The War Master: Anti-Genesis is the latest boxset of audio dramas to chronicle the exploits of Derek Jacobi’s Master during the Time War; the temporal conflict between his own people and the Daleks.
The problem with a concept so unfathomable, however, is that us mere mortals can really only handle a small slice. Luckily, this particular set of stories finds a canny way into the Time War, employing a thrilling “what if?” scenario: the Master meddling with one of Doctor Who‘s holy texts, supplanting Davros as the creator of the Daleks. And it helps that this quartet of stories is written by Dalek Supremo Nicholas Briggs and Alan Barnes.
Anti-Genesis also draws together a roster of familiar players; Gallifrey‘s enduring CIA coordinator Narvin (Sean Carlson) and Lord President Livia (Pippa Bennett-Warner), the Time Strategist Dalek and an alternate incarnation of the Master, as played by Mark Gatiss.
From the Flames
Events begin with Narvin and his obsequious assistant Crazlus (Gavin Swift), dealing with a temporal incident. Lamarius, a Time Lord squadron leader, has transgressed the laws of time in order to save her family. Rather than enacting her death sentence, he instead puts her “on ice” for potential future use.
We then move to the Master, who’s putting into action a devious plan to gain access to the “anti-genesis codes”. Deemed too dangerous, the codes are locked within the Matrix as the fates of both the Daleks and the Time Lords are inextricably linked.
This is a clever opener, skilfully setting elements of the story in motion, and features a brilliant cameo from Jordan Renzo (Matteusz from Class).
The Master’s Dalek Plan
With possibly the best punning title ever, the second instalment sees the Master tighten his grip on the Kaled race. A memorial service writes off all the principal players from Genesis, wiping the narrative slate clean. Realising the scale of his plans, Narvin and Lord President Livia launch a counter offensive, deploying the aforementioned Lamarius to stop him.
From there, the tale revels in many Skaro favourites; mutations, handmines and all the unpleasantly aggressive flora the planet has to offer. We loved the Master calling himself Sorvad, a nod back to the old Doctor Who Magazine columnist, and the ensuing gags about anagrams. It was also deeply satisfying to hear Nicholas Briggs himself mutated into the first Dalek’s innards!
Who can stop the Master and his army of Daleks? With the Doctor dealt with in this new reality, it takes another Master. Drafted in from a different universe, this alternate incarnation has the unlikeliest of allies – refugee Daleks from the original timeline. Determined to reverse the War Master’s actions, they come to Gallifrey but find it ravaged by reality-altering temporal shockwaves.
We enjoyed seeing the changing fates of this parallel version of Gallifrey, with mentions of both vampires and sky trenches, and the uneasy alliance between the Daleks and the alt-Master is great fun!
He Who Wins
The story’s climax sees the Master triumphant, but haunted. Needled by the alternative Master, who recalls the Daleks’ betrayal of Davros, he increases in fragility and paranoia. We loved the interaction between the two Masters, with the Gatiss incarnation knowing exactly how push the War Master’s buttons.
Naturally, there is an inherent inevitability about the story – Dalek continuity, and the fate of the cosmos, must be restored. The manner in which it is done is both surprising and pleasing.
Anti-Genesis offers a clever reimagining of a Doctor Who classic, and it is fun to spend more time in the world of Genesis of the Daleks. As with the original, the Kaled/Thal conflict is side-lined and acts as a backdrop, but this is for the best; this is the Master’s tale, with a bravura performance from Derek Jacobi throughout. We especially enjoyed the start of ‘He Who Wins’, as he realises his victory over creation is rather hollow.
As far as we can see, there is nothing else currently on the slate for the War Master, save for an appearance in 2021’s Masterful. Let’s hope plans are being drawn up, as we would love to see him encounter some of the earlier Doctors!
As ever, this box set comes with a comprehensive set of interviews from both the writers and the cast. Also included is an amusing track with Derek Jacobi playing at voicing a Dalek, plus a music suite from Robert Harvey’s excellent score.