Unbound: Masters of War
A new adventure for a new Doctor in a new dimension! The Doctor and his travelling companion, retired army officer Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, take a random trip in the TARDIS – and land on the planet Skaro. The Doctor helped the Thals to defeat the Daleks years ago, so he is surprised to find the Thal city under Dalek occupation. He determines to help them again, but what is the Daleks’ purpose in keeping the Thals alive? Does it have anything to do with the Daleks’ mythical creator, named in their teachings as Davros?
The production front is excellent. The sound design provides incredibly convincing Daleks, and the setting is conveyed efficiently and effectively. Most significant, though, is the score by Martin Johnson, which proves both epic and distinctive: a fine departure from the similar-sounding main range scores of the time.
Behind the Scenes
Masters of War was the story that Nicholas Briggs told me about during the Dalek Masterplan stage play after a successful audition for a job at Big Finish. Back then it was given the working title of The Engines of Destruction. Part of the Doctor Who: Unbound series, this story is a sequel to the highly regarded story Sympathy for the Devil starring David Warner as an alternative third Doctor. Although it was the first story given to me, fans had to wait a year until it was released in December 2008.
This story required a bit of research due to the fact it is a sequel and that it is set on the one planet, other than Earth, that the Doctor has visited most often, Skaro. When I say research I actually mean watch classic series Dalek stories, all of which I have in some form and have seen countless times. Fourth Doctor story Genesis of the Daleks was the biggest influence on my work for Masters of War and I collected some original sound effects from the era.
It should be noted that I had an unscripted lines in this story. There needed to be a voice over the radio at one point and that voice wasn’t scripted nor recorded, so I took it upon myself to add it. I also took a role or two being killed by Daleks, as did my good friend Daniel Lacey.
During the dialogue edit I found myself confused. It turned out that half of the Dalek voices were not recorded in studio. This was either accidental or more likely Nick decided to do it afterwards to save money. As a result I had a story with half the dialogue missing! Until Nick could record these Daleks I came up with a way to continue with the sound effects edit without them. My Zoom H4 had a ring modulator! After hours of memorable Dalek quotes ended I recorded the missing lines myself so that I had something to work with. I had a story!
I took my time with the production of this story. Because I had more time to get my creative juices flowing I could tweak my sounds and perfect my music themes. Along with those original sound I had collected I also acquired a few ‘Nu Who’ Dalek sounds like movement, dome rotation and blaster effects. I asked for these effects because after listening to a few audio dramas with Daleks in them I didn’t think they had much impact on audio without some sort of mechanical noise. I wanted them to have presence and depth because Daleks are much more than just a voice. This also helped during a scene where a Dalek, or rather its travel machine the Dalek is contained in, is shut down by the Doctor and altered. I found that the noise made when switching my laptop off provided a great effect for this.
If there is one thing I would change in this production then it would have to be those damn Quatch voices! I wasn’t that convinced that these ghost-like creatures worked but there wasn’t much I could do with them without making them sound like odd Daleks and they needed to sound almost completely the opposite. I played around with the voices for ages but the only thing that worked was the effect they now have.
Skaro is a war torn planet full of debris, crumbling buildings and wastelands. Luckily for me there are two old colliery sites close to where I live. I spent a whole day with a shotgun microphone and my Zoom H4 just walking on rubble, throwing pieces of rock at random objects and purposefully falling to the ground as if exterminated. It was fun but I got some very odd looks from people walking their dogs!
The Ships used in the climactic battle scenes came to life thanks to my cylinder vacuum cleaner and Dalek saucers were electronically realised. In the script, the explosion of the Quatch mothership read “mothership explodes”. Not very informative. Normally when something explodes in audio drama it is just a bang. I wanted perspective. I wanted the listener to ‘see’ the blast wave. So, as the energy builds up we hear Davros screaming his defeating note in the mothership and then just as it explodes cut to a very ‘wide angle’ in the city to hear the explosion in the distance followed by the blast wave. It was very effective and worked a treat!
Very soon after reading the script I was coming up with musical ideas. I wanted an epic orchestral composition based on thematic material and that’s exactly what it got. I spent more time thinking about the music than any other part of this production. My instinct was to go for a big brassy sound with underlying strings. For some key cues I added a spoken choir. I wanted the listener to feel like they were hearing the soundtrack to the latest blockbuster film and the bright, fast score I provided took care of the story in terms of action and emotion. Like The Doomwood Curse, I composed music for an action scene and then used it in the trailer for the story. It gave fans a sample of what to expect and anticipation grew rapidly. One music cue I am particularly proud of is that emotional string piece playing when the Doctor shows Davros a fact in his history that causes him to question. I wanted a powerful cue to enhance these emotions and I enjoyed creating a rare moment in Doctor Who history.