The War Master: Hearts of Darkness is the fifth boxset to chronicle the exploits of Derek Jacobi’s Master. Set amid the Time War, the storyline here steers clear of the Daleks in favour of a battle of wits between the Eighth Doctor and the Master.
As with most of the sets in this range, the four stories form a whole story and from a pair of writers – in this case David Llewellyn and Lisa McMullin.
David Llewellyn’s The Edge of Redemption is part heist movie, part Star Wars as he pulls together a small team. Their objective? To escape a planet on a ship currently impounded under the strictest of security. His motley crew includes Kriket, a desperate fixer, Ilya, a haughty gelatinous alien and the charismatic Captain Morski. With impressive twists and turns, this story is a great start to the set and introduces some promising characters.
Lisa McMullin takes over for The Scaramancer. Aboard Morski’s ship, the Domdaniel, the Master and his allies promptly find trouble when accosted by space pirates, led by the titular pirate captain who has a history with the Master, apparently. We also meet Dorada (Sandra Huggett), an ally of the Doctor on a mission of her own.
David Llewellyn returns for The Castle of Kurnos 5, as the narrative explores the events which led to the first two parts and the origins of the Master’s latest devious scheme. It involves not only the planet’s inhabitants, but the ghastly legacy of a long-dead Time Lord outcast. Roped into a rescue mission, the Doctor finds himself paired with a local leader and riding into what is clearly a trap. There is a mis-matched buddy movie vibe here, fused with some horror overtones and a few etymology gags – it makes for a pleasing blend.
Lisa McMullin draws all the threads together for The Cognition Shift, as we return to the present. Exploring the deeply inhospitable planet where the Doctor has installed himself. It is, naturally, virtually impossible to discuss this story without spoiling it!
With a couple of audacious plot twists, Hearts of Darkness will instantly demand at least a second listen. Pitching Derek Jacobi’s Master against Paul McGann’s Doctor once more does not disappoint; both are terrific form, playing different aspects of their characters as the situation demands.
As the principal companion here, or the nearest thing to it, Colin McFarlane is highly entertaining as the roguish Morski – think Han Solo, but unfettered by any conscience. Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo also impresses as the bombastic, capricious pirate, the Scaramancer.
Full of big characters and even bigger performances, this is Doctor Who as full-bloodied space opera, high concept with universal stakes. Matching the intensity of the drama, there is a terrific score from Ioan Morris throughout which is also provided as an isolated suite after each episode.
Next up for The War Master series is Killing Time, in August 2021, featuring some familiar faces. Naturally, the War Master will also be an appearing in January’s 40th Anniversary celebration of the character: Masterful.