Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Doom Coalition 2

Frankie Howerd knew of course, he knew the rules – when it came to storytelling there was no limit to Francis’ genius… add in your own titters and oo-er missus at this point.
But he did – because for every episode of Up Pompeii he would begin, not at the beginning, but before the beginning – he would regale us with “The Prologue”. All very nice you may think, but what has this got to do with Doom Coalition 2?
Well, if you were expecting linear, you are reading the wrong reviewer – I come from the “off at a tangent” school of appraisal, but my reference to dear Francis should make sense further on…
This is another of the very highly anticipated releases from Big Finish – not only does it carry on the story from Doom Coalition 1, but it is a Classic/New crossover as it features none other than River Song. Long time readers will realise that when River enters a story all my critical faculties take a back seat, but at the expense of a telling off from Mrs W I will try my best here… but the idea of River Song in an Eighth Doctor story… 
I think River is magnificent, a wonderful tragic heroine  - every appearance is tinged with melancholy, as we the viewers and listeners know how she will eventually die. And she is also the Doctors’ wife, don’t forget. But not yet, not this Doctor, not Number 8 – the tragic thing about this set is that she cannot meet the Doctor in this incarnation – but she can meet his companions – but I get ahead of myself and we need to rewind a bit…
So where were we, oh yes… dear old Francis and The Prologue. You see I was always told that a good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. I disagree. An outstanding story has a Prologue (told you it would make sense), a beginning, a middle and an end – and in Doom Coalition 2, Big Finish haven’t only delivered this, they have set the standard for four part box sets going forward. It really is that good. It’s the sort of good that makes you smile, makes you proud to be part of Doctor Who fandom, that our show attracts this much talent and passion. Doom Coalition 2 is, as you may gather, a bit of a classic. So, clear your minds dear readers and prepare for Mr Nick Briggs, in a toga, sitting down and giving us “The Prologue”….do you have that image? Good then I will begin…
Beachhead by Nicholas Briggs
The Prologue – the prelude to the main adventure, a pre-title sequence if you will. but every bit as important as the rest of the story because this story is the hook that gets you to the rest of the story. The Doctor, Liv and Helen take a well deserved holiday in the seaside village of Stegmoor, beaches, hill-walking, bracing weather – the perfect place to recharge the batteries. However, this being Doctor Who that was never going to happen. Nick Briggs is a master at Doctor Who scripting, and this one is a love letter to 1970’s Who – it’s a perfect modern update of the UNIT era earth invasion staple, but this is UNIT era Who run through a New Who filter. Sometimes there are stories referred to in Doctor Who that we didn’t see on TV – this story is a sequel to one such story. The Doctor has been to Stegmoor previously, in his third incarnation, and is remembered by Philippa Gregson (Julia Hills) who has a recollection of a white haired scientist with a Police Box. It’s an interesting take on an Earth Invasion story – the villains of the piece are the Voord and their characters are a lot more developed from the rubber suited monsters they were in The Keys Of Marinus. It’s a fast-paced story and when we get to the end we are in no doubt that this is just the beginning of an epic. Salute, Mr Briggs!
 Scenes from Her Life by John Dorney
Sometimes a story comes along that completely pulls the rug out from under me, that completely blindsides me and Scenes From her Life is just one of those stories. Where do I begin? Okay… imagine driving listening to a radio station, and by radio I mean an old analogue radio that is a little bit out of tune, and as you drive the stations tune in and out and you get snatches of different programmes, plays, music, news, sport, all mixed up and fading in and out. Got that? Well this is exactly how I felt with this story – it’s a puzzle box of a story with snatches of different parts from different characters dropped in and out and a story about a spaceship full of slaves being experimented on, a Time Lady called Caleera who has extraordinary psychic powers, an ancient couple of Time Lords Lord Stormblood (Vincent Franklin) and Lady Sepulchura (Jacqueline King) – but above all else this is Helen Sinclair’s story. Hattie Morahan is given he chance to shine in this and become the woman she needs to be. Now then, imagine after driving for miles and getting more and more fed up with your out of tune radio you decide to buy a DAB for the car – crystal clear, all making sense, perfect sound – this is how the final act is played out. The true danger of the situation when you suddenly realise what you have been listening to all along. A mind bending David Lynch-esque enigma of an episode and one of the best I have heard in a very long time.
The Gift by Marc Platt
Following on from the revelations in the previous story The Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive in San Fransisco in 1906. The Doctor has gone a bit peculiar and is seemingly obsessed with getting a haircut. The story centres on one Charles Virgil McLean (James Jordan) who is trying to put on a definitive version of King Lear, however Mr McLean is in debt to the local gangsters and his production is not getting the audiences due to Caruso being in town. McLean’s luck seems to change when he is given a strange psychic “gift” that allows him to conjure money from the air – but there is always a price. This story is almost the calm before the storm as the events of the previous episode are tried and tested. The “gift” is a deadly weapon, but is it a weapon that the Doctor can control? There has also been an intruder in the TARDIS, an intruder who wears expensive parma-violet perfume… Almost a celebrity historical in which the celebrity is an established historical event rather than a person – it leads very nicely into the box set finale.
The Sonomancer by Matt Fitton
With the TARDIS being guided to the planet Syra, Professor River Song – hooray! – is already there trying to save the indigenous people from the cataclysm that is about to befall the planet. She has summoned the Doctor and at one point asks Helen “is it the Magician, the Spiv or the geography teacher?”, she seems genuinely heartbroken that the man that arrives is not her “sweetie” yet. This final episode again has an epic sweeping feel and sees the return of arch villain The Eleven (Mark Bonnar) and the new threat of The Sonomancer. It is genuinely a joy to hear Alex Kingston as River Song, she gives a commanding performance taking charge of the situation and acting like the Doctor, as he is off dealing with The Sonomancer. Again is is Hattie Morahan as Helen Sinclair who shines in this episode, her scenes with River are genuinely touching, and River’s parting words of “look after him until it is my turn” brought a bit of tear to my eye. This episode is fast-paced blockbuster entertainment – the action just does not let up and not all of the questions posed earlier in the set are answered. I may have been wrong earlier when I said a great story needed a prologue (thank you Lurcio), a beginning, a middle and an end – I forgot that it has to leave them wanting more. And this final story most definitely does that  - it’s going to be a long wait until October.
The original Doom Coalition was superb – this one is even better. The structure works like a dream and Helen Sinclair is really developed as a character. The stories work as part of a set and also as part of a greater whole, and like any good drama leaves questions to be answered – the biggest of all must surely be ‘who are the Doom Coalition?” If Doom Coalition 3 and 4 are anywhere near as good as this then we are in for the trip of a lifetime as we find out. A fast paced, traditional, surreal, beautiful epic and a very well deserved 10/10. Salute!