The Crucible of Souls

Posted in Audio by - December 26, 2018
The Crucible of Souls

Released September 2016

With Liv and Helen traveling with a recently-regenerated Nine whom they assume to be a recently-regenerated Doctor and with the Doctor traveling with River Song without knowing her true identity, John Dorney’s ‘The Crucible of Souls’ looks to close out this third installment of the Doom Coalition epic with the highest and most dangerous stakes yet as a future that no longer exists begins to give the overall narrative a much more defined path.

Doom Coalition started off with a bang with the superb introduction of the Eleven as a Time Lord who is still all too conscious of his previous selves’ thoughts, but his subsequent appearances haven’t truly capitalized on this villain’s unique psyche, instead developing him more akin to the Master but who at times struggles to remain in control of his own thoughts. There’s obviously still immense potential in this figure, but perhaps the next wisest step as shown in the preceding two-parter is to focus on a different incarnation to highlight just how the Eleven has come to be and how distinct each of his selves has been. Accordingly, it was established almost immediately that the Eight was the outlier who broke the pattern of evil, and Tim McMullan gave a wonderful performance as this more benign presence, but with the arrival of the Nine- who is able to play off any discrepancies between the Doctor’s and his memories and actions as being part of regenerative amnesia- it’s up to John Heffernan to encapsulate the burgeoning vileness and madness of this incarnation, a task he more than ably achieves as the Nine seeks the Time Lords’ darkest secrets and powers.

Naturally, as the Nine fills the role of the Doctor in the eyes of Liv and Helen even as the two become more suspicious and come to the point of leaving him altogether, the Doctor is afforded the opportunity of doing some investigating of his own under false pretenses, even taking the opportunity to talk about himself in the third person as a remarkably clever and resourceful man. Paul McGann has given a series of perpetually enthralling performances throughout Doom Coalition whether the Doctor is front and centre or more in the background, but his pairing with Alex Kingston here brings out a unique energy that showcases the pair’s fantastic chemistry without foregoing the requisite gravity needed for the threat the universe now faces. In fact, ‘The Crucible of Souls’ instantly ranks among River’s strongest appearances simply because she is not in control of the situation while brazenly acting with a knowing wink, and though there are some nice moments that highlight just how unique her character is such as when piloting the TARDIS with ease in front of the Doctor, she likewise must use all of her mettle and intellect and comes off as a much more grounded and relatable heroine in the process.

While one potential pitfall of these monumental sixteen-story saga released in four quarters several months apart is that certain plot developments can be forgotten in the interim, Dorney very wisely finds time to explain just why the Doctor’s friend Padrac has defected from the straight and narrow path of morality. Although his ultimate actions make him- and by extension the Time Lords- almost indistinguishable from the Daleks, the fact that he has foreseen with the Matrix the total destruction of his race in every reality except that in which he pre-emptively destroys every other race is nonetheless a nice nod to the Time War and how that conflict would eventually play out on both sides. With the future gone and the temporal refugees destroyed so that they cannot warn anyone else of the danger that would befall them, the energy collected from the destruction to ensure the Time Lords’ eternal survival gives both Padrag and the Coalition he has allied with a much more well-defined and precarious edge than the earlier plans on display that are now so dwarfed by comparison, and the Doctor being completely removed from time alongside his companions as they are projected into the non-existent future with no chance of escape ends this set on a monumental cliffhanger that is staggering in both its simplicity and complexity given the immense of amount of work that went into setting it up.

Without question, Doom Coalition 3 has offered the strongest total experience of any set so far, beginning with an immense standalone tale before telling a thoroughly entertaining and important two-parter and then culminating in a supremely character-driven finale that only amplifies the emotion and stakes all the more. Bringing so many storylines and characters each into clear focus is no easy task, and though Padrac’s ultimate decision is maybe too at odds with Time Lord philosophy at this point in their timelines, ‘The Crucible of Souls’ does everything that could have possibly been asked of it and easily ensures that anticipation for the final set remains high, in the process spotlighting just how strong the Doctor’s companions truly are.

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