The War Master- The Master of Callous

Posted in Audio by - December 08, 2018
The War Master- The Master of Callous

Released December 2018

SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW

Following a mesmerizing audio performance in Only the Good as the War Master who was only so tantalizingly teased in ‘Utopia’ on screen, Derek Jacobi has rightfully become one of Big Finish’s most prolific lead actors, having since appeared in both the Gallifrey and UNIT ranges as well. Now resuming to his own series, the Master returns to his manipulative and secretive roots as he works from the shadows to spread devastating truths on the isolated and failing mining colony of Callous so far away from the Time War.

James Goss opens The Master of Callous with ‘Call for the Dead,’ deliberately creating a slower pace to allow this world on the brink of collapse to vividly develop under the oppressive weight of Governor Teremon who is secretly looking to steal this world and its ore for herself. Given that the villainous Master is the de facto lead for this series, the world of Callous needed to feature a more overtly evil presence to allow its tale to resonate, and Pippa Haywood certainly steps into that role as Teremon implements taxes for future mined goods, knowing full well that the mines and its sueño content that is so useful for interstellar crafts cannot be accessed without a loss of sanity. Teremon has little remorse for anyone but herself and is unafraid of using the full might of her power as her defense of the world is more a controlled blockade that prevents native goods from reaching their intended off-world target and unwanted guests and items from reaching the surface. It’s through this latter aspect that Elliot King is best defined, not simply as a man who so long ago left his family behind to dedicate his time and resources to making Callous a success, but as a man who would go to any means necessary to provide the help his ailing wife needed, not knowing that that help never arrived as his wife’s pride kept her from asking.

In fact, the true strength of ‘Call for the Dead’ is in its portrayal of well-meaning but flawed characters, and those flaws become integral to the Master’s shrouded plot as a lone Ood walks through the forests with an antiquated telephone that connects the intended listeners to uncomfortable truths with fatal consequences. Yet as a series of unexpected deaths begins, it’s Elliot’s daughter, Cassie, who arrives to provide a beacon of light for this failing world even as public opinion turns and founder’s claims are cashed in to further add to the financial distress. Armed with a hundred trained Ood and a professional knowledge of mining techniques she is keen to implement, she soon finds that a more sinister force is lurking in the background, and the telephone call she receives is distinctly different from those before and hints at a very unique role she may play in future stories. Hardly the expected type of tale for a Master-led series as the Master very much stays in the background while the beginnings of his plan begin to take shape, ‘Call for the Dead’ features incredible setup work and bodes well for this set as a whole.

‘The Glittering Prize’ by James Goss flashes forward about a year to a time when the sueño mining venture under sole control of Cassie is once more successful and profits continue to increase. Fitted with improved biodampers that not only keep external mental influences at bay but lead them to ever purer samples of the ore, the Ood have proven instrumental to the revitalisation of this colony world that now finds passers-by using it as a port as well. Unsurprisingly,however, the Governor continues to see this success as only another opportunity to add to her own gains, and the increasing taxes and fees on top of a planned personal visit to the mine after hearing rumours about an especially pure sample found lead the colonists to consider taking furtive action knowing full well what she has intended. It’s in these moments that the outsider Mr Oreman who has recently proven so vital to increasing Ood efficiency and general well-being on the colony steps into the spotlight, nudging the colonists to take his desired course of action by furtively keeping the sueño out of the Governor’s hands. The Master has had many guises and personas over the years, but this role in which he has ingrained himself into this society and can speak openly to everyone around him in a friendly manner bolstered by his own helpful past actions is one of the most profoundly effective and plays to Derek Jacobi’s suave and debonair Yana-esque characteristics perfectly.

Though it’s obvious that the Master has far grander plans than simply helping Cassie and the colonists, this is the second straight serial in which the utterly ruthless side of Teremon features, allowing the Master to develop all the more effectively as he takes on a more benign role and Teremon’s pursuit of the ore takes to the stars as the biodampers below begin to falter and eerie repeated phrasing slips out of the Ood. Again showing how flawed but robust the characters introduced are, cowardice and bravery are on equal display as he and Cassie’s wife Martín head ever onward and find a stowaway on board, and the occupant of an ejected life pod that the Governor hauls in as Martíneffectively becomes the richest person in the sector brings villainy face to face with itself and excitingly sets the scene for what is to come. ‘The Glittering Prize’ may not be quite as effective as the very personal turmoil that featured in‘Call for the Dead,’ but it nonetheless moves the plot along in a logical and gripping fashion and sets plenty of pieces in motion for the final two serials while making the most of its charismatic leads and intriguing setting.

Guy Adams takes a surprising break from the overall narrative to offer an intimate character piece in ‘The Persistence of Dreams,’focusing not on the Master or Cassie King as might be expected but instead on Cassie’s wife as she fights to retain her sanity while waiting for Mr Oreman to return to the asteroid she finds herself on while in possession of the sueño mass. This is a particularly brave story in a four-story set because it ultimately has no direct bearing on the linking plot despite continuing the exploration of the King family members. It does tie up the loose end that Martín represented when the Master left her to find his way to Teremon’s ship and also shows how the Master comes to be in possession of the coveted sueño as was obviously always his plan,but these are details that could have easily been fit into a concise scene elsewhere while further fleshing out the state of Callous and its denizens along with their increasing tensions or at the very least while continuing to focus on and develop Callie since she has unwittingly been thrust into the protagonist role of this series.

Yet while the decision to focus on who so far has been a vital but nonetheless secondary character without truly making use of the lead trio of the Master, Cassie, and Teremon is an odd one that inherently makes this more of a placeholder tale, Samantha Béart deserves full credit for so realistically bringing Martín to life as she must confront the uncomfortable truths that pervade both her past and present while even assumed truths about her surroundings are called into question. Under the influence of prolonged exposure to the sueño, Martínin short order must come to terms with the poverty of her past and the difficult relationship she had with her mother that shares at least some similarities with the unspoken consternation that exists between Cassie and her as well. With only an Ood to accompany Martín and even that relationship and the basic inner workings of a food machine providing stunningly surreal experiences as she is forced to face herself with all pretenses and facades dropped, ‘The Persistence of Dreams’ in isolation is an incredibly strong example of the impactful storytelling Big Finish excels at and proves just how powerful this particular ore can be, but its choice of focal character for such an intimate exploration so far removed from the central conflict despite Martín’s importance to Cassie makes it an odd entry as the third in a series of four interlinked tales and shows the downside of the company’s increasing reliance on epic stories rather than individual releases since this story could shine all the more brightly in a non-Master set.

Guy Adams then closes out the set with ‘Sins of the Father’ with all niceties dropped and Teremon’s single-minded dedication laid bare as she comes up against a unique foe she cannot conquer. Though set within a very antagonistic framework complete with torture, Pippa Haywood and Derek Jacobi work incredibly well together as the Governor proves she has no moral bounds while continuing her search for the sueño. Of course, the Master has quite a different physiology and mindset than anyone she has come across before, and her trusted techniques to break her captive backfire spectacularly and only serve to break herself out of frustration instead. Yet as the stakes escalate even more with the entire colony in her crosshairs, the rise and fall of Callous that has formed the backbone of this set takes on an entirely more dangerous meaning as the Ood finally and fully succumb to the immense mental influence of the Master and likewise join in the immense battle as the scope of the Master’s plan and backup plan become known, leaving only devastation for the humans in its wake.

Naturally, this arc could not conclude without again returning to Cassie,here as she falls out of favour with the Governor by refusing her offers and supposed benevolent claims. Surprisingly but wisely, she’s not necessarily integral to the endgame of the Master’s scheme despite her importance in him getting to this point, and this allows ‘Sins of the Father’ to maintain the very personal exploration of the King family that has proven so vital to this saga as she likewise feels the influence of the sueño. This is a woman who had not seen her father in some ten years and accordingly had to build him up as a strong father figure in her mind to find peace, and it’s within this context that it makes sense why she has thrown herself so wholly into this mining operation to make her father’s decision and its repercussions on her own life make sense with meaning. Because Elliot gained prominence in the first serial, Cassie’s internal exploration is arguably more effective than Martín’s in the previous as father and daughter powerfully reunite and their necessarily fractured relationship is bluntly addressed, but the sueño once more proves to be a fantastic storytelling device that brings to the forefront the faults and insecurities of these characters simply trying to make a living on this greed-driven colony.

For many, the Master will always fit most naturally within stories that evoke the Third Doctor era given the character’s on-screen introduction and prevalence at that time, and the struggling colony world of Callous absolutely provides that backdrop. Indeed, with this serial clearly drawing inspiration from Joseph Conrad’s Nostromo complete with a descent into madness far from the main narrative, this world proves to be the perfect setting for this incarnation of the Master who has the charisma and charm to ingratiate himself to those around him as he ingrains himself in society to subtly put his plan in motion. While it is undeniable that the Time War and the Master as the Master may not feature as much as might be hoped, it does show how deliberate the Master can be with his plans and how successful he can be when revenge and spite are not his sole motives. Even the Time Lords are impressed with the haul of sueño he accrues as he poisons the well and helps their cause on multiple fronts, andthe origin of his fated chameleon arch is finally revealed as he reaps hisreward and hopes to be more difficult to trace. With the Ood likewise a naturalfit for the abilities of the Master as the status and rights of this slave raceare frequently called into question, the very polished The Master of Callous as a whole easily blends classic and modern Doctor Who and proves how much variability thrusting the Master into the spotlight can have, even if that means spending more time with him in disguise as an ostensible force for good than at his most overtly nefarious best.

This post was written by

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.