I feel like I liked the premise of this box set more than I liked the box set itself. But, that’s not to say Doom Coalition 4 wasn’t good – because it was – it just wasn’t quite as good as I’d have liked. Written by Matt Fitton and John Dorney and directed by Ken Bentley, Doom Coalition 4 picks up exactly where Doom Coalition 3 ended: Padrac (Robert Bathurst) has trapped the Doctor (Paul McGann), Liv Chenka (Nicola Walker), and Helen Sinclair (Hattie Morahan) inside a time escape pod and launched them into the future of the destroyed universe. Meanwhile, Padrac still has River Song (Alex Kingston) in his sights, yet she seems to be on his side. Just what game is she playing and how will it play out? Will the Doctor be able to escape and thwart Padrac’s ultimate plan to destroy the universe in order to save Gallifrey? And what about the Eleven (Mark Bonnar) and Caleera (Emma Cunniffe)? Whose side are they really on and how far will they go to achieve their goals. (Spoilers ahead)
Part 1: Ship in a Bottle (by John Dorney)
I appreciate what John Dorney was going for with this episode. I’m not sure he totally succeeds, but it’s nonetheless an entertaining ride, a nice continuation of the cliffhanger from the previous box set, and a solid opening for this box set. From the Big Finish website: “The Doctor, Liv, and Helen are hurtling into a future that has been utterly destroyed, trapped inside a shuttle with no possible means of escape. But with the lives of everyone in the universe in the balance, they’ve got to find one. And soon. When the stakes are this high, you can’t just give up. Or can you?” There is no bad guy in this episode; there aren’t even any characters aside from the Doctor, Liv, and Helen. This is both the episode’s greatest strength and biggest weakness.
Opening with a story that focuses solely on the Doctor and his companions is a bold way to open the final box set of a series like Doom Coalition. It’s nice seeing the Doctor face repercussions for the way he’s been treating Liv and Helen, but it sort of feels like it’s the wrong time to explore those repercussions. After the way Doom Coalition 3 ended, it just feels like there are more important things to focus on than the Doctor’s habit of leaving Helen and Liv behind while he goes and deals with the big bad (and them ultimately getting dragged into it anyway because of the fact he left them behind). It’s a valid and interesting plot thread, but it just feels odd having the box set open with a story that explores said plot thread. That being said, it’s explored really well and it’s an engaging, moving, and well-acted episode. (3.5 out of 5)
Part 2: Songs of Love (by Matt Fitton)
This episode, too, is really interesting. It also picks up exactly where Doom Coalition 3 ended, including the ending of the final scene of that box set. But, this time, it focuses on what happens with Padrac and River Song in the direct aftermath of the ending of that box set, and it’s honestly a bit more interesting than what happened with the Doctor, Liv, and Helen. From the Big Finish website: “Left to fend for herself against a bunch of power-hungry plotters hell-bent on destroying the universe, what choice does a girl have but to throw in her lot with the winning side? Using her past to her advantage, River Song returns to the ancestral seat of the Time Lords to make her last stand.” This episode faces a unique problem: hinging your story on whether or not River really has decided to betray the Doctor and team up with Padrac is an odd move considering much of the audience is very familiar with River’s history with the Doctor and know she wouldn’t do that. Perhaps if much of the audience who listened to this episode wasn’t familiar with River’s past, the trick would’ve worked, but for most of us, it was sort of tedious waiting for her to eventually reveal that no, she really was still on the Doctor’s side.
All of that being said, I really did enjoy this episode. It’s the first true Doctor-lite episode of the 8th Doctor’s run in these box sets, and having said Doctor-lite episode focus on River Song, obviously, makes me enormously happy, and it very much doesn’t disappoint. It does end with some interesting threads left open that aren’t addressed later on in the box set, mainly River Song’s ultimate fate. Most of us know that, for River, this episode takes place sometime between The Husbands of River Song and Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead. But the last we see of River has her trapped inside the Matrix and then we never hear from her again in this box set. This leaves the door open for her to return in future 8th Doctor audios (whether it be in the Time War box sets or in whatever future stories involve the Doctor, Helen, and Live (which seems the most likely option)). It’s a pretty bold thing for Matt Fitton to do since the audience knows the future of River’s character, but I appreciated it quite a bit. As for the episode itself, it serves mainly to tease the rest of the box set and elaborate on Padrac’s ultimate plan, and it succeeds in that goal relatively well. (4.5 out of 5 wands)
Part 3: The Side of the Angels (by Matt Fitton)
I’m really not sure that the Weeping Angels work all that well on audio, to be quite honest. It’s not that they’re poorly used or anything, it’s just that so much of their fear factor relies on their visuals and without that, they’re just not quite as effective. From the Big Finish website: “Cardinal Ollistra (Carolyn Pickles) has plans for New York, plans which involve the Deputy Mayor and her sponsor, one ‘Reverend Mortimer’ – better known to the Doctor as the Meddling Monk (Rufus Hound). The Eleven arrives to stamp out the resistance, but that isn’t the only danger the Doctor finds lurking in the shadows – for New York is a city of Weeping Angels.” This is the episode I have the most mixed feelings towards. I like the inclusion of the Monk, especially because it leads to some interesting scenes with him and the Doctor that show just how fresh the wounds of losing Alex, his great grandson, and Lucie, his previous companion before Molly and Liv, are. But the actual episode itself sort of feels like a lot of filler in the vast scheme of things.
Ollistra is working with the Monk and the Weeping Angels in order to transfer part of New York City into a new Capitol for Gallifrey, intending to allow Padrac to go through with his plans and then defeat him later. Obviously, this doesn’t work out for her as the Eleven arrives and quickly has the Weeping Angels switching allegiances. It’s not a bad episode by any means, but it’s just sort of there. It doesn’t really serve any purpose to the ultimate story other than propelling our heroes back towards Gallifrey, which is kind of odd considering they were already on Gallifrey in the previous story. It’s a fairly well-written episode, even if the Weeping Angels really didn’t work in the audio and weren’t used all that much (they’re like the third-tier villain in the piece, behind the Eleven and the Monk). But, I still enjoyed it well enough. (3 out of 5 wands)
Part 4: Stop the Clock (by John Dorney)
This is what all four of the Doom Coalition box sets have been building towards. It’s the big finale where Padrac and the Doom Coalition’s plans fully coalesce. And, for the most part, it’s pretty satisfying. From the Big Finish website: “The time has arrived. Events are in motion. The end of the universe is at hand and the Doctor and his friends have one hour to save eternity. Starting now.” I’m always a pretty big fan of episodes that take place mostly in real time, and that’s more or less what this episode does as the Doctor and company have only one hour to save the universe from Padrac’s plan of destruction. They go about doing this in the typical way of splitting all of the main characters up and sending them on their own missions, all of which ultimately fail in order for the final climax to happen. That being said, the way those missions fail are so interesting and make perfect sense in the context of the story that it’s easy to forgive the episode for being somewhat formulaic.
Of particular note in this episode is Emma Cunniffe’s performance as the Sonomancer/Caleera. She has to carry a lot of the episode on her shoulders, and she does it enormously well, especially towards the end. A lot is revealed in this episode, reaching all the way back to the first box set’s The Red Lady. The cool thing is that the episode never really feels rushed or crammed with too much plot or information. All of the reveals come naturally and feel dramatically earned and the story moves along at a really good pace; not too fast but not too slow. It’s a well-crafted finale to the whole Doom Coalition series. It does end on a cliffhanger, which is a bit odd, especially considering that we’ve no idea when they intend to pick up the cliffhanger. They’ve said that there will be more adventures with the Doctor, Liv, and Helen, but they haven’t announced any kind of details about them, instead focusing their attention on the upcoming series of Time War box sets from the Eighth Doctor. So ending Doom Coalition 4 on a cliffhanger was definitely a bold move and I hope that whenever the cliffhanger is resolved, it’s done so well so that this episode isn’t ultimately let down by a bad resolution. As it currently stands, it’s a well written and satisfying conclusion to four box sets of adventures. (4.5 out of 5 wands)
Doom Coalition 4 isn’t quite as good as I’d have liked it to be. It’s still really solid, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights that Doom Coalition 3 did. Still, it’s a solid and satisfying conclusion to the Doom Coalition series that answer the majority of questions and plot threads that have been explored throughout the series. It does make the rather strange decision to end on a cliffhanger with no news as to when that cliffhanger will ultimately be resolved, but even with that move, it’s still satisfying and enjoyable. The performances from all of the actors are as strong as always, especially from Paul McGann, Hattie Morahan, and Emma Cunniffe. It’s not quite as good as the last box set was, but it’s still a lot of fun and I’m excited for the cliffhanger to be resolved. Until then, I’m looking forward to the series of Eighth Doctor Time War box sets.
(4 out of 5 wands)