxset with him battling Tennant or even a later incarnation!  For my money, the best story for any Master once they are separated is the Beevers version.  His tortured and decaying body, constantly in pain but somehow finding some form of possible happiness?  That is interesting stuff. 

As a standalone story celebrating the Master?  This is good stuff.  It showcases what a varied character he has been throughout his many portrayals over the years.  It is a shame that Delgado and Ainley are both gone, it would be so nice if they could be better represented...but having Katy Manning there is a nice way to nod to Delgado, and Culshaw’s impression is pretty dead on.  But I think this is a good story to celebrate 50 Years of Obeying the Master.  

If you are considering opting for the Limited Edition version of this story, you get three bonus stories - two previously released Short Trips, and a new three-part enhanced audiobook that takes place in the UNIT years and features the Delgado Master. 

The First Short Trip, titled I Am the Master and is written and read by Geoffrey Beevers, as he details a bit about himself and one of his many schemes. Beevers is really good in the role, and it makes me wish we got a bit more of him on TV.  I like Ainley and all...but Beevers could have been great with more time in the role.  The Second Short Trip, The Switching is about the Delgado Master, still imprisoned by UNIT after the Daemons, managing to perform a body swap with the Doctor, hoping to escape Earth and leave the Doctor trapped in a prison cell to pay for the Master’s crimes.  It’s a fun little story. The boxset comes to an end with the three-part Terror of the Master read by Jon Culshaw.  It’s a solid adventure that feels very much in tone with the era in which the Master originated.  I could easily picture this story as a TV story in that era.  And as a tribute to Delgado and the era that invented the Master...I think it is fitting.  

This is a big boxset with a lot of content to enjoy.  If you enjoy the Master, Big Finish has given the character quite the tribute.  I think if you are curious which version to get, I would say most fans would get plenty out of the standard edition version.  The Masterful story is more than enough to satisfy the craving for a Master tribute.  Terror of the Master is enjoyable enough, but if you want a fitting tribute to the original Master?  It may honestly be just as well to just watch a classic serial featuring Delgado.  His debut season is soon to be released on blu-ray, pick that up instead.  The two Short Trips are both older releases and you can pick them both up now for about $5.  But I do recommend fans of the Master give Masterful a shot...it is a nice way to celebrate the Master’s big milestone. 





Time Lord Victorious: Short Trips: Master Thief / Lesser Evils (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Monday, 1 February 2021 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Master Thief / Lesser Evils (Credit: Big Finish)

Written by Sophie Iles & Simon Guerrier 

Directed by Lisa Bowerman

Narrated by Jon Culshaw

 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom)

Released: October 2020

Running Time: 80 Minutes

The Master, two incarnations actually, gets in on the Time Lord Victorious action via this Big Finish release featuring two Short Trips, both read by Jon Culshaw. The first features the Delgado version of the Master, while the second follows the Ainley version. 

In the first tale, “Master Thief,” the Master has stolen the de-evolution weapon featured prominently in the second Eighth Doctor TLV story, “Enemy of My Enemy,” and now is inflicting it on several people on a planet, but as he does so he begins to lose his edge. Disintegrating his enemies into a pile of primitive ooze has somehow softened him, and it ultimately leads to his downfall. 

The second story, “Lesser Evils” has less focus on action and the Master ripping through anyone in his way, and is a far smaller character piece. The Master is quietly defending a race from the Koturrah...but why? 

I enjoyed both of these short little entries, though I am unsure how important they are to the overall Time Lord Victorious story. Then again with every entry trying hard to not rely too much on other media in the story, who is to say what is very important to the whole thing? Culshaw is a solid narrator, his versions of each Master is good (his Ainley is very good, and while his Delgado doesn’t sound perfect, he captures something of the essence). For quick bite-sized adventures in this big arc, they are worth your time. 





The War Master: Anti-GenesisBookmark and Share

Sunday, 12 January 2020 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
Anti-Genesis (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Nicholas Briggs & Alan Barnes

Directed By: Scott Handcock

Starring Derek Jacobi,  Mark Gatiss, Seán Carlsen, Nicholas Briggs, Zaraah Abrahams, Pippa Bennett-Warner, Vikash Bhai, Daniel Brocklebank, Richard Clifford, Ben Crystal, Christopher Harper, Will Kirk, Jordan Renzo, Gavin Swift, Franchi Webb

Released by Big Finish - December 2019

I flat out love Big Finish's War Master series.  It has got to be their most intriguing series of Who spin-off material they currently offer.  Seriously...look at the bulk of their line-up of spin-off stuff. Most of it is friends of the Doctor adventuring and investigating aliens on their own.  The War Master...it is this deep dive into the truly dark nature of the Time War.  Derek Jacobi is so damn good in the role, as he constantly schemes to take advantage of the Time War for his own gain.  Constantly finding some evil plan to wreak havoc in his own way, and use the Time Lords and hte Doctor's preoccupation with the War to have a little fun of his own.  

In the latest set, he gets the hold of something called the Anti-Genesis codes, and as such he is able to break an unwritten rule of the Time War...neither side is meant to go back and keep the other side from ever existing.  That is how the war started essentially (as the seeds of the Time War were essentially planted with the Fourth Doctor story "Genesis of the Daleks" in which the Doctor is sent by the Time Lords to keep the Daleks from ever being created, and fails to do so).  

But the Master has his own plans.  He gets the codes, uses it to go back to the moment of Davros' accident in which he was horribly disfigured, and gets Davros to not be in the safety of his lab where he was merely disfigured, but is instead killed by a dropping bomb.  Then the Master himself takes his spot in history...he still creates the Daleks but in his own vein.  

It begins to unravel the universe slowly...at first in small ways, but eventually, it unmakes Gallifrey to a point where the Time Lords don't exist. Original Davros created Daleks team up with an Alternate version of the Master played by Mark Gatiss (reprising a role he played in Big Finish's Unbound series from yesteryear) in order to undo the War Master's plan...as it is essentially unmaking reality. 

What I love about this series is that the Master doesn't have the counterpoint of the Doctor to stop his evil plans.  He just does downright awful stuff; ruins lives, kills, destroys, emotionally scars people just for a laugh...and he often wins in the end. But in this one, the Master goes to gloat, he finds just a few weak Gallifreyans who know nothing of him, the Time Lords and barely even of the Daleks. And since he had the Doctor killed years earlier...he has no one to laud his accomplishment over...and then even his Daleks turn on him, just as they had with Davros in the original timeline.  

And so, the War Master must use the slice of his original reality (the Dalek Time Strategist's ship) to undo the damage. His hollow victory isn't worth dying for...because if it is one thing the Master never wants to do, it is destroy himself.  So he goes back in time, stops his former self, and then is trapped with the Daleks who offer to return his TARDIS to him as long as he helps them and gives them the secrets of the TARDIS...a set up for the next set I am sure.  

Anti-Genesis the best War Master boxset yet.  Its story flows naturally and builds brilliantly (it flows so naturally from episode to episode I didn't even feel the need to do an episode by episode review this time around).  I'll admit the third episode got a tad confusing with all the alternate timelines and jumping about...but overall the story was great and I must recommend it for any fans of the Master. 



Associated Products




The War Master: Rage of the Time Lords (Big Finish)Bookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 July 2019 - Reviewed by Ken Scheck
The War Master: The Rage of the Time Lords (Credit: Big Finish)

Written By: Tim Foley & David Llewellyn

Directed By: Scott Handcock

Starring Derek Jacobi, Paul McGann, Mina Anwar, Taj Atwal, Paul Clayton, Lu Corfield, Su Douglas, Ryan Forde Iosco, Youssef Kerkour, James MacCallum, Shvorne Marks, Ricky Nixon, Katherine Pearce, Laura Riseborough, Anjela Lauren Smith, Liz Sutherland-Lim, Dominic Thorburn

Released by Big Finish - July 2019

 

 

As much as I have enjoyed Big Finish's exploration of the Time War the last few years, I don't think any series they have running explores this corner of the Doctor who universe better than The War Master. While the Gallifrey series has taken to exploring the political consequences on the Time Lord's homeworld in an interesting way, it is still exploring the earliest days of the conflict and is all about the political strife that comes with it. The War Doctor and Eighth Doctor series did/do a  good job of exploring the Time War and it's effects on the universe, but the Doctor as the lead character does limit how far they can take the concept.  Even the War Doctor has to be inherently good, otherwise the audience may turn on him.  They could only take the character too dark.  But that isn't the case with the War Master, you can take him as dark and deep as you want, as as such, you can really explore the cruelest aspects of the Time War.  

Throughout Rage of the Time Lords, the Master is collecting unique individuals for nefarious reasons (what else), and this plot begins with The Survivor.  He has infiltrated a small rural British town during World War II, posing as a Minister and has taken a particular liking to a young girl named Alice.  He tricks her into causing some trouble, culminating in her hurting another girl, and then he exploits this to turn the entire town against her, and then takes her away.

In The Coney Island Chameleon the Master chases down an Italian Strongman and a girl who can change her skin to match her surroundings (even taking on the properties of brick walls and velvet curtains), seemingly after the young girl and her powers.  Here the Master doesn't make any attempt to play a good guy, and is more of a sinister figure from the outset. First offering to buy the girl, then chasing them down until he gets what he wants.  

From there we travel off of Earth, to a facility where the Master has been keeping all of his specimens. We find that he is working on creating some kind of weapon from all these beings he has collected and caged.  The Master is searching for the very thing that will complete his project, the titular Missing Link, and finally he arrives:  The Doctor.  Obviously a big draw for this set is that we get to hear Derek Jacobi's Master face off with Paul McGann's Eighth Doctor.  And it's worth it.  The moment McGann shows up I perked right up....and I'd been loving the set up this point.  

The big finale for the set comes in Darkness and Light, and sees the Doctor forced to help the Master as his creation, The Rage, breaks loose in the facility.  It's a great ending to the set, fun to hear Jacobi and McGann spar...and the conclusion for the Doctor is painful and sad...but totally works. 

The set is excellent. Not a bad story in the bunch.  The build-up to the Mastyer's plan, the introduction of the Doctor in the back half, the reveal of the Master's scheme: it is all perfectly executed.  And the fact that the Master is a villain means that Big Finish can truly explore the most sinister aspects of the Time War.  Highly recommended. 






Doctor Who - The Fourth Doctor - The Syndicate Master Plan Volume 2Bookmark and Share

Saturday, 16 March 2019 - Reviewed by Matt Tiley
The Syndicate Masterplan: Volume 2 (Credit: Big Finish)
Writer: John Dorney
Director: Nicholas Briggs
 

Big Finish Release (United Kingdom):

First Released: February 2019

Running Time: 4 hours

Time's Assassin – GUY  ADAMS

 

"Please! Don't explain you're nefarious plot - I don't think I can bear it!"

The true identity of the Director has been revealed and he wants vengeance upon the Doctor for past crimes….

But the Director is not the only danger to the crew of the TARDIS. Deadly experiments are coming to a head, and everyone’s life is at risk.

However, the greatest threat is yet to come. The Syndicate’s plans are in motion….and no one is safe from them.

When we left the Doctor and Ann at the end of the last episode (and volume) they were still stranded and in peril. Jon Culshaw was chewing scenery, and monsters were about to be unleashed. Part two is much the same, and provides some major hints and themes of the coming episodes, further developing this series story arc as all really is not what it seems.

Writer Guy Adams ensures that events in this second part of the story proceed at breakneck speed. He has a real feel for the characters.

The story is a lot of fun, with major call-backs to this classic era of the show. There are lots of growling monsters, moustache twirling villainy. There is also a rather dashing rescue from a very special ‘Old Girl’ that made this listener grin like a ten-year-old.

 

Fever Island  – BY JONATHAN BARNES

 

"Not at all, Mr Vain....what I expect of both of you, is to die....horribly!"

Jason Vane is England’s suavest secret agent, and today he is on his deadliest mission yet. Tracking down the evil Okulov….before he destroys the world.

The Doctor, Ann and K9 are, in contrast finding their own mission a little hard to complete. A strange storm in the vortex has swept them back in time, back to Earth in 1978, and to a strange place called ‘Fever Island’.

A place where their worst nightmares are about to come true….

From the above, you can deduce that Fever Island is a James Bond spoof….of sorts anyway. But it is actually quite a bit more than that, and a great deal of fun. The story twists reality in such a way that Tom Baker and John Leeson get to play an evil megalomaniac and his fierce sidekick, Severous. I thought the writing by Jonathan Barnes was excellent, a great balance pastiche, tension and humour.

The cast is perfect – with the stand out being Gethin Anthony as Jason Vane, who plays the role with oodles of very ironic smarm.

 I wasn’t really looking forward to Fever Island from its story summary, but it turned out to be a real gem.

 

The Perfect Prisoners Part 1  – JOHN DORNEY

 

You know what they say K9? If it aint broke, don’t adjust the polarity.”

The Doctor, Ann and K9 are hot on the trail of The Syndicate, and straight into trouble.

After contending with killer robots and dangerous aliens, the clues lead straight to a machine that can literally make you dreams come true. A device that in the wrong hands could lead to misery for millions.

But who’s the real villain here? And what exactly is their masterplan?

The Perfect Prisoners stats at a breakneck pace, with the Doctor and Ann already well into an adventure, in fact we catch up with them as danger draws in and hope seems lost. The Perfect Prisoner could almost be a direct sequel to The Daleks' Master Plan. If you thought that The Syndicate Masterplan was cannon heavy, wait a while.

I’m probably going to disappoint you now Reader, I was never a plan of The Daleks' Masterplan. To me, it felt that the Daleks had already been heavily overused, and I found the plot just….dull. So it was with some trepidation that I started listening to this story, especially when I realised it was four episodes. I couldn’t have been more wrong.  All four parts positively romp along. The characters are all integrated perfectly, and there isn’t a lot of presumption that you know The Daleks Masterplan inside out. The twists come thick and fast, as do the clever sleight of hand that seems around every corner.

 

The Perfect Prisoners Part 2 – JOHN DORNEY

 

“Geronimoooooooo!!!”

Secrets have been revealed, and the Doctor and his friends at least know who they’re fighting.

An epic journey across space leads them to the true mastermind of The Syndicate conspiracy.

Alliances will shift. Friends will die. Can even the Doctor come out of this alive?

As we emerge surprisingly quickly from the last cliff-hanger and catch our breath from a very dramatic rescue, courtesy of K9, we barely get time to take stock of events before we are being whisked off to a climax that looks hopeless for the Doctor.

Throughout these two volumes, there have been double-crosses and twists galore, and this final episode delivers even more, alongside a rather splendid dose of sleight of hand, which I do not want to spoil.

17011 ties these volumes up perfectly, picking up all the loose threads, and tying them neatly together. I’ve really enjoyed the character of Ann, and I love the way that Big Finish, Jane Slavin, and the writers involved have treated her, and let the character evolve over these two volumes, all coming pretty much full circle here, and leaving the Doctor (literally) a very different character than when she joined him. Well done Big Finish.