It’s hard to believe that eighteen months ago, we learned of the return of the most terrifying (and brief) incarnation of the Master to the Whoniverse. Since then, we have had news upon news, but also release upon release featuring the enigmatic Master of War. From his reintroduction at his final act in the Time War, to his excursion with Leela in the machinations of Gallifrey, and even a chance to meet some new old friends in UNIT. But now, just before he joins a menagerie of Masters to do battle with the Doctor’s wife, we have a tale… a fairytale… about a voice… at the bottom of a well…and why you should never listen to it…

The normal structure of a review of these kinds of boxsets is to talk about each individual episode. That can, and will, be done here. But there’s something to note before continuing. Well, multiple things really. Firstly, this is a prequel to the 3 latter stories of the first set. (So, if you need an introduction to the world of the War Master, Big Finish have provided the first episode of that set for free!) Secondly, whilst each episode is unique with what it tells, this is really one huge 4 hour story just broken into chapters. Everything in it is connected and each episode flows from one to the next, despite it seeming like each episode is its own thing. Thirdly, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS AFTER THE SYNOPSIS!

Call of the Dead by James Goss.

We start off with a set up story. You’ll understand why that term was used soon. Regardless, it’s a War Master story by James Goss, so high hopes already a single word is uttered. Elliot King is a man on the verge of breaking. Leader of the mining colony of Callous, a mine with a precious metal that no one can get without going mad. A money hungry Governor that no one can touch due to her mercenary army. The only hope is a single Ood with a phone… for the recipient on the other end has some choice words for Mr King…

Much like Beneath The Viscoid was for Volume One, this is a set up story for the remainder of Volume Two. However, instead of showcasing the main character, Call of the Dead showcases the wider world of the story. As such, Goss does the smart thing and keeps the Master isolated from the other players at the start. He is then far more foreboding and terrifying once he starts getting into the heads of everyone. As for everyone else, they all do marvellous work. Simon Ludders as the broken and exhausted Elliot King. Barnaby Edwards as the loyal but independent Jaques. Pippa Haywood as the smooth talking but greed filled Teremon. The whole of the cast brings their A-game to this world builder. As for our protagonist, well, it seems better to talk about them once they’ve taken centre stage…

The Glittering Prize by James Goss.

Following from his foreboding world builder, Goss gives us a story where The Master takes centre stage. Following her takeover of the family business, Cassandra King, her wife Martine, and their generous benefactor, Mr Orman, have turned the colony of Callous into a thriving utopia. But as the good days roll in, a sinister reminder keeps popping in. And when she comes for her bounty, will the people of Callous succeed in their resistance? Or will they discover something, or someone, even worse?

As the antithesis to his previous story, Goss has crafted a tale that starts off light and cheery, but as time continues the sinister undertone becomes more apparent. This time the undertone is not just of Jacobi’s Master biding his time, but also of the secondary antagonist, the corrupt governor Teremon. Not only in this episode, but across the whole box, she displays a demented mind-set that can rival that of even the Master. Alongside Jacobi and Haywood, we have the incredible talents of Maeve Bluebell Wells as Cassandra King, daughter of Elliot and an even more ruthless entrepreneur! Samantha Béart as Martine, Richard Earl, Kai Owen, Angela Bruce and David Menkin as the Callous villagers, all give a performance that makes every word believable.

The standout however has to be the brilliant Silas Carson as the Ood, still reprising the role after twelve years, and still finding new ways to terrify us with it! If only we could have the Ood meet Sutekh…

The Persistence of Dreams by Guy Adams.

At the halfway mark Guy Adams takes over writing duties, starting with a tale that could rival The Sky Man for how amazingly written and how brilliantly twisted it is. After their excursion with the relentless Teremon, Martine King finds herself separated from the rest of the Callous resistance. Trapped floating in space, with only an Ood for company. But she then discovers that they are not alone… but are they really? What is real life? What is fantasy? And can Martine escape back to reality?

Much like the first tale by Goss, Adams’ first story for the set is also very Master-lite, yet the repercussions of his actions are felt by the protagonist of this tale. Whilst it is Samantha Béart who gives the standout performance as the centre of the story, Jacobi and a few of the other cast get a chance to not only take on new roles, but also gloriously chew the scenery in such a way that it does not detract from the true horror of what is happening to Martine. In Volume One, Goss showcased how a good intention can spiral out into a devastating reality. Here, Adams showcases hows a devastating reality can spiral into a hopeful intent… even if the intent is never fulfilled…

Sins Of The Father by Guy Adams.

Adams closes the set with a finale that seems set to be a triumph for the characters, but then you remember, this is a War Master boxset! Governor Teremon is launching her ultimate attack on the residents of Callous, and separated from her lifelong partner, Cassandra King has a plan to stop the corrupt governor. All they need to do is rescue Mr Orman from her clutches. But today, they will discover the truth behind their mysterious benefactor… and the truth behind the Master’s long game…

Adams sets up a grand finale that seems to go the way you’d normally expect for a finale in the Whoniverse! Then you realise that this is a story where the Master is centre stage, the rug is not only pulled from beneath you, but there is a part of you that willingly allows it to happen! Once again, the cast are phenomenal, with all of them getting a chance to shine in each of their roles. But, of course, the highlight has to be Derek Jacobi, who finally gets to embrace the selfish, maniacal, manipulative madman that his Master has proven to be. Once again Jacobi’s performance is not only terrifying, but properly unsettling. Much like Geoffrey Beevers, his voice and performance creep their way into your mind, and will never leave, no matter what you do.

Overall

You’d be forgiven for thinking “HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY FOLLOW UP A PERFECT BOXSET LIKE ONLY THE GOOD?!” Not only have they managed it, but have made something that could be considered even better. A well-crafted four part epic by Goss and Adams. Spectacular and haunting performances by Jacobi and his cohorts. Intense and immersive music and sound design from Rob Harvey. All directed by the glorious Scott Handcock into a package of stories that can rival most drama series made by HBO and AMC. The War Master: The Master of Callous is not just a brilliant box set worthy of investment, but is also a true statement of the modus operandi of the War Master: Ruthless, uncaring, terrifying, he is the Master, and you will obey him, at your peril…

The War Master: The Master Of Callous is available now from Big Finish Productions for purchase on CD and Download, and other stockists from March 2019.

Synopsis

A brand-new four-part adventure featuring the Master’s exploits in the Time War.

On the mining colony Callous, Elliot King struggles to meet the demands of its governor, Teremon. The odds are stacked against him, and his options are running low. The world that once promised dreams now offers only despair.

A wild Ood stalks the forests, carrying an antiquated phone. The caller promises much – he claims he can change the world – but he always speaks a devastating truth.

He is the Master and the Ood will obey him… but to what end?

1. Call for the Dead by James Goss.
2. The Glittering Prize by James Goss.
3. The Persistence of Dreams by Guy Adams.
4. Sins of the Father by Guy Adams.
Written By: James Goss and Guy Adams.
Directed By: Scott Handcock.

Cast

Derek Jacobi (The Master), Silas Carson (The Ood), Maeve Bluebell Wells (Cassandra King), Samantha Béart (Martine King), Simon Ludders (Elliot King), Pippa Haywood (Teremon), David Menkin (Herschel), Barnaby Edwards (Jaques), Richard Earl (Sassanby), Kai Owen (Porrit), Joe Shire (Calia), Angela Bruce (Mother), Wilf Scolding (First Soldier) and Tom Forrister (Second Soldier). Other parts played by members of the cast.

Producer: Scott Handcock.
Script Editor: Nicholas Briggs.
Executive Producers: Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs.

The War Master: The Master of Callous is available now from the Big Finish website. The title is priced at £23 on CD and £20 to Download. The Big Finish App, available on Apple and Android devices, also makes listening even easier. It is also a free app to download, just search in your app store.

SPOILERS!!!!!!

We did warn you. Not only are we graced with a trailer for Volume 3, where The Eighth Doctor and The War Master will finally face off, but also a rather unexpected cameo from Sean Carlsen as Narvin. This helps to tie The Master of Callous not only into Jacobi’s appearance in Gallifrey: Time War, but also linking to his eventual fate in the first War Master set. As well as being a neat cameo tying everything together, and showing the beginnings of the extent the Time Lords will go to in order to win, it shows that Messrs Briggs, Haigh-Ellery, Handcock et al. have a true grasp at what they’re doing with their Time War Saga. The only question now is, what will happen in the next chapter of the Eighth Doctor’s own excursions in the Time War? Only time will tell…

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