It speaks volumes to the esteem that Big Finish Productions have within the British acting community that actors with some considerable clout and celebrity agree to appear in their audio productions. Whether it is David Warner playing King Lear or the late Sir John Hurt playing the War Doctor, Big Finish always step up to the plate with quality work for their prestigious stars.
So we come to Sir Derek Jacobi, reprising his role as The Master from the television series of Doctor Who within the framework of the Time War between the Time Lords and the Daleks. When we met him in the TV episode, Utopia, he was mind-wiped and had no idea who he was. This series of adventures shows us how The Master got to that point. In this, Big Finish has succeeded immeasurably.
Jacobi is the most nuanced Master we have seen in quite some time. In fact, it is possible forget that he is meant to be the villain of the piece. It is to the writers’ credit that he is not some cardboard cut-out sneering monster. Given that the bulk of his most memorable roles have been as a hero, Jacobi’s performance reminds us of how well he can portray menace and threat.
He is ably supported by a strong cast including Jonny Green (Cole), Emily Barber (Elidh), Jacqueline King (Nihus), Mark Erstob (Glortz) and Nerys Hughes (Mrs. Wilson). They all bring their respective characters much depth and life. It is also always great to hear Nicholas Briggs doing his Dalek voices which he has become famous for!
The scripts, by Briggs, Janine H Jones, James Goss and Guy Adams, are engaging, moody and never feel padded or dull. Of the four episodes, it is hard to look past the third story (The Sky Man) as an absolute highlight, despite the fact that The Master plays little role in the events of that episode. That is not to say the other three scripts are weak, far from it in fact. The whole series plays out like a classical symphony with a strong opening movement, followed by a quick-paced scherzo-like second movement, a slower paced and more emotional third movement and then a glorious finale. It is a credit to director Scott Handcock that the episodes are so well paced and entertaining.
Kudos must also be given to Ioan Morris’ musical score which includes one of the finest theme tunes that Big Finish has ever created. The sound design by Peter Doggart is also up to the high quality of other Big Finish productions.
The set also includes an extended behind-the-scenes disc which details the production process as well as giving the listener some valuable insight into how an actor like Sir Derek Jacobi approaches his craft. It is also well worth a listen.
The War Master: Only the Good is a set to savour and enjoy time and again – at least until the next instalment.
Reviewed by Rodney Hrvatin
Rating out of 10: 9
Released by: Big Finish Productions
Released: December 2017
RRP: $41 (CD), $20 (Download)