The War Master returns and this time he encounters David Tennant’s Doctor in a really top-class final episode. What about the three episodes leading up to it? As usual a mixed bag, but overall I enjoyed the set. I mean, Mr. Jacobi could read me the phone book and I’d be entertained, as the old phrase goes… Let’s take a look!
The box tells one continuous story though the middle two stories are stand-alone stories told with the same framing device. You see Episode 1, “The Forest of Penitence”, sees The Master wake up mysteriously on a forest planet and take great pleasure from trying to figure out where he is and why while all those around him seemingly randomly die by being turned into a tree. As the episode title might tip you off, the forest is actually a prison where criminals get punished (by turning into trees) once they feel the full force of their guilt over whatever it is they’ve done, the issue comes from The Master literally feeling no guilt what-so-ever about anything he’s done so he’s taken instead to the court of the people behind the forest prison to make a case for himself before he’s executed.
This is where things turn a bit “Trial of a Time Lord” as Episode 2, “The Players” and Episode 3 “Boundaries”, see The Master relate a time when he was a good man and did a good deed. Episode 2 was by far the weakest of the set, basically The Master playing politics and backing some awful people to beat other awful people to get what he wants, it wasn’t very original within the War Master series itself even. “Boundaries” was fun in that it was set during the period in the first Box Set where he was living on a Vineyard while his “companion” Cole (Jonny Green) did all the Doctor-like saving of the planet but shows us a time where The Master beat back a planet-eating plant species and saved everyone, though those in charge of the trial doubt the validity of his story, mostly due to how it bares a lot of similarities with what The Master just went through in the Forest of Penitence, which was a fun catch. Not convinced they sentence him to death but The Master requests he call a witness that can prove his innocence: his old friend The Doctor.
Episode 4, “The Last Line”, see The Tenth Doctor appear, much to The Master’s disappointment, saying being represented by an incarnation of The Doctor he doesn’t recognise isn’t fair, but The Doctor knows him all to well. Unsurprisingly Derek Jacobi and David Tennant have excellent chemistry, waxing lyrical about old times and what they should do, but The Doctor refuses to lie and offers little defence. It’s a great story, very nearly worth the price of the set alone.
Great cover all round, I especially like the blend of neon blue and pink.
As mentioned, this has a lot in common with the Sixth Doctor TV epic “The Trial of a Time Lord” and seems to be set somewhere in the middle of the first War Master set “Only The Good” given the call back to Cole, who is part of the War Master’s final plan. The Tenth Doctor mentions meeting this incarnation “briefly” in his TV story “Utopia”, which forms a three-parter with “The Sound of Drums / The Last of the Time Lords”.
I also have to mention that the War Master sings the Zagreus nursery rhyme during one of his and The Doctor’s conversations, a fun call back to Big Finish’s 40th Anniversary story “Zagreus”.
Self-Defence doesn’t blow you away with new ideas and original concepts but it does give Derek Jacobi more time to be amazing and gives us a great hour-long episode of the man playing off of David Tennant’s Doctor which pretty much makes the whole set worth it. Recommended.
Not much else to add, The War Master escapes prison by manipulating The Doctor and a young girl who served as his jailor and leaves them to their fate, The Doctor only just managing to pop back to his TARDIS and return to a post Time War universe. Usual stuff, but good fun nonetheless.
There is also a great scene in Episode 1 where he gets to liking one cold-hearted girl who didn’t even seem that bothered when her mother got tree’d out of existence but right at the end as proof that he doesn’t feel guilt he talks the girl into breaking down into tears and feeling guilty enough to turn into a tree. Just to prove a point! The War Master really is the cruellest incarnation, no doubt.