Derek Jacobi is back in another four-story War Master set, and this time only the Doctor can save the day, if he ever arrives! This time Big Finish has set Paul McGann’s eighth Doctor in the way of events, but can even he stop the Master’s plans this time? It’s a strong set of stories, and worth spending some time exploring the strengths of each.
Tim Foley sets the wheels in motion with The Survivor. It’s the Second World War (on Earth) and Alice Pritchard is one of many frustrated by the threat of destruction, of how the world has changed and just what her place is in these much-changed times. Enter the local priest with motives very much of his own! There’s something mesmeric about Derek Jacobi’s voice that not only makes him ideal to play the Master, but also sets the tone for the whole story. It’s a gentle tale with swirling undercurrents of emotion and, of course, one or two dark secrets. Alice Pritchard (a strong performance by Katherine Pearce) will come to regret ever wanting to know more.
David Llewellyn takes over writing duties in the second story, The Coney Island Chameleon. The carnival is in town, and one of the acts, a woman capable of really changing her appearance, has attracted the attentions of one TS Mereath. While Derek Jacobi’s normal dulcet tones set the scene for the first story, in this we have an American accent in a tale of crooks, showmen and detectives. We realise now the Master is collecting people with rare if not unique talents and also enjoy a great story with a whole range of intriguing characters.
The first two stories give the listener a sense of the Master’s plans, but it’s the final two where we realise just how diabolical they are. The two stories form a whole piece, but we’ll take them individually.
Tim Foley returns with The Missing Link and we have Alice Pritchard back but now in a research centre populated by people quite happy to help the Master no matter how ethically dubious his intentions. We have a range of scientists, security people and victims in a coldly told tale of some horror. When the Doctor does arrive on the scene, something is holding him back, and best efforts aside, it looks like the Master will emerge victorious.
The story wraps in a second David Llewellyn tale, Darkness And Light. As ever the Doctor is forced to put his hatred of the Master to one side in cause of the greater good and we see the Master at his most manipulative. We get insight into the Time War, a sense of just how far Gallifrey might be prepared to go and how much further the Master tries to go in pursuit of a greater victory, his own.
Of course it ends with a status quo of sorts being established, and yet another reason for an incarnation of the Doctor to forget something that contradicts a story set in his future but already seen (in this case David Tennant’s Tenth Doctor not recognising Derek Jacobi as the Master in the TV episode Utopia).
Overall this is another good set, and fingers crossed for many more with this Master. If the previous set of stories disappointed some fans but putting the Master in the background for some of the time, this set will more than compensate. It’s another triumph.