The second volume in the Doom Coalition series, this compilation of four stories sees the Eighth Doctor and his companions Liv and Helen find themselves on a new adventure, which sees the Doctor's past catching up with him as well as his future. When the return of the criminal Time Lord the Eleven casts a dark chapter for the universe, River Song arrives at the Doctor's hour of need, even if she knows that he mustn’t yet discover her true identity. Ever since her debut in the classic 2008 two-parter Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead, River Song has been an iconic character in her own right, and a wonderfully tragic heroine, with every appearance tinged with melancholy, seeing as we all know how she will eventually die. Alex Kingston brought that character to life and Steven Moffat gave her the perfect TV send-off in last year's Christmas Special, The Husbands of River Song. Yet, there's always been a problem with bringing River Song back, as she runs the risk of becoming an annoying, continuity-obsessed plot device as was evident in 2011 during her silly, convoluted story-arc. Thankfully, this is not one of those cases, but more on that later.
Like most of the other Big Finish compilation volumes, this does a solid job of taking a short number of stories and tying them together by building a story arc around them, but even then, each story manages to work in its own right. Beachhead is a solid opening story and sheds some more light on the Voord (last seen in 1964's mediocre The Keys of Marinus), even if it suffers the same issue as The Power of Three, in that it has a weakly rushed resolution, although it neatly sets the storyline in motion. Scenes From Her Life is the surprise treat of the four stories, as it is one of those stories that completely pulls the rug out from under you. It is weird and cerebral, treading the grounds of psychological horror, and is the major game-changer in the storyline, setting up its possible actual villain, other than the Eleven. The Gift, whilst the least interesting of the four stories, does an impressive job at tackling a lot of themes that are relevant in our capitalistic societies, whilst having a vibe of The Fires of Pompeii about it.
The finale, The Sonomancer, is when River Song comes into play. How she fits into the story is cleverly done and adds a nice twist on the Doctor and River's relationship seeing that at this point, the Doctor doesn't know who River is. Having her rely on his companions and not having them tell the Doctor about River is brilliantly handled, and in the end, she isn't as annoying as some of her previous appearances, so that's a nice bonus. Apart from that, it's an epic finale, even if the Eleven is beaten a bit too easily, and offers some nice things in store for future volumes. The voice cast is excellent across the board with Paul McGann proving why, despite appearing in one TV story, he's one of the best Doctors yet. Alex Kingston is brilliant as ever and Mark Bonnar is simply sublime as the Eleven. Plus, the companions in Liv and Helen get to grow more into their roles (particularly Helen), and both Nicola Walker and Hattie Morahan have great chemistry with McGann's Doctor.
Overall, Doom Coalition 2 manages to be just as good, if not slightly better than, the first volume; the four-story structure works like a dream, the companions are really developed as characters, and River Song manages to be an excellent addition. A fast-paced, traditional, clever, surreal, grand epic that never manages to be dull, and just goes to show why it's always a good day when we're back with the Eighth Doctor.
DOCTOR WHO: DOOM COALITION 2 / AUTHORS: NICHOLAS BRIGGS, JOHN DORNEY, MARC PLATT, MATT FITTON / DIRECTOR: KEN BENTLEY / STARRING: PAUL MCGANN, NICOLA WALKER, HATTIE MORAHAN, MARK BONNAR, ALEX KINGSTON, REBECCA NIGHT, JULIA HILLS / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW