Doom Coalition 3

 

 

The Doctor, Liv and Helen’s visit to a village plagued by strange phone calls leads them on a quest across history to find the components of the Doomsday Chronometer.

 

Absent Friends sees the Doctor, Liv and Helen arrive in 1998, just as mobile phones are becoming popular. It’s a sobering reminder that what feels like a very recent year was before mobiles became ubiquitous. I got my first one in 1999, in my final year at university. At the time we phone-owners, pioneers in many ways, were still in the minority and I remember some of my friends questionning why I would ever need one. It feels exhausting now just thinking about contacting people or organising anything without one.

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The rise of the mobile phone industry is something that Doctor Who would probably have used if the series had still been on the air in 1998. It’s fitting then that it’s a Paul McGann story that features them in a sinister way, as he would have been the incumbent Doctor at the time. In the village of Calcot a company called Superville is erecting a mast and providing all the locals with complimentary handsets. If there’s one thing that sets alarms bell ringing in Doctor Who stories, it’s an organisation giving away freebies. It’s a tradition that dates back to the the plastic daffodils in Terror of the Autons. In that story the Master says that humanity has a basic weakness which he intends to exploit – presumably meaning our love of free shit. Writer John Dorney subverts this trope here, which was most recently seen with the free tablet-devices in Doom Coalition co-writer Matt Fitton’s recent Tenth Doctor Adventures story, Technophobia. 

While we’ve seen this method of distributing technology for nefarious means before, what really works in this story is seeing Helen taking the opportunity to revisit her family a couple of decades after leaving in the TARDIS. Besides Rose’s return after one year away in Aliens of London, it’s not something that’s been explored before. Dorney has crafted a relatively low-key story that packs significant emotional weight. It also makes clear the point I think some people miss in The Angels Take Manhattan when they ask why Amy and Rory can’t simply leave New York and meet up with the Doctor: they can’t see them again because Amy wrote a book saying that they did not, and then the Doctor read it.

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Investigating the device that caused trouble in Calcot, the Doctor, Liv and Helen then separate to pursue different enquiries across different time periods. The Eighth Piece and The Doomsday Chronometer form a two-parter, both written by Matt Fitton. Like the Doomsday Chronometer of the title, the tale that unfolds is an intricate puzzle which is gradually revealed across the different locations. Identity, and mistaken identity, is such a theme here that as soon as I finished the box set, I went back and listened from disc two onwards again to see what clues I had missed.

We meet a new rogue Time Lord, the Clocksmith, and an intriguing new alien race called the Solvers. The Doctor says he had always thought Solvers were a Gallifreyan myth. Given their prevalence in his adventures, I think at this point it would be safe enough for him to assume that all his childhood folktales are actually true. Disc three ends on a great cliff-hanger which John Dorney returns to pick up in The Crucible of Souls. This finale takes an idea used in a Fifth Doctor television story and mines it for a great, fun, dark episode. We finally learn the nature of the eponymous Doom Coalition, and neither it, nor their plan, disappoint. It’s particularly good to have Robert Bathhurst, currently brilliant in the new series of Cold Feet, back as Pandac. Hopefully he will be back for the fourth box set, and it would be fantastic to see him in the TV series.

Alex Kingston also returns as River Song, and there’s a device to allow her to spend time with the Doctor without upsetting continuity. McGann seems to hold his own with her a little more than some of his successors. At one point she mentions how many Time Lords are around, having grown up believing there was only one left. This hangs a lantern on the question of why the Doctor can’t travel back to a time before the Time War to meet any of his own people. This isn’t answered here, but it does seem it is impossible for the character in the period between the end of the Time War and his rediscovery of Gallifrey in Hell Bent. By crossing the dividing line into the ‘classic’/Big Finish era River Song is now able to interact with them.

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Order Doom Coalition 3

 

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