The ability to continually surprise and delight is a sure-fire sign of the never-ending talent at Big Finish, who hold the contract for official Dr Who audio dramas. This third volume of the Doom Coalition series does just that with a healthy serve of the expected comedy and action, but also a heartbreaking twist that will sideswipe the listener and leave you reaching for tissues.
Doom Coalition focusses on the eighth Doctor, played by Paul McGann, and is an ongoing story of the Doctor and his companions battling Eleven, a fellow Time Lord who has gone insane. The actual Doom Coalition itself is yet to be unveiled.
Each volume reveals a bit more of the deepening mystery over four adventures and, in this edition, companions Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker) and Helen Sinclair (Hattie Morahan) are joined by television series favourite River Song (Alex Kingston). There’s also a cross over with one of Big Finish’s other series, The War Doctor, with the unexpected appearance of Veklini (Beth Chalmers), who was the sidekick to Jacqueline Pearce’s Cardinal Ollitra.
The four stories in Doom Coalition 3 are all stellar, beginning with the heartbreaking Absent Friends by John Dorney. Set in a small English town in the late 20th Century, everyone is given a mobile phone and begins getting calls from their dead loved ones. It’s a mystery to be solved, but so too, is the question of who is ringing the Doctor.
The Eighth Piece by Matt Fitton takes the Doctor and his companions back in time where they are separated between 15th Century Prague, 16th Century England, and modern day Rome. With three stories running parallel, Fitton manages to keep the plots distinct and clear as he jumps between them and introduces a host of new characters, including a new face calling himself The Doctor, a mysterious, smart-mouthed nun with a psychic wimple, and a Time Lord called the Clocksmith who is determined to build a Doomsday Chronometer.
Fitton continues his tale with the third story, The Doomsday Chronometer, upping the ante where the real Doctor and his companions must defeat the Clocksmith and his Revelation Sect, and scatter the pieces of the Chronometer across the universe to keep history intact.
John Dorney bookends the box set with the final adventure, The Crucible of Souls, a device that drains all the life energy in the universe into a single person. It’s a high-stakes finale that teases the fourth and, potentially, final box set to be released next year.
Doom Coalition 3 succeeds on multiple levels and is perhaps one of the best in the series so far. The introduction of future characters to an older Doctor is always a lot of fun, and the writers make the most of River Song’s sassy nature and awareness of the need to keep her face and identity hidden from him for the entire adventure, lest she change the future. The villains are all deliciously evil, and the insanity of the Octavian (Tim McMullan) and The Nine add more unpredictability than usual. The Clocksmith (Nicholas Woodeson), Padrak (Robert Bathurst), and The Solvers (Glen McCready) are all highly enjoyable and well realised characters too.
The box set is directed with style by Ken Bentley, with sound design by Benji Clifford and music by Jamie Robertson. Doom Coalition 3 runs for approximately 300 minutes over 5 CDs.
Reviewed by Rod Lewis
Rating out of 10: 9
Published by: Big Finish Productions
Released: September 2016
RRP: $32.69 CD, $20 Digital Download