With the boxset Only the Good, the Derek Jacobi War Master makes his first appearance for Big Finish. It’s a suitably subtle yet grim introduction, well realised and worth the investment. It’s also a chance to to explore some of what the Master did during the Time War, and understand how he ended up hiding away in the far future.
Only the Good — the stories
The first story is by Nick Briggs, and shows the War Master on the run from the Daleks (or does it?) and takes us Beneath the Viscoid on the ocean planet Gardezza, where he goes by the name of the Doctor! It’s a tale of duplicity and deception, just as we would expect from this most evil of Time Lords.
It’s a good mix of local politics and opportunism, and treads a path between outright villain and potential saviour without compromising the values (dubious though they may be) of the character.
The action skips to the Janine H Jones story The Good Master, in which the Master is being a doctor on the world of Arcking, a planet seemingly immune to the effects of the war, and thus particularly attractive to the Master. While Nick Briggs’s story brought us the character of the War Master, Janine’s story brings us a companion for him in the form of Cole Jarnish. Cole is played by Jonny Green, who has also impressed in the recent Torchwood releases, and here the story shines an uncomfortable light on the Master and the Doctor: can the Master do good? If the outcome is the same, does it matter if the Master or the Doctor gets involved?
As listeners we might argue context or motive, but as those in the story suggest, does that actually matter?
Cole Jarnish is the protagonist of the third story, James Goss’s The Sky Man. Here the Master gives Cole free hand to save a world of farmers, fall in love and take a high-risk gamble with unimaginable consequences. It’s a very, very well told story with gentle pacing, deft use of character and is chilling in the extreme.
The simplicity of the setting only adds to the emerging sense of horror as the listener gets the sense of where the story is doomed to head, and the War Master is at his most subtly manipulative.
The final story is The Heavenly Paradigm by Guy Adams and puts the Master in 1970s Stamford Bridge (not the home of Chelsea FC) and in the path of Mrs Wilson (Nerys Hughes). It takes all we have heard so far and blends it into a brutal all or nothing plan by the Master to use the deadliest of endeavours to defeat the Daleks, by crossing lines the Time Lords themselves are hesitant to approach.
It’s a nice counter-echo (if there is such a thing!) to the eventual actions of John Hurt’s War Doctor, and it’s a real shame Big Finish will never get to put the two actors into the same set of stories.
Scott Handcock’s direction and Nick Brigg’s script editing keep the coherence of the four stories, and it’s all about characters rather than complex plot devices, which works well in this context. The stories are easy to sit back and enjoy, and bode well for future outings with this less-explored incarnation of the Master.