Friday, 23 March 2018

The Devil You Know written and directed by Scott Handcock

What’s it about: The Time War has begun in earnest, and Romana must think the unthinkable. For a most dangerous mission, she selects the most dangerous warrior – the Master. But he will not be alone. Leela accompanies her old enemy as they begin an unusual interrogation. What does Finnian Valentine know? And can Leela and the Master ever truly be on the same side?

President Romana: The Doctor refused to help Romana in dealing with the Time War and so in desperate times she has called upon the only other Time Lord that she knows is capable of making the tough calls in wartime. Someone utterly ruthless who will get them the information they require, someone who will do whatever it takes…and someone who they can use as a scapegoat if need be. I love how the Master so off-handedly calls Romana ‘former President.’

Noble Savage: Because Jacobi had never played scenes with Jameson before I was a little floored when the Master recognised Leela so freely and then all those 4DAs where she and Beevers played off against one another coming flooded back in my mind. The Evil One finally serves a purpose. Leela found the old Master raw and honest, not hiding himself away as he does now. Her opinion of the Time Lords has really shifted over the years. Once she had a similar opinion to Finnian that they were terrifyingly inhumane monsters that played about with peoples lives but since she has become involved with Romana and Narvin she has a softer outlook on them now.

War Master: He is not the man he was. War has changed him for the worse, and he was pretty damn bad to start off with. The war has given him purpose and whatever it takes he will do in order to come out on top. He’s committed a great many crimes since he has been resurrected but the Time Lords have turned a blind eye because they need him. He does so enjoy a good old-fashioned threat. The idea that the Times Lords are offering the evillest version of the Master a pardon to head off into the universe to commit goodness knows what atrocities in order to secure him for a particular mission to help them win the war goes to show just how desperate they are. Admittedly this is very similar to the situation in The Five Doctors but there we were dealing with the cuddling panto chuckle and throw off the disguise version of the Master. Jacobi’s Master feels dangerous, which makes this bargain a heavy one. They are literally doing a deal with the Devil. What the Time lords think of him matters very little to him so he refuses their request. He won’t have his TARDIS taken away from him, not again. There is the scent of death about his TARDIS. Trying to navigate your way through a warzone undetected requires great skill. You’ve got love how jovial and calm the Master is before extracting a weapon and shooting both Finnan’s down without a second thought. He makes a very good point that when talking about Leela (who also kills) it is hard to judge who is good and who is evil. It all depends on your point of view. He happily admits that he would be considered evil and is willing to talk about everyone he’s killed and betrayed. The reason he turned his back on Time Lord society was all the pomp and ceremony, of having to do things a certain way. He has absolute faith in his ability to extract information from somebody because he is the Master. There’s no fun in killing somebody who knows that it is coming.

Standout Performance: Derek Jacobi has joined the Gallifrey series playing the War Master. No wait…let me say that again. DEREK JACOBI HAS JOINED THE GALLIFREY SERIES AND IS PLAYING THE WAR MASTER! To be honest I could have handled any godawful technobabble excuse for him to be brought into the fray because Jacobi made such an instant impression on me in Utopia and his take on the Master, whilst theatrical and brief, was one of the most chilling. Listen to the way that Jacobi plays his dialogue, like he is relishing every second of this. The extras reveal that this was the first time he reprised the role but he is so comfortable with it, so skilled at dripping malevolence with every syllable that you could never tell. Huge kudos to Bryan Dick who takes on a challenging character and manages to make quite an impression in a one-shot role. I didn’t feel anything for anyone in the eighth Doctor Time War box set, but here I felt a lot of sympathy for Finnian, twice over.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘There has been enough death!’ ‘This is a War! There’s no such thing!’
‘Time to dispose of the evidence, don’t you think?’

Great Ideas: The two Finnian Valentines were once the same, at the heart of a temporal explosion whilst all the timelines shattered around him. He died in the explosions but copies of him were made that exist to torment each other. Two iterations of the same man, living very separate lives but they both ended up in the same place. He’s an experienced freedom fighter, a soldier and above all else he has knowledge of a weapon that could potentially end the Time War. The Time Lords saved his planet a couple of decades back when the Dalek occupation forces embarked on their first assault. Batting back and forth between the two Finnian’s talking to the Master and Leela respectively offers a very different slant on the story of what he has been through. The weapon is called the Possibility Canon and its located on a world in the Isop Galaxy. It can target reality, pinpoint specific moments in someone’s history so you can contain the effect. The Master spots this as a lie immediately. The real weapon is an unlimited energy source that could fuel the Daleks or the Time Lords for almost a millennia. Another lie. The perfect torture device sees the recipient being forced to live their entire life cycle in no more than 20 minutes.

Standout Scene: The Master doesn’t want to kill Leela because it would give the Doctor closure. He is still punishing his friend, even from a distance. Her fate, when it comes, is chilling to the core.

Result: ‘Trust me, I’m a Time Lord and I’m on your side…’ The best kind of character drama sees two people clashing in a very vivid way and bringing together old adversaries Leela and the Master proves that formula perfectly. Sent on a mission by the Time Lords to discover a superweapon that could bring the Time War to end…actually that is pretty similar to the recent eighth Doctor set in premise but to be honest it doesn’t matter why these two characters are forced together because the fireworks that ensue are so beautifully written and performed. Jacobi and Jameson are an ideal pairing, and it’s one memorable scene after another between them. Having them interrogate a different version of the same man individually shows their individual strengths and weaknesses and there are times where the Master’s charm is far more effective than Leela’s tunnel visioned approach. I also really enjoyed the assertion that from the right point of view, Leela could be considered evil and the Master good as their methods are similarly homicidal. Their motives could determine how fate sees them. I think the War Master is characterised outstandingly here, entirely honest about his willingness to do whatever needs to get done, open about the people he has murdered and betrayed. He’s charming because of that openness and that’s terrifying. Handcock remembers and has remembered throughout this entire set that the only way to make your ideas bounce is to channel them through strong characters and I have really loved how the plot has often taken a backseat to exploring who these people are and how the War is affecting them. This is the sort of Time War that Russell T Davies would write, powerful and creative ideas but always making us feel something whilst exploring them. It’s the most restrained story of this set so far but because it is so focused on the three characters and their interaction I was rivetted. If I thought the previous story had a bold climax, wait until you see what happens here: 9/10

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And there is a War Master boxset waiting for you which is also very well written and performed. :)