Doom Coalition 1 represents the next new starting point for the Eight Doctor, following the marvellous conclusion to the Dark Eyes epic. Like Dark Eyes, Doom Coalition will again comprise four four-disc boxsets, and while we have a returning companion in Liv Chenka, the enemies and circumstances are wholly new.
‘The Eleven’ kicks off the saga, set on Gallifrey and introducing us to the titular villain. The idea behind the Eleven is quite straightforward- and one surprisingly not used before- a Time Lord in his eleventh body who retains the personalities of his previous personas. Courtesy of an impressive and passionate cameo from Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor, we are given the impression right from the start that the Eleven is a very dangerous character, one on par with (or perhaps more dangerous than) the Master, the Daleks, or any of the other dozens of foes the Doctor has battled with in the past.
The concept of the Eleven is a masterstroke, but Mark Bonnar really brings those differing personas to life with a nuanced yet ever-contrasting performance. It is through these shifting moments that we really get to gain insight into this fascinating character and learn about the relationships amongst himself as it were. In fact, writer Matt Fitton does a superb job in exploring relationships amidst all of the characters here, simultaneously making Liv a bit more relatable and approachable since she has joined the TARDIS full-time now. The plot roles along at an impressive space despite all of the prologue and introduction, and the threat set up is surely one of the most daunting and impressive the Doctor has ever had to battle.
Understandably, following the scale and scope of the opening, the second story of the set ‘The Red Lady’ slows the proceedings down a bit and offers a more subtle affair. We are also introduced to a new companion in language scholar Helen Sinclair who, after a coarse few initial scenes, feels like a welcome addition to the cast by the end of the story.
‘The Red Lady’ is an enthralling story, driven prominently by its plot, which works both for and against it in the end. With the Doctor and Liv searching for an anomaly, a mysterious collection donated to a 1960s museum serves as the initial core of the story. Soon we are introduced to a professor who has become obsessed with an increasingly more menacing and nearer Red Lady haunting a large number of pieces of art from throughout the centuries, and the scene is set for what becomes an engrossingly mysterious and horrifying tale. As a story by itself, ‘The Red Lady’ succeeds wonderfully; however, the absence of the Eleven after such a terrific setup is all too noticeable, even with the characters occasionally mentioning him to keep his presence known.
Set in Renaissance Florence with Galileo under house arrest, the third story ‘The Galileo Trap’ is perhaps the weakest of the four, but it still offers a good romp with enough ties to the overreaching story at large to keep it relevant. The portrayal and characterization of Galileo by John Woodvine is superlative, and it’s no surprise to find out that he and the Doctor have such a long past together. The scenes featuring the Doctor and Galileo are easily the best of the story. McGann, in particular offers an incredibly engaging performance, keeping his classic portrayal in mind while bringing some of the newfound grittiness and edge that started appearing more in Dark Eyes. The burning desire to protect both history and his colleagues is on full display, and the gravitas of his performance alone carries the story.
Unfortunately, the remainder of the characters have little to do other than to pad the story. Even the two main antagonists, Fortuna and Cleaver, are mostly inept and, while entertaining to listen to as a bit of a double act, do little to distinguish themselves as a memorable or lasting threat. Helen, likewise, does not have much opportunity to grow or develop as the new companion in this story, mostly being relegated to offering reactions or being in need of rescue. Up and down supporting characters aside, however, ‘The Galileo Trap’ does succeed in leading us to the final story of the first set.
And that final story is ‘The Satanic Mill,’ a story that moves at a breakneck pace that tries to squeeze as much out of its allotted running time as possible. Finally, the Eleven is back, and he continues to fascinate and already elevate himself into the upper echelon of the Doctor’s foes. His split personality persona renders him an entirely different threat than even the Master or the Rani pose, and it is enthralling to listen to him work both with and against himself. The only real issue to be had with The Satanic Mill is that it does not offer a truly fulfilling resolution after such a resounding setup. This could, of course, retrospectively be addressed in one of the upcoming boxsets, but the ending just seems a bit empty as of now.
Again, Paul McGann deserves ample praise as his heartfelt performance truly showcases a full range of emotions (and amply carries on McCoy’s tone regarding the Eleven). Doom Coalition has really continued to progress the character after the effects of Dark Eyes, and it’s a great venture for his Doctor to take. Sadly, Helen again has little progress in terms of characterization or story. After three stories now, and heading into the second boxset, she is still a big mystery. And with the presence of River Song looming large in that same boxset, it will be interesting to see what the writers do with Helen’s character going forward with so many lead characters already around.
All in all, then, Doom Coalition 1 is a solid start to Big Finish’s next sixteen-part epic. It has some rough patches along the way, and so little has been done with the new companion as of yet, but it starts off with an immense introduction to the villain and sets a clear path going forward as the bigger picture is slowly established. With a protagonist and antagonist so captivating, it is easy to overlook any individual shortcomings along the way and to remain very optimistic and excited about the future prospects.