At the conclusion of the Dark Eyes saga, the Doctor and Liv Chenka are finally free of the Daleks, the Eminence and the Master, and as one saga ends another begins. Doom Coalition is much more character-focused, as whilst Dark Eyes was a space opera saga in audio form, Doom Coalition is more of a return to the traditional Doctor Who format of many stories in a series linked by a recurring story arc, in this case the malevolent meddling of a renegade Time Lord criminal known as the Eleven. This new series not only introduces a new companion, bringing the TARDIS team to a total of three members, but it also introduces a new villain who has a lasting impact on the next few series of Eighth Doctor audios.
1.1 – The Eleven
This audio begins with a great sequence involving the Seventh Doctor played by Sylvester McCoy and a new Time Lord character that this series introduces called the Eleven, played by Mark Bonnar. This Time Lord suffers from regenerative dissonance, a Time Lord condition in which the previous incarnations of the Time Lord live on as voices in their head, and the Eleven is so named because he is the eleventh incarnation, and so possesses ten previous incarnations that periodically take control of his body to comment on events, converse with each other, or attempt to take control. Bonnar’s performance is electric and the Eleven is perhaps the greatest original villain that Big Finish have created, and this audio is a great introduction to the character.
The Doctor and Liv are drawn to Gallifrey as the Eleven escapes his long imprisonment, and we get to visit post-Classic era Gallifrey at the height of its power, that not only tolerates Human presence on the planet but outright seeks the Doctor’s help in stopping the threat, which is a welcome change from previous Gallifrey stories that position the Time Lords as antagonists of the Doctor. Learning more about Gallifreyan society during the presidency of Romana II is fascinating, and the majority of the Time Lord characters are well-developed, although there are still some Time Lords who insist on playing the bad-cop role.
Thanks to an obscure Time Lord law and a brief period as a member of the High Council in his first incarnation, the Eleven is able to seize control of Gallifrey and install himself as Acting President, taking Liv prisoner and attempting to steal the Time Lord’s repository of weapons. There is some interesting banter in this story, between both the Doctor and Farina and the Eleven arguing with his various incarnations, and this is a great series opener that makes excellent use of the run time to deliver a great Gallifrey story that doubles as a fantastic introduction to the Eleven. Paul McGann, Nicola Walker and Mark Bonnar are all fantastic, and the supporting cast do a great job of bringing Gallifrey to life for a new era of audios.
1.2 – The Red Lady
This audio is very memorable, beginning with a fantastic opening in which the collection of a recently deceased art collector is donated to the National Museum despite the fact that his final instructions insisted that it remain hidden from view. This kicks off a mystery involving the eponymous Red Lady, as she appears in every single piece of artwork in the collection which peaks the interest of several academics. The Doctor and Liv arrive in London 1963 in pursuit of the Eleven, and are soon embroiled in the mystery. This audio is steeped in curiosity and intrigue, and makes for a great self-contained story that is similar in several ways to the New Series TV story Blink, as this is definitely one of the most intriguing horror stories in Doctor Who.
This audio introduces us to the newest companion of this era of Eighth Doctor audios, Helen Sinclair, who works in the National Museum in 1963 despite the disdain of her male colleagues. Helen’s struggle to make a name for herself in the predominantly male-dominated world of 1960s Britain makes her a sympathetic character from the start, and she has immediate chemistry with both Liv and the Doctor making her an ideal addition to the TARDIS team. Played by Hattie Morahan, Helen is a great companion for the Eighth Doctor and her introduction in this story is easily one of the best things about Doom Coalition 1. Hattie Morahan is a wonderful addition to the cast and she is immediately likeable in this story despite technically filling an antagonist role towards the Doctor and Liv for the first act.
The Red Lady does a great job of presenting a mystery that is, for now, totally unexplained. One of the best things about this audio is that the threat is ambiguous, its powers are completely unknown, and we are left completely stupefied as to what its true intentions are. There are several mysteries threaded throughout this audio, not all of which are resolved here. Nonetheless, The Red Lady presents a fantastic standalone story that serves as a wonderful introductory story for Helen Sinclair whilst also being a great standalone horror story. The mystery and terror surrounding this unique and unexplained entity makes this audio a thrilling listen, so The Red Lady sets the bar high for the rest of Doom Coalition 1.
1.3 – The Galileo Trap
Helen’s first trip in the TARDIS takes the team to Florence in 1639, drawn there by a message sent by none other than Galileo Galilei, who is already a friend of the Doctor, and as the name implies, is aware that his involvement in this series of events is little more than a plot to draw the Doctor in. There are several non-Human persons at large in the time period, including a particularly vicious pair of mercenaries who are unleashing several murderous creatures onto the citizens of 17th century Italy as part of a hired job from an as-yet unknown benefactor. They themselves are being hunted by extra-terrestrial forces however, which makes for an interesting setup with several parties following their own set of goals.
This audio is important for developing Helen’s role as a companion, as this serves as her introduction to the concept of time-travel as well as the idea of non-Human entities. The interactions between Helen, a companion from the relative past, and Liv, a companion from the relative future, is one of the most engaging aspects of this era and makes one wonder why the New Series has not made use of the time-travel aspect of Doctor Who to establish companions from various eras who can provide different points of view on the various settings and time periods. The characterisation of Galileo is also good in this story, as it makes sense that the two would already know each other in this late period in Galileo’s life, rather like how Winston Churchill already knows the Doctor in the TV story Victory of the Daleks.
This audio does a great job of illustrating the injustice of Galileo’s situation towards the end of his life, as he is imprisoned under house arrest for the simple act of declaring that the Earth must revolve around the Sun. A Doctor Who story that features a historical figure often attempts to humanize the historical figure in the context of the modern day, and this one is no exception. The Galileo Trap is a great story that makes a great build-up to the final story in the first series of Doom Coalition, and gives Helen a story to develop as a companion as well as a character before the finale to her introductory series. Hattie Morahan steps into the role of Helen instantly, and she immediately establishes herself as a valuable addition to this TARDIS team.
1.4 – The Satanic Mill
This audio starts with another sequence of the Eleven attempting to regain control over his other incarnations, and its worth mentioning that the character is brilliantly realised in a way that the audio drama complements perfectly. Over time it becomes clear which of the Eleven’s incarnations are which, be it the murderous Six, the mischievous Three, the kleptomaniacal Nine or the remorseful Eight, each of them become as much their own individual characters as the Eleven himself and Mark Bonnar puts in a wonderful performance here that makes the Eleven one of the most dynamic villains in Doctor Who history. The Doctor, Liv and Helen finally catch up to him on a bizarre planetoid-sized Workhouse that Galileo named ‘Phaiton’, which they discover is filled with seemingly hypnotized worshippers who walk around around the place like zombies. The Eleven has set himself up as the leader of this facility, which is in fact an abandoned stellar manipulator from ancient Gallifreyan history that the Eleven locates using the Regeneration Codex, a device he stole in the first audio of this box set.
During some slow-paced scenes early on which serve as a welcome break from the usual fast-paced action of Eighth Doctor series finales, Liv and Helen get some time to chat as the two learn more about each other, and Liv tells Helen more about the Doctor and the nature of regeneration, and we are once again reminded of just how long Liv has known the Doctor, as she first met him in his seventh incarnation, the same one which trapped the Eleven. It is worth mentioning that despite the fact that the two companions are from completely different time periods, Liv being from the far future and Helen being from the 20th century, these differences are rarely an issue save for the occasional colloquial misunderstanding which is often played for comedy.
The Eleven’s plan is suitably devious, and there is a great scene in which the Eleven’s previous incarnations discuss the plan and offer their various opinions on how events are unfolding, including the Eight who is the only one of the Eleven’s incarnations who isn’t evil and expresses regret and remorse at the actions of his successor. One of the things that makes the Eleven an unpredictable villain is that he has to appease his various other incarnations, particularly the Six who is often quick to ask for the murder of whoever happens to be in the room. In many ways the Eleven brings out the darker side of the Eighth Doctor as he is willing to do whatever it takes to protect his friends, and The Satanic Mill is a perfect example of this. As the finale for Doom Coalition 1, this audio is excellent, as it is not only a fantastic outing for the Eleven as a villain but it also solidifies the new TARDIS team whilst also posing several questions to be addressed in later releases in the Doom Coalition series.