Doctor Who – “Doom Coalition 2”

Doom Coalition 2 is a mix of four separate stories, each succeeding as solid stand-alone tales but coming off as a bit disjointed when considered as a whole.  The overall story-arc is present as the Doctor and his two companions race to stop various planetary threats tied to Doom Coalition’s main villain, but the presence of the Eleven is barely felt throughout the box set as the Time Lord with multiple simultaneous personalities is regulating to the back seat with to the introduction of his new apprentice/weapon dominating the back-half of the box set.

X X X X X

Cast
Paul McGann (The Doctor)
Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka)
Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair)
Mark Bonnar as The Eleven
Alex Kingston (River Song)
Rebecca Night (Matilda Gregson)
Julia Hills(Phillipa Gregson/Dispatch)
Kirsty Besterman (Ishtek/Lilly)
Andrew Dickens(Voord Guard/Police Sergeant/Mr Rogers)
Emma Cunniffe (Caleera)
Vincent Franklin (Lord Stormblood)
Jacqueline King (Lady Sepulchra)
Hamish Clark(Swordfish)
James Jordan (Charles Virgil McLean)
Paul Marc Davis (Pepé Gonzalez)
Cory English (Sam Sonora)
Laura Harding (Ethel Halliday/Mariam)
Enzo Squillino Jnr (Aldo Deluca)
Derek Ezenagu (Ruslan/Ivo)
Janet Fullerlove(Yeva/Wife)
John Banks (Husband/Guard/Mineworker/Galactic Heritage/Shopkeeper)

Written by
Beachhead – Nicholas Briggs
Scenes from Her Life – John Dorney
The Gift – Marc Platt
The Sonomancer – Matt Fitton

Directed by: Ken Bentley
Sound: Benji Clifford
Music: Jamie Robertson

Released: 3 March 2016

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SL5ehxaCwD4

X X X X X

In an attempt to recharge his batteries after his confrontation with the Eleven, the Doctor takes Liv and Helen to the sleepy English seaside village of Stegmoor. But they find the village in turmoil and, to make matters worse, their arrival uncovers a mystery from the Doctor’s past which threatens the future safety of the planet.

Can the Doctor prevent the Voord from invading Earth? And more importantly why have they come in the first place?

After the final confrontation with the Eleven during the events of The Satanic Mill the Doctor decides to take Liv and Helen to a English seaside village called Stegmoor.  Instead of being able to catch their breath however, the TARDIS arrives in the direct aftermath of a horrible flood that has devastated the sleepy town.  As the trio try to help a mother and her daughter the Doctor slowly realizes that he’s visited Stegmoor once before during his time with UNIT.  Then, the Doctor and Liz Shaw failed to discover the secret slumbering under the beach.  Now, the flood has brought the truth to the surface, and all of humanity must prepare for their new overlords…

Beachhead is a strange choice to open Doom Coalition 2.  It’s a bit of a “breather” episode that only ties into the overall events of Doom Coalition during the opening scene and then again during its final moments.   In between, Beachhead gives us a story that’s very much in the vein of the Third Doctor by virtue of being an Earthbound story with aliens invading an small English village.  It’s no surprise that a story along those lines is written by none other than Nicholas Briggs.  To Briggs’ credit, he milks the audio format for all its worth.  The opening scene of the river cresting its banks and smashing into Stegmoor is incredibly well done.  It caught me off guard with the sounds of rushing water, windows being broken, and benches being thrown about.  In fact, the overall sound work for Beachhead is a standout effort by Benji Clifford.  The listener really feels like they’re in a flooded seaside village or standing on a beach with seagulls circling overhead, as well as being in the middle of the action near the end when helicopters hover in the night sky and snipers take up position along the beach.  There’s a nice moment ala Logopolis where the TARDIS begins to take on the floodwaters as well.

There’s one thing about Briggs’ script that really stood out to me.  Aside from the Doctor (who spends the first half of the story knocked unconscious.  Again.) Beachhead’s cast is comprised entirely of women.  The audio opens with Matilda (played by Rebecca Night who also starred in the Five/Nyssa audio Masquerade as well as BBC Four’s production of Fanny Hill) visiting her girlfriend Lily (Kirsty Besterman, who also voices this story’s villain Ishtek and has starred in several other Big Finish Doctor Who stories) right before the flood smashes up her country store.  What I really liked about this scene (and subsequent mentions of their relationship throughout the audio) is that even though it’s a same-sex relationship it’s never pointed out, brought up, or even commented upon by anyone, even the academic from the early 1960’s.  It’s just one of those nice moments that tells me there might just be hope for social progression and acceptance.  Julia Hills plays Phillipa, mother to Matilda and widowed wife to a husband who died in the 1970’s (or 1980’s, depending on dating protocol) at the hands of the alien species that the Third Doctor failed to discover.  Her concern towards Phillipa is balanced with her hatred towards Ishtek for killing her husband and her fire towards the Doctor for letting her and her husband down all those years ago.  I also liked how Helen realized that since this is her future, she could get in touch with people she once knew now that they’re a little older, including herself…and then realizing that this would be a VERY bad idea.

The Voord are a very strange choice for an enemy.  They made their only televised appearance way back in the First Doctor serial The Keys to Marinus, and have also appeared in the Titan Comics limited series The Four Doctors and the Early Adventures audio Domain of the Voord.  Besterman is fine as Ishtek, the female scout leader of the Voord crew which has spent the past decades in cyrostasis waiting for their ship’s engines to generate enough power to contact the Voord Survival Flotilla to invade Earth.  She’s the standard alien menace – cold, ruthless, disdaining of humans and the Doctor, showing her power by callously shooting down a police helicopter, and wanting to conquer the Earth for her people.  There’s a sense that Briggs picked the Voord solely because of their limited appearances in Who continuity, because there’s really nothing in this story that makes the Voord unique.  Any other alien race could have been plugged in to the Voord’s role and little about Beachhead would change.   And I have to admit, I was a little confused with the reference to the Third Doctor and UNIT.  While it’s a nice trick by Briggs to tie the Eighth Doctor into a past incarnation and have him deal with the consequences of past decisions, it was done in such a casual, off-hand manner that I had to keep looking up the Voord to make sure there wasn’t some lost Third Doctor story that featured them!

Beachhead is a fine story, one where its flaws aren’t too glaring and the acting is enough to keep the listener interested.  In the end, Ishtek and the Voord are defeated.  The Doctor, Liv, and Helen make a speedy exit (in an “everybody laughs” manner which is a little strange considering they were standing on the beach of a flooded and ruined seaside village) and return to the TARDIS.  Before taking off however, the Doctor checks his databanks and confirms a suspicion he’s had since Ishtek told him about the Survival Flotilla.  The Flotilla are the last remnants of the Voord people, gathered together from the shattered remains of their homeworld.  Which is clearly impossible, as the Doctor knows for certain that in 2016 the Voord homeworld is still in one piece…

Investigating the appearance of the Voord on Earth, the Doctor, Liv and Helen follow a trail which takes them to the other side of the universe. There they discover a mysterious and almost deserted Gothic city lost in space and time, in which the grotesque inhabitants are conducting a vile and inhumane experiment.

The Doctor and his companions must hurry to save the lives of those in danger before the experiment is a success and the unimaginable consequences become all too real.

An unknown actor has taken the huge step of changing established history.  The Voord homeworld has indeed been destroyed, torn apart from the inside.  The Doctor manages to find traces of a chronological distortion among the ruins that lead him into the heart of  the Time Vortex.  Inside is something remarkable – a sprawling and deserted Gothic city, whose only inhabitants are two scattered brained nobles, their wretched assistant, and the hordes of prisoners kept in the dungeons in order to serve as subjects in a series of cruel experiments, all focused around a young woman trapped inside an armored prison.  As Helen and Liv attempt to save the girl’s life, the Doctor’s inquiries lead him down a different path.  The city he has landed in is actually the remains of a TARDIS, one whose insides have leaked to the outside.  But the two nobles insist up and down that they’ve never even heard of the Time Lords…

John Dorney, actor in numerous Big Finish productions and writer of several more, takes gives listeners a mysterious setting with creepy secondary characters and sinister experiments going on away from prying eyes.  He mixes up the Gothic style horror with several flashbacks (hence the name Scenes From Her Life) that spin the tale of the mysterious prisoner, a young Time Lord named Caleera whose telepathic gifts were suppressed by her superiors.  The staggered flashbacks help tell her story without the need for a singular exposition scene or information dump.  Of course, since Caleera eventually meets up with the Eleven (in a part that’s essentially a cameo appearance) the story’s big “twist” won’t come as a surprise to listeners  There IS a nice twist to the twist however that’s very well done and showcases the anger and resentment that’s been stored up in Caleera over the years.  Think Carrie mixed with The Fury and you’re not too far off.  Emma Cunniffe (who played Claire in the Eleventh Doctor story Night Terrors portrays Caleera as someone who knows she is special, and at the beginning she wants nothing more than to use her incredible telepathy to help people and assist the Time Lords.  Time and time again however, her dreams are dashed as her powers are medically quashed and she’s assigned to the depths of Gallifrey’s archives, her medical history overshadowing the top grades she obtained during her time at the Academy.  The Eleven is the one to bring her powers to the surface, feeding on her rage to allow her to escape Gallifrey and turn the TARDIS she stole into the city she now calls home.  Caleera goes on to be the central figure in Doom Coalition 2’s final story and Scenes From Her Life helps to set up just why she should considered a major threat by the Doctor.  One must also mention Jacqueline King and Vincent Franklin as Lady Sepulchra and Lord Stormblood as they play the looney and confused nobles to the hilt, adding both a sense of humor and a sense of sinister intrigue to the proceedings with scatterbrained comments that sometimes hold a double meaning.

I have a confession to make – I had a very hard time telling Liv and Helen apart during Doom Coalition 2 whenever they were in the same scene.  It’s not because I’m American (I hope!) as I had no trouble differentiating between them during the first box set.  I wonder if it’s a sound mixing/level problem, as a couple of other reviews have stated the same thing.  As the second companion in the TARDIS, there’s a chance that Helen Sinclair could end up as the “spare wheel” much like C’rizz did during his run with Eighth and Charley.  Even though the chemistry between Paul McGann, Nicola Walker, and Hattie Morahan is top notch, there has to be a reason to keep Helen around lest she fade into the background   Scenes From Her Life goes a long way towards giving Helen that characterization.  There’s a lot of discussion during the story about the casual sexism and insults that Helen had to put up with during her time as a museum employee even though she was much smarter and more capable than some of her male colleagues.  Her feelings of wasted potential are what draws her to Caleera as she sees a kindred spirit with the imprisoned telepath, and she’s the one who convinces the Doctor that he must free Caleera from her cage, even at the risk of the young girl’s own life.  But this seemingly compassionate and merciful act has huge consequences, one that will send the Doctor to a familiar location in a different time…

The TARDIS deposits its crew on Earth in San Francisco, 1906. There they find an actor-manager desperate to stage his definitive production of King Lear. But a real storm is headed their way when he becomes the possessor of a mysterious psychic ‘Gift’ which is hungry for power and intent on wreaking havoc and destruction.

But exposure to so much psychic activity has the Doctor becoming increasingly erratic. Can he battle his demons and save the world?

San Francisco.  The Eighth Doctor was born here, saving the planet from the Master alongside a lovely lady named Grace.  Now, there are desperate Shakespearean actors, mad doomsayers, plotting gangsters, and even a barber.  And the Doctor is in desperate need of a haircut.  But among the castaways and layabouts walks those with the power a mysterious “Gift,” one that can grant them great wealth and power…and one that all who possess it will soon do anything to be rid of.  The Doctor has been overexposed to psychic energy and is becoming increasingly erratic.    Liv is determined to find the Doctor and won’t put up with threat or bullying from a local crime boss.  Helen is driven to make up for her mistake in letting Caleera free.  By tomorrow, none of what they want will matter.  Because it’s April 17, 1906.  And tomorrow will see the greatest natural disaster in California’s history…

A story that takes place in an historical setting, with colorful characters, a Doctor just a step off from how he normally is, psychic energy and mysterious going-ons, and a series of events that will challenge the companions and put them through the ringer.  Yep, The Gift has all the trappings of a Marc Platt story.  The Doctor, his brain scrambled from the psychic attacks of Caleera, stumbles out of the TARDIS in order to set his mind right.  By which he means get a haircut, and this takes him into the path of a local soothsayer who, aside from being top notch with a pair of scissors, is crying about San Francisco’s imminent destruction.  Platt really plays up the Eighth Doctor’s nature with this story.  Returning to the city where he regenerated, Paul McGann gives us a whimsical and romantic Doctor who gushes about the music of the spheres and the beautiful noise they make in a way that reminded me of Christopher Eccleston’s monologue about the turning of the Earth from Rose.  It’s very easy to figure out when McGann is invested in a script and when he’s just going through the motions, and it’s very obvious with all the stories in this box set that McGann highly enjoys the material he’s been given (added to his cheer at working alongside Hattie Morahan and Nicola Walker).  This is a Doctor who revels in all he does, not just adventure and improvising but all the things that go along with it, for better and for worse.  This is a very manic, almost post-regeneration Doctor in The Gift which does make help make his final gambit as the holder of the titular “Gift” an audio treat.  It’s not only borderline insane the way he rants and screams, it also gives listeners another glimpse into the self-sacrificing nature of the Eighth Doctor where he promises to burn out his own mind if it will stop Caleera’s mad plan.

Once again I have to send kudos to sound editor Benji Clifford as he brings a devastating earthquake to life. The San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 killed 3000 people and leveled 80% of the city. The screaming of the city’s population, cries of frightened animals, rubble crashing to the streets and fires racing down hillsides towards our characters all add to the atmosphere that Platt’s script creates. There’s a particularly tense scene near the end where Liv is trapped under a collapsed house and there’s no way to get her out as a massive fire creeps towards the ruined building. Nicola Walker deserves notice for the switching from the tough and bold Liv who’s willing to stand up to criminal bosses and can tear the city to save the Doctor from Caleera’s psychic energies to one who is panicking, claustrophobia and helplessness setting in on her as time begins to run out. Helen still has a little bit to go to fully become a part of this TARDIS’ dynamic, but there’s no doubt in a listener’s mind that Liv and Eight, following up from their time together during the Dark Eyes saga, to make a top notch Doctor/companion pairing with the more “experienced from traveling with the Doctor” Liv taking the lead and doing the critical thinking when the Doctor is out of commission/out of the scene.

Once the Gift has been dealt with, the Doctor and his friends prepare to leave San Francisco and continue on their quest to track down Caleera and stop her from doing further damage. But as the Doctor powers up the TARDIS, he can’t help but notice a little card sitting on the console. A card with the name of a planet and two little words printed inside. ”Hello, sweetie…”

On the other side of the galaxy a mining company is exploiting the already unstable planet of Syra for every precious mineral it contains. River Song is attempting to save the native people. She needs the Doctor’s help, but she also knows he mustn’t yet discover her true identity.

The final confrontation sees the Doctor once again face his enemy the Eleven in an attempt to prevent the destruction of Syra and the genocide of its inhabitants.

On the planet of Syra, its inhabitants live in harmony with the environment. All they use, from tools to instruments, even their modes of transportation, are taken from nature in a careful and controlled manner. The planet even tells them when to move when one of its many volcanoes is about to erupt to keep them out of harms way…and what is the harm of letting a galactic mining corporation harvest a few minerals from those volcanoes in the process? But when the corporation begins to influence the eruptions to extract even more minerals, it draws the attention of someone determined to stop them. No, not the Doctor, who has come to Syra to stop Caleera and the Eleven from ripping the planet apart using Caleera’s psychic powers. No, the exploitation of a local species calls for the intervention of someone with a little more tact and a whole lot of fashion sense…

Matt Fitton takes the writing duties for the final story in this box set, The Sonomancer. There’s no secret that I’m become a bit of a Fitton fanboy in recent months, having highly enjoyed both Stage Fright and The Eleven. Fitton creates a unique nomadic society here with a native species that lives in perfect harmony with its environment. They take only what the need and give back only what they can give, and in return the planet lets them know when they have to pull up stakes due to an imminent natural disaster. Throw in some colonial exploitation themes with Ruslan’s mining company and several chase scenes through a volcano about to blow, and this story could have been a cracker perfect for the main range of Doctor Who audio stories.

However, there is the matter of the presence of the Eleven…and the fact that the Eleven barely ties into this story save as a mad villain chasing the Doctor and his companion through lava tubes and unstable mine shafts. Mark Bonnar continues his excellent portrayal of the Eleven from Doom Coalition 1, each personality given a unique voice that reflects a specific kind of psychotic evil. But his presence is barely felt within this box set as more villainous characterization is handed to Caleera. Caleera (who now refers to herself as a “sonomancer” who can psychically manipulate sound waves to utterly destabilize matter down to the atomic level) is to be the Eleven’s ultimate weapon and it’s up to to the Doctor to stop her from destroying Syra and its people. Which leaves the Eleven to the Doctor’s companions. And they pretty much kick his ass. Granted, it does involve robotic mining suits and various pieces of weaponry, but the fact is that the Eleven barely rates as Caleera’s mad sidekick in this story and it’s simply a major waste of the character and Bonnar’s talent. I really hope the next two box sets in this range feature him in a much more important and prominent role. The character and the actor behind him are just too good to keep on the bench.

On the other side, River Song is given a LOT of screen time. Alex Kingston’s appearance is the high point of The Sonomancer as listeners get to see River in action away from the influence of the Doctor. While River spent much of The Rulers of Universe interacting with the Eighth Doctor over the radio, here she spends the majority of the time in the presence of the Doctor’s companions, specifically Helen, as the pair attempt to stop Ruslan and his mining company from taking advantage of Syra’s population. The banter and charm of River is on display, as is her fire and determination to not only stop Ruslan’s greed from hurting the Syrans, but once the threat of the Eleven is realized she has no qualms running with Helen to help Liv stop him. There is one great moment where the always confident, always on point..and sometimes just a bit smug…River is taken aback. This time, it’s not the “magician, the spiv, or the geography teacher” she’s called to help her, but a Doctor she’s never met before! Between The Diary of River Song (which takes place before this story) and The Sonomancer, Kingston has effortlessly brought River into the world of Big Finish, and my only disappointment is that once again Eight and River don’t directly meet up. Come on, how often does Eight get amnesia anyway?

Speaking of Eight, The Sonomancer just might be the story where listeners get to experience the initial breakdown of the Eighth Doctor’s moral code. The Doctor has always been willing to kill when there’s been absolutely no other option, and it’s no different in this story as Eighth dumps lava onto Caleera to defeat her. But there’s no…regret in Eight’s actions. No “I’m sorry” or “I gave you a choice.” It’s “I don’t do this lightly” as he cracks the rock wall behind her to drown her in molten rock. It just strikes me as a bit different from the other times the Doctor has killed someone (and Cybermen don’t count), and I can’t help but wonder if the final events of Doom Coalition (and the time-altering destruction of the Voord homeworld) will lead into the 2017 Time War box set…

Is Doom Coalition 2 a good box set? Yes, if you take a few facts into consideration. Each story has its own distinct style and stands alone as a solid piece of fiction. When put together however, the Eleven is barely a factor in the overall story as he’s put on the back burner for the development of Caleera, his chilling apprentice and potentially ultimate weapon. River Song does appear and is fantastic, but she doesn’t interact with the Eighth Doctor at all. Paul McGann and Nicola Walker are at the top of their games, but Hattie Morahan’s character of Helen still has a bit of ways to go before becoming a fully integrated companion. Overall, I do recommend this box set as four enjoyable stories with a couple of…not flaws, but oversights.

Cobi’s SynopsisDoom Coalition 2 is a worthy pickup with four solid tales (one with a smashing performance from Alex Kingston as River Song) that tell the story of the Eleven’s new apprentice, but at the cost of the downplaying insane Time Lord’s presence.

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About cobiwann

A guy who's into a niche fandom of a niche fandom - the Big Finish audio plays of "Doctor Who." Also into the show itself, both old and new, plus pop culture and a smattering of human insight.
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One Response to Doctor Who – “Doom Coalition 2”

  1. Cygnia says:

    As an interesting tidbit, DWM had a comic before the reboot that teased the Voord evolving into Cybermen with Six (and Jamie!). I think it was even written by Grant Morrison…

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