Thursday, 29 September 2016
REVIEW - DOOM COALITION 3
Doom Coalition 3 is finally here! 2016 has been the year of Big Finish and as someone who has listened to nearly every title they've put out so far, I can say that excluding Doom Coalition 2, it has been one mighty year. After the previous box set, I had deep reservations going into this volume as there was no Mark Bonnar listed in the casting call, which meant no Eleven. Which also had me wondering how well a box set can fare if it went from reducing one of the most innovative villains in recent years to someone's lackey in one volume to excluding them completely in the next? Let's find out!
In a lot of ways, Absent Friends feels like DC2's Beachhead: Both are filler openings which do not move the plot along all that much, but Absent Friends stands out tremendously because it sets out to do a specific thing and that is to provide character development.
Up until now, Helen Sinclair, as a character, could be summed up as "woman from 60s who has faced sexism in workplace". That is the full scope of her character, but Absent Friends takes us further into the aftermath of DC1 and it does wonders for the character, but most spectacularly, this story reinvents the tired old "why can't we go back in time to [insert reason for complaining]" companion storyline and distinguishes itself from other titles such as Father's Day by giving us consequences.
I know right? Consequences in Doctor Who...who would have thought?
I applaud John Dorney for Absent Friends, not just for what he does for Helen as a character, but also for Liv Chenka. While not as emotionally driving as Helen's storyline, Absent Friends also provides us with a bit of backstory for Liv that still manages to pull at the heartstrings. Even as filler and even without the Eleven, Absent Friends still manages to be a great opener.
One of the criticisms I will gear towards this title would be how detached it is from the overall arc and the fact that it takes seven stories for Helen to be given some character development. Other than these two, Absent Friends is proof that you don't need a flashy story in order to be great. Creativity can be found in simplicity and that is the best description I can give to this opening story: Creativity in simplicity.
Absent Friends: 9/10. A great opener which we should have gotten much sooner.
The Eighth Piece
The Doctor, Liv and Helen undertake three missions in three different timezones. Also worth noting is that this story and the next one, The Doomsday Chronometer, sort of feels like a two-parter. In this story, Helen is side-lined in Rome 2016 while the attention is on the Doctor in 1538 England where he encounters Thomas Cromwell (yes that one), played brilliantly by John Sharpnel while Liv learns more about the mysterious Clocksmith in 15th century Prague.
Now if you've been reading my other reviews, you'll know that I adore River Song. She is fantastic, but she is not without fault. I am referring specifically to Big Finish's handling of her when it comes to Classic Doctors. In hindsight, she wasn't really needed in DC2 and at times felt truly wasted whereas in The Diary of River Song, the whole "let's meet the Doctor indirectly or slip around behind his back" really frustrated me even if I understand the in-universe explanation for this. Thankfully, River Song is NOT wasted in this story and Big Finish has given her a method of interacting with past Doctors without messing up the timeline. Sure this idea is not very original and some might even believe it to be an unimaginative cop-out, but the payoff is well worth it. One drawback to featuring River Song is that she tends to steal all her scenes. God bless Alex Kingston. If you are hardcore Liv or Helen fans, you have been warned.
Even though River steals all her scenes, it’s the Doctor and Thomas Cromwell that steal the show as their scenes together are the most stimulating to listen to. Paul McGann and John Sharpnel have terrific chemistry together and Sharpnel plays Cromwell so well that it actually made me do some research on the character afterwards. Knowledge is power and this really boosted my enjoyment of the story on my second listen to it.
The monsters for this piece are called the Solvers, half-organic, half-machine puzzle-box like creatures. Unfortunately they sound more interesting than they are, but they are not bad additions to the box set. They are however, given all the rich dialogue, the sharp twist and turns, the weak link in this story.
The Eighth Piece 9/10: The perfect start to a two-part story that is as mad and zany as you'd expect from great Doctor Who stories.
The Doomsday Chronometer
Concluding this mini two-parter is The Doomsday Chronometer and really on the surface this story feels like a series finale given everything that happens. It's really easy to forget as you’re listening to it that we still have one more to go which sort of makes this story feel like the first of two consecutive series finales. Kudos to John Dorney for that.
And really, let me just say that John Dorney this year has been on fire, easily writing the cleverest, funniest and looniest scripts so far.
Now what is the Doomsday Chronometer? Naturally I can’t tell you, but I can tell you what it’s not! It’s not what you think it is. It is not some sort of Doctor Who doomsday weapon as the title seems to imply. It’s much more creative an idea than that.
Moving onto characters, Big Finish seems to have a thing for throwing River Song and Helen together, but here it simply feels mad…in a good way. River still makes it seem easy to outshine Helen in their scenes together, but the writing makes up for it with some wonderful dialogue for both. Their scenes together really puts you in mind of The Pandorica Opens and The Big Bang.
The Doctor and Thomas Cromwell continue to challenge the highlights of this story with their wonderful scenes together, but it isn’t until Eight meets River Song (as in actually meets her face to face), that you re-evaluate your definition of “brilliant”. If you thought Ten/River, Eleven/River or even Twelve/River was gorgeous to behold, just wait until you get a load of Eight/River, properly chatting, interacting and being the Doctor and River Song we know and love.
Nothing more than this I’m afraid. Moving on! Oh but wait… what of the mysterious Clocksmith I hear you ask? Well spoilers of course.
The Doomsday Chronometer 9/10: Feels more like a season finale, which is a perfect way of setting up a finale.
The Crucible of Souls
This is perhaps one of the hardest stories I’ve ever had to review given that it is so easy to spoil. For this reason, I choose to write this segment of the review comparing this box set finale to its predecessors and working out if it is an improvement or not.
Most definitely! While not terrible finales, the previous two Doom Coalition season finales did feel ordinary or anticlimactic to a certain degree. This story…doesn’t. Not at all. If you share my feelings towards The Satanic Mill or The Sonomancer, then this is the proper, mad, high stakes finale you’ve been waiting for.
My worry that this box set might dip in quality thanks to there being no Eleven in it? Utterly squashed! Big Finish has managed to incorporate a villain just as innovative as the Eleven, give or take two degrees.
River Song feeling unnecessary? Well half this story is essentially an Eight/River solo adventure so read it and weep. Not only that, but River feels more needed here than in DC2. It’s not just fanservice this time, though there is a lot of that also.
My feelings towards Liv and Helen? Definitely changed. I care more about them than I did previously and I cannot wait to see where Big Finish takes them next, be it to an early grave or a happy ending.
I’ve probably not mentioned him a lot, but by now it shouldn’t need saying: Paul McGann is so good as the Eighth Doctor that every day without more of him on television is another day of torture. Whether it’s him with Liv, River or some puzzle box supporting character, McGann’s performance shines through and lays waste to the others.
The Crucible of Souls 9/10: Bonus points for the Doctor and River teaming up, but also a few well chosen curse words at that jaw dropping ending.
To conclude, I went into Doom Coalition 3 with a lot of reservations and came out with my faith in this series completely restored. There is no average or good stories in this box set, only great to near perfect. John Dorney and Matt Fittion do a superb job penning this third instalment and they are two writers I would really love to see pen a script for the television series in the near future.
Recommended: Hell yeah!