It’s time again to delve into the Time War with another Big Finish box set; we’ve heard the beginning of the Eighth Doctor’s efforts, the conflict of the War Doctor, and next year, we’ll get to see how the politics on Gallifrey will be upheld during this time. But now it’s time to see what the Doctor’s best frenemy, the Master got up to during this utter chaos. Today, I’ll be reviewing the penultimate story in Only The Good, The Sky Man by James Goss.
When his new companion decides to save a planet, the Master indulges this most futile of requests. Materialising on a primitive, agrarian world, both the strangers quickly find their place in it… until fallout from the War invades their happy paradise.
The Master and Cole are aboard the Master’s TARDIS, and the Master finally has the time to reflect and to contemplate on what’s happened over his recent history. And, much like a lot of people would if they ever met him, the Master is staring at Cole. The opening of The Sky Man is a poetic little scene that once again hints at the Master’s more compassionate side; telling Cole that, even if he wanted to, Time Lord law would prevent him from saving any more planets. Him. Cole, quickly realises he could be the catalyst to a loophole in this law, and, with the Master’s powers to enable him, Cole pleads to save one planet himself. Imagine the Tenth Doctor and Donna in The Fires of Pompeii, but the Master is way more happy to oblige, even if it seems futile. And Cole now has a moral choice; he can only choose one planet. There is a brilliant little line penned by Goss, which gives you the littlest indication that the Master is already manipulating Cole emotionally, and it’s really brilliantly performed. All this and I’m not even two minutes into the story.
Once the Master materialises on the planet that Cole chose to save, it’s no time at all before the Master decides that this isn’t his fight, and goes off to grow grapes. I love the idea of the Master going off to France for a while and making a masterful wine whilst the universe is crumbling around him.
The idea of the Master being somewhat of a benevolent mentor to Cole is again really charming and incredibly unnerving; and the chemistry between Derek Jacobi and Jonny Green is second to none. It’s almost like a father and son, when the father has just decided to retire and the son is trying to make his way in the big, bad world. If the father in this metaphor wasn’t the Master, it would be incredibly sweet. But, it is the Master, so naturally you have to be on edge.
For anyone wondering, The Sky Man is much less of a War Master story than it is a Cole story, with the Master in the background. What I really enjoy about this is that Cole acts in exactly the same way that I expect the Doctor acted when they first started out; the intention is all sweet and good, but they’re slightly crap at it for most of the time.
Around half an hour in there’s an utterly devastating scene that genuinely made me shed a tear. When Big Finish does raw, powerful, complex emotions, it very rarely isn’t beautiful. When you listen to The Sky Man, you’ll know exactly which scene I’m on about, and it really knocked me for six. What’s interesting is that in a universe where the possibilities are genuinely limitless, and the writers have free range over what happens in a story, Big Finish writers like James Goss and John Dorney add in these extremely human scenes, which not only gives you a deep emotional wallop, but can also be used to start conversations that could be considered somewhat taboo. Now, I’m not for a second suggesting that every other scene in every other Big Finish story needs to be utterly gut wrenching and brutal and honest and raw, but when Big Finish does decide to have these more personal moments, it really does illicit a genuine human response.
Cole might well and truly be one of the most interesting companions in Big Finish history. He’s stubborn as hell and wants to save as many people as he can, regardless to if they actually want saving. Cole is inherently flawed in this respect, as his stubbornness costs him quite a lot in this story; even if he has only the best of intentions in his heart.
The last act of The Sky Man is extremely bittersweet; it goes to show just how much of a genius Cole is, and how compassionate he is, and how much he cares about everyone. Even if it backfires in a spectacular fashion. Now, I’m not going to say exactly how it backfires, because it is an incredible twist that genuinely comes out of nowhere but makes perfect sense, but my god, if my theory is correct (and yes, James Goss does dangle a theory-carrot in front of you in this), then I have a feeling the repercussions may come back some point in the future. I hope it does, because my god it’d be genius.
Overall, The Sky Man could easily be considered the most bittersweet story from Big Finish this year; and I adore it. At it’s core, it’s a simple story about somebody trying their best to help and it not working in the way they intended; but once you scratch the surface, you realise it’s an incredibly heartfelt, emotional, brutal and raw story. James Goss must know how to get an emotional reaction out of me, because he did it so successfully. All in all, it seems like Big Finish have created a real gem in the Whoniverse in this War Master box set.
Should you want to purchase The War Master: Only The Good, it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £20 for a limited time on digital download, and £23 for the CD box set.