Doom Coalition 3

Posted in Audio by - September 28, 2016
Doom Coalition 3

Released September 2016

After an agonizing wait, Big Finish has at last released Doom Coalition 3, four more stories continuing the ever more complex adventures of the Eighth Doctor, Liv Chenka, and Helen Sinclair as they battle both the past and future and once more cross paths with the enigmatic River Song. This review, by necessity, will feature fewer and fewer spoilers as the four stories are subsequently discussed and the more vital and crucial plot points leading into the fourth set are revealed.

John Dorney’s ‘Absent Friends’ kicks off the third portion of the Doom Coalition saga with the Doctor concerned about why the TARDIS has landed in England rather than on Gallifrey as intended. Set just before the turn of the twenty-first century, the TARDIS team finds itself in a small village struggling with the advent of mobile telephones and mysterious calls, a large phone mast from the new telephone company Superville dominating their attention and view and causing plenty of scorn and consternation.

As the Doctor tinkers in his TARDIS and soon finds that nothing is wrong with it and that he seems to have been pulled off course purposefully, Helen gives in to temptation and furtively leaves to find out what has become of her in life since they are temporally quite close to when she initially departed with the Doctor. What follows is a brutally personal story, one that can only successfully work in this type of box set since, by itself, it goes so against the typical norm of Doctor Who. As Helen meets with her brother under the guise of being her own secret daughter, she uncovers the devastating truth about what happened to her family after she departed, in so doing fixing her own future so that these events must come to pass as her brother describes. This prolonged sequence really helps to flesh out the character of Helen, but it very much gives this story a standalone feel at the same time.

Meanwhile, the Doctor and Liv explore Superville, accepting a free telephone in hopes of figuring out just why and how the local citizens are receiving calls from deceased family members. As Liv herself receives a call from her long-departed father, allowing yet more emotion to flood the release and providing an intriguing similarity and contrast between the two companions, the Doctor discovers that the cause of the issues is not what he expected at all, a piece of a mysterious clock the culprit rather than some nefarious supervillain. Realizing that this clock in its entirety could be monumentally dangerous, he sets off with his companions to find the remaining pieces before someone with ill intent can, creating the seeming premise for this set while wrapping up an emotional tour de force for Hattie Morahan and Nicola Walker’s companions.

Matt Fitton then splits the narrative into three in ‘The Eighth Piece’ with Helen in 2016 Rome, Liv in fifteenth century Prague, and the Doctor in 1538 England as the hunt for the clock pieces continues and a prophet foresees the end of days. The English portion centres on Thomas Cromwell and his distaste for the Church as a mysterious item becomes known. As the Doctor very directly asks if anyone has seen any otherworldly technology, he soon finds himself unwittingly allied with Cromwell and his opposing viewpoints, at least until Cromwell’s suspicions overtake him and he tortures the Doctor for possibly being a spy or assassin. This is a physical threat rarely touched upon in Doctor Who, but it works exceedingly well here to ratchet up the tension even knowing that the intended outcome will ultimately be averted. However, the introduction of the clockwork Solvers, a type of sentient puzzle box creature thought to be only a thing of Time Lord legend, is certainly a fascinating prospect with tremendous potential for the remaining stories..

‘The Eighth Piece’ also brings River Song into the boxset, masquerading as a nun and interfering with history once again following her confrontation with the Eleven. She does rather quickly leave when events with Cromwell take an unexpectedly dangerous turn, but intriguingly she doesn’t seem quite as adamant about avoiding contact with the Eighth Doctor at all costs here as she has been in previous encounters. Helen, on the other hand, learns just how infamous her decisions in ‘The Red Lady’ have become, and as she must play off her past by pretending to be only a distant relative to herself. This is another fascinating insight into the development of her character, and it dovetails nicely into the introduction of the sinister Clocksmith and the nearly-completed and ominously-named Doomsday Chronometer.

‘The Eighth Piece’ may not be a ground-breaking piece of storytelling, but it’s unquestionably a very effective one in progressing the plot exceedingly efficiently. Bringing yet another interesting and captivating villain into the fold after the likes of the Eleven and the Sonomancer, with a Type 70 TARDIS in play as well, this second story picks up on the threads from the first and springboards perfectly into the closely intertwined third, ‘The Doomsday Chronometer’ also written by Matt Fitton.

With the Doctor still a prisoner of Cromwell and caught during a forced but failed escape attempt, he is soon taken to meet the well-paying Lady Risolva, the queen of the clockwork/puzzlebox race that has a long and unhappy history with the Clocksmith. As the Lady Risolva explains her plight and search for the Doctor, the Doctor comes to realize that the Clocksmith and his Solver subservients have somehow cause the universe to seemingly contract. It’s also in this story that the character or River Song really excels, showing just how brilliant she is underneath the madcap exterior. Taking Helen under her wing and allowing Helen to further flourish as a character, the two zip through history and proceed to tear into Da Vinci paintings and through stained glass windows during the German Blitz. Her plan is cunningly revealed alongside the existence of a shadowy doomsday sect whose members also want to put together the mysterious clock pieces. As River and then the Lady Risolva travel to confront the Clocksmith and save Liv, the initial confrontation with the villain of this piece ends surprisingly quickly and easily as the queen of the Solvers asserts her dominance, but any anticlimactic sentiment is quickly put aside as a hidden truth reveals itself.

Fortunately, interspersed with a genuinely surprising and touching scene between the Doctor and River that keeps their predestined fates intact and discusses the importance of the Doctor in people’s lives, the script reveals a somewhat predictable but nonetheless utterly satisfying twist that echoes back to the very beginning of the Doom Coalition saga that increases the anticipation for the final installment of this third set astronomically, a strong ending to two very tightly-knit and satisfying stories of intrigue and cause and effect.

John Dorney is tasked with rounding out this set of four stories with ‘The Crucible of Souls,’ and he manages to achieve a truly blockbuster script full of action and emotion that ties deeply into the very fabric of Doctor Who and Gallifrey itself as the portents of doom and an oncoming war grow. By this time, the storyline of people mistaking a recently-regenerated Time Lord or completely other being for the Doctor has been done countless times, including in Big Finish’s own main range quite recently, but this premise is used to wonderful effect here as this ‘Doctor’ takes Liv and Helen to the Gallifrey Archive, home of many of the Time Lord’s deepest and darkest secrets.

What follows is a complex story of mistaken identity, betrayal, and bravery, Liv and Helen working under one premise with the Doctor and River working under another. With the future completely destroyed, the Doctor must question his own past and assumptions as events from the previous two boxsets tie effortlessly into a truly fantastic climax and satisfying cliffhanger. The Crucible of Souls is a frightening piece of technology, one that can assure Time Lord victory through rather drastic and unexpected means, and it raises the stakes considerably going into the final set. Not wanting to give away too much about this explosive finale, it truly is an action-packed but character-driven piece that gives every character an intense moment to shine, picking up on seemingly incongruous details from earlier stories and making them crucial to discovering the truth and advancing the story meaningfully.

Crafting a series of sixteen interconnected stories from the outset is a monumental task, but three-quarters of the way in Big Finish shows no signs of faltering. After her short appearance in Doom Colatition 2, River Song is integrated wonderfully into events here, taking a much more proactive and direct role with the Eighth Doctor than ever before and sharing an easy chemistry with him. Also allowing Helen more of an opportunity to step into the spotlight and develop as a character, Doom Coalition 3 manages to keep all of the characters fresh and interesting as they all undertake their own investigations and uncover different pieces of this complex puzzle. The leads and guest cast all offer mesmerizing performances, and the strong production values further help to create a dynamic rollercoaster of a ride that promises to only get better after the spectacular events of ‘The Crucible of Souls.’

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