Volume two of Doom Coalition picks up exactly where it left off, and like any good Doctor Who season, it’s a strange mix of stories, going from the English countryside to distant future, to the Time Vortex itself.
Now that the series has hit its stride, it’s lost that slightly gimmicky feel that the first boxset had. This is what the Eighth Doctor Adventures are now: this is Doom Coalition.
Beachhead: The boxset’s only standalone, and in time-honoured fashion, a ‘the Doctor tries to take his companions on a nice holiday and everything goes horribly wrong’ story. In this case, he takes them to a wet, sleepy village on the English coast – only to be confronted by mysterious flooding and an alien spacecraft.
The Voord, one of Doctor Who’s earliest alien menances (first appearing in The Keys of Marinus in 1964), put in an appearance but unlike in their other Big Finish stories, the Voord aren’t given much development here, though their presence is a nice bit of continuity.
Beachhead is most interesting not for its plot but for its backstory, which hinges on a tragic mistake the Doctor made several regenerations ago. Over the course of the story, he learns that his earlier actions had fatal consequences, and though he saves the village (and the earth) from the Voord, there’s nothing he can do to make it right.
Scenes From Her Life: another story that reminded me somewhat of Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who at its best. Landing in a dying TARDIS suspended in the time vortex, the Doctor finds an eccentric group of Time Lords and a small army of prisoners… including a young Gallifreyan psychic, Caleera, horribly abused.
Flashbacks fill in the backstory and Caleera quickly wins the audience’s – and the Doctor’s companions’ – sympathies, but not everything is as it seems and there’s a dark final twist.
It’s atmospheric, chilling, and listening to the central mystery unfold was a delight. More like this, I hope.
The Gift: Hot on the trail of the Eleven and his allies, the Doctor lands in San Francisco on the eve of the 1906 earthquake. Disoriented by a strange psychic force, he’s separated from Liv and Helen and soon they’re all embroiled in the local intrigue – a production of King Lear, the mob, and a mysterious Gift passed from man to man.
I found the sci-fi element in The Gift a touch tedious. Fortunately, the setting is so intriguing in and of itself that I didn’t care. The story ticks down to the inevitable carnage, the Doctor and co unable to do anything more than prevent the psychic threat bearing down on the city.
I think I’d have preferred to see the 1906 earthquake in a historical story, but The Gift was still very enjoyable. And it ends with quite a hook…
The Sonomancer: The Doctor finds a note left on the TARDIS console, with co-ordinates leading him to a strange volcanic world, and two words: hello sweetie.
It’s River Song, on a mission of mercy, and her message arrived too early. She’s on a race against time to save the planet and its people from a volcanic cataclysm brought on by Caleera – now calling herself the Sonomancer – and the Eleven. And lest she damage her own time line, the Doctor can’t know she’s there.
Meanwhile, River has no clue that she’s dealing with two dangerously unstable Time Lords.
This is an action-packed finale, with a breakneck pace, lot of threads, and a lot of dramatic battles fought over bubbling lava pits. All of the characters are shown at their best here, Liv and Helen both shining in their own way, River a delight as always, the Doctor vulnerable till the last.
I think it does suffer a bit from having (presumably) been written before The Husbands of River Song – it has a very different and, unfortunately, less interesting idea of what River might get up to when the Doctor’s not around. Or maybe her claiming to never do anything for as ‘vulgar’ a goal as money was intended to be in-character hypocrisy.
I was also a little disappointed to see the Eleven relegated to a henchman in what I was expecting to be his own boxset. I wouldn’t mind, except Caleera wasn’t explored as much as I’d have liked either and seemed to be dispatched far too quickly. Hopefully she’ll be back in volume 3 – I’m avoiding spoilers.
Verdict: Overall, I enjoyed this boxset more than it’s predecessor. It never quite hit the same highs, but I found the quality and tone more consistent. The new villain, Caleera, is introduced fabulously and I’m really looking forward to seeing what they do with the character in the future.
Scenes from her Life was, for me, the highlight, and I’m happy to say there wasn’t really a weak link – I don’t think I could single out a least favourite. Hopefully Doom Coalition will keep on getting better – there promises to be more River, so fingers crossed and hello sweetie!