I’ll be honest, I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the War Master range. I loved the first set, which feels like it was released many, many moons ago. The first set, Only the Good was available in 2017 and now, two years later, the series comes to its conclusion, though I suspect there will be more, with the epic-four-part series, Anti-Genesis, which sees Sir Derek Jacobi’s Master altering the events in the beloved Doctor Who story, Genesis of the Daleks.
Russell T. Davies has gone on record saying that he considered Genesis of the Daleks to be the commencement of the Time-War. It’s an excellent notion and one that ties together the Classic and Modern era’s of the show together very nicely. And there is also the idea that neither the Daleks or the Time Lords would go back into each other’s history and alter their creations. Of course, the Time-Lords tried that in Genesis, so it poses the question as to whether the Daleks are, at least in part, right in their retaliation. This is a big topic that we won’t get into here but its an interesting question none-the-less and with the Master now altering the evolution of the Daleks, it seems its only the Daleks that have stuck to the rules.
As well as the excellent call-backs, nods and references to Genesis of the Daleks, Anti-Genesis feels a lot like a Gallifrey range adventure. And that really helped me to enjoy it more, I really liked the Gallifrey range and so tying the two ranges together is a great move, easily making it a continuation of both ranges. What I didn’t like though was that none of the main Gallifrey cast, Romana, Leela or K-9, Braxiatel and Ace were included. We’ve still got Narvin, which is great because he’s a great character but I wasn’t a big fan of the new Time-Lord president and the absence of Romana was much missed here.
The set kicks off though with Nicholas Briggs’ adventure From the Flames which sees the Master concocting his plan to go back in time and kill off Davros, thus enabling him to become the creator of the Daleks.
Briggs has always told some great Dalek stories and this one is no different as he sows the seeds for the series. The whole story feels like the Master is just going to do what the Doctor is tasked with doing originally and averting the creation of the Daleks until the finally five minutes when Briggs’ kicks things into an even higher gear and shows us how far the Master is willing to go and how manipulative he really is. It was an excellent way to kick off the adventure and really gives the Time-War a dangerous edge with what the implications of time-travel had in the conflict. I’ll be honest, the other Time-War sets haven’t come this close to showing how desperate things have become and for that, Briggs and this set deserve a lot of credit.
Alan Barnes makes sure to keep the bleakness continuing nicely in the second episode, The Master’s Dalek Plan. I’ll admit, that joke took me an awful lot longer to get than it should have done! What Barnes does brilliantly in this episode is take the dire situation from Genesis and seem to twist them until they become even more dark and dire. For its time, Genesis was a surprisingly disturbing story so its great that it’s getting even more modern twists, building on the excellent material that there was there in the first place.
And Barnes delivers another great ending that once again proves how far this incarnation of the Master is willing to go to enact his plans. There were some genuinely disturbing moments here and this whole set isn’t for the faint-of-heart but I really appreciate audios that have the guts to go to some very dark places and this set is one of them.
Throughout the first half of the set, the Time Lords send a condemned prisoner Lamarius back to Gallifrey much like they did with the Doctor only instead of stopping Davros, Lamarius has to stop the Master. Throughout the set actress, Franchi Webb does a tremendous job with the material she’s given. She’s a character who has been broken and twisted through war and has seen her family wiped out. She’s someone with nothing to lose so that makes her even more dangerous. She makes a good foil for the Master and she does fill in the Sarah-Jane role of befriending a local Mutant to infiltrate the Kaled dome. She also works brilliantly with Sean Carlson’s Narvin, who, just like he is in the Gallifrey range, is excellent.
And if the inclusion of Genesis of the Daleks wasn’t enough, this set also sees the Unbound Universe version of the Master, who hasn’t long been in conflict with the David Warner Doctor and Bernice Summerfield brought into the main Whouniverse, with Big Finish opening the door to the wider Doctor Who continuity once again. He features heavily in the concluding two episodes and is once again played by Mark Gatiss.
This was my first time hearing Gatiss as the Master and it did take me a moment to warm to him. He didn’t seem as manipulative or as cruel, though he is, as the other ‘real’ Master’s but I had to remind myself this is a version of the character from an alternative universe so he would, of course, be different. But it didn’t take me long to really like his take on the Master and his inclusion in this story proves that he is just as much the Master as any other incarnation. I hope we hear more from him in the future.
Barnes also writes the third episode, Shockwave and having introduced the Gatiss Master, he mainly focuses on what the Davros-created Daleks are up too. They seem to be just as surprised at the War-Master’s actions as the Time-Lords and so they drive an uneasy alliance between President Livia, Narvin, and the Unbound Master.
Barnes throws a lot of different elements at us here with a temporal shockwave, following the changes the Master made in the past, are beginning to affect not only the universe and the Daleks but also Gallifrey itself. But none of these little moments outstays their welcome but they allow the various members of the cast to really show us their acting chops in a number of different roles. What Barnes really excels at here though is elevating the Daleks beyond being just some shouting pepper-pots. The Dalek Time Controller, the leader of the Daleks during the Time War is given a lot of character building, proving that really when the end of everything is at stake, it’s surprising who you can actually turn too for help. But he is also someone not to be trusted and so he works excellently with the Unbound Master.
And on Skaro, Barnes makes sure to keep the shocks coming with the War Master ordering the extermination of the Fourth Doctor, Sarah and Harry as they arrive on the planet at the beginning of Genesis of the Daleks. It was a moment that really shocked me and took me a moment to get over. Big Finish actually went there. They killed the Doctor, Sarah and Harry, one of the most indomitable TARDIS teams we ever got. And it once again proves the lengths this Master will go too to enact his goals.
The whole set comes to a conclusion with He Who Wins, written by Nicholas Briggs and the story has a lot to live up too. After a great beginning and following two episodes full of shocks, twists, turns and genuinely dark moments, this one had a lot to live up too in creating a satisfying conclusion. And boy did it, but maybe not in the way you’d expect!
Unlike most series finales this wasn’t a massive action-adventure full of high stakes getting risen even higher. Instead, it was a character-driven piece and it really shows us the way the Master thinks. Now he has achieved all his goals, he really seems bored and the Daleks are beginning to act of their own accord. And while there will probably be some people who are disappointed by ending the series in this way, as apart from loud explosions and action, the character-approach really works. The whole set has had some very high stakes, so this works as a nice breather to bring things to a close and it also allows the cast to really work magic together as all the main characters come together, including an aged version of the War Master to put a stop to the Master’s plans.
It’s a series that has to be listened too to be believed. I was shocked by some of the things the production team did here, and appreciate them having the guts to do it. It’s the type of story that I’d happily see on television, though I suspect the sensors might have something to say about some of the more disturbing moments here.
As usual, Derek Jacobi is wonderful as the Master. I really liked him when he popped up in Utopia and thanks to Big Finish he’s really had a chance to grow and shine in the role and he’s now one of my favourite incarnations of the character. In real life, he seems to be really nice so it’s surprising that he can do a role as evil as this, but then it’s always the nice ones who make the greatest villains!
Anti-Genesis is a cracking story from start to finish. Its ability to play with the source material is inspired, especially as Genesis of the Daleks is often considered one of the best Doctor Who stories to ever be told. It’s almost held in fanatical regard so Big Finish has done a brave thing in playing around with it and it really paid off. It’s a story that if you haven’t heard, treat yourself, quite simply, it’s one of the best stories Big Finish has ever told.