Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 3/12/17 1:12 pm
1 out of 2 found this review helpful.
In the second story of Doom Coalition 4, River Song (Alex Kingston), seeing no other option, joins forces with Padrac (Robert Bathurst) and his Doom Coalition, to try and save her future husband and his friends. But River may be in over her head; the Sonomancer (Emma Cunniffe) distrusts her, Padrac is going forward with his plans to destroy the universe, and the Doctor, Liv, and Helen are nowhere to be found. River will have to apply all her skills to saving the universe, even if it means going face-to-face with the most powerful group of villains in the universe. Songs of Love is a strong, rock-solid story from Matt Fitton. With a fantastic script that balances desperation with gallows humor, and some fine performances, especially by Kingston and Bathurst, the second story is another strong entry in the Doom Coalition series.
Taking the lead in this story is Alex Kingston, once again playing River Song. Kingston has improved greatly from her first performance as River in Doom Coalition 2's finale, with Kingston giving her best performance yet in River's final story in Doom Coalition. Kingston has always brought a fascinating performance of sexy charm with a ruthless assassin just underneath the surface. It's an interesting, if common, characterization, but one that Kingston pulls off so well. Here, both of these are on full display; Kingston, taking the lead here, acts circles around the other actors, giving one of her strongest performances in the story. I always like it when a character talks their way into the villain's confidence, and Kingston absolutely nails the scene. Some credit goes to writer Matt Fitton, but without Kingston's delightful performance, none of this would have been possible. And at the same time, Kingston also does a wonderful job with the more somber scenes; her final scene in the Matrix was a sweet scene, very well acted by Kingston. She absolutely knocked this performance out of the park, delivering one of her finest acting jobs with Big Finish so far.
The rest of the cast was similarly strong. The most notable member of the guest cast was Robert Bathurst as Padrac, the leader of the Doom Coalition. Bathurst's reveal in Doom Coalition 3 came as a complete shock to me, to be quite honest; it was an effective twist for such a mild-mannered character. But here, Bathurst gets a chance to let his hair down and just go full evil, and the results are absolutely fantastic. Bathurst gives off a strong performance as the puppetmaster of the Doom Coalition; slyly sweet towards the Sonomancer (Emma Cunniffe) at times, while ferocious towards the Time Lords who've balked at the idea of destroying the universe, and while manipulative and wary towards River. It's a testament to Bathurst's acting skills that he's able to so effectively convey all of these emotions, often from line-to-line. Rounding out the Doom Coalition in this story is Caleera or the Sonomancer, played by Emma Cunniffe. Cunniffe's role is fairly small in this story, acting as a menacing force used to threaten people, but Cunniffe really does a fantastic job here. Maybe it's the vocal effects applied to her, but the end result is an unpredictable yet delightful performance as Gallifrey's greatest weapon.
The guest cast is rounded out by a few other actors. Olivia Poulet stars as Jerasta, a councilor who opposes Padrac's plans, while Vince Leigh portrays Volstrom, a fellow conspirator on the Doom Coalition, and Beth Chalmers reprises her role as Veklin, Cardinal Ollistra's aide from the War Doctor series. Poulet, who recently starred as Emma Peel in Big Finish's The Avengers series, does a solid job her in a bit role; she breathes life into the character effectively. Vince Leigh also does a solid job voicing, among others, Volstrom, a member of the Doom Coalition who isn't quite as he appears. And finally, the lovely, lovely Beth Chalmers reprises her role as Veklin rather effectively, giving a strong performance in her brief screentime. I always liked Veklin, as she constantly seemed to be in a state of exasperation, which always leads to some rather fun moments.
Matt Fitton's script for this second story was one of the highlight's of this story. Fitton really did a great job delivering a tension-filled story that could've very easy become too busy at times. But Fitton managed the story very well, never letting scenes run on too long, and delivering a tight script that showed a deep understanding of the characters involved in the story. The plot of Songs of Love had a rather interesting plot, with River teaming up with the Doctor's enemies. It's not unheard of, but it's certainly an uncommon plot across Doctor Who, and I really felt that Fitton did a great job with it. His writing of River and her scenes manipulating Padrac and the Doom Coalition were excellent written, and wonderfully acted, scenes that I felt were the highlights of the story. More than that though, I felt that Fitton really understood the character of River in this story. There are sometimes when a writer clearly doesn't understand the character that they're writing in that story (a recent example is Phil Mulryne's work on The Contingency Club), but Fitton absolutely understands River. He writes her very well, bringing out bits of the character that Moffat and others have been unable to reveal about her. I particularly liked the humor he gave Kingston to perform, but also the more tender, sweeter scenes, such as the beautifully written final scene between the Doctor and River in the Matrix.
The final thing I'd like to mention is Jamie Robertson's solid work with the soundtrack here. Having done the music for the last two Doom Coalition box sets, Robertson's work continues to be solid. However, anytime the story is set on Gallifrey, I always pay extra attention to the soundtrack, as it often gives the composer a chance to really pull out all the stops on their soundtrack. Robertson didn't disappoint, giving a strong soundtrack that not only fit the setting, but also fit the tone and themes of the story. Often, soundtrack work is overlooked by reviewers, or taken for granted, so it's always something I like to point out at least once per box set.
Overall, Songs of Love is a solid continuation of the Doom Coalition story. Matt Fitton did a great job with an engaging, interesting script, full of fantastic one-liners, and well-written characters. Similarly, the cast performances really shined in this story, with Kingston and Bathurst in particular really standing out. Those two combined, alongside some fantastic music by Jamie Robertson, really made for an enjoyable second story for Doom Coalition 4.