After escaping from the Eleven’s scheme in The Sonomancer, the Doctor, Liv and Helen finally start to put the pieces of the grand plan together in Doom Coalition 3. Unlike Dark Eyes, which presented a separate story in each of its box sets, it is clear that Doom Coalition had more pre-planning in advance, and so many of the plot elements that have been weaved throughout the previous two box sets begin to culminate here. This series is essentially one long continuous story, with each part building on the events of the last to deliver a climactic finale.
3.1 – Absent Friends
This audio is a fascinating listen as it subverts the standard Doctor Who format for a story with classic misdirection, presenting an example of a situation where the Doctor, his companions and the audience are presented with various clues and theories that cast suspicion on various characters, but instead of dealing with a malevolent entity the Doctor is simply up against a temporal phenomenon, which is oddly a storyline that isn’t used much in Doctor Who. Imagine an episode like Father’s Day, except there are no Reapers, just the presence of a bizarre timey-wimey problem that is causing issues in a town. The real focus of this audio is character development for Liv and Helen, not just individually but also as a companion unit with the Doctor. This trio quickly solidifies as a group of close friends, and this audio is an excellent showcase of that.
As the TARDIS team lands in 1998, Helen sees an opportunity to reconnect with her family, and against the Doctor’s advice, she attempts to seek out her surviving relatives with disastrous consequences. After learning that her still-living relatives despise her for abandoning them in 1963, she realises that she never returns to her family and, after pretending to be her own daughter, she sees how her family have got on without her for over three decades. Intending to apologise for leaving her family behind, she unfortunately ends up making the situation even worse, and as the Doctor explains her decision to see them again has now locked her in a timeline where she never returned home, and she can now never return to 1963 and has lost 35 years of her life.
We also learn a lot more about Liv’s early life, a topic that has barely been covered so far in the audios in which she has appeared. Her character very much lives in the moment, and it definitely comes across that she feels uncomfortable talking about her past and her personal life. Nicola Walker does a fantastic job as Liv throughout her time in the series but Absent Friends is a brilliant illustration of her expert portrayal of the character. She gets some really poignant scenes towards the end, and as this audio deals with the finality of death and how it separates us from our loved ones, the meaning behind the title Absent Friends becomes clear towards the end. In these times, a poignant story about calling loved ones that you miss is a lovely sentiment.
3.2 – The Eighth Piece
This audio starts to slot together the various plot elements of the Doom Coalition series as we finally start to see the ‘grand plan’ of the series begin to take shape. The Doctor, Liv and Helen split up and each search specific time periods looking for pieces of a bizarre temporal device – the Doctor searches Tudor England, Liv is dropped in 14th century Prague and Helen goes to 21st century Italy. This in itself is a really great idea for a story that, when done right, presents some unique opportunities for time-travel storylines. The Eighth Piece sometimes comes across likes it has bitten off more than it can chew, particularly with the inclusion of River Song amongst a large group of supporting cast. However, it is a fun ride and each of the main characters is given their own small adventure and the plan of the Doom Coalition plays a role in each of them.
This audio also features the Eight, the earlier incarnation of the Eleven who devoted himself to becoming a good man. The Eight is in many ways a tragic character, as he is tormented by the angry voices of his previous incarnations and it is only through meditation that he is able to retain his control of his past selves. Interestingly, however, the Eight seems to be a lot better at keeping his previous incarnations contained than the Eleven is, despite the fact that his personality is so at odds with his other selves. The concept of meeting the Eleven’s former selves when they were still alive introduces some interesting opportunities for the character which are explored more later in the series.
Overall The Eighth Piece is a great listen, an action-packed adventure across time and space with some great moments, including River Song versus Clockwork Robots, the Eighth Doctor versus Thomas Cromwell, the Eight and a new villain known only as ‘The Clocksmith’. River Song’s inclusion in the series becomes more important here than in the previous box set, as her status as a time-traveller makes her able to contribute to the grander, universal temporal plan without having to be taken there by the Doctor, which is quite an understated benefit of having her appear in this series as this not only helps with pacing but also allows the audience to be privy to information that the Doctor and his companions are not, which is crucial for later events of the series.
3.3 – The Doomsday Chronometer
Following on directly from the events of the previous story, The Doomsday Chronometer gives us a proper introduction to the Clocksmith, a villain who is defined by his role as an artist. Unlike the Master, who is motivated by chaos, or the Rani who is primarily a scientist, the Clocksmith is dedicated to creating incredible works of art using extremely rare temporal materials, trapping his victims in the moment of their death in order to capture their final moments and immortalise them forever. Despite his clear insanity, the Clocksmith is simply one part of a greater organisation, the eponymous Doom Coalition.
Helen and River Song’s side of the story is developed a bit more here, as they are embroiled in a fun romp travelling throughout time and space pillaging lost historical artefacts that have special significance to the Doom Coalition, and the two make for a great duo as River fills the surrogate Doctor role and Helen’s knowledge of history makes her the perfect companion to take on a time-space extravaganza. River is also great here, as her foreknowledge of the Doctor’s future allows for some fun call-backs (or call-forwards, depending on how you look at it) to the New Series. She even meets the Doctor, though thanks to her psychic disguise she is able to conceal her true identity from him, in order to preserve the timeline.
Big Finish have to be commended for creating a massive temporal narrative that they actually pull off, a huge story involving lots of different temporal players including the Doctor, the Eight, the Clocksmith and River Song, not to mention non-time traveller characters like Liv and Helen, Thomas Cromwell, the Clockwork Robots and the various supporting cast, all of which culminate into a complex but gripping narrative that plays out across various time periods. As the penultimate audio to Doom Coalition 3, The Doomsday Chronometer is as exciting and action-packed as any New Series adventure, and the ending delivers a twist that sets up a very interesting finale.
3.4 – The Crucible of Souls
After the Eight was killed and regenerated into the Nine after retreating to the Doctor’s TARDIS, Liv and Helen mistake this new incarnation for the Doctor, setting up a really good premise for the story. The Nine just immediately taking the role of the Doctor whilst also displaying his trademark kleptomaniacal tendencies makes for a great listen, John Hefferman is brilliant as the Nine and his charisma and jovial nature can somewhat explain how he is able to fool Liv and Helen, particularly as the Doctor has been shown to be unstable after previous regenerations which lends some credibility to his seemingly sudden change in personality. He even gets an outfit reveal scene which is remarkably similar to scenes in the New Series where the Doctor shows off the new costume post-regeneration. Just as with the Eight, having the Nine appear in the flesh in an audio is a great touch, it is always great to see more of the Eleven’s previous incarnations and hopefully Big Finish use this idea more in the future.
All things considered, Liv and Helen take the Doctor’s regeneration remarkably well at first, particularly Helen who had no prior knowledge of the process. This is just one of many reasons why Liv and Helen are such good friends to the Doctor, and it doesn’t take them long to start having suspicions about this ‘new incarnation’ once he starts displaying noticeably un-Doctorlike traits such as greed and ruthlessness. In the meantime, the real Doctor and River (still disguised as her time-travelling Nun persona) investigate the Doomsday Chronometer. It has to be said that Liv is given some great scenes in this story, and she alone is able to figure out what’s going on before anyone else, even River and the Doctor.
What follows is an action-packed adventure as all parties finally converge on place. The Doctor is disguised as the Clocksmith and along with River he infiltrates the Doom Coalition headquarters, whilst the Nine does exactly the same whilst disguised as the Doctor. All the while Liv and Helen are caught up in the mix, not sure who they can trust as both the Doctor and River can’t blow their cover and the Nine is soon revealed to be an imposter posing as the Doctor. There is another twist in this audio, one that slots the final player into place as the Doom Coalition’s ultimate plan is revealed. This is where the Eighth Doctor era really starts to intersect with the New Series, and not just because of River Song. This is a fearful ear for the Time Lords, who are beginning to foresee the Time War and yet are powerless to prevent it. Nonetheless, the group of extremists known as the Doom Coalition are willing to take extreme measures to change history.