Doom’s Day nears its climax as we finally get to meet the universe’s deadliest assassin for a mix of fun hijinks and moral quandaries
Doom’s Day, this year’s Doctor Who multimedia event has snaked through books, comics, audios and even video games all summer. Now, as the trees begin to bare their branches and the 60th Anniversary itself approaches, Doom’s Day too nears its end. Almost literally, as protagonist Doom – self proclaimed greatest assassin in the universe – enters the last few hours of her life. It’s ironic, then, that it’s in these Dying Hours that the whole epic finally feels like it’s spluttering to life. It’s finally Big Finish’s turn to grab the ball and run. And with Sooz Kempner leading these four full cast audios in character as Doom, we at last get a sense of who Doom is, right as we come to the end.
It retrospect, it might have worked better to bring Kempner and the Big Finish team in earlier. Instead the series jerked awkwardly to life with a rather stilted trailer (one, which judging from the interviews here was practically a cold reading.) That trailer set some unfortunate mood music long before the crossover found its groove. It was a wrong foot which material like comics and prose found it difficult to get off of ever since.
Impressively, despite her charisma and humour, the set doesn’t shy away from the fact that Doom’s a serial murderer
But now that we get to meet Doom in the vocal flesh, and in context, she’s actually a lot of fun. People already familiar with Kempner will know that she has winning charisma to burn. Along with the frequent moment of real wit here, it enables Doom’s Day’s riskiest gambit to mostly pay off. Doom really likes her job. She kills people, then she gets paid for it, and she’s fond of both bits. As with all the stories so far, Dying Days jumps through several hoop shaped bits of plot to ensure she doesn’t do anything too awful in the audience’s presence. But there’s never any bones made about what she does and how she does it. She has a certain pride in causing the minimum collateral damage, mainly because she thinks it’s unprofessional. But aside from that Doom doesn’t have much of a moral compass at all.
Of course, she’s far from the Whoniverse’s only witty bad girl painting her world in shades of moral grey and blood red. But a fun mix of pride and ordinariness distinguishes her. She approaches each new assassination with the chippy small talk of someone who’s come to fix the boiler, who really loves boilers: to intergalactic hitwomen what Peter Cook was to the Devil. And unlike others, she’s neither the Doctor’s oldest friend nor their love interest. As a result, when they finally meet, it’s all the wrong sorts of sparks which fly.
Dawn of an Everlasting Peace marks Who’s diamond anniversary with a lively homage to Terry Nation and David Whitaker
Jac Rayner sets the appropriate tone but depositing Doom in the only corner of the Doctor Who world wilder and stranger than she is: the 41st century of The Daleks’ Master Plan. Dawn of an Everlasting Peace reunites us with Zephon. That’s Zephon of the planet Zephon, in the galaxy of Zephon, where the Zephons call everything and everyone Zephon. He and the other Delgates from the 1965 epic are back with yet another plan to conquer the universe. Though it’s hard enough to keep who’s who straight in the surviving episodes so be prepared to quickly give up on audio.
There’s no mistaking Richard Reed’s Karlton, though. Deputy to the treacherous Mavic Chen in the original, he’s following his old boss’s example to sell out the human race in turn for personal power. under the guise of the signing of an intergalactic peace accord. Reed captures every dry, sardonic syllable of Maurice Browning’s original performance and is a real highlight of the whole set.
As part of Doctor Who’s 60th Anniversary celebration, it makes perfect sense for Dawn to romp through the world of the 1960s Dalek books, populated by the likes of the Compuvac super-computer and supremely daft ‘blast buttons’ on Space Security Service uniforms. Doom herself makes an unlikely but effective Hartnell substitute. She’s immediately cut off from her method of time travel, and disguises herself as Zephon to infiltrate the secret lair. First picking up Lonnet (Susie Riddell) and her disabled charge Klorin (Trevor Littledale) as disposable pawns, Doom winds up trying to simultaneously make sure they survive while concluding her literally explosive bit of business. Whether she succeeds or not you’ll have to see. But either way, Lonnet and Klorin provide the emotional heart to the story, amid all the Terry Nation inspired shenanigans.
Jackie Tyler has A Date with Destiny in Doom’s Day’s best single story yet
A Date with Destiny provides what might be the high point of the whole Doom’s Day experience. Doom is at her most unapologetically deadly here, laughing nostalgically about good times killing dozens of innocent people. She even audibly bristling at the very idea it makes her a bad person. One of the fundamental paradoxes of Doom’s Day is its requirement for fans to get invested in the fate of a serial murderer. But Date brings this to the fore, genuinely questioning if Doom deserves to survive. And it’s all the better for the questioning being done by Jackie Tyler, a woman who can always be relied upon to call a spade a bloody shovel.
Robert Valentine’s script obviously knows it can rely on Camille Coduri to hit the mark perfectly. On television it was always her Jackie that took world ending crises and Rose’s melodrama and dragged them down to real emotions. Somehow though it was always between providing huge laughs as the show’s resident comic relief. This provides another perfect example, as she sees through all the nonsense of Doom’s spacey wacey, timey wimey adventures to the reality of her murderous nature. But all those deeper thoughts are woven into a zany chase across London. It’s a dash for survival full of over the top action, silliness, and lots of those iconic Jackie Tyler screams.
Just how Jackie Tyler survives a night with the universe’s greatest, and second greatest, assassins is fantastically clever and entertaining
Doom is on the Powell Estate hoping Jackie can lead her to the Doctor. Rival assassin Destiny is there to eliminate Jackie in revenge for the Doctor and Rose foiling her clients’ latest evil plan. An added wrinkle is that Destiny is heading up a new breakaway agency. ‘Titania’ plans to use this job as a showcase to make their mark and steal one of the Order of Oberon’s biggest clients. It leads to much hilarity as the two Meanest Girls in the galaxy throw barbed witticisms at each other as poisoned as any dagger, all with Jackie stuck in the middle. It also provides by far the cleverest and satisfying dodge of Doom actually killing someone we care about yet.
The Howling Wolves of Xan-Phear does its best to squeeze the Silence into the Doom’s Day format, but both lose their core appeal in the process
We bounce straight into Dying Days’ weakest story with The Howling Wolves of Xan-Phear. One of Big Finish’s strengths since first getting a licence for 21st century Who has been an astonishing ability to find new ways to use the modern era’s most iconic monsters while preserving their original appeal. It’s a trick this story doesn’t manage with the Silence. One of the fundamental restrictions on their powers – that their suggestion kicks in once you look away is simply, well, forgotten. Instead, they’re much more standard hypnotic villains issuing their orders to their thralls who mindlessly obey in a kind of haze. Their usual, almost gnomic, form of speech is gone too, replaced by a kind of arch, hand-on-hips, supervillain monologueing.
As a villain they’re also a misfit for the format of Doom’s Day. A key part of the formula is that Doom has exactly one hour to accomplish her mission, no more. These episodes are all one hour long, too, and unfold more or less in real time. But Xan-Phear’s plot depends on Doom and her new allies having repeated incidents of missing time as the Silence try to prevent the assassin from completing her mission. As a result it’s a story that literally doesn’t add up.
The rationale for the Silence’s latest scheme in their unending war against the Doctor is equally shaky. They’ve fermented a mutually genocidal war between the two species of Xan-Phear, including Doom’s new furry friends. But what they’re hoping to gain from it strains credulity, even in the context of Doctor Who’s science fantasy. Along with some of the most awkward moments in many years of characters describing exactly what each other are doing just for the benefit of the audience, it all adds up to a bewildering experience. Though not in the good way a Silence story should be.
The Crowd sees the Doctor and Doom trying to solve the same problem in very different ways in a story that asks questions about each one’s moral limits
Doom has an hour left to live. An hour left to find the Doctor. The good news is that she has, in the form of Paul McGann. The bad news is that he despises her and and everything she stands for.
Lizzie Hopley’s The Crowd picks up some of the threads from A Date with Destiny. Doom’s Day has largely kept Doom’s targets firmly in the category marked ‘Probably Had it Coming’ or else found some out to avoid her actually killing them. This time she has not one target but 20 – the members of a mysterious group known as the Crowd. They’ve been linked to disasters and mass deaths across history and now someone wants them stopped.
Story wise, this cleverly means Doom can kill a couple here and there without the story ending. It also means the Doctor and Charley, who’ve been trying to find their own solution, can get truly outraged at the assassin’s tactics. Forced to work together, it leave room for lots of righteous debate as Doom points out her plan is effective, easy to execute, and permanent, while the Doctor continues to brainstorm less lethal options.
But it’s not this that provides the story’s moral dilemma. There’s never any question the Doctor will entertain murder. Rather it’s the other question – he may not kill, but will he let someone die? Questions of whether some people deserve to die, and whether what they deserve should matter anyway, are not new to the Doctor. But having spent 23 hours in Doom’s company adds a power to the debate rarely matched before. Laudably, easy redemptions and answers are avoided. And even the Doctor is left not entirely satisfied with those messy answers he does come up with.
Dying Hours ultimately means we can consider Doom’s Day at least a qualified success
We leave Dying Hours with only five minutes, and one short story, left to Doom’s Day. So it’s not too early to say that if the epic has been only a qualified success but Big Finish’s entry, buoyed by Sooz Kempner’s performance, is its stand out entry.
Doom’s Day: Dying Hours
Someone has sent literal Death after Doom. She can only outrun it for 24 hours. Unless she can find the Doctor…
As Doom’s final hours come into sharp focus, she’ll need to do whatever’s necessary to complete her missions, find the Doctor, and escape what increasingly seems like the inevitable. But how best to find the person who can save Doom’s life? Will the Doctor’s friends be her salvation? Or perhaps the Doctor’s enemies will be the route to survival?
Doom is about to travel across thousands of years of time, and light years of space in search of her last, best hope. But even if she finds the Doctor, will a person who is all about saving lives help a person whose only job is to take them?
Doom’s day is almost over. Time is running out. This could be the end.