Series: The War Master (#5)
Genre: Space Opera
Publisher: Big Finish
Runtime: 4hrs 31m
Release Date: 31/10/2020
Cast: Derek Jacobi, Paul McGann, Luyanda Unati Lewis-Nyawo, Colin McFarlane, et al.
The Master and the Doctor. Two of the Time Lord’s most infamous sons, and two of history’s greatest rivals. At the height of the Time War, these former friends find themselves caught in a desperate bid to seize control of the universe, but who can really be trusted with such power . . ?
Derek Jacobi appeared on-screen in Doctor Who for all of forty minutes, and for only five of them did he really play the Doctor’s most famous enemy. Yet in that brief time he established himself as one of the most memorable incarnations of the evil Time Lord. It’s only fitting that Jacobi’s Master receive the Big Finish treatment. I loved the first four volumes, and the complete circle they brought to the character. Like so many other fans, I assumed that was it. But Big Finish in their wisdom have brought the War Master back for a fifth volume, which again sees him pitted against Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor. And what a return it is, for Hearts of Darkness may be the best War Master story to date.
It’s hard to go into details here without massive spoilers, because there is a twist at the end of the second volume that really does turn everything on its head. What I can safely say is this, Hearts of Darkness combines the mature storytelling that Big Finish does best with the maniacal, childish glee that Jacobi brings to the titular role. This is a master who revels in destruction and chaos. One who is genuinely and undeniably evil. It’s incredible to me that he remains such a compelling character to follow when no one in their right mind would root for him, and to the credit of Llewellyn and McMullin that they can still bring new facets to the character at this stage. Evil can often become two-dimensional, but the masterclass performance and excellent writing keep things as fresh as they were in Only the Good.
As for Paul McGann, I’ll admit to being less than familiar with his take on the Doctor, especially this version of him. I’ve seen the TV Movie, and Night of the Doctor, and I have of course listened to Rage of the Time Lords, but that is the limit of my exposure to him. On the strength of his performance here though, that’s a mistake I’m sure to rectify as soon as I can. Like Jacobi, McGann is clearly enjoying himself in the role, and the two play off each other brilliantly. Truly, there’s not a bad performance in the batch, from the cover stars to the supporting roles. The post-show interviews show that the whole cast was having fun, and aslso provide an insight to the production process.
Hearts of Darkness showcases exactly what I love about Big Finish, and the War Master. A wide and breathing universe beyond what you can fit in a single episode, and thousands of stories waiting to be told. There’s at least one more War Master audio on the way, and I’m very much looking forward to it. And of course hoping that more follow. Regardless, this level of quality is exactly what I want in any audio drama, and everyone involved deserves to be commended.
If you’re not already following the War Master’s journey, you should start as soon as you can. It’s dark, it’s dangerous, and it’s absolutely delightful.