The TARDIS brings the Doctor and his companion, retired Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, to the ravaged planet Skaro, devastated by centuries of war and left with only one habitable city. The Doctor and Alistair almost immediately run afoul of a Dalek-imposed curfew; they’re only saved by members of the Thal underground resistance that seeks to overthrow their Dalek rulers. The Doctor and Alistair get a crash course in local history: due to the first Doctor’s intervention during his first visit to Skaro, the Thals rose up and effectively drove the Daleks away from Skaro. The Daleks spread into space, but then abruptly returned to Skaro to enslave the Thals anew. Having helped to change Skaro’s history enough to create the present situation, the Doctor feels a responsibility to change the planet’s destiny again. Alistair relishes the chance to lead the resistance fighters in their fight against the Daleks, but in the background, the Doctor notices repeated propaganda broadcasts focusing on a being he has never heard of before: Davros, the creator of the Daleks, attempting to instill a messianic fervor into his creations. But Davros left Skaro long ago, his destination and his mission unknown, and the Doctor is able to use that mystery to turn the Dalek-Thal conflict into a Dalek civil war. When another invading force arrives – this time neither Dalek nor Thal – the Doctor realizes that his actions have played into the hands of another race that wants to rule Skaro.
Cast: David Warner (The Doctor), Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Terry Molloy (Davros), Nicholas Briggs (The Daleks), Amy Pemberton (Nadel), Sarah Douglas (Gillen), Jeremy James (Delt), Christopher Heywood (Toloc)
Timeline: after The War Games and after Sympathy For The Devil
Notes: This adventure features the alternate third Doctor played by David Warner and an alternate Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, both of whom were introduced in the previous Doctor Who Unbound story Sympathy For The Devil. Where the previous range of Unbound stories marked the 40th anniversary of Doctor Who, the release of Masters Of War coincides with the 45th anniversary of the first broadcast episode of Doctor Who. As this story presumes that the Doctor’s life has taken a different path from the Doctor accepted as the central hero of the “main” timeline, Davros has never met the Doctor. Given the different “origin story” of Davros’ horrific injuries, this is also a different Davros than the one heard in the I, Davros audio spinoff series.
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: Ever since 2003’s half-dozen Doctor Who Unbound adventures, I’ve been clamoring for a follow-up to one in particular: Sympathy For The Devil, starring David Warner as an alternative to Jon Pertwee’s third Doctor. The Unbound stories dispense with the intricate long-running continuity – or find “what if?” forks in the road that could have made the Doctor’s adventures completely different from what unfolded on TV. Warner is still an inspired piece of casting as the Doctor, and Sympathy‘s closing scene – in which he whisks the retired, embittered Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart away as his new sidekick – was a tantalizing one. Not all of the Unbound stories were so open-ended, but Sympathy was, and deliciously so.
For years, fans waited on a follow-up which was tentatively titled The Dark Castle, which proceeded to never materialize. In 2008, Masters Of War was announced, though its release date was apparently pushed back to November, ostensibly to mark the 45th anniversary of Doctor Who’s television debut, but more likely to avoid butting heads with two things: the return of Davros in Doctor Who’s TV season finale, and the reappearance of the Brigadier in the season finale of The Sarah Jane Adventures. Masters clearly features very different versions of both characters, so presumably the Cardiff production office exercised its influence to minimize confusion for the TV audiences.
Masters assumes that the Hartnell and Troughton adventures with the Daleks did happen as we saw them, and it even reveals that Day Of The Daleks happened on schedule as well, though without the third Doctor’s intervention, it led to a UNIT bloodbath that left the Brigadier discredited. But Dalek history as we know it hangs a sharp right after that juncture; with no fourth Doctor to thwart Davros’ creation of the Daleks, Davros has to program the Daleks for pity in order to survive – and later leaves Skaro on his own, having grown annoyed with his creations’ weaknesses. But without the Doctor’s constant intervention to obsess over, this Davros is more frustrated than megalomaniacal, and he has a spark of nobility that prevails in the end. Masters gives us Davros as a one-off, redeemable character, and in a way, this version of Davros is more interesting than the alternate Doctor or Brigadier in this story. He becomes that staple of ’70s Doctor Who: the misguided soul, manipulated by evil forces, who switches sides in the end and becomes a tragic hero, making the ultimate sacrifice and finding his redemption in the same moment.
The evil forces manipulating Davros, on the other hand, are an ethereal, non-corporeal entity known as the Quatch, and their vocal delivery and their description (as related by other characters in the story) bring to mind the Taelons from Earth: Final Conflict. This really robs them of a lot of their potential impact, but the flipside is that almost anything else would’ve been nailed as derivative of the Daleks themselves, or the Ice Warriors, or what have you. Their name is also chuckle-inducingly unfortunate: kind of like a sasquatch that isn’t so sassy, the Quatch are almost begging to be called the Crotch. Or maybe I’m the only person thinking that.
The notion that the Brigadier would remain on Skaro in an attempt to broker a peace between the surviving Thals and Daleks is an interesting one, and for some reason, about halfway through the story I began to wonder if that might indeed happen. The alternate Lethbridge-Stewart is a fascinating study in emphasizing different elements of the same character we know so well, and Nicholas Courtney does a great job with the part. If anything is frustrating about this setup, it’s the implication that he and the Doctor have had quite a string of adventures between Sympathy For The Devil and Masters Of War – which we’ll just have to imagine for ourselves. And in the end, that’s still the great thing about the Doctor Who Unbound series: it fires the imagination as to what else could have happened. Masters is just one tantalizing taste of another way of looking at Doctor Who.
And sadly, it has since been revealed that this is also the last Doctor Who Unbound adventure. Whether it was a decision from Big Finish that the now-infrequent alternate universe stories just didn’t fit into their lineup, or a decree handed down from the Doctor Who production offices in Cardiff, Unbound is no more – sadly, it was really one of the most fascinating things Big Finish did with the Doctor Who license, a sort of last-gasp throwback to the pre-new-series era when Doctor Who really seemed to belong, with the BBC’s tacit approval, to the fans.