Auld Mortality
Big Finish Productions
Masters of War

Written by Eddie Robson Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2008
What if... Davros had survived?

Starring David Warner and Nicholas Courtney

Synopsis: The Doctor and his travelling companion, retired army officer Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, take a random trip in the TARDIS - and land on the planet Skaro. The Doctor helped the Thals to defeat the Daleks years ago, so he is surprised to find the Thal city under Dalek occupation. He determines to help them again, but what is the Daleks' purpose in keeping the Thals alive? Does it have anything to do with the Daleks' mythical creator, named in their teachings as Davros?


They're Back And It's About Time! by Matthew Kresal 26/7/10

Having been highly impressed with the Unbound story Sympathy For The Devil, I was curious to hear what the further teaming of David Warner's alternate third Doctor and Nicholas Courtney's Brigadier would sound like. After five years the adventures continue with the release of Masters Of War. This newest addition does everything Unbound set out to do: to serve as a "what if?" of series continuity and be highly enjoyable at the same time.

For one thing, the cast is an excellent one. David Warner returns yet again as an alternate third Doctor (replacing the late Jon Pertwee) and builds on his highly successful performance from Sympathy For The Devil to become a Doctor in his own right. While he may have been dazed and a little confused before, here's a Doctor in full control of his senses and making up for lost time, with a terrific wit to boot. Backing him up is the retired but ever ready for action Brigadier, played by the ever-reliable Nicholas Courtney. While the Brigadier of Sympathy For The Devil may have been a little angst driven, here's a Brigadier we could only see in an Unbound story: a previously failed army officer finding redemption on an alien battlefield far from Earth and in fine form as well. Both Warner and Courtney showed great potential in their previous adventure and this story takes that potential and does it proud.

Then there's the supporting cast. There are some terrific performances from Amy Pemberton, Sarah Douglas and Jeremy James as Thals. Yet, as always seems to happen when the Daleks arrive, the true highlight of the supporting cast goes to Nicholas Briggs as the Daleks and Terry Molloy as their creator Davros. Without giving too much away here I'll say this: as this is an Unbound story where both the Daleks and Davros are given a chance to be something different and they take the opportunity to shine especially in the second half of the story.

What makes Masters Of War so successful is its script. Eddie Robson has proven himself quite a capable writer of Doctor Who audio stories with stories like The Condemned and The Raincloud Man, so he was an excellent choice to script this story. Robson takes everything we fans know and love about the Daleks, Davros and how they relate to the Doctor, and turns it right on its head. Given two discs to tell a story instead of just one, Robson uses the cliffhanger of the first disc to do just that: turn everything on its head. Half the fun of listening to this audio is that just when you think you know who everyone is and what's going on, you discover you don't. It's what unbound set out to do and in this audio more then the rest that goal is accomplished brilliantly.

It may have taken five years to make, but Masters Of War was certainly worth it. From top-notch performances to an excellent script, here is one of Big Finish's single best productions to date. It may be Unbound and (therefore) not canon, but that's no reason to ignore it. If you're willing to listen to continuity get turned on its head for the sake of an excellent story, then here's an audio for you. Masters of War is Doctor Who Unbound at its best and can't be missed by any serious Who fan.

A Review by Stephen Maslin 26/8/10

2003 was a pretty good year for Doctor Who fans. September's announcement of the return to television topped that particular list, of course (and time travel back to February that year would have shown you Christopher Eccleston starring in Russell T Davies' The Second Coming, music by Murray Gold). Yet, until the BBC's 'Autumn Statement', Doctor Who in 2003 belonged to Big Finish Productions, whose steady rise in quality was suddenly matched by a meteoric rise in quantity. Aside from the regular monthly releases and the Benny range, there was Dalek Empire II at the beginning of the year, the wonderful Eighth Doctor remake of Shada in May, two DWM freebies (No Place Like Home in January and Living Legend in November) and the post-Zagreus Gallifrey series was just around the corner.

There were also the six single-disc stories of the Unbound series. It is the first two of these that stand out, not only as superior product but in their seeming to have achieved the impossible in successfully recasting two Doctors no longer with us. Geoffrey Bayldon (in Auld Mortality) was a very good stand-in for the First Doctor, slightly less acerbic and commanding than William Hartnell but capturing the fussiness and aloofness of his illustrious predecessor. As for David Warner, his doctoral debut in Sympathy For The Devil was not only the best Unbound story of the year but, for my money, the best Doctor Who story of the year. Helped no end by a fantastic script, the presence of the Brigadier and by Mark Gatiss' quite exceptional take on the Master (not forgetting David Tennant's fiery UNIT anti-hero, Colonel Brimmicombe-Wood), it was first class in every respect. More importantly, Warner himself sounded like a real Doctor, as if returning to a role he had played many times and completely perfected.

Auld Mortality had its sequel in A Storm of Angels in 2006, a little overlong spread over two discs but with its exquisite sound design, certainly not a let down. News came through that Sympathy For The Devil would also get a sequel and so, in fervent hope, we waited. And waited. And waited. Quite why it took another three years for Masters of War to see the light of day is anybody's guess. Still better late than never, eh? Eh?

With its release finally on the menu, the author of Masters of War was revealed to be Eddie Robson who, over the preceding two years, had become something of a genie of the lamp for Big Finish. Following his excellent 2006 debut Memory Lane, he had churned out great script after great script without, it appeared, any need for such luxuries as holidays or sleep. Then we learned that Davros and the Daleks would be the other main protagonists. With such a grandiose production in view, maybe we could even look forward to an ongoing series of alternative Third Doctor stories? Please Santa, please...

Alas no. Or alas yes, if Masters of War was to be the template. Don't get me wrong, David Warner is great, every inch the Doctor. (In an interview for BBC Radio 4, not long after the new TV series was announced, Mark Gatiss, when asked who he would cast as The Ninth Doctor, said, without a moment's hesitation: "David Warner. I think he'd be a fantastic Doctor...") Nicholas Courtney is excellent too, putting the Brigadier's military background to good use for a change and actually having a hand in controlling events. But there are a problems. Big problems.

One. The play feels really, really long, two hours on two CDs. (A one-CD version would have been a vast improvement and more in keeping with the original Unbound format). There is a sense of Masters of War desperately trying to be epic and having to retain a lot of redundant ideas to do so.

Two. There's no real explanation as to why the Daleks are so accommodating for most of the play? There seems to little or no reason for it, other than fitting in with the 'What if...?' strap-line of the original Unbound series.

Three. There is a complete absence of shocks or plot twists. The narrative is coherent and well-structured but that's it: everything just happens, one scene after another.

Four. The second disc is merely one long battle in space (and it's hard enough to pull that off even with pictures) but with almost no tension. Great battle-hardened species are outwitted by really basic stratagems. Even though disc two is at times unpleasantly noisy, I dozed off.

Five. The supporting cast are really poor. Whenever Messrs Warner and Courtney are off-screen, it just sounds like a read-through. Instead of rebels and slaves engaged in a life or death struggle to overthrow oppression, they are just, well, actors. Whatever any of them have done in the past or will do in the future, they are doing their reputations no favours here. Other than its length and episodic nature, there's nothing really wrong with the script or the post-production but, for some reason, corners have most definitely been cut on securing a cast that gives a hoot.

Tragically, I think Big Finish missed a trick. Instead of wasting David Warner on Sapphire and Steel, there was real potential for an extended alternative Third Doctor run, a Season 10a if you will. (For one, he could have given the audio remake of The Ultimate Adventure a lot more gravitas and piquancy and it would have made more sense to have had an alternative Doctor in a decidedly alternative story.) Instead, the chances of seeing Mr Warner return to the role have essentially been killed off and that is a great, great shame.

If you want to hear David Warner as the Doctor, get Sympathy For The Devil. If you want a genuine Doctor Who epic, get Death Comes To Time. If you want an 'Unbound' story about Davros and the Daleks, get The Juggernauts. If you want a great Eddie Robson story, get Memory Lane, The Condemned or Grand Theft Cosmos. If you want to hear the Brigadier at his very best, get The Spectre of Lanyon Moor. None of these would be a waste of your time and money. Masters of War is.