This second box set of four adventures continuing the story of the Eighth Doctor post-Dark Eyes starts to explain the overall title of the series (the Coalition part – the Dark was pretty obvious anyway!). We meet the Sonomancer, and get a glimpse of how her particular skillset is going to blend with that of the Eleven – think of the alliance between the Master and the Rani in The Mark of the Rani, but done properly, between two much better developed characters.
The set begins with Nick Briggs’ Beachhead, which does the Timelash trick of referring to an old story that we haven’t actually seen (at least I don’t think we have – it might be a Short Trip that I’ve missed?), and the Eighth Doctor dealing with the consequences of the actions of one of his predecessors. It’s a well-paced and well-characterised start, with a chance for the audience to get to see the dynamic between the current TARDIS team without necessarily having the Big Bad dictating their actions. As with the whole set, there’s some excellent sound design in this.
John Dorney’s Scenes from Her Life is quite odd at times, as the crew meet characters that wouldn’t seem out of place in The Avengers (Steed/Peel years, not The Lost Episodes era). All the while, the backstory of a Time Lord is revealed – like the Doctor, someone who didn’t fit into the society in which they found themselves, and punished for perceived misdeeds. The differences between Liv and Helen become more obvious as this story heads towards its conclusion, and while there are resonances of some of the very early New Adventures, this is a very unusual tale.
Things hot up with Marc Platt’s The Gift, set in San Francisco in 1906, 93 years before the regeneration that will bring this incarnation to life (a point made more than once in the story). It’s the best story in the set, reminding us of the shades of grey in all the characters, and giving Paul McGann some terrific material to work with: he has his equivalent of “the end of The Armageddon Factor” moment, and does just make you wonder if he really can cope with the decisions he’s making…
The set concludes with Matt Fitton’s The Sonomancer, which brings River Song into the Eighth Doctor’s life (for, as far as I can tell, the first time – although he appears in The Diary of River Song, that’s much later in his personal timeline). I’m quite sure that the producers are aware of the pitfalls of using River in terms of the problems of not having her interact with the Doctor. There are only so many times we can hear the “I can’t let you see me, sweetie” line or its equivalent… and how many companions might get sworn to secrecy? Alex Kingston gets to interact a lot with Hattie Morahan’s Helen, and I can see the two of them working well in a spin-off series. The Eleven is back as well, with Mark Bonnar once again delivering a scarily convincing performance as the multiple personality Time Lord. The set itself also includes the usual behind the scenes interviews and an extended set of music cues, which are always good to hear.
Ken Bentley has brought together a strong cast for this set, with some familiar Big Finish voices intermingled with newcomers to the range, and the cinematic audio experience is once again all-encompassing. With so much attention being given to the New Series material, it’s good to hear that the classic Doctors’ stories continue to stay strong.
Verdict: Another highly listenable and enjoyable box set for the Eighth Doctor. 9/10