The War Master – Rage of the Time Lords

Posted in Audio by - July 07, 2019
The War Master – Rage of the Time Lords

Released July 2019

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

With all of time and space in chaos, the War Master undertakes his most audacious project yet as Big Finish’s ever-expanding look into the front lines and the sidelines of the Time War continues in The War Master: Rage of the Time Lords.

The brilliance of this incarnation of the Master is that he doesn’t necessarily need to be at the forefront of his schemes for them to come to fruition, instead capable of simply providing a key stimulus and nudging events forward as necessary. Writer Tim Foley captures this aspect perfectly while emphasizing the absolute charisma of Derek Jacobi in ‘Survivor,’ a story that puts the Master into the height of the Second World War. Rather than providing information or technology that could alter Earth’s history for his own nefarious gain, however, the Master here has his eyes set on the young Alice Pritchard who wants nothing more than to do her bit for King and Country as part of the Women’s Land Army. A genuinely kind-hearted individual, Alice is wholly dedicated to her cause and her way of life in these trying times, and she has always been taught to listen to the guidance of priests, a faith that the Master is all too willing to ruthlessly exploit when he hands her what can only be described as shrapnel from space and insists that she concentrate to change the world around her.

Katherine Pearce gives an incredible performance as this woman who so suddenly finds herself in the centre of strange occurrences that defy logical explanation and who must cope with the sudden re-appearance of Hannah Raleigh who has brought with her a certain socialite outlook on life and greater disregard for what Alice holds so dear. Indeed, Laura Riseborough and Pearce form a tremendous double act that speaks volumes about the characters’ shared histories and just what sets them apart despite their obvious similarities. It’s through these young women as well as Lady Raleigh and Judge Hale that this tight-knit community is able to develop so well, and although the use of the stellar Paul Clayton in a role with quite a few similarities to his lead role in Big Finish’s own Torchwood saga is quite glaring, a tremendous sense of history and community is apparent from the start, a sense that the Master gloriously upends by subtly but quickly turning public favour against the hard-working Alice while showing just how easily his own sudden appearance can be accepted and how easily he can sway the entire foundation and mindset of a group. ‘Survivor’ is a story high on intrigue and atmosphere, and tying the Master’s actions with the psychic abilities and secret history of Hannah into his collecting ambitions already highlighted in the most recent The Diary of River Song box set is a strong start to this most recent series of adventures that holds so much potential as the Master slowly progresses his latest plot.

On the other hand, David Llewellyn proves just how directly the Master can be involved in his scheme while subverting all expectations in ‘The Chameleon of Coney Island.’ Under the unassuming yet typical alias of TS Mereath, the Master sets his sights on the wondrous spectacles within the famed carnival and in particular one unique woman who can read minds and effortlessly blend in with her surroundings. The acts within the carnival know that not all people setting eyes on them are friendly, but Esther’s close companion and confidant Giuseppe the strongman finds himself forced to think hard about an audacious financial offer that would see the two part ways while providing him with the security he has never known and her with what is assuredly a good living situation. Some bonds cannot be broken so easily, however, and Taj Atwal and Youssef Kerkour instantly radiate the needed emotion to create the second dynamic pairing of this set as they quickly find themselves fighting for their very survival with Mereath always close behind.

Naturally, the Master could quite easily obtain his prey at any time he desires, and so this game of cat and mouse is all the more intriguing to follow as Giuseppe refuses to let Esther go in any capacity no matter the odds stacked against them. It’s with this straightforward progression that the Master proves his true deviousness, however, as he reveals that his assumed target is anything but and that his eye has been set on an altogether more unique prize that he has been testing all along. This is a wholly different tact for the Master than has been seen to this point, and the variety of approaches- congenially patient or heartlessly aggressive- he has at his disposal that work to equal effect in the proper situation again reaffirms just how dangerous this most unassuming of incarnations remains at every moment. With strong pacing and an excellent emotional core to more than make up for a fairly light and straightforward narrative, ‘The Chameleon of Coney Island’ keeps the momentum going with a scale that again encompasses intimate and grandiose and that adeptly feeds into the two-part main event of this set that has been teased for so long.

Tim Foley opens the two-part concluding act with ‘The Missing Link’ in which the Master along with his team of brilliant scientists on a desolate world in the far future continue their research on the assembled collection of individuals with highly unique abilities. It’s in this facility that listeners are reintroduced to Alice Pritchard who, contrary to the individuals who join the Doctor and experience the awe-inspiring wonders of the universe while fighting for good, has instead been strictly confined with experimentation into her psychic abilities forced upon her. The Master here is quick to point out that his people who are known as observers and pacifists have recently become soldiers in the Time War that is so much bigger than ordinary people could ever hope to comprehend, and although he is not strictly following the explicit orders of his people as they seemingly turn a blind eye, this is nonetheless a suitable reminder of just where this Master finds himself within Gallifrey’s continuity and how normalized his behaviour has become given the many other atrocities the Time Lords have been willing to sanction and commit.

Fittingly, ‘The Missing Link’ takes established preconceptions about the Master’s overambitious nature and wonderfully subverts them to again prove just how incredibly intelligent this antagonist truly is. Fractures are already forming within the Master’s ranks as HR squabbles persist to ground the possible destruction around them in the pedantry of realism, and the Master’s plan seems all the more doomed when Alice’s amplified powers allow her to find a vision of the Doctor within his mind and later reach across time and space to summon the Eighth Doctor to this locale. Not knowing how he came to be here or who he is up against, the Doctor nonetheless represents Alice’s greatest hope, and his own psychic abilities paired with Alice’s allow them to directly confront the man who has caused Hannah and so many others so much harm. Taking up a mysterious cause like this is perfectly befitting of the Eighth Doctor’s nature, and although his mind is clouded until the last possible moment because of an unwitting effect of Alice’s nature, Paul McGann and Katherine Pearce quickly form a strong chemistry that hints at just what a series of continuing adventures with these two could have been in another time and place. However, this story shows the Master at his very best, proving again to be a master of deception as everything that appeared to be going so wrong has instead been an intricate progression of his plan to bring the Doctor to this very spot, setting the scene for an immense finale now that both characters are squarely on the same page with the Doctor at a distinct disadvantage.

David Llewellyn concludes Rage of the Time Lords with ‘Darkness and Light,’ finally revealing the true scale of viciousness that the Master has incorporated into this brutal scheme. The Master is a man who can make the atrocities of genocide seem all that much worse by purposefully planning to keep one sole survivor at his side, and that he has worked tirelessly to distill the essences of some five hundred unique individuals into a conglomeration that presents the ultimate sentient weapon set to ravage all of time and space and put him on the level of a god is undoubtedly his most brazen and brutal plan yet. Again, the Master is armed with a justification of sorts given the very real dangers that the Time War and the Daleks pose, and even Gallifrey is keen to make use of the Master’s work if not the Master himself. Yet as phase ten reaches completion with the parts of a Time Lord unwittingly provided by the Doctor, the carnage and destruction of the previous phases seem as nothing compared to the capabilities of this learning infant who can already destroy and deceive so effectively. Indeed, as the death toll continues to mount with even the oblivious double act of Crantz and Stern that surely serve as an homage to the famed sycophantic Hamlet duo falling victim, it seems as though the Master’s careful and slowly-percolating plan is in danger of devastating collapse with the Rage’s spread through the cosmos all but ensured.

While it doesn’t happen too often given the divergent paths these one-time friends have taken, the Master and the Doctor united in a common cause is always a fascinating narrative opportunity, and Derek Jacobi and Paul McGann side by side certainly do not disappoint in the least. Ostensibly fighting for their very survival as the Rage continues to learn of its abilities while reading potential futures and distorting reality, the Doctor is shocked to learn that even the escapes of both this creature and himself have been carefully calculated and planned for by the Master in an attempt to train the Rage and fully develop its abilities. Tethered to the core of the universe and being fed a steady supply of antimatter from the very beginning of creation, the untold damage that the Rage can do is certainly not lost on the Doctor, and just as the Rage is composed of elements from so many distinct creatures, the very multifaceted elements of the personalities of both the Master and the Doctor to whom neither complete darkness nor light can be attributed prove to be their only hope with a nice nod to just how complex these individuals are and how utterly alike they remain beneath the obvious differences in decisions that have led to this point. The resolution is a bit easy compared to the tense and slowly-developing buildup, but the Rage still presents the perfect vehicle by which to explore the brilliant intelligence and danger of the Master and the complex relationship of these two Time Lords who remain so inexorably linked.

With another box set featuring the War Master announced and set to feature the Daleks and the Time War more directly, Rage of the Time Lords nonetheless provides another thrilling look into the very eventful life of this incarnation who was only so fleetingly seen on television before his regeneration. Again affirming just how charmingly charismatic yet relentlessly cruel he can be, this complex individual is a perfect fit for the Time War and the perfect foil for the Eighth Doctor who so desires to remain uninvolved in this conflict that has never received his approval. With stories ranging from small in scope with one character the focus to vastly epic with the entire universe at threat, Rage of the Time Lords with its strong scripts, performances, direction, and sound design always showcases its characters and provides another excellent example of the drama that can unfold with the Master squarely at its centre.

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