Doctor Who – “Doom Coalition 3”

Doom Coalition 3 follows the same path as its predecessor but with much stronger footing. The Doctor, with Liv and Helen by his side, finds himself engaged in a dastardly plan that extends across both time and space, forcing the TARDIS crew to work together while scattered across different historical eras with allies such as a notorious English statesman, the queen of a mechanical alien race, and a gun-wielding nun. Slowly raising the stakes throughout the four stories, the box set gives listeners the added bonus of four distinct and memorable endings, one of which should go down in history as one of Big Finish’s best.

Cast
Paul McGann (The Doctor)
Nicola Walker (Liv Chenka)
Hattie Morahan (Helen Sinclair)
Alex Kingston (River Song)
Jeremy Clyde (George)
Ian Puleston-Davies (Angus Selwyn)
Richard Hope (Phillip Cook/Kal)
Anna Acton (Kate Drury)
John Shrapnel (Thomas Cromwell)
Kasia Koleczek (Apolena)
Glen McCready(Solvers/Abbot)
Emma D’Inverno (Rosalia)
Tim McMullan (Octavian)
Janie Dee(Risolva)
Robert Bathurst (Padrac)
John Heffernan (The Imposter)
Nicholas Woodeson (The Clocksmith)

Written by
Absent Friends – John Dorney
The Eighth Piece – Matt Fitton
The Doomsday Chronomter – Matt Fitton
The Crucible of Souls – John Dorney

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

Released: 22 September 2016

Trailer – https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/popout/doom-coalition-3-1223

Earth. The late 20th century. Across the world, the mobile phone is gaining popularity as more and more people decide to join the digital age. But for the residents of a sleepy English town sitting in the shade of a new transmission mast, that ubiquity has a troubling cost.

When the TARDIS veers off-course, the Doctor and his companions find themselves in the middle of a mystery.

Sometimes the past comes back to haunt you. And sometimes the future does as well.

Absent Friends is easily reminiscent of Beachhead, the opening story for Doom Coalition 2. Both are low-key episodes that slowly and carefully set the stage for the box set’s larger story arc. In the late 1990’s, a small English town has been protesting the presence of a new transmission mast that has been planted right outside the village limits. In an attempt to appease the villagers, the global conglomerate Supervill has given each of them a mobile phone for them to use, free of charge, in order to learn the benefits of the new technology. While the phones allow for a new level of freedom and communication for their users, the villagers soon learn about the perils of unsolicited calls – calls from the past, coming from friends and relatives who have passed on to the next life. Unaware of their impending fate, all they want is to have a conversation with their loved ones. Is this simply the past giving the citizens of the village an opportunity to say goodbye and gain closure? Of course not. The Doctor knows there’s no such thing as ghosts…

But even Liv, hailing from the far future, gets a phone call from her father who died suddenly from an undiscovered disease. What follows is your standard episode of Who that deals with the “supernatural” as the Doctor sets out to prove that (obviously) the telecommunications company that (maliciously) set up the transmission mast has a (dastardly) plan to take over the world. Writer John Dorney turns these potential clichés on their ear however with a CEO “villain” who gleefully chews the scenery and by having the source of the calls from the past/future having very little to do with the obvious, leaving the Doctor…not quite wrong, but not quite right either. The true reason for the mobile calls is where the larger plot for Doom Coalition 3 kicks in.

While the Doctor and Liv are dealing with the phone calls, Helen is on the train to London to see how the city has changed/will change in the decades to come. Upon seeing her old apartment building from the 1960’s, Helen is surprised to see a relative of hers is still living there…and makes the mistake of trying to talking to him to find out what happened to her family during the 30+ years that she was “gone.” What follows is a very well written example of why the Doctor continually stresses that time travelers should never check into their own lives. With Absent Friends, Dorney gives listeners a story that conjures up memories of the Ninth Doctor televised episode Father’s Day as Helen deals with the effect her absence has/would have upon her family, while at the same time Liv tries to come to grips with the opportunity to tell her Dad to seek medical treatment before he’s struck down. Hattie Morahan gets some solid character development for Helen as she slowly realizes the ramifications one person can have on history. It’s a portrayal that carries over throughout the rest of the box set as Helen is very careful to tread lightly when dealing with history. Which is sort of ironic considering who she ends up paired with in the next episode. We also get some more background on Liv as Nicola Walker helps us dive into Liv’s relationship with her father and how difficult it is to be so far away from him, especially now that he’s gone. At the previous Doom Coalition box sets, both Liv and Helen were sometimes pushed to the side for the sake of the plot, and I’m very happy to say that this story sets the pattern that this will NOT be the case this time out!

Absent Friends works as both a stand-alone episode and as the kick-off point for Doom Coalition 3. Having discovered the truth of the mobile calls, the Doctor places it in the safest place known to man (the Lost Property Office of the London Underground) before heading off in the TARDIS to track down its source. However, it’s not before listeners get a great cliffhanger as, of all things, the phone on the TARDIS door rings and the Doctor swears he will not, will not, WILL NOT pick it up…

*click*

“Hello?”

15th Century Prague: in the castle dungeons, a prisoner raves about the end of the world. Outside, Liv Chenka seeks out the workshop of a strange Clockmaker to see what he is creating.

England, 1538: Lord Thomas Cromwell finds his duties interrupted by otherworldly forces – clockwork soldiers, an unusual nun, and a mysterious scholar calling himself ‘the Doctor’. Perhaps the truth can be extracted in the torture chamber of London’s Bloody Tower?

Rome, 2016: Helen Sinclair has an appointment with an enigmatic Professor, whose greatest work is almost complete. Only the Eighth Piece is missing…

The Eighth Piece may be seen as the first episode of a two-part story. Seeking to find out more about the Doomsday Chronometer and how it ties into the past, present, and future of Earth, the Doctor splits up the TARDIS crew among three time periods to seek out more about the mysterious clock. While the Doctor heads to Tudor England and crosses paths with the infamous Thomas Cromwell, Liv finds herself in 15th century Prague seeking out the laboratory of a mysterious clockmaker. Helen pulls the “easy” task of landing in contemporary Italy where a professor has painstakingly assembled all the pieces of a fantastical timepiece. All he’s missing is one final component. But there’s someone else interested in that component – a nun with a gun, a vortex manipulator, and a little bit of familiarity with Helen, Liv, and the Doctor…

Matt Fitton weaves three timelines together almost effortlessly with nary a hint of confusion. What one character does affects the adventures the other characters are having, and vice versa (and versa vice?). The Clocksmith, a renegade Time Lord, is intent on putting together the titular Doomsday Chronometer with the aid of the Solvers, a race of clockwork aliens who acts as the Clocksmith’s muscle. Liv and Helen both have run-ins with the Clocksmith in their respective time periods, but it’s a mysterious prisoner in 21st century Rome named Octavian that shows there’s much more to the Chronometer than it appears.

Paul McGann has been on top of his game throughout Doom Coalition with energy and passion. The Eighth Doctor is far from subtle and prefers improvisation to scheming and planning and it shows as he bluntly explains to Cromwell what he’s after and how important it is. I could listen to McGann and Cromwell, played by John Shrapnel, go back and forth all day, King and Country vs. the Whole of Time and Space, with neither side wanting to give in. Nicholas Woodeson also deserves a shout-out as the Clocksmith, who doesn’t see himself as a villain so much as an artist, charming and dedicated to his craft. The Doomsday Chronometer is nothing more than his ultimate masterpiece. Anyone who gets in his way…well, they will make wonderful raw materials for his sculptures.

By the time The Eighth Piece is discovered, Liv is at the mercy of the clockmaker, Helen is trying to wrap her mind around the appearance of a gun-wielding Sister, and the Doctor has been told by the Clocksmith that escaping from the Tower of London is impossible. Because according to history, this evening is the date a man called the Doctor is executed…

While River Song takes Helen on an archaeological expedition like no other, the Doctor finds himself enlisted by an alien Queen to save her people.

Trapped and alone, Liv stares death in the face as she meets the enemy who’s been dogging the TARDIS travellers’ footsteps throughout Earth’s history.

The Doomsday Chronometer has been protected for five centuries: secret cults and societies jealously guarding its mystery. But what is their real purpose? The Doctor is about to discover the truth…

The Doomsday Chronometer concludes the story of the Clocksmith by pulling on all the threads and bringing all the players together. Liv stands before the Clocksmith, ready to be encased in molten metal as one of his creations, as Helen is pulled through history by one Melody Malone to claim as many pieces of the timepiece as possible before a fanatical cult dedicated to the end of time can. The Doctor and Sister Resolver, the queen of the clockwork Solvers, attempt to free her people from the grips of the renegade Time Lord. All of them, along with the prisoner Octavian, are moving towards the same goal – to stop the Clocksmith and prevent the Doomsday Chronometer from being assembled.

One of the things I’ve always like about Big Finish is they do their best to keep the complex understandable instead of dumbing it down. They trust their listeners to follow along and work their way through the plot along with the characters. Desperate to complete his masterpiece, the Clocksmith travels back and forth along his own timeline, in many ways dooming himself to failure even before he begins (in a subtle call back to Helen’s consequences in Absent Friends)]. I admit, I was surprised and a little bummed at the way the Clocksmith meets his fate. It’s satisfying, but it felt like he was being built up as a secondary Big Bad along the lines of Caleera from The Sonomancer. To go out how he did was disappointing, if appropriate on a karmic level.

I’m wary to type up much more about The Doomsday Chronometer because of its cliffhanger ending. It turns out the Doomsday Chronometer isn’t an ultimate weapon at all. Rather, it’s THE timepiece that will count down to the destruction of the universe. The end of time itself seems to be moving forward at an incredibly rapid rate to approach the modern day. The Doctor, with Melody Malone at his side, races off in the Clocksmith’s advanced TARDIS in an attempt to reach the end of time before it reaches them, leaving Helen, Liv, and his own TARDIS behind…

The date has been set.

The trap has been sprung.

A life has been taken and a maniac is on the loose.

With the TARDIS crew separated and in terrible trouble, will today be the day the bad guys win?

Spoilers…

The Crucible of Souls is the climax of Doom Coalition 3 and it’s a HELL of a story to go out on. John Dorney pens the final chapter as the Doctor and Melody Malone (aka River Song) discover that temporal refugees fleeing from the end of time are being hunted down one-by-one while Helen and Liv finds themselves on Gallifrey, landing in the deepest parts of the Archives. A collection of forbidden weapons and lore, the Archives are overseen by one of the Doctor’s oldest friends who is very keen to figure out just how the two humans gained access…or rather, WHO helped them gain accesses…

Again, I treading carefully because the last thing I want to do is spoil anything because the cliffhanger of The Doomsday Chronometer rolls wonderfully right into the events of The Crucible of Souls. With this story, a whole bunch of questions are answered, primarily “What the hell IS the Doom Coalition?” Along with “What is their grand plan?” And “Where does the insane Time Lord the Eleven fit into all of this, especially since Mark Bonnar isn’t in this box set?” It all comes together from three different angles into a finale with some horrifying concepts (imagine a weapon that can force a Time Lord to burn through all their regenerations in a few seconds before killing them permanently) and a cliffhanger that truly places the Doctor and his companions in an impossible situation, one that had even this long time fan wondering “how are they going to get out of THIS one?!?” It also added a new insult to my vocabulary. ”You have the face of a constipated Sontaran.”

The promotional materials for Doom Coalition 2 prominently featured River Song even though she only appeared in the finale of that box set. In Doom Coalition 3 River is a vital part of three stories, and continues the trend of Big Finish taking a beloved television character (the Tenth Doctor, Donna Noble, Strax) and translating them perfectly to audio. With a box set of her own under the belt, Alex Kingston plays the archaeologist just as she did on television – sly, cocky, quick thinking, and just a little big smug. If you didn’t care for River on television (and I’ve admitted in the past that I wasn’t a big fan of the character) Kingston’s performance has a chance to win you over, especially since Dorney firmly puts River at the Doctor’s side. There’s no “they’re only talking over the intercom” or “River just slips behind the Doctor’s back when he enters the room.” Sister Melody Malone, complete with psychic wimple to make her look a bit like Rita Heyworth, is alongside the Doctor. There are the little hints that listeners will either find infuriating or charming such as Melody/River knowing how to fly the TARDIS and the one time drop of “spoilers.” Beyond that, putting River and the Doctor in the same room really drives home just how good the chemistry is between Kingston and McGann as they play off each other with ease. Walker and Morahan also have their moments, as their plot lines seen “normal” humans caught up in Time Lord shenanigans where both Liv and Helen manage to hold their own.

Doom Coalition 3 wraps up with one hell of a cliffhanger, the perfect ending to a collection four superb stories. Even without Mark Bonnar’s Eleven as the central villain, the box set showcases the TARDIS crew and River Song with some strong character moments and memorable secondary characters. With the fourth and final box set being released in early 2017, Doom Coalition 3 is a strong lead-in for what’s sure to be a slam-bang finale to Eight’s fight against the Eleven.

Cobi’s Synopsis – Four top-end stories, each with their own unique endings including one that just might be an instant classic, make Doom Coalition 3 a strong showing for all involved as the titular alliance stands revealed and their diabolic plan is laid bare for all to see.

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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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