The War Master: The Master of Callous Review

Master of Callous

The last half of the first War Master set won my pick for best Doctor Who story of 2017, and Master of Callous, which is one big story across four parts, might be pretty damn close to topping the list again! While once again David Jacobi’s Master is grin-inducingly brilliant, the new characters and world introduced here are really great too, and they’re given proper room to breathe thanks to the long runtime. It’s not perfect, but it’s damn good! Let’s take a deeper look then…

Official Synopsis:

On the mining colony Callous, Elliot King struggles to meet the demands of its governor, Teremon. The odds are stacked against him, and his options are running low. The world that once promised dreams now offers only despair.

A wild Ood stalks the forests, carrying an antiquated phone. The caller promises much – he claims he can change the world – but he always speaks a devastating truth.

He is the Master and the Ood will obey him… but to what end?

Note: Full Spoilers From Here On Out!

Cast of Characters:

The Master (Derek Jacobi) – In order to get his hands on a Chameleon Arch, among other goodies, The Master has agreed to collect as much of a mineral known as Swenyo as he can for the Time Lords. Picking the small, unknown planet of artists called Callous as his destination, The Master’s plan is a long game, but one that should work out well in his favour…

Cassandra King (Maeve Bluebell Wells) – Cassie saw her father go insane as he tried to work the Swenyo mines on Callous, his money and will to live drained by greedy overseer Teremon. Now she wishes to prove that not only is she better than her Dad, but she can get the better of the woman who drove him mad…

Martine King (Samantha Béart) – Martine is Cassandra’s wife, and loves her with all she has, which is good considering the backwater, damp planet she taken her too. She is also a damn fine pilot.

The Ood (Silas Carson) – The Ood are literally bred to be slaves, their psychic ability cut short and their freedom an impossible dream… that is unless a man who has his own psychic abilities should turn up, of course…

Elliot King (Simon Ludders) – Elliot had a dream of building and running his own colony, and if it weren’t for the dictator known as Teremon draining him dry, he’d have his dream by now…

Teremon (Pippa Haywood) – Completely cold as ice, Teremon runs the system Callous is in and insists on constant money from the planet, even if it costs its leader his very life. In fact, all the better, then she can just take the planet for herself…

Herschel (David Menkin) – Herschel has been on Callous since the beginning, but is starting to think he never should have come. Still, for the right price, maybe he can make out well for himself…

Plus more!

The Good:

Master of Callous Cover

Great cover, it’s a shame there’s only one… Makes the review a bit less visually exciting!

The Master of Callous is like a novel, the story is told slowly over a long period of time, plenty of care and attention is given to the world building and developing new characters, with The Master only really coming in to it to screw everything up for everyone. That’s where it works best, really. This is what happens when The Master creates a plan and The Doctor isn’t around to put a stop to it…

Part 1 sees Elliot King, a man who had dreams of creating and managing a successful colony, is struggling to pay the overbearing, mafia-head-like Teremon, who thanks to there being so little law this far out in the galaxy, is running things via extortion and heavy-handed tactics as its Governor. That’s the set up for the whole hour and a quarter first part, slowly but surely Elliot becomes more and more distant from his daughter and ill wife, all while he tries to open up a mine to drill for the super-rare mineral known as Swenyo, but sadly even the Ood slave workers are driven mad by the mental energy the stuff gives off. All the while people are being visited by an Ood holding an old-fashioned phone, the few who pick it up are bluntly told a horrible truth by The Master, and are driven to suicide. The last part of the story is Elliot resisting the Ood with the phone constantly standing outside his window, until eventually he picks it up…

We then jump a bit ahead, and Elliot’s daughter Cassie is now all grown up and even has a wife, and she’s arrived on Callous to create a successful mine to both show up her Dad that was never around, and to get the better of Teremon. She soon picks up the phone, but The Master instead has plans for her…

Part 2 sees the colony thriving, the Swenyo is being mined thanks to Cassandra’s mysterious benefactor putting a mental dampener into the Ood control devices, and all the colonists are happy and healthy… Until an Ood goes mad, and we see they hit a particularly rich vein of the psychic stuff, and then their equipment is sabotaged to boot, which leads Teremon to arrive with her army in order to “help” her… for a crazy percentage of the overall profit of course. Cassie has gone full-on hard-nosed businesswoman, much to the distress of her wife Martine, and soon the townspeople are up in arms. Enter The Master again, who not only calms the mob down but offers to take all the super-rich Swenyo off-world before Teremon arrives, with Martine’s piloting skills…

Teremon arrives, some soldiers die to a Master trap, and soon The Master, Martine and stowaway Herschel (who was the man who sabotaged the equipment in the first place) fly off into space, eventually pursued by Teremon. Some great scenes of The Master nearly taking down his nice guy veil to kill Herschel aside, everything goes according to plan for a while, The Master leaves Martine on a radio station asteroid with the Swenyo and leaves Herschel on board the ship as its destroyed by Teremon. He is captured by the angry governor, but he’s not particularly bothered…

Part 4 actually picks up the plot (see The Bad for info on Part 3), but at this point it’s all Master. Cassie is driven insane thanks to Swenyo poisoning, talking to her dead dad and generally collapsing in the street, and The Master enjoys his time getting tortured, knowing full well it’s just a matter of time until the Ood turn vicious, by his orders. When this happens he frees himself, finally gives the listening audience the satisfaction of hearing him torture Teremon to death (she was a top class villain, in that you really despised her by the end!) before casually strolling out to the dead soldiers and villagers, all dead due to his Ood. He teases Cassandra a bit before she dies, and leaves, leaving a large heard of violent Ood to forever guard the Swenyo caves…

The final few minutes are The Master retrieving the Swenyo and delivering it to Narvin, showing that this was indeed a Time War story, even if it didn’t seem like it. The Time Lords need Swenyo for weapons, The Master wanted a Chameleon Arch just in case of a worst case scenario (which we know will indeed happen!) and that’s that. Episodes 2 and 4 are chock-full of Derek Jacobi being a frankly brilliant Master, my mouth nearly hurt from grinning so much at each of his devilishly delivered lines. Part 1 was great world building too, overall it was a great story and well worth the money…

The Bad:

That all being said, Part 3 stood out as weak. It focuses only on Martine guarding the Swenyo, talking to an Ood and slowly going insane due to exposure to the stuff. There are scenes where she nearly walks out into space, scenes where she seemingly falls into a vending machine and is chased by a cannibal, and generally just her pottering about for an hour. The final few minutes is her having actually leap off the asteroid in a space suit with limited oxygen, talking to the The Master, who has arrived to reclaim his prize (as we hear in the following episodes) and Martine finding out there wasn’t an Ood on the asteroid at all, and she was completely insane. The Master decides to leave her floating forever, annoyed that he’ll have to load the Swenyo himself… I like the idea, but for a whole hour it was just annoying, especially as the plot just stopped to tell this needlessly detailed story…

The Continuity:

Not much, beyond The Master getting his hands on the Chameleon Arch we hear him use in the last episode of the first War Master set, and then actually see him undo the effects in Tenth Doctor TV three-part story “Utopia / The Sound of Drums / The Last of the Time Lords”.

Overall Thoughts:

The Master of Callous is a great story, told slowly but brilliantly over three plus hours, with sadly one hour in the middle that slowed everything to a halt. Doesn’t effect it much in the end though, Parts 2 and 4 were brilliant and full of great Derek Jacobi Master moments, and Part 1 was a lesson in good world building. Part 3 doesn’t dent the story enough to not give it its proper score of 5. Even given its length, I can see myself wanting to listen to this again down the line…

5 Star Listen

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