The War Master: Solitary Confinement

Posted in Audio by - June 09, 2023
The War Master: Solitary Confinement

Released June 2023


With no memory of how he came to be there but sure that his incarceration is part of a larger scheme, the Master in Solitary Confinement finds himself in the Drane Institute as one of the galaxy’s most criminally deranged, armed only with stories of the past and his own sense of self as he waits for a greater plan to be set in motion.

Unlike nearly any other iteration of the Master that can certainly be charming and appealing when needed, Derek Jacobi has made an unassuming nature and kindness integral to his incarnation’s success, and Goss brings those elements to the forefront in the very intimate ‘The Walls of Absence.’ In it, the Master has quite literally lost his mind, and he has turned to the Code Purgers of Chift who have maintained an air of neutrality as the Time War approaches by fixing any and all errors they happen upon within the galaxy’s code. Progressively losing the ability to recall words and to discern certain colours, the Master presented here is at his most vulnerable and open, coming to rely upon Mendrix to uncover what is happening to him while both grapple with the uneasy possibility that he may not be the caring and gentle soul he appears to be in his current state as he looks to return to the war in whatever capacity he once served. Mendrix is steadfastly committed to this strange man, however, and as the two delve deeper into the Master’s psyche, and undeniable bond forms between the two, a bond that Derek Jacobi and Siân Phillips play in a wonderfully nuanced capacity that reveals more by subtle tones than grand overtures. While the sights of the approaching war and its obvious inclusion of time present a grim backdrop, this burgeoning romance of sorts makes the absolute most of Jacobi’s immense talents in a type of story that the Master so rarely features in with any incarnation, amplifying the more genteel nature here to brilliantly subvert the narrative by the story’s end to once more indisputably prove that this particular iteration may just be the most conniving, manipulative, and ultimately devastating of them all. The War Master is certainly willing to take risks and to even risk himself to an extent, but his foresight and ability to read and earn the trust of others is unrivaled, facets that continue to serve this series well by not allowing it to stagnate as so many series featuring a villain in the starring role otherwise might.

In Tim Foley’s ‘The Long Despair,’ the Master has enlisted the help of a determined captain to traverse the open seas of Mehr Kee to find the source of a distant, shining light. A light that has seemingly beckoned from afar for longer than anyone can remember, the quest for its source has claimed countless lives and inspired tales of terror featuring sea witches and an unquenchable thirst. The Master is determined, however, and not shying away from the fact that he is a stranger to these lands he finds a willing- if not exactly hospitable- accomplice in a man known simply as the Captain whose family knows all too well the perils of undertaking such a journey. Derek Jacobi and Jason Flemyng share a superb chemistry together as the two characters rather uneasily coexist with vast periods of little to no communication interspersed with brief periods of genuine emotion and even vulnerability. Indeed, while the Master can make short work of certain perils that have cost others their lives, even he is not fully immune to the unique dangers this ocean world presents, and the Captain’s willingness to continue on with the journey while tending to his infirmed colleague is a testament to that character and less overtly to this Master’s ability to ingratiate himself to others. Of course, the Master is more than willing to prey upon the good nature of others when it suits his needs, and when he discovers the temporal component of their journey and the terrifying display of those who had previously perished, his decision to leave the Captain to witness firsthand the collateral damage inflicted upon his world by the Time War rather than to alter history and this world’s fate altogether is shockingly brutal and effective as a means of further defining this incarnation’s callous and ruthless core. ‘The Long Despair’ is perfectly paced and features incredible narration from Jacobi to further accentuate the many nuances of the script and characters, making for a brilliant addition to this range that also makes the most of its starkly visual and dangerous maritime ambience.

Alfie Shaw delves into the paranoia surrounding electronic home assistants in ‘The Life and Loves of Mr Alexander Bennett’ as the eponymous man living a normal life and planning for the future begins to take advice from his new Maisu device that has access to seemingly all information no matter the scale. Naturally, the parallels to real life and an increasing dependence on technology in each and every aspect of life are obvious, and Jacob Dudman presents a very sympathetic and relatable central figure who is simply trying to find love and stability in his life and future. Unfortunately, while he is still willing to question certain suggestions being told to him, others are implicitly drawn and even compelled to fulfill Maisu’s requests, triggering a sequence of events that soon finds Bennett’s very life destroyed and any modicum of free will eliminated. While no attempt is made to hide the fact that Maisu is remotely connected to the Master and frighteningly amplifies the scale of control he can exert on any person or persons, the production as a whole does suffer somewhat from having Derek Jacobi in a rather muted and emotionless electronic role for the majority of its runtime rather than featuring him in his full Master persona conniving and manipulating with nuance and glee. This is by no means a slight against Dudman as Bennett, Kae Alexander as Mia Chan, Lucy Sheen as Michele Chan, or Amanda Shodeko who all impressively combine to imbue a tremendous sense of domestic life and its many implicit emotions to a range that often features much more grandiose schemes and images at its stories’ foundations, but heavily featuring Jacobi’s voice without the gravitas that the Master as a dynamic character demands is a glaring anomaly in a surprisingly intuitive and sensitive story. Nonetheless, it compellingly shows the extreme lengths the Master will go to in order to ensure he emerges victorious with his victims utterly at his command, showing a successful twist on the ‘Doctor-lite’ stories of the Tenth Doctor televised eras that just about manages to overcome the physical absence of its central figure.

Trevor Baxendale concludes Solitary Confinement with ‘The Kicker’ and the Temporal Inquisition taking an interest in the man claiming to be the Master who has been within the confines of the Drane Institute for so long. Through the first three stories of this set, not too much has been done with the fascinating premise of the Master as an inmate in an asylum aside from using it as a framing device for the individual stories, but ‘The Kicker’ toys with the very foundational imbalance that mental problems can cause, manifested here as an increasing questioning of identity and reality itself. Naturally, the presence of the Master is sure to draw attention to this facility, and even the Daleks checking in to see if the stories are true is a strong reminder of just how unique this individual is and the attention that he commands at any time. Eva Pope gives a commanding and authoritative performance as Sendaya who quickly finds herself off balance in front of the Master’s guile, and the unique atmosphere created by Silas Carson as Governor Drane, Lois Chimimba as Bartholom, and Jack Forsyth-Noble superbly unify the Master’s indisputable power and control over those around him with the perceived power and control others may perceive they have over him. The fact that Derek Jacobi remotely and asynchronously recorded his lines for this set makes this story’s pacing and cohesion all the more impressive, and he again expertly imbues a shrewd cunning and intelligence to his performance as the Master who can also so adeptly hide behind his unassuming visage. However, while ‘The Kicker’ manages to highlight a superbly nefarious and audacious scheme from the Master that completely twists everything at the Institute in a way that only he can, Baxendale takes events one step further and presents an even more profound twist that reframes this entire set. Unfortunately, this final revelation does feel somewhat underserved and underdeveloped, but it nonetheless highlights the lengths the Master will go to in order to achieve his goals away from prying eyes. It’s a very, very strong end to a very, very strong set as a whole and again proves just how fortunate Big Finish and fans of Doctor Who are to have Jacobi so willing to reprise this role over and over again.

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