As the Doom Coalition series reaches its conclusion, the Doctor and his companions are thrust back together after being separated for a long time, and this final series takes a more measured approach to its storytelling than the previous series. Whilst Doom Coalition 3 had almost a three-part story following its first audio, Doom Coalition 4 returns to the more tried-and-tested format of four audios that tell independent stories that all link together into a wider narrative, featuring returning faces from previous Doom Coalition series as well as some returning characters from even earlier Eighth Doctor stories, and returning monsters from much later in the Doctor’s life…
4.1 – Ship in a Bottle
Following on from the events of Doom Coalition 3, the Doctor, Liv and Helen are trapped in a dead future drifting in a temporal escape pod. This story features only the main cast, with Paul McGann, Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan given the entire runtime of this bottle episode to give their characters a change to interact and converse after almost an entire series apart. After rationalising some of the events of the previous stories, the Doctor, Liv and Helen have some great character moments as they bicker and make up, and it is once again clear that Liv and Helen are two of the best friends that the Doctor has known up until this point, understanding him in a way that many other companions in both the Classic and New series don’t. Liv in particular sees through the Doctor’s bluster and her modern view of relationships leads to her often taking the lead in resolving internal conflicts in the group.
Usually bottle episodes are commissioned for Doctor Who when budgetary limitations are an issue, particularly for things like set building. Episodes like Midnight and Heaven Sent make excellent use of limited sets by focusing on character, so the fact that Big Finish have written a bottle audio story shows that they want to dedicate time to developing the main characters alone, which is definitely welcome after the relatively convoluted plot of the previous series. There is some element of threat however, as the trio are trapped in an escape pod stranded in a dying future with no hope of escape, and as the Doctor fails to get his friends out of this hopeless situation we get to see a really remorseful and fatalistic side to the Eighth Doctor and Liv and Helen really prove themselves here as they take charge when the Doctor loses hope.
This audio is actually somewhat reminiscent of an episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine called Explorers, which also depicts the main characters talking to each other in a tiny ship and, when things go wrong, they use their quick wits and intuition to escape. Unlike that episode, however, Ship in a Bottle focuses exclusively on our main characters with no distractions, making this an atmospheric audio with lots of tension and great character moments for everyone, but Liv is definitely the standout here. At this point Liv has travelled with the Doctor for long enough to know how he approaches fatalistic situations, and so she is able to find hope when Helen and even the Doctor himself cannot. Nicola Walker is excellent as always, and it is bizarre to think that Liv was originally introduced as a stand-in companion as yet she soon becomes one of the best characters in the Eighth Doctor’s era, and this audio is a great example of that.
4.2 – Songs of Love
This audio picks up where Doom Coalition 3, but from River Song’s point of view, as she infiltrates the Doom Coalition by pretending to side with Padrac following the Doctor’s exile into the dead future, which is both hilarious and fascinating to listen to. Although we as listeners are fully aware that River Song is merely buying time and playing along, she definitely does a convincing act while pretending to be part of Padrac’s plan. In the meantime, the Gallifreyan High Council in is disarray having heard whispers in the Matrix that predict the Time War. Padrac’s plan is insane, but one cannot help but sympathise as he has given up his old life as a bureacrat and embraced the renegade life to try to save his homeworld from certain destruction, though his methods of saving Gallifrey leave much to be desired as he essentially betrays the entire universe which is particularly stinging as he was once a close friend of the Doctor’s.
There are some great scenes in this audio, such as a particularly interesting segment in which River Song gets to visit Gallifrey before the Time War, and another sequence in which she is scanned by the Matrix only for it to conclude that the beginning and end of her timestream are confusing, an fun nod to the convoluted nature of River Song’s timeline in the New Series. Speaking of references to the New Series, arguably one of the most direct references is when River Song is able to use her status as the known assassin of the Eleventh Doctor at Lake Silencio that the Matrix recognises as a fixed point in time in order to convince the Doom Coalition that she wants to join them. This audio is full of fanservice moments for the New Series, though this is just the tip of the iceberg for fanservice in Doom Coalition 4.
There are also some interesting scenes in the Gallifreyan High Council in this audio, in which Padrac suggests that the Matrix predicts a Time War, but also the destruction of Gallifrey even should a Time War not come to pass, which is an interesting viewpoint as he may have been somewhat vindicated by recent events of the New Series regarding the destruction of Gallifrey by the Master during Series 12. In the meantime, Liv and Helen get more time to talk after the events of the previous audio, and Helen finally reveals the truth about River Song to her which leads to a great scene of the two becoming closer friends. Despite barely featuring the Doctor at all, this audio is probably one of the most important in the series, as the Eleven, the Sonomancer and Padrac finally come together as the previous arcs of the past Doom Coalition series converge at last. River Song also gets a great farewell with Liv and Helen, as well as a poignant scene with the Eighth Doctor who is allowed to retain his memories of her from their meetings in his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh incarnations if only briefly, making this audio somewhat of a finale for River meeting Classic Doctors.
4.3 – The Side of the Angels
The Eighth Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive in 1970s New York, only to discover that the Time Lords that fled Padrac’s revolution on Gallifrey have established themselves in the city as part of a development firm pushing forward construction in the city on a massive scale, assisted by none other than the Monk in a new incarnation played by the wonderful Rufus Hound. Carolyn Pickles stars as Cardinal Ollistra, a prominent Time Lord official who will be known to fans of the War Doctor audios as a prominent Time Lord official during the Time War who is assisting in the redevelopment of New York. It turns out that Ollistra and the Monk are attempting to set up a refuge from Padrac’s plans by altering Earth history to transform New York into a huge metropolis that replicates the Time Lord cities on Gallifrey.
It soon becomes clear that there is more at work than a simple Time Lord refugee operation, however, as the Weeping Angels are also active in New York in this era. One might wonder how the Weeping Angels can be translated into the audio format, as they are a very visual monster and are dependant on jump-scares during their appearances in the New Series. In spite of everything Big Finish’s excellent sound design makes the Angels’ jump to audio seem totally seamless, and it is remarkable how much of the personality of the Weeping Angels comes from their trademark ‘shriek’ jump-scare sound effect. Ironically, however, this is one of the Angels’ strongest appearances since their very first appearance in Blink all the way back in 2007.
Rufus Hound is also exceptional as the Monk, and he and the Eighth Doctor have a great confrontational scene as the Doctor is still bitter about the events of their previous encounter that resulted in the deaths of Tamsin Drew, Alex Campbell and Lucie Miller. This time, however, the Monk is seemingly working for the benefit of Gallifrey. However, the Time Lord’s plan to side with the Weeping Angels in order to ride out the destruction of everything raises a few questions, as once everything is destroyed, there is nothing to stop the Angels from simply killing the remaining Time Lords and becoming the last beings in existence. Even the Eleven himself comments on how ludicrous their plan sounds, which goes to show how truly baffling it actually is. The highlight of the entire audio is the Monk’s final scene, which provides some karmic poetic justice that has been long due since the Monk’s last appearances in the EDAs.
4.4 – Stop the Clock
The Eleven is back in force for the finale of his introductory series, and the Doom Coalition saga reaches its crescendo as the Sonomancer and her ‘lover’, Padrac’, finalize their plans for the destruction of the universe. The alliance between the three villains is an uneasy one, however, and the Doctor and his companions are able to ally themselves with the remaining loyalist Time Lords by presenting them with the Eleven. One of the best scenes of this audio is when the Eight finally gets his vengeance on his other evil selves, as the Doctor, Liv and Helen are able to encourage the Eight to temporarily take control of the Eleven and divulge his entire plan, allowing the one good man trapped in the maelstrom of the Eleven’s other selves to once again help defeat the Doom Coalition, even long after his death.
It has to be said that Padrac is not exactly the ultimate villain to end all ultimate villains, as even with his new renegade persona he still comes across as a bureaucrat and his attempts to manipulate the Sonomancer’s love for him are clearly obvious, yet she seems totally oblivious to it. The Eleven is the villain who makes the most impact in this audio, there is a brilliant scene between him and his guard while he is imprisoned by the Time Lords that proves that even after four box sets he is still just as fun a villain as he was in his first appearance. Despite this, he is discarded by Padrac as easily as the Sonomancer, and despite his status as perhaps the least auspicious villain, Padrac proves himself to be the master manipulator in the end.
In the end Padrac’s actions lead to an all-out Time Lord civil war, and as the Sonomancer reveals his true intentions as the mastermind behind her entire ordeal, as when she was the student Caleera it turns out that it was Padrac who was suppressing her abilities and manipulating her teachers and seniors into repressing her potential for her entire life, forcing her to hate the universe. Caleera becomes quite a sympathetic character at the eleventh hour, but the revelation that Padrac was the one that instigated her life of repression somewhat goes against the principle that it was Time Lord society that repressed Caleera’s potential. Caleera’s final moments also calls back to a very specific audio earlier in the Eighth Doctor’s timeline, though it would be a huge spoiler to reveal it here. Overall, Stop the Clock is a fantastic finale for Doom Coalition that brings all of the elements from throughout the series together in a satisfying conclusion that also sets up a lead for the next saga, as the Eleven kidnaps Helen and the Doctor and Liv pursue them into time and space, leading into the next saga: Ravenous.