After narrowly escaping an encounter with the Eleven at the conclusion of Doom Coalition 1, the Doctor, Liv and Helen are planning a holiday to relax after their ordeal and find a retreat to enjoy some off-time. Whilst Doom Coalition 1 was mostly focused on introducing the new companion, Helen Sinclair, as well as establishing the Eleven as a primary villain of the series. Following this establishing series, Doom Coalition 2 gets more time to focus on establishing the series arc for Doom Coalition, as well as introducing more recurring elements that feed into the overarching narrative.
2.1 – Beachhead
Set in the town of Stegmoor in Cornwall, Beachhead opens with a bizarre sequence involving two women complaining about the Wi-Fi that ends with a sudden flood that washes one of them away, which would seem to be an utterly bizarre way to open a story were it not for the fact that Stegmoor seemingly holds some significance to the Doctor as he decides to take Liv and Helen there for their planned retreat. This audio is notable for basing several elements of its plot around an ‘unseen’ Third Doctor adventure, in which he, the Brigadier and Liz Shaw investigated a supposed alien crash site during their time working for UNIT, decades before this story set in 2017. Certain characters in the story have knowledge of the Doctor that creates some tension, as some who remember his involvement in previous events hold a grudge against him for his role in a supposed government cover-up.
As the cover suggests, this audio features the return of the Voord, one of their only appearances in a Big Finish audio. This obscure monster first appeared all the way back in The Keys of Marinus, a First Doctor story first transmitted in 1964, and although their costume design and appearance in that story was somewhat lacklustre due to the technical limitations of the time, the audio format allows for the Voord to be fully realised as the sleek, agile creatures that they were initially envisioned as. The Voord are an intimidating presence in this audio which is aided by the excellent sound design, and the cast do a fantastic job with the Voord voices.
This audio is a classic example of a story involving morally dubious Humans along with morally dubious alien invaders, as although the Voord present a clear threat, the Doctor’s previous history with Phillipa Gregson in his Third incarnation proves to be of more harm than good, as the Doctor’s failure to identify the Voord threat decades earlier has profound effects on Phillipa’s life, as well as the events in the narrative of this story. It is interesting to have a villain from such an early period in Classic Who return for a modern story, and in many ways the new TV series could adapt classic villains that were poorly presented by their production design at the time by updating their designs as they did with the likes of the Macra in Gridlock.
2.2 – Scenes From Her Life
This audio is a bizarre listen, as a trio of deranged individuals inhabit a bizarre Gothic castle floating around in the time vortex performing experiments on innocent people, seemingly focusing the powers of a Time Lord girl with intense psychic abilities. Meanwhile, the Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive there after following the trail from the destroyed Voord homeworld, encountering the huge malformed structure floating in the Time Vortex. Upon encountering the barmy inhabitants of the city, the Doctor realises just how insane they actually are. This is where the exceptional supporting cast, particularly Vincent Franklin and Jacqueline King, bring this story to life with a dynamic performance as the Mad Hatter-March Hare duo of ‘Lord Stormblood’ and ‘Lady Sepulchra’.
The subplot of this audio involves flashbacks to Gallifrey, where Caleera, the Time Lord with psychic powers, is first discovering her abilities and is held back by the higher-ups of Gallifrey who want to suppress her abilities. It is not hard to feel sympathy for her, as her origin is a tragic one, though over the course of the story she begins to manipulate Helen and it soon becomes clear that her intentions are less than noble, particularly after years of oppression from the Time Lords. Caleera is definitely an interesting character and the fact that this audio ends on a cliff-hanger means that she is bound to show up again later on.
The setting of Scenes From Her Life is incredible, the constant creaking of damaged machinery and sparking of exposed wiring showcases the exceptional quality of Big Finish soundscapes. Dank, eerie corridors, rotting technology and howling corridors inhabited by crazy aristocratic murderers makes for a great setting for a scary story. This is definitely an audio that needs to be listen to in order to be appreciated, and there are many plot elements that haven’t been touched on here as there is a lot of intrigue and some excellent reveals that make this audio one of the best in the series that presents one of the most twisted and disturbing challenges for the Doctor, Liv and Helen that we have heard thus far.
2.3 – The Gift
Arriving in 1906 San Francisco, the Doctor is seemingly transfixed by music that Liv and Helen cannot hear and soon wanders off looking for a barbershop of all things, while Liv and Helen intervene to prevent a bankrupt theatre owner from being carted away by loan sharks. Despite the seemingly benign opening, there are some elements of strange goings-on in the city, as a man stalks the streets howling about the ‘day of retribution’, and another sinister man offers huge amounts of money to the downtrodden, which is apparently the eponymous ‘Gift’. This audio deals with the theme of temptation in times of destitution, and how seemingly good-natured people can be manipulated by promises of money.
The Doctor’s bizarre behaviour and the seemingly supernatural shenanigans going on in San Francisco are explained when it becomes apparent that a Time Lord’s psychic influence has created an affliction that is passed from person to person, devouring their life force while briefly granting their every wish. The fact that this story is set at the same time as the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 is noted by the Doctor as being a bad sign. The links to this historical event make for some interesting set pieces, and Big Finish do an impressive job of creating the environment of a city devastated by an earthquake and the subsequent fires with excellent sound design.
This audio is quite interesting as we get to see what could happen if the Doctor became an all-powerful being, who immediately isolates ‘problems’ in the universe that need fixing. The concept of an all-powerful Doctor has been played with before, but this audio depicts the Doctor almost giving in to the temptation of absolute power. There is also a surprising cameo in this story that begins the increasing links between the latter Eighth Doctor audios and the New Series, in that River Song becomes embroiled in the Doom Coalition conflict due to its temporal nature and leaves a very familiar message for the Doctor.
2.4 – The Sonomancer
Alex Kingston makes her first appearance as River Song in this story, and from the beginning she brings the role to life in audio form. River’s introductory scene at the start depicts her doing her job investigating an ancient site before being captured by a minion of the Eleven and Caleera, who is now calling herself the Sonomancer. Despite being captured right at the start, River still makes a good first impression in the series and makes for a wonderful addition to an already dynamic cast for this finale. The Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive on Syra, and soon encounter a group of peaceful Syrans lead by Mariam. Unfortunately, however, this audio does spend a fair bit of the first act simply getting the characters into place, with more focus on secondary villains than the main cast at first.
The audio really starts to get interesting when Helen finally meets River, as she is kept apart from the main cast for the majority of the first half but when Helen is separated from the rest of the group it provides the perfect opportunity for the two characters to meet and interact. There are some fun sequences here, such as River showing Helen a selection of the Doctor’s faces and asks her to point out which one is hers, as well as the explanation that River meets previous incarnations of the Doctor in disguise or through a middle-man so that their established ‘first’ meeting in the Library in his Tenth incarnation can still happen.
Another interesting aspect to this story is the interactions between the Eleven and the Sonomancer, as the two are embroiled in an intriguing relationship that is clearly unstable from the start. The Eleven is eventually left to do most of the legwork himself as Callisto distracts the Doctor whilst Liv gets to battle the Eleven in a giant mech Aliens-style, which is awesome. River Song also gets to use Venusian martial-arts on the Eleven which is hilarious to listen to, and Helen’s character is developed further as her secret friendship with River gives her an edge over Liv and the Doctor in subsequent River stories. Overall, The Sonomancer is a fun listen, though unlike previous series finales it doesn’t feel like much of a conclusion story, with many of the plot elements being unresolved and left for later audios in the series. River Song’s introduction takes the main stage, and this is executed quite well and shows how the writing of the series has improved since Dark Eyes, which had each finale conclude its respective mini-arc within the saga. Doom Coalition 2 has definitely impressed and despite the similarities in format to the previous era, the unique identity of Doom Coalition as a series has now been established.