Reviewed By: JMChurch25
Review Date: 12/11/18 8:42 pm
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"The Master of Callous" takes place on the titular planet of Callous, a mining colony surrounded by asteroids that's far out of the way of the Time War and the Daleks. Dark, rainy, grimy, and full of mad Ood wandering the forest, it's a dark and unforgiving planet that no one in their right mind would want to live on. The inhabitants are digging for an element that can literally drive you insane and it makes living conditions extremely harsh and very unforgiving. A greedy woman with a silver tongue named Teremon governs the colony and is pursuing and pressuring the mineral rights out of the colony's founder and richest man, Elliot King. Struggling to make ends meet, King is broke and at his wit's end especially after the death of his wife on another world. He's also been haunted for years by a mysterious Ood carrying a phone call for him.
When that one call, however, pushes him into suicidal despair, his young daughter Cassie takes up the manifold as the owner of his estate with big changes in mind for the planet and the colony's success that her father had only begun to tap into. But as phone calls from mad Ood continue to occur whispering dark secrets and driving the colonists into despair, history begins to repeat itself in dark and terrifying ways and Cassie and her wife Martine are put through the grinder just like her father. But when Cassie herself finally answers the Ood's call, the voice on the other end speaks not of vice and darkness but of hope. A mysterious benefactor that we are all too familiar with arrives to change everything. But will Cassie and Martine be able to save the planet, who will be caught in the crossfire with Teremon breathing down their neck, and what is the true intention of the Master at play?
Right off the bat, Series 2 of the War Master is a very different Time War story that takes an entirely different approach to the prior set being one story spread across four parts rather than four stories with interconnected threads. The Master is playing a much longer game than we've ever seen before and is also more in the shadows than we've ever seen especially with this incarnation. We've seen this Master scheme and manipulate to great intrigue and success as was evident by the end of "The Heavenly Paradigm" last series. But this story really places him in the shadows more so than we've ever seen before subtly manipulating the bigger picture from all sides to his advantage. The narrative also takes plenty of time to build an intense setting and soundscape surrounding Callous and its people so we actually give a damn about what happens to them once the Master's influences take hold. It doesn't give everything right away with only teasing hints at the main plot (at least at first) slowly and thoughtfully. But once shit hits the proverbial fan, many are caught in the crossfire and not everyone is going to make it out of this one alive or sane.
To that end, each part of the story written by James Goss and Guy Adams serve as a proper piece to the larger puzzle. "Call for the Dead" does a great job of setting things up and establishing the setting and the Master's presence even as just a malevolent voice over a telephone. It's much longer than the rest of the stories true and a lot of other reviewers I've read other opinions from are seeing this first part as unnecessary. But it definitely needs to be in order for this kind of long-standing plot to work, characters to be built up and understood, and to push the stakes to the limit in order for the Master's first call of hope to Cassie to make sense. 'Glittering Prize' sees the first real appearance of the titular character and continues developing the real plot in earnest delivering a space chase through an asteroid belt that leaves us on some fascinating cliffhangers. 'Persistence of Dreams' is not only the shortest of the bunch but the weakest focusing on a character's terrifying descent into madness alone on an asteroid in the middle of nowhere. It's very surreal and could serve as a horrifying audio piece all on its own with different actors playing different roles in surprising ways. But tied to the rest of the set, it struggles a little bit only being tangibly related to the plot (not even using the intro theme) and it doesn't advance things much on the surface other than showing the fault of good intentions and getting us deep in the head of one of the mains. "Sins of the Father" on the other hand delivers exactly what you'd want in a finale given what is built up with the Master at his most maniacal, Cassie at her breaking point, plenty of earth-shattering rug-pulling twists, and everything else tearing itself apart in a very satisfying conclusion that pays off its threads like gangbusters.
This is a story that lives or dies based on its performances and thankfully the entire cast is fabulous. The King family seem like real people, greedy and with an intense need for riches but do give a damn about what happens to their world. Maeve Bluebell Wells as Cassandra King is a great talent that's very likable as a human being but still retains a darker edge that makes her far more interesting than the typical manipulated victim you get in these kinds of stories. Samantha Béart as Cassie's wife Martine is not only a strong grounding force but also a strong acting presence getting more time to develop even than her partner and delivering some truly heart-wrenching moments before her untimely end. We also get a nasty side villain in the form of Pippa Haywood as the villainous Teremon who is a fabulous foil to both the Kings and the Master. She has a silver tongue on the surface that circumvents and cushions all of the horrible things she does but by the end her true colors and personality forcibly come out. At times, she does almost overtake the point of the story as the main force but in the end, there's no way she can stand up against the tour de force of villainy that is the Master.
The rest of the cast also perform admirably with most of the colonists being at least interesting or sympathetic. The Ood also play surprisingly naturally into the setting and Silas Carlson's voice is again perfect. They get a variety of terrifying moments reminiscent of their introductory appearance in "The Impossible Planet / The Satan Pit" but also get to play the victims at points in being the scapegoats of the colonist's frustrations as well as a fascinating idea of a Greek chorus in pushing things along. I never thought that concepts such as an Ood lynch mob could be so horrifying or make me feel sympathy for them in any capacity but in this story it happens and it's chilling, to say the least.
But the best of them all is, of course, Derek Jacobi as the Master himself who continues to be amazing and born to play this role. He's not as focused on as much here as he is in other stories and is more of an ominous dark presence like Emperor Palpatine rather than the outright Machiavellian Darth Vader he's been characterized as before. But his presence is more sinister and unsettling than it's ever been pervading every minute of the story even when he's not there. When he does appear, however, he captures your attention with voice, charm, and devious intention and you do get plenty of chilling moments from his incarnation before the end. Even when he's at the brink of torture, the Master still manages to find a way to laugh, enjoy himself, and find a way to get the upper hand and his performance is as great as ever His plot does feel a little bit smaller this time around even despite the much longer runtime given to it and it's not quite as grand or as gigantic as you'd expect given the course and setting of the Time War. But it still works really well overall and it's very appropriate for the War itself and for the character.
As mentioned, this set is very different from the one that came before so if you're expecting more of the same, you might be a tad disappointed. The pacing is a little bit uneven especially with the longer lengths of some parts compared to others and there aren't quite as many nods to lore or canon as you'd expect. This might be a Time War story with a Time War Master but it's only in the last segment that that particular element comes into play as so much time is devoted to this individual setting and storyline. This makes it less continuity-heavy meaning you'd be safe to jump into this one without any background knowledge compared to the last one that (as amazing as it was) was rather dependent on knowing how the Jacobi Master fits into the New Series for it to resonate. Those elements make it stand out considerably and while it's not quite as fan-pleasing good as it could've been (though there are a couple of nice little continuity surprises in the final moments), its quality is more than strong enough to stand on its own to recommend for your listening pleasure.
2.1 Call for the Dead by James Goss -- 9 / 10
2.2 The Glittering Prize by James Goss -- 8 / 10
2.3 The Persistence of Dreams by Guy Adams -- 6 / 10
2.4. Sins of the Father by Guy Adams -- 10 / 10