It’s absolutely no secret that I love the Eighth Doctor, especially with Big Finish; Paul McGann’s incarnation of the Time Lord is my favourite incarnation; so, when Doom Coalition or any other Big Finish release featuring the Eighth Doctor releases, I get hyped. Seriously hyped. Today, Doom Coalition 3 has been released from Big Finish, so we’re reviewing the first story in the set, Absent Friends!
Earth. The late 20th century. Across the world, the mobile phone is gaining popularity as more and more people decide to join the digital age. But for the residents of a sleepy English town sitting in the shade of a new transmission mast, that ubiquity has a troubling cost.
When the TARDIS veers off-course, the Doctor and his companions find themselves in the middle of a mystery. Sometimes the past comes back to haunt you. And sometimes the future does as well.
We’re going back to the nineties, to the decade where we were first introduced to the Eighth Doctor, as he first appeared in 1996 (or 1999 in the story). Mobile phones are becoming more and more popular (whatever happened to those?) and the residents of an English village, the eyesore of a mobile phone mast seems to be extremely unwelcome.
It’s not long before we hear the grinding of those famous engines and the Doctor once again steps out of his TARDIS. Unfortunately, the Doctor was aiming for Gallifrey, but he ends up somewhere he didn’t expect. England. The Doctor never comes to England, does he? The Doctor is worried that the TARDIS going off course means something could be seriously wrong, so he decides that whilst he’s tinkering with the TARDIS, Liv and Helen should stay in a countryside pub.
Whilst Liv is all too content to just sleep in the pub and wait for the Doctor to finish his business, the temptation of going to see what her own personal future is going to be like is way too tempting for Helen, and she decides to go her own way and see how the future has/will turn out for her. Time travel makes writing reviews somewhat confusing.
Having the Doctor land anywhere always creates ripples, and this outing is no exception; mere minutes after leaving Liv and Helen at the pub, the Doctor gets a knock on the door of his blue box from one of the villagers. It seems that they were expecting someone to help out with their protesting against this mobile phone mast, but they didn’t expect a policeman to build a Police Box. The Doctor’s excuse for building a police box because “retro is in” is a stroke of genius; it does mean that the Doctor may have just created the hipster in 1998. Oh dear.
The Doctor learns that the TARDIS isn’t actually faulty, so someone or something seems to be purposefully dragging the TARDIS off course, so the Doctor wants Liv and Helen to be with him until he figures out just what is going on. Liv, as always, is up for it; but Helen
has gone A.W.O.L and is exploring her own personal timeline is tucked up in bed. Yes, that’s it. Tucked up in bed.
Helen goes against everything that the Doctor says about interfering with her own past, in a Fathers Day-esque kind of way, and you can almost sense that it’s going to end badly before it’s barely begun. Why can’t the Doctor’s companions do as they’re told for once?
Once we’re back in the village with the Doctor and Liv, we learn that everyone who has accepted a free mobile phone from the company who installed the mast seems to be getting calls from lost loved ones. It seems that Superville Comm, the company behind the mast, may be the reason the TARDIS brought the Doctor, Liv and Helen off course.
We rejoin Helen, who’s met with her brother John, under the alias that Helen is in fact Helen’s daughter (I told you time travel makes things hard to review) and she gets some home truths about what the years between Helen disappearing and 1998 have done to the family. Unfortunately for Helen, the truth hurts. This storyline, although seemingly not imperative to the main plot of Doom Coalition as a whole, nor particularly of Absent Friends so far, really grounds Helen as a character, and reminds you once again that she’s human. This subplot would perfectly fit in with an RTD-era script, and I think that it’s a great idea from John Dorney to introduce elements from the new series, as the Eighth Doctor is almost like the bridge between Classic and New Who. The whole subplot grounds Helen more and more, especially when we learn more about her parents and her childhood.
John Dorney really hammers home just how important family is to both Helen and Liv in this story, with Liv receiving a phone call from her father. The idea to make the first story in this box set super personal to the companions really gives you a good dose of emotion to straight away. The differences and the parallels between Liv and Helen’s stories in this story are fascinating for someone who’s seen their dynamic grow over the previous two editions of Doom Coalition, and having them separate, but experiencing similar themes is a great way to remind the listener what each individual character is like.
As whatever is happening is effecting his friends, the Doctor seems more determined than ever to get to the bottom of what’s happening, and it’s not long before the Doctor and Liv realise that the real culprit isn’t who they expect. At all. Then, to make everything worse, the Doctor learns about Helen’s antics and reinforces the fact that she’s become a fixed point and can’t go back to try and change the outcome that her travelling with him has had.
It’s not every day that I actually shed a silent tear at a Big Finish release; yes, some moments are emotional, whether they be sombre or jubilant, Big Finish always has emotion at the core of their story. Absent Friends though is different, this one really got to me, the silent tear became two, and it made me remember who’s really important in my life. Family, whether by blood or by bond is always the upmost importance; or at least, they should be. Have you ever had one of those moments where you’ve watched or seen or heard something that makes you want to hug those you love? Absent Friends is almost guaranteed to do that.
Of course, with this being Doctor Who, we can’t linger on the emotion for too long; just imagine what the Doctor would be like if he reflected on all that he’s lost; he’d never take the TARDIS for another flight again, and we soon learn the real source of the phone calls. It’s a clock. Or something that looks like a clock, that’s part of another clock. A clock made of clocks. A clock². The Doctor realises that this clock² is something that could potentially be disastrous and decides that he should try and find the other parts before they fall into the wrong hands. It seems that we have the premise for Doom Coalition 3.
Absent Friends is an extremely rare release, in the sense that you feel like you could do with an extra heart. There’s so much heartbreak and emotion in this hour long story, and it sets up the other three stories perfectly. The cliffhanger is superb and gives you a sense of unease. John Dorney has managed to pen a story that is both a reflection for the characters and a way of looking forward to what’s in store in the rest of this box set. If you want monsters and horror, then this story isn’t for you; but if you want to be reminded of your humanity and of what’s really important in life, I’d recommend this any day.
Should you want to purchase Absent Friends, it’s currently available as part of the Doom Coalition 3 box set from Big Finish which can be purchased here for £20.00 for either the CD or the download.