Finally! This is the kind of box set I’ve been wanting from this series the whole time! The stories are all interconnected, especially the latter three. and on top of that, they’re all superb stories, too! Written by Matt Fitton and John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley, Doom Coalition 3 picks up shortly after the events of the previous box set with the Doctor (Paul McGann), Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker), and Helen Sinclair (Hattie Morahan) continuing to travel throughout space and time. Naturally, wherever the Doctor goes, trouble always follows, and this is no exception as the Doctor uncovers mysterious pieces of a clock rumored to be the Doomsday Chronometer, a clock built by a Time Lord known only as The Clocksmith (Nicholas Woodeson). Can the Doctor stop the Clocksmith from bringing about the end of the universe? And how does that mysterious nun (Alex Kingston as River Song) factor into things? (Spoilers ahead.)
Part 1: Absent Friends (by John Dorney)
I really quite liked this episode. It’s also the weakest episode of the entire box set, but that’s a really relative term when you look at just how good this set was. Absent Friends, while introducing the main mystery of the box set, is more of a personal story about our characters, which makes for a bit of a strange way to open the set, but it works out pretty well overall. From the Big Finish website: “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.” John Dorney’s episodes have been very hit or miss for me throughout all the Big Finish audios I’ve heard from him, but this one is definitely a hit. I adore the mystery through the episode: people keep getting phone calls from dead loved ones. It ties in really well with the story he’s telling about Helen while also being this really interesting and moving mystery that’s tied up really well.
What really makes this episode stand out is the acting. Especially from Hattie Morahan. Her performance as Helen while she deals with the ramifications of how her actions have impacted her family was just moving. Her conversations with her brother (Jeremy Clyde) were so honest and full of real emotion and it genuinely gave Helen’s character that third dimension she’s been missing. It’s in this episode that Helen really starts to feel like a real person and not just the archetypal companion character – something that these box sets have been struggling with as that’s exactly how Molly felt and that’s how Liv feels most of the time. It’s a strong episode with a really clever twist that I refuse to spoil. (4 out of 5 wands)
Part 2: The Eighth Piece (by Matt Fitton)
The second episode is really the beginning of a three parter – or, at bare minimum, a two parter, depending on how you look at the finale. For sure, the story of The Eighth Piece is really told across this episode and the following one, The Doomsday Chronometer, and the story the two episodes tell is brilliant. From the Big Finish website: “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…”
There aren’t enough positive things I can say about this episode. Matt Fitton really sets out to tell a two-hour story with this episode, and he succeeds in large part due to his decision to split our three heroes up from the beginning of the episode. With Liv in 15th Century Prague, the Doctor in 16th century England, and Helen in 2016 Rome, Fitton sets up three different story threads that are able to weave in and out of each other, mainly through the actions and interferences by River Song (Alex Kingston), who is, as always, a joy to have back in a Doctor Who story. The Clocksmith makes for an interesting villain in the way that he only sees his villainous behavior as art. It also begins to hint at a larger threat than just these individual rogue Time Lords we’ve been seeing these past few box sets. It’s just a good episode and a great first part to the story Fitton tells over the two episodes. (5 out of 5 wands)
Part 3: The Doomsday Chronometer (by Matt Fitton)
In this second part of Fitton’s entry for this box set, he ups the stakes and somehow brings the story he started in The Eighth Piece to a satisfying conclusion while perfectly setting up Dorney’s final episode of the set. It’s really a work of genius. From the Big Finish website: “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 travelers’ 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…” In true Doctor Who fashion, Fitton continues the story from the previous one’s cliffhanger and almost immediately solves said cliffhanger and sends our heroes on the logical next step of their journey, all of which leads to a thrilling climax where they all encounter the Clocksmith himself.
I don’t wanna go too much into the plot of this episode, but it’s really well put together. The pacing is excellent and there’s a number of reveals that aren’t super surprising but also aren’t from so-far-out-of-left-field that they’re ridiculous. There’s one in particular where as soon as the reveal happened, I just went, “I thought so! But that’s still cool.” So, it’s the kind of reveal that just kinda nags at you the whole time, but you’re not really sure if it’s true or not, and then BAM! It is. It’s really enjoyable. The acting, as always, is superb, as is the directing and sound design. It’s just a great episode – probably my favorite of the whole set. I wish the Clocksmith could be in more stories, but it doesn’t look very likely. I still think he was a superb villain and I love the cliffhanger of the episode and the way in neatly transitions right into the finale. (5 out of 5 wands)
Part 4: The Crucible of Souls (by John Dorney)
So, after two excellent episodes and one very good one, the big question is can John Dorney stick the landing with this concluding story? Short answer: Yes. Yes, he can. From the Big Finish website: “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…” If I had one complaint about this episode, it would be that, at times, it feels like the finale of the series instead of the finale for just this box set. But as soon as I really started having that feeling, the episode laid out some new mysteries and reminded me why this was the finale for the third box set and not the fourth (and final) one. So much is revealed and hinted at in this episode, and it makes a lot of things from past episodes make more sense while also teasingly hinting at things to come from the next one. In ways, this episode isn’t really its own episode, but more of a third part to Matt Fitton’s previous two-parter. Similar to how Utopia is kind of its own thing but is also really the first part of a three-part finale that features the two part The Sound of Drums/The Last of the Time Lords (from the third season of the reboot of Doctor Who.)
All of that being said, the episode does stand well on its own and it proves to be a satisfying conclusion to the box set. Sort of. In some ways, The Doomsday Chronometer was the real conclusion to this box set while The Crucible of Souls is really a prologue for the next box set, but it still somehow works and doesn’t feel out of place in the context of Doom Coalition 3. It’s in this story that we learn that who, exactly, is behind all of the events of the past three box sets (the Eleven’s escape, Caleera, the Clocksmith, etc) and why, and it’s a really surprising reveal. It goes a long way towards setting up what is sure to be a climactic final installment of the series in Doom Coalition 4, and it ends on a surprisingly intense cliffhanger that I’m eager to see how it gets resolved in the next box set. It’s a satisfying, well-plotted, and entertaining episode and a great finale to a great box set. (4.5 out of 5 wands)
Doom Coalition 3 is what I’ve wanted from the previous installments in the series. It’s a strong set of four interconnected stories that tells an interesting, surprising, and entertaining story from start to finish. It goes a long way towards developing the character of Helen and really gives the Eighth Doctor an interesting challenge. The inclusion of Alex Kingston’s River Song in such a prominent role is a welcome one and her interactions with Paul McGann’s Doctor are every bit as great as you’d hope they’d be. Doom Coalition 3 has given me a lot of hope and excitement for the final box set of the series and reminded me just why I love these Big Finish Eighth Doctor box sets. The way they’re able to create such great imagery without the use of actual visuals is stunning and sometimes it makes me wish this could have actually been a filmed series of the TV show because of how good it is. It’s everything Big Finish can do when it’s at the top of its game and I can’t recommend it enough.
5 out of 5 wands)