The War Master is back, in this brand new boxset of audio adventures from Big Finish! Will The Master of Callous manage to replicate the brilliance of the first set? Read on to find out.
The second War Master boxset is a departure from the first in that it tells one extended story, rather than four individual ones. This is a welcome break from the norm, allowing characters to be fleshed out and for more time to be given to smaller events that might have been cut had the story been one hour long instead of four.
Despite this interconnectedness, each episode tells its own story, and feels self-contained as a result. Because of this, I’ve chosen to divide this review episode-by-episode, before talking about my overall thoughts on the set at the end.
So, without further ado, here’s my review of:
1. “Call for the Dead” by James Goss
With this script by James Goss, The Master of Callous gets off to an atmospheric start, setting up the major players for the set and establishing the colony where much of the story is set.
It is a credit to Goss’s writing that, by the end of this story, I already felt acquainted with many of the characters, particularly Cassandra and Martine King, played by Maeve Bluebell Wells and Samantha Béart respectively. Pippa Haywood also deserves a mention, imbuing Teremon with enough humanity that her villainy comes across as something real, rather than as two-dimensional and mustache-twirling.
Silas Carson also stars in the set, reprising his role as the Ood from the TV series. The casual, innocent way in which he delivers lines like “you will die screaming in darkness” is chilling and adds to the atmosphere of this opening story.
You might have noticed that I’ve not yet mentioned Derek Jacobi as the Master, and there’s a reason for that. His role in this story is rather minor, appearing only as a disembodied voice at the end of a phone. This did not detract from my enjoyment of the story, however. As previously mentioned, Goss has crafted the story’s other characters so well that Jacobi’s absence is barely felt, and I feel that it was a wise move to keep him out of the picture until the colony and its characters were fully established.
The sound design and music are also on point, with Rob Harvey’s haunting piano score complemented perfectly by the ever-present deluge of rain that gives Callous such a unique feel. As I mentioned previously, the idea of the telephone echoing out through the rain, calling to its victims, is a brilliant one, and a concept brought to life extremely well.
2. “The Glittering Prize” by James Goss
This is where the plot really kicks into gear, with the War Master finally making an appearance in the flesh. His disguise as the ostensibly benevolent Mr. Orman allows Goss to have him share tea and scones with the colonists, or entertain children at a party: scenes made sinister by the fact that we listeners know there’s something dark going on behind the scenes.
Béart and Wells continue to impress as Martine and Cassie, and David Menkin as Herschel gets a little more to do this episode, interacting with the Master himself. Teremon is even more ruthless than before, once again paying Callous a visit, and the Ood continue to terrify with their sinister role as a Greek Chorus, chiming in every now and then to comment on events.
3. “The Persistence of Dreams” by Guy Adams
This episode is a slight detour from the main plot, focussing on Samantha Béart’s Martine as she struggles to survive on a mysterious space station. Accompanied by a lone Ood, she is thrown into a strange dreamscape where nothing is as it seems.
Angela Bruce appears here as Maxine’s mother, a delightfully twisted part that involves- well, all I’ll say is I’ll never look at a tree the same way again after this.
The Master is at his most evil here, and his actions at the story’s climax left me speechless. Adams imbues the character with cruelty that’s so at odds with his geniality in Goss’s stories that it’s striking. With Jacob giving the role such an avuncular twinkle, it’s sometimes easy to forget that he’s supposed to be the villain of the piece, making it all the more shocking when he does what he does at the end of this episode.
4. “Sins of the Father” by Guy Adams
The final part of The Master of Callous takes place at the same time as The Persistence of Dreams, telling the story of what happens on Callous while Martine is trapped on the space station.
As the Master is interrogated by Teremon, Cassie must rally the people of Callous to fight back against the enemy. This is the episode where we finally see the Master show his nasty side, and there’s one scene in particular that had me half cheering, half terrified at what was happening. I’m sure you’ll know what I mean when you listen…
The conclusion of the story itself ties up all of the loose ends and deals with all of the characters that we’ve come to know over the past three episodes. The final scenes are rather surprising, and we hear the voice of an old friend before the credits roll, a cameo that ties this story into the greater context of the Time War. The truth about what the Master’s really been up to on Callous is intriguing, and totally fitting for the character and his backstory.
The Master of Callous is a completely different beast to the first War Master set, but ultimately is just as successful. It’s great to see one of the Master’s plans unfold over this four-hour epic, and both Goss and Adams infuse the story’s characters with such vibrancy that, even when the Master isn’t present, the enjoyment persists.
Scott Handcock’s brilliant direction, Rob Harvey’s music and sound design, and the cast of amazing actors assembled to play the guest roles truly bring Callous and its denizens to life, and Derek Jacobi is deliciously evil as the Master once again.
One of the best releases of 2018, The Master of Callous is an absolute essential, leaving me excited for the next installment in the War Master series, where it appears that he’ll be reuniting with an old foe… but probably not the one you were expecting.
The War Master: The Master of Callous is available to purchase from bigfinish.com on CD or download
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