Absent Friends: The TARDIS is (once again) drawn off course by an unknown force, landing in a quiet English village. The Doctor and Liv’s only lead is the nuisance calls the locals have been getting on their new mobile phones: creepily good impersonations of dead relatives. But every line of investigation turns up… nothing.
Meanwhile, finding herself only a few decades away from home, Helen goes behind the Doctor’s back to see her family again – and learns some harsh lessons about time travel.
I adore this story. The idea of the Doctor investigating lead after lead only to find mundanities is ingenious, Helen’s subplot is handled superbly (and ultimately gut-wrenching) and the final twist, when it comes, is lovely.
The highlight of the story is Liv’s final conversation with her father. I was doing laundry when I listened to it. It was a strange experience.
The Eighth Piece: Intrigued by the device at the centre of the time distortion in Absent Friends, the Doctor sets out to uncover its secrets. It’s a small piece of a greater whole and so he, Liv and Helen travel to three different periods of European history. Each of them is dogged by a malevolent Clockmaker, a madman, and a very irregular nun.
River’s back, she’s one step ahead of the Doctor, and she’s wearing a wimple. And unfortunately, I’m less and less in love with how Big Finish are handling the character. I’d probably have enjoyed the portrayal were it not for The Husbands of River Song. As it is she comes across kind of shallow. But then again, she’s not the star of this story – I should give their Diary of River Song a listen before passing full judgement!
That aside, The Eighth Piece was a really enjoyable story. The different time periods lend it an epic feel and it’s a nice twist to have the Doctor and friends bound by linear time while other characters bounce in and out of the story around them. Really good fun.
The Doomsday Chronometer: Following on where The Eighth Piece left off, the Doctor struggles to survive and solve the mystery of the titular clock while River and Helen go on a time-hopping adventure to find the missing piece… because the Doctor wants them to put it together, right?
Aptly, given the subject matter, the pieces fall into place. The title of the series is explained, the Doctor meets river (though not technically face to face), the chronometer is completed and in a heartbreaking final twist the identity the identity of the third figure pursuing the clock is revealed.
It’s a little hard to judge this one on its own because it and The Eighth Piece really are a single story. But the pace and the stakes picked up and I had a great time listening to it – and it has one hell of a final cliffhanger.
The Crucible of Souls: In the Clocksmith’s TARDIS the Doctor and ‘Sister Cantica’ head for the mysterious Crucible of Souls, only to make a terrifying discovery: all of future history beyond a certain point has ceased to exist.
Meanwhile, Liv and Helen are in the TARDIS with a man they believe to be a newly regenerated Doctor… actually the Nine, a younger Eleven, with a disturbing agenda of his own…
The Nine passes himself off as the Doctor while the Doctor pretend to be the Clocksmith and the real Clocksmith waits at the Crucible of Souls and River is still dressed as a nun… round and round they go and where they stop I’m not telling.
If there’s one thing Doom Coalition does well it’s straight action, and The Crucible of Souls does not let up from start to finish. It’s all go and by the time I got to the breathless conclusion I was not ready for it to end.
Verdict: Doom Coalition isn’t the best thing Big Finish has produced, and it doesn’t match up to the epic, twisty series that was Dark Eyes, but so far it’s been consistently solid, consistently fun action-adventure Doctor Who. And for me it just keeps getting better!
That said, the highlight of volume three is absolutely Absent Friends, the slow, contemplative character piece of the bunch. Which I think goes to show the issue with this boxset format – it doesn’t really allow for standalones and doesn’t allow for nearly as much characterisation.
I’m three volumes deep now and as much as I like Helen I haven’t to to know her the way I got to know, say, Lucie Miller or Charley Pollard or even Molly of Dark Eyes. It’s especially difficult here because vocally, Helen and Liv aren’t that different from each other and neither of them is as fleshed out as I’d like, so I confess, I occasionally lost track of who was speaking!
This isn’t solely a problem with Big Finish – there’s been this shift in recent years away from ‘conventional’ television programmes towards what I’d seen described as ‘long form cinema’ and Big Finish is reflecting that. Unfortunately, I don’t think it entirely works for Doctor Who and I really hope that they go back to making ‘regular’ Eighth Doctor Adventures… but they’ve already announced two more boxsets, so I guess not.
I’m also less and less enamoured with their characterisation of River Song. I adore River and I’ve always felt she had the potential to be a far more interesting character. The Husbands of River Song really brought out that potential and I’m disappointed that Big Finish has done so little to develop her.
But then again, I don’t know when this was written in relation to The Husbands of River Song so maybe I’m being too harsh. One of these days I’ll listen to her solo series and see what I think!
Anyway, those tangents aside, I really enjoyed Doom Coalition 3 and I’m super pumped for volume four (waiting for me in my library!) so they’re doing something very right.