Released March 2017
SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW
Doom Coalition burst onto the scene in October 2015, instantly setting an incredible precedent with the introduction of the mesmerising Time Lord villain the Eleven and never looking back as subsequent stories introduced new companion Helen Sinclair and new villains the Sonomancer and the Clocksmith, re-introduced the ever-beguiling River Song, and slowly built up one of the greatest threats the universe has ever faced. With the Doctor betrayed by a man he once called friend and seemingly doomed along with his companions as the universe’s end approaches, Doom Coalition 4 arrives amidst exceedingly high expectations to finally conclude this sixteen-part epic.
John Dorney’s ‘Ship in a Bottle’ opens this concluding set, taking a cue from the third set’s opening tale, ‘Absent Friends’ and offering a much more intimate and introspective story than is usual, albeit one with the impending inevitability of death and resultant destruction of the universe as its backdrop. With no villain or, indeed, any characters other than the three leads present, the focus is squarely on exploring the mindset of the Doctor, Liv, and Helen as they find themselves facing the very real prospect of having to live out the rest of their lives in a ship they can’t control that is hurtling through the vortex in a future that no longer exists. Particularly poignant is the Doctor’s initial reaction, the guilt of being played by Padrac and letting his companions down consuming him and an audible tone of defeat he rarely shows being evoked. The Eighth Doctor has always been one to wear his emotions on his sleeves, but his apologetic sorrow here is some of Paul McGann’s finest work.
Alongside Liv’s resilient optimism that stays grounded in the reality of the situation and initiates a potential plan of escape, Dorney also expertly manages to further define the character of Helen, a companion in the very tough position of being introduced as so many fascinating villains and storylines filled these box sets. Here Helen seems rather aware and self-conscious of the fact that she doesn’t have quite the history and rapport with the Doctor as the longer-serving Liv does, allowing a glimmer of hopelessness and despair to take root as the conversations naturally shift to mortality. Yet as the odds of returning grow ever fainter and the only hope of survival involves entering the very vortex itself with no protection and triggering a shockwave, the three travelers manage to find a unity through a semblance of assured positivity that culminates with a spectacularly tense cliffhanger.
Given the intense character-drive drama that focused squarely on the leads in the opener, the natural progression would be to step back and witness the events unfolding on Gallifrey following ‘The Crucible of Souls,’ and Matt Fitton’s ‘Songs of Love’ aptly continues the momentum of Padrac’s villainy. As River seemingly joins the victorious Coalition, winning its members’ confidence by exclaiming that she is the only one who has actually managed to kill the Doctor, events on Gallifrey are quickly spinning out of control. Using the Sonomancer to obliterate anyone who stands in his way, Padrac is able to play upon the emotions of seeing so many potential futures in which Gallifrey is destroyed to put his plan of ultimate universal destruction- so euphemistically dubbed ‘Harmony’- into action.
‘Songs of Love proves to be an incredible success beyond simply progressing Padrac’s scheming with the Sonomancer and the Eleven in tow. Firstly, it begins to flesh out the state of Gallifrey as the prospect of the Time War is seemingly introduced for the first time. With both flippant and momentous observations and details while Padrac subverts any notion of democracy, Gallifrey becomes a very real environment with real people in it rather than simply a background concept that draws upon reputation and previous televised and audio releases. Secondly, it provides an absolutely tremendous farewell for River, her undying love of the Doctor through her uniquely-complex timeline proving to be one of the universe’s most commanding forces and allowing her a powerfully moving conversation with the Doctor who has always forgotten her following their previous meetings so far. A Doctor-lite story at this point is unexpected to say the least, but ‘Songs of Love’ manages to succeed as an emotional and exciting momentum-builder that wonderfully complements ‘Ship in a Bottle’ and sets all of the pieces in motion for the final two episodes while finally allowing Alex Kingston and Paul McGann a very heartfelt scene together.
Following a powerful pre-credits scene in which the Eleven truly reasserts his dangerous side, Matt Fitton’s ‘The Side of the Angels’ quickly manages to move events to New York City where Cardinal Ollistra and the Meddling Monk under a new moniker are making plans of their own to save Gallifrey. Yet as the Doctor is understandably wary of the Monk’s involvement when he and his companions come to Ollistra to ask for help, the inherent danger of the tenuous alliance with the Weeping Angels quickly takes precedence. New York has always been a haven for the Weeping Angels, and they once more translate to the audio medium perfectly as the script makes excellent use of their varied attacks and disturbing means of communication while nobody is safe. As New York’s criminal world, Ollistra’s planning, and the Eleven’s ruthless desire to dispose of the Doctor converge, the Weeping Angels once more prove to be one of the most effective and dynamic presences of the Doctor Who universe, even when guest starring in an established epic so far along in its story.
‘The Side of the Angels’ is also a very intricately-detailed story high on tension, and each and every second is used perfectly to advance the characterization and plot and to highlight the plight resulting from this new element of danger while also making use of concepts introduced in the very first episode, ‘The Eleven.’ Mark Bonnar again astounds as the multifaceted Time Lord rogue, and the dichotomy of his incarnations has never been quite so prevalent, the distinct Eight a beacon of hope amidst the sheer madness of the Coalition’s plan. Even with events set on Earth, it’s intriguing to see so many faces from the Doctor’s past and future colliding, a precursor for the known future of Gallifrey when all hands are called to action that gives an even grander sense of scope to proceedings. As the death count rises and loyalties are tested, ‘The Side of the Angels’ proves to be an excellent adventure that works both in a standalone context and as one that propels events towards a crucial finale.
With only one hour to save eternity and Gallifrey walled off, John Dorney’s ‘Stop the Clock’ is tasked with concluding the phenomenal undertaking of Doom Coalition. Without going into too much detail to keep the revelations fresh, events move at a breakneck pace, drawing upon continuity within the set wonderfully as seemingly small or isolated events from earlier stories have tremendous ramifications as events unfold. This seamlessly gives a wonderful sense of cohesion to this intricate tapestry that is perfectly logical and rewards the audience without becoming too overbearing or forced, and the payoff for the characters who have been written and acted so well for so long is immensely satisfying on all fronts.
Of course, with a Coalition made of some of the strongest-willed and most megalomaniacal individuals ever conceived, it’s rather unsurprising that there are hints of internal strife, notions that the Doctor is able to pick up on and use to his advantage as needed which also allows Liv to undertake a covert mission of her own. It’s with the Doctor’s final plea as the last few minutes tick down that Helen again comes to prominence, the aspects of her character that she felt so self-conscious about earlier making her invaluable when the time of reckoning finally comes. Without knowing what the future holds for any of the characters, this is unquestionably Helen’s finest moment so far as she again proves that she is willing to sacrifice everything for the chance of saving anything, the ultimate compliment to pay a companion of the Doctor when going up against such long odds. Somehow, despite having to juggle so many characters and so many subplots, Dorney has managed to create an emotional blockbuster that never loses its sense of purpose or pace, ending on a powerfully satisfying high that manages to tie up one final dangling thread from an earlier story in the process.
Doom Coalition has arguably been Big Finish’s crown jewel since Mark Bonnar made his presence known in the first story, and each successive story and set has managed to flesh out the growing threat to the universe itself wonderfully while leading the Doctor ever closer to the inevitability of the Time War. With so many familiar faces, some friendly and some not, Doom Coalition is a masterclass in plot development and continuity, straddling the line between the classic and new series of Doctor Who while paying off every detail from earlier stories by the time the final end theme plays. Expectations for Doom Coalition 4 were understandably sky high before its release, but writers John Dorney and Matt Fitton along with everyone involved from acting, direction, sound design, and production standpoints have managed to create a wholly satisfying ending that once again propels the Eighth Doctor into unexplored territory. Releasing a sixteen-part saga in four sets is a mammoth undertaking filled with so much inherent risk, but Doom Coalition is unabashedly a resounding success and one of the finest Big Finish productions to date.