Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor has come a long way since his frock coat and long hair days – the recent Dark Eyes series brought him ever closer to the looming Time War. Doom Coalition 1, the first of four new box sets from Big Finish, picks up where they left off.
But there are no Daleks or Master this time; instead we get a new villain. The Eleven (Bonnar) is a Time Lord criminal with ‘regenerative dissonance’ – his mind is alternately controlled by all eleven of his incarnations so far. Imagine Gollum and Smeagol times five (and a half). When the Eleven escapes from prison, it’s up to the Doctor to track him down.
Not on his own, though; he’s still travelling with Liv Chenka (Walker), and British Museum scholar Helen Sinclair (Morahan) joins the team in 1963. Whereas Chenka has been through the wars, Helen comes to these adventures with a fresh enthusiasm – the two companions clashing as Helen gets over-excited about being in Renaissance Florence is a great character-building moment.
The four stories are all very different, each with their own strengths. Matt Fitton’s The Eleven gets Doom Coalition off to a thrilling start; depicting the eponymous criminal’s escape from Gallifrey, it’s a tense, pacey thriller, with some interesting insights into the Doctor’s past.
Though John Dorney’s The Red Lady features Helen’s introduction, it’s the story most disconnected from the overall arc. Rather, it’s a brilliant horror tale in itself, with a very creepy antagonist that feels like a Steven Moffat creation. Don’t look at the paintings.
The Galileo Trap, by Marc Platt, has an interesting historical setting, and an affectingly sad take on the famous astronomer’s later years, though its plot is the simplest and perhaps weakest of the four – the twist is in the title, after all.
Finally, Edward Collier’s The Satanic Mill sees a final face-off on an ancient satellite. It has an edge of religious satire, though in the latter half this becomes secondary to the Eleven’s evil plan – a reveal that could easily feel too insane to be believable, but is saved by Bonnar making the Eleven convincingly unhinged.
The way these four stories are linked but distinct keeps Doom Coalition moving at an exciting pace. It’s also notable that, despite some clever connections (including to a First Doctor novel and to TV special The Day of the Doctor), this box set is less reliant on existing continuity than the Dark Eyes instalments – so it’s a great in-point for those wanting to begin their Eighth Doctor adventures.
With a brilliantly conceived and portrayed villain, two great companions, and the ever-enjoyable Paul McGann, Doom Coalition is a thrilling adventure and, as we’ve come to expect from Big Finish, Doctor Who done incredibly well.
DOOM COALITION 1 (DOCTOR WHO) / AUTHOR: VARIOUS / STARRING: PAUL MCGANN, NICOLA WALKER, HATTIE MORAHAN, MARK BONNAR / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW