Big Finish Productions
The War Master: Killing Time

Written by James Goss, Lou Morgan Cover image
Format Compact Disc
Released 2021

Starring Derek Jacobi

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...


The End of the Ending by Stephen Maslin 21/4/21

Not so long ago, I ended my review of 2017's brilliant Time in Office as follows:

"...Big Finish, I owe you an apology. I've been less than charitable about some of your output in the past, but once in a while, you can still come up with gold..."
How quickly things can change.

Imagine you have a toy that you've had since childhood, something that's been with you for most of your life. It may have spent some time in storage, but it's something with which you would never ever consider parting. So many memories are centred around it. So many associations. So much of you. It makes you smile.

Now imagine that toy being stamped on in front of your very eyes. Not only that, but stamped on by someone who'd always said how much they loved that toy too, and how they would always protect and nurture it. That is how it feels listening to The War Master: Killing Time, for when this ghastly concoction is not boring you to death, it is attempting to poison your memories. You make take it as read that I think it stinks.

Admittedly, there are a couple of points in its favour. Firstly, there's very little incidental music, which is a good thing, though hardly a commendation by itself. The other good point is the presence of Derek Jacobi. Unlike, say, John Hurt as his half-assed counterpart the War Doctor, Jacobi does a very, very good job in portraying the lead. Yet this causes more problems than it solves...

On one level, no one else (with the honourable exception of Sarah Sutton) comes anywhere near his acting skill. Most of the time, the listening experience is akin to a world-ranking sports star playing against total amateurs, and the gulf in class is acutely embarrassing. (Katy Manning is not helped in Story #2 by being given a completely unreadable part, in which she has to describe to herself what is going on, sounding for all the world like someone in the later stages of Alzheimer's.)

On another level, the sheer nastiness of the eponymous character is made totally believable by Jacobi's abilities. Now you may think that "totally believable" is also a good thing, but ask yourself whether horror or psychological torture in a once family-orientated franchise should be totally believable. We have gone way beyond the pantomime villainy of Delgado or Ainley here, to a character that is genuinely vile. Two beloved TV companions are horrifically treated - plus ca change - but unlike similar previous situations, it feels as if this is deliberately trying to upset its listeners. Not scare them, not disconcert them, not entertain them (heaven forbid!) but make them feel wretched and sickened, as if that toy from your youth is not only stamped on while you watch, but then shat on.

That's not all that's wrong, far from it. The scripts for each of the four parts are simply atrocious. When one is not having one's treasured memories trashed, one is being bored to tears.

PARTS 1 & 4. In the opening story, nothing happens, nothing at all, and it sounds like it was written in the time it takes to perform it. In the closing story, the plotting is extremely laboured and creaks under the weight of its own portentousness. At first, it was incomprehensible to me that both these stories were penned by the author responsible for the marvellous Mask of Tragedy, until one checks the number of hits for his name on Big Finish's website: over 200 entries as writer and producer in 11 years! And this is not including his theatre work and all the stuff he does for the BBC. No one can hope to maintain any level of quality with such an output. There's a reason these sound like they were written in an afternoon, and that is that they almost certainly were. Big Finish: GET SOME MORE WRITERS! (at least so that James Goss doesn't drop dead from workaholic exhaustion).

At least parts one and four were written by someone who seems to understand the Doctor Who world and respects its legacy...

PARTS 2 & 3. The middle two stories, by contrast, sound like they were written for a completely different franchise or by someone who actively hates Doctor Who. Oh, and they try so very hard to be so grown up and so shocking! One doesn't know whether the resultant feeling of total emptiness is a product of much-loved companions being treated with such callous disregard or of scripts penned by a spoilt teenager who wants to shock their unloving parents into finally giving them some attention. Either Mr Jacobi is of a very forgiving nature, or he is being paid a handsome sum indeed to soil his larynx with this hateful garbage.

One more thing: the Stagnant Protocol is a truly sh*tty name; idiotic sci-fi nomenclature at its very, very worst, underlining the bad smell pervading this entire set.

If you want to pay twenty quid for the privilege of someone carving up your childhood memories with a blunt and rusty butcher's knife bookended by chronic boredom, then by all means stick your hand in your pocket and pay up, but don't say I didn't warn you.