Another month, and the end of another saga; this time for the Eighth Doctor. Doom Coalition 4 is the final box set of the phenomenal Doom Coalition story, and the stakes are higher than ever for the Doctor, Liv and Helen. Today, we’ll be reviewing the first story in this release, Ship In A Bottle.
The Doctor, Liv and Helen are hurtling into a future that has been utterly destroyed, trapped inside a shuttle with no possible means of escape. But with the lives of everyone in the universe in the balance, they’ve got to find one. And soon. When the stakes are this high, you can’t just give up. Or can you?
Do you remember what happened at the end of The Crucible of Souls? Well yeah, the Doctor, Liv and Helen are still in a heap of trouble, being propelled into a future that doesn’t exist, unable to stop. The Doctor is seemingly unable to pilot the ship, and there doesn’t seem to be much hope.
The Doctor is trying to work out how to pilot the ship, whilst Liv and Helen are having a stock check; it’s nice to see this TARDIS team being rather methodical and calm, for the most part. You know what they say about calm, it normally comes before the storm; and wow, what an emotional storm it is.
It’s not long before the Doctor has come up with a plan that involves him going out onto the hull of the ship, whilst in flight in the middle of the vortex. You can tell that this mission is going to be a roaring success can’t you?
Remember in Absent Friends how John Dorney wrote an absolutely beautiful story about loss and saying goodbye to those you love? Well I think he’s taken all the best ideas and concepts from that, added it into a more apocalyptic context and may have accidentally written another award winning script in the process. There are some extremely well-written moments, and the Eighth Doctor gets a beautiful, apologetic monologue around twenty minutes in. It’s strange to hear the Eighth Doctor sound so defeated; to me, it almost seems as if the writers are gearing up to meeting the Doctor we meet at the beginning of the Time War. It really does feel like the beginning of the end.
One of the most interesting aspects of this story for me is how Helen admits that she feels a bit like a spare part, especially when comparing herself to the Doctor and Liv, who have more history and more intellect. I’ve read a fair few Doom Coalition reviews, and I know a lot of people seem to think that Helen is redundant as a companion, not really offering anything new; I’m not sure that that’s the case, but it’s interesting to have Helen being somewhat self-aware in that regard.
The parallel between Helen’s feeling of hopelessness and Liv’s unrealistic optimism is a really interesting dynamic, especially when the Doctor is caught in the middle; a Time Lord who’s doubting and blaming himself.
Like Absent Friends, there’s a lot of talk about mortality, and how people move on, in a rousing conversation between Liv and Helen. The music that underscores the conversation, provided by Jamie Robertson really adds an emotional anchor and pulls at your heartstrings.
With the Doctor, Liv and Helen realising that Padrac put them in a trap that would fool Padrac, there’s a brilliant moment where you can almost hear the Doctor’s spirit coming back into his hearts, and his optimism returning. The Doctor has hatched a plan that is so ridiculous that it might just work. Sure, there are flaws and a lot of potential outcomes, but it’s better than nothing. I love how Liv and Helen both think that the idea is almost a death sentence, but their loyalty to the Doctor and saving the universe is far too great.
The conclusion of the story, with the Doctor, Liv and Helen out in the vortex, starting their mission that surely can’t end well, is brilliantly written and had me on the edge of my seat the whole time; there’s a real sense of urgency and jeopardy, I can’t remember the last time I was so scared for the wellbeing of a TARDIS team. Usually, I complain that the endings of Big Finish stories can often feel rushed, but in this case, I think it serves the story perfectly. And that ending, what a cliffhanger. I don’t often get captivated by cliffhangers, but I genuinely have no clue what’s going to happen next. If you were expecting a happy ending for a rather bleak story, with rainbows and unicorns and the Doctor dancing a merry jig, I’m going to have to disappoint you.
Overall, Ship In A Bottle is an exceptionally strong start to Doom Coalition 4, being a three-hander of the main cast, without any villains or supporting characters is a bold move for an opener, but John Dorney and Matt Fitton both know that the listener has probably been invested in the Doom Coalition storyline since the beginning and that we don’t need to be spoon fed. Like Absent Friends, this is really a character piece that focusses on the relationship between the Doctor, Liv and Helen. It ends with a sense of futility, and you really wonder how or when or if the TARDIS team will be able to get themselves out of this new problem.
Should you want to purchase Doom Coalition 4, it’s currently available from Big Finish here for £20 for a limited time on both digital download, and the CD box set.