Review of War Master: Rage of the Time Lords

With the volume of new releases from Big Finish recently, it’s very easy to get overwhelmed. Normally, I manage to identify one very clear “must have” each month, which I’ll get on its release, and then I can treat myself to one or two other stories if I have the money at the end of the month.

This month, Big Finish released this story matching McGann against Jacobi, the return of Lucie Miller, and the 20th anniversary extravaganza that is Legacy it Time. And that’s just the headline box sets. Needless to say, I’m now broke.

Derek Jacobi was always far too good an actor to be wasted on his single television showing as the Master, but Big Finish have done awesome job of rectifying this mistake. Jacobi is every bit the Master: elements of Beavers and Ainley, with a very distinctive gravitas and menace of his own. The idea of the Master coming into his own when his methods and amoral pragmatism are legitimised, and indeed actively sought after, by the Time Lord War Council both goes some considerable way to demonstrate how low Gallifrey stoops and wonderfully gives the Master a free reign like never before.

Having explored this version of the Master in Only the Good and The Master of Callous, as well as appearing in River Song and Gallifrey stories, he returns here for his third box set, Rage of the Time Lords and the story telling here is, if anything, even more confident.

Rather than have the Master as the main character in these stories, the writers instead choose to keep him back, as a sinister figure interacting with the story’s protagonist. The effect of this is that we, the listener, rather than invited along as a co-conspirators to his machinations, are instead lead into his web of intrigue, leaving his character dark and mysterious throughout.

The first story opens the box set perfectly. Our protagonist is Alice Pritchard, a would-be Doctor companion character, full of good intentions, strong willed and unwilling to be pushed around by the elitist attitudes of those around her. She seeks the support of the kindly Reverend, recently moved to the village, and we cringe as we watch her taken for a ride. This release, with its lovely depiction of the land girls, joins a number of recent Big Finish stories exploring WWII Britain.

While the second story has a similar seeming premise from the outset, and sets itself up as part of a series of deeds the Master is involved in, it holds its own expertly and succeeds in pulling an unexpected twist. The thing with these Master stories (both the War Master and Missy) is, by taking the trickster narrative, the listeners’ sympathies can often stay with the Master – obviously, we recognise he/she is bad, but we kind of want them to win. However, both of these stories have an emotional undercurrent from very strong protagonists that manage to keep your sympathies firmly away from the Master. He is cold, malevolent, and seemingly unstoppable. Rather than wanting him to win, we listen knowing that, despite all our sympathies, the Master is going to win.

Which leads us to the final two stories and the introduction of our beloved Doctor, as played by Paul McGann. Big Finish really should give a health warning before he appears in stories, as an unexpected encounter with that voice is bound to cause crashes, breakages and general fainting behaviour.

This two-parter is a genuine Doctor Who adventure, with the Doctor as the main character. However, what makes it quite so compelling is that, placed as it is in the Master box sex, and following on from the previous two stories, we genuinely do not know who is going to come out on top. At any given moment, it is not clear who is pulling who’s strings, and story leaves us guessing right to the end.

In conclusion, this release is an absolute delight and the writers, Tim Foley and David Llewellyn, deserve all the credit for the strength of the stories and the opportunities given to the actors throughout to show off their range.

If you’ve yet to buy this, do so now while it’s still at its preorder price. It’s the third in the series, and the other two are also very good, however Rage of the Time Lords stands alone very well and doesn’t require prior knowledge.

Buy it here