After waiting what seems like an eternity, I finally got my hands on some new Eighth Doctor Big Finish goodness, this time in the shape of Doom Coalition. The first part in a saga that follows on from the amazing success that was Dark Eyes, Doom Coalition 1 contains four stories; The Eleven, The Red Lady, The Galileo Trap and The Satanic Mill. This review is of the second story, The Red Lady.
“A London Museum holds the key to many secrets from the past. But some secrets are so deadly they should remain locked away. Forever.”
John Dorney, writer of The Red Lady deserves some kind of medal. For me, the essence of this story is 2006’s Fear Her done right. A painting that appears to come to life, and this time, there’s serious consequences. The story itself is set in London during the 1960s, back where Doctor Who began all those years ago. The Doctor in fact references this, as well as his house in Baker Street, which was also mentioned in Dark Eyes. One thing I really appreciated in The Red Lady was the casual sexism toward Helen Sinclair, the new companion played by the wonderful Hattie Morahan from one of the curators of The British Museum.
Helen is a young woman working at the museum who is highly intelligent and stuck in her current job, with no sign of promotion due to her gender. I really like that Dorney has decided to show the casual sexism of the sixties, as it doesn’t sugarcoat the era at all. Another thing I have to applaud Dorney for doing is creating a horror themed Eighth Doctor story, which could arguably be the first since The Chimes of Midnight released in 2002. The idea of a single Red Lady, a figure in different paintings from different countries in different time periods is one that is fascinating as it leaves McGann’s Doctor, along with Liv and Helen, absolutely baffled. The magnetism that the first person who lays eyes on one of the paintings, meaning that the victim cannot look away from this grotesque woman is absolutely terrifying; knowing that you’re forced to watch something horrible slowly kill you and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.
For me, the reason that this episode is so brilliantly scary is due to the fact that as a listener you can’t actually see the horrors in the paintings that the characters in the story can. This gives the listener the chance to make the Red Lady absolutely terrifying in their minds eye, and, as it is personal to them, every listener will imagine something slightly different as it taps into their psyche. If this episode were made on TV however, due to the fact that Doctor Who is essentially a family show, it would mean that the horror elements would have to be toned down dramatically.
In my opinion, McGann’s Doctor works exceptionally well when given a more horror-oriented storyline like this one, there’s just something about hearing this particular Doctor sound terrified that is more appealing to me than any other. As an opening story for Helen Sinclair I thought it spent the right amount of time on her character and story without detracting from the overarching themes of The Red Lady as a whole, and I feel that Helen, along with Liv, will be a great companion dynamic going forward in Doom Coalition.
The rating system on the Gallifrey Archive is a scale of 1-10.
For The Red Lady, I will give a rating of: