If this is the end for this series, it at least goes out in a way that (almost) feels like a satisfying end point.
Sir Derek Jacobi’s outstanding run as the War Master on Big Finish has been a very special journey for fans of not only the character but of the venerable actor himself. Rumour has it that this will be the last in the main War Master adventures (and certainly this set puts a fairly hefty full stop on proceedings) but could Big Finish really let one of its more successful franchises go so easily?
The Master is dying and he asks for one last thing from the Time Lords. What follows is a complete rewriting of established Doctor Who lore that goes back to the earliest days of the program. Without spoiling too much of the plot, it takes a Master to defeat a Master (unless there is a Doctor in the house) and Mark Gatiss puts in a stellar performance as an alternate universe Master (who first appeared many years ago in a now retired Big Finish series called Unbound). It is great to see Gatiss return to the Big Finish fold after many years of writing and starring in episodes of the modern series of Doctor Who.
The scripts by Nicholas Briggs (who also supplies the voices of the Daleks) and Alan Barnes are great fun for the most part. The biggest issue is the use of obscure characters from various other Big Finish audios that most listeners may not be acquainted with. It would not be so bad if the writers did not presume that we knew them and that we also cared what happened to them. It does add a certain continuity, granted, but feels like a little too much lip service is being paid to die-hard fans of Big Finish.
Aside from Jacobi, Gatiss and Briggs, the remaining cast do their jobs admirably. Special mention must be given to Seán Carlsen (Narvin), Pippa Bennett-Warner (Livia), Daniel Brocklebank (Yaren), and Richard Clifford (Novar) who do remarkable jobs in their particular roles.
Scott Handcock directs with his usual expert skill and keeps the various pieces of this puzzle flowing and interacting well, never letting the action sag too much. The sound design by Richard Fox is amongst some of his finest work to date and the music by Robert Harvey is suitably atmospheric. A lengthy bonus disc of interviews is included once again.
If this is the end for this series, it at least goes out in a way that (almost) feels like a satisfying end point. One suspects though, that should the lead actor and Big Finish feel so inclined, we may not have heard the last of the War Master.
Reviewed by Rodney Hrvatin
Distributed by: Big Finish Productions
Released: December 2019
Approx RRP: $45 CD, $20 Digital Download