Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 3/12/17 1:17 pm
2 out of 3 found this review helpful.
In the final story of Doom Coalition, the Doctor (Paul McGann) and his companions Liv (Nicola Walker) and Helen (Hattie Morahan) are on their way to Gallifrey, chasing after the Eleven (Mark Bonnar), attempting to stop the Doom Coalition from destroying the universe. After landing on Gallifrey and capturing the Eleven, the Doctor plays a dangerous game, going right into the lion's den with Padrac (Robert Bathurst) and Caleera (Emma Cunniffe). But is the Doctor too late to stop the destruction of the universe? And will everyone make it out of the story alive. At the end of Doom Coalition, Stop the Clock ends the series not with a bang, but with a decidedly average pop. While there were a series of strong performances by several cast members, and an engaging story by and large, the ending of the story falls apart a bit, as the villains are brought down not by the Doctor being clever, but by the villains' own fatal flaws. It makes for a dud of an ending and, mixed with a disappointing cliffhanger, makes for a rather average ending to the set and the series as a whole.
For the last time in this series, Paul McGann returns, once again, as the Eighth Doctor. McGann gives another strong performance here, though I can't help but feel that some of the fury he brought to the role in the previous story is now gone. Still, McGann get's a chance to act bad for a little bit when he imitates the Eleven with his performance. He's not as good as Bonnar is in the role, but that actually works well for the character of the Doctor, even though I did think that McGann did okay differentiating the distinct personalities, the few times he did do it. Likewise, Nicola Walker, playing his companion Liv Chenka, did a good job throughout, even though she had a small role in the set, apart from the first story. Walker is an old hat at playing Liv now, having played it in 27 stories, and yet she still manages to wring something new and exciting out of the role, every single time. I love the character of Liv.
However, this brings us to the final regular companion: Hattie Morahan's Helen Sinclair. Normally, I'd make this about Morahan's performance, which was strong, given the amount of screentime she had, but I feel the need to discuss the absolutely abysmal character development given to Helen in this story; which is to say, none at all. In an interview with Doctor Who Magazine, John Dorney and Matt Fitton both admitted that Helen has not been utilized well by the writers, and they promised that Doom Coalition 4 would fix that. Well, here we are, at the end of Doom Coalition 4, and Helen is still a poorly written character. My friend pointed out, very astutely, that while Liv is arguably the best companion the Eighth Doctor has had, Helen is a repository for all the very worst qualities a companion can have. That rings very true in this set; she spent the first three stories asking the same question over and over again ("But... but Liv is from the future! How can the future be destroyed if she still exists?") and not understanding the answer. This is the kind of character work that should've been done in Doom Coalition 1, not in the finale of the series. But perhaps the most insulting part of Morahan's work comes at the end when, after doing a piss poor job with her character, Dorney decides to let her fly off through the destruction of the Doom Coalition's weapon, along with the Eleven, basically admitting that they best thing she can do is go very far away. It's a tragedy, because Morahan gives her all in this fourth box set, but the writing just can't do her performance justice.
Rounding out the cast is the remainder of the Doom Coalition: Robert Bathurst as the ringleader Padrac, Emma Cunniffe as the powerful psychic the Sonomancer, and Mark Bonnar is the Time Lord afflicted with dissociative personality disorder, the Eleven. Bathurst is a strong member of the villains, bringing a sort of casual evil to the role. He has a lot in common with Cardinal Ollistra from the War Doctor series; both characters walk a fine line between good and evil, and both have Gallifrey's best interests at heart. Padrac walks more on the evil side, but he's somewhat of a sympathetic character. His final, deflated scene at the end, right before he is frozen is a strong look at what makes Padrac tick. Cunniffe is fairly good as the Sonomancer, formerly Caleera. I didn't quite like how her character was almost slavishly in love with Padrac, but Cunniffe gave an extremely menacing performance as the Sonomancer; her fury at discovering that Padrac had ruined her life to use her as a weapon is one of Cunniffe's finest moments in the series. Last, but certainly not least, is Mark Bonnar as the Eleven. Bonnar get's a great chance to flex his acting muscles here, and he delivers a strong performance, as he always does when tasked with playing this insane Time Lord. I particularly liked the interrogation scene, as Bonnar was given a chance to basically play 4 different characters somewhat simultaneously; he was menacing, he was scary at times, and he was brilliant.
Dorney's script for the final story is a bit of a bland affair. It was an interesting, high-stakes bit of writing up until the final minutes when, rather than having the Doctor do something clever, the villain's plans fall apart due to Padrac's fatal flaw. It made for a disappointing ending, not least of all because of the lack of a satisfactory conclusion to the Doom Coalition series and the poor characterization of Helen. The story, leading up to the finale, was an extremely enjoyable high-stakes drama. I quite enjoyed the idea of Eight in the Capital with the Doom Coalition, masquerading as the Eleven. It was an interesting, engaging bit of storytelling from Dorney. I also quite liked how the Doctor was forced to reveal he was the Doctor to Padrac and the Sonomancer. The Eleven's scene threatening Helen with death, and his explosive anger afterwards about being forced to stay with the dying universe, was a fantastically written scene by Dorney. However, the ending is where the story falls apart a bit. I quite dislike how every story is about the villains failing because they made a mistake many years ago, and it comes back to bite them in the ass. In this case, Padrac admitted that he had royally fucked up Caleera's life in order to drive her to become his Sonomancer, and how he'd never loved her. That big reveal really cheapened the rest of the story, because it's a lazy way of ending the story. Have the Doctor figure out something dead clever to do, and do that. Don't have the villains be undone by their own dastardly plans; it's the lazy way to do, and it doesn't make for an enjoyable ending to the series. And while I did enjoy the callback to The Red Lady with Caleera in the end, I found myself really disliking how the story ended. For all of Dark Eyes 4's faults, it at least ended the Dark Eyes series definitively. It was the end of one era, while Doom Coalition was the start of a new one. Except Stop the Clock ends with Helen trapped with the Eleven, having just gone through the destruction of the Doom Coalition's weapon. It's not a blank slate for the next group of writers to start with, and it ends it on a rather bland note, in my opinion. It would've been nice for Big Finish to focus on the next thing, rather than looking to the past and forcing the Eleven to stick around even longer.
To end this review on a more positive note, I quite liked Tom Webster's work on the covers for these four stories. In particular, I felt that the covers for the first three stories were rather excellent; I quite liked the picture of Rufus Hound as the Monk on the cover of The Side of the Angels, and I really liked the use of Gallifrey on the cover of Songs of Love. Webster has done strong work with the covers for Doom Coalition; I've particularly liked his choice of "theme" colors in each set. The first set used the orange/yellow color in each cover, while the second set used the sickly green flash in each story, and the third set used a pink/red flash on each cover. Here, the theme was once again a green and gray-brown, but what was most interesting to me was the cover for the first one. As a direct continuation of the previous set, it had the same color theme as the previous set, with a pink/red flash on the cover. I quite liked that small touch, as it made the set really feel interconnected.
Overall, Stop the Clock was an okay ending to the series. It had an interesting story written by Dorney, but it ended in a way that left a sour taste in my mouth, personally. I quite liked the performances of the cast, especially McGann, Bonnar, and Bathurst, but I also couldn't help but me annoyed by the lack of character work done to Helen across this story, and the series as a whole. Still though, Dorney ended the series on a solid note, even if it does force the next box set to basically be Doom Coalition 5.