Doctor Who: The War Master – Killing Time Review

The War Master is back and on fine form for those who wish to hear Derek Jacobi be a completely evil git. Frankly, who doesn’t wish that? However it does have to be said that the first two episodes in this box do have mild pacing issues, so it’s not quite on the level of some of the earlier War Masters sets, especially if you don’t like political scheming. Want more detailed / spoilery thoughts? Read on!

Synopsis:

For centuries, the Stagnant Protocol has been forgotten by the universe: an empire populated by a race that can never advance… a race the Master seeks to seize control of.

Unfortunately for him, he has a rival – Calantha – and she understands how to manipulate the system better than he could ever hope. His only chance of defeating her lies in the hands of some old acquaintances, whether they realise it or not.

One thing, however, is certain. Whichever of them may win, the Stagnant Protocol is destined to lose…

*spoilers appear from here on out!*

The Good:

Episode 1, “Sincerest Form of Flattery”, starts with The Master in a cell, taunting his female guard about he easily he could kill her and escape but that he’s decided to kill the next guard after her. This is important because as The Master slowly makes his way up the political chain of command in the odd world of the “Stagnant Protocol”, a race of immortals that were ravaged by an early Time War salvo and are now Time Locked, he begins to meet his female guard as she too rises up the ranks politically. Her name is Calantha (Alexandria Riley), and much to The Master’s distress she is better at pulling the strings of the Blind Queen and positioning herself politically than him, his plan of befriending Prince Gardam (Prasanna Puwanarajah) and making the lower-classes rise up in the face of a plague and join him in over-throwing the old regime, controlling Gardam as a puppet. Eventually Calantha is made the new ruler of the Stagnant Protocol and The Master gives up… for now, claiming that the plague was a ruse (though a version of it was used by Calantha to kill the Queen…) but he knew where such a virus was located and the he would come back with it, having lost this battle but still win the war… It was good, but slow in places as I’ll get to in the bad section.

It was followed up in Episode 4 “Unfinished Business”, where The Master arrives back and sows discontent amongst Calantha’s people, eventually being captured, tortured and even seemingly killed by her as he refuses to give up the antidote to the virus he spread. There is a great scene where The Master almost takes pleasure in how she’s mentally torturing him, getting into an all-time great maniacal laugh as he remembers a torturer who used to remove the ability to feel pain for his victims and how it made their screams worse as they saw what was happening to their body. Top-class creepy, Jacobi’s Master is just the best at being the worst! He of course later returns from the dead, tells the people of the Stagnant Protocol of Calanatha’s deeds as she nearly invites The Daleks to their world then takes great pleasure is issuing a similar torturous punishment to her as she tries to escape in a pod he’d rigged with his own virus. To top it all off he then assumes command as the Emperor of the Stagnant Protocol as he go to credits. Say what you want about the classic TV Masters but The War Master is undoubtably the most evil, and the most frequently successful…

Episode 3, “The Orphan”, was… fine. It was better than Jo’s episode (see below!) in that while The Master was playing a false role while tormenting a former associate of his nemesis it is at least spread out as the two working together to find a cure for the Stagnant Protocol plague and the hook of waiting for The Master to play his hand and for Nyssa to work it out was more entertaining. The moment where Nyssa figures out that the kindly man who had been helping her this whole time was the man who killed her father and stole his body was great, and Nyssa tried to trap him in a room instead of letting him out with his new virus and antidote he’d created (using her suffering patients as test subjects…) but The Master releases the virus instead, already having given himself the cure obviously, and then escapes as Nyssa is not only suffering with the contagion but is now locked out of the station’s computer as it enters a full quarantine lockdown so no one will enter to save her. No idea how she got out of that one, but it was a chilling ending. Together with the last few minutes of Episode 2 (see below!) this is definitely the most unashamedly evil The War Master has been in some time…

The Bad:

While it’s well done, I can’t help feel the cover looks… boring, somehow…

Episode 2 “A Quiet Night In”, is sadly 45-50 minutes of Jo wandering around a house meeting guests and being confused about a party that is seemingly happening and not happening, and the Master playing dreadfully ill uncle, caring uncle and concerned about her niece uncle at various points to ramp up the confusion. It is at least followed up by roughly ten minutes of Jo not only realising that her old nemesis had used “hypnotic spores” to place himself in her life as her uncle but has got her to steal the deadly virus from a UNIT vault many years ago and then used her just now to activate the seal on the container. Although this episode was guilty of a poorly planned slow deliberate pace problem the last few minutes were really quite frightening, definitely Derek Jacobi at his most sinister and cruel as he took delight in revealing the truth, even going as far as chastising Jo for forgetting her actual uncle died a few years ago, and then laughing as she panicked about not being able to remember her actual uncle’s face. It was well done in the end, but there were definitely times I was metaphorically checking my watch waiting for the next interesting thing to happen, same goes for some periods of Episode 1 with The Master rubbing elbows with the upperclass… No biggie, but definitely could’ve been tighter.

The Continuity:

Nothing really to speak of. Jo is the older Jo with children and grandchildren we first saw in the Adventures of Sarah Jane episode “The Death of the Doctor”, but that’s about it!

Overall Thoughts:

Derek Jacobi has really got his evil bastard Master down to a tee and has great material to go full on with it in this set so far. It’s safe to say the pacing was a bit off in places and that knocks the score down a tad, but overall it’s a good “Master is complete git and actually wins in the end” story!

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