It’s time to rejoin the Fourth Doctor with his continuing adventures; accompanied by Romana, and… wait, is that a chimpanzee? It seems as if the Doctor may be getting a new simian companion, but will Dethras from new Big Finish writer Adrian Poynton be a stellar story, or is it going to be monkeying around?
In the control room of a World War 2 submarine something strange has started to happen. As the ship runs out of control, its crew begin to fall unconscious…
Finding the submarine in the last place they’d have expected, the Doctor and Romana are confronted by a mystery. Once fully populated, there are now only three men on board. And there’s now also a chimpanzee.
What has happened to the rest of the crew? What are the strange noises they can hear outside the hull?
And most importantly, who, or what, is Dethras?
Something that’s interesting about the opening of this story right off the bat is that the supporting characters already know more about the titular Dethras than the audience. Normally in a Doctor Who story, the supporting cast learn the truth about something at the same time as the audience, with the Doctor shedding some light on the situation. Adrian Poynton’s subversion of that trope admittedly feels really refreshing, and almost alienates the listener from everyone in the tale, making us the outsiders looking in. I know it’s only a small detail, but I must admit that I enjoy it.
There’s also a great bit of rapport between the Doctor and Romana in the TARDIS which feels like those moments you don’t see enough of on screen; they’re having a squabble (albeit a very minor one) about where they should go. Romana actually wins the argument and their destination is one that is a Doctor Who staple; somewhere abandoned and underwater, this time a submarine.
It’s not long before the Doctor and Romana discover three men and a chimpanzee (the new sit-com from Big Finish, coming October 2018) in the Control Room of the sub, and they’re acting rather hostile. What’s more, it turns out that the submarine isn’t where it should be, it’s not even in water. The submarine seems to be floating in space.
I have to give it to the writing of this script, but halfway into the first episode, I’m totally hooked; every time you think you’ve discovered the main facts of the story, another intriguing or beguiling aspect gets brought to the fore. I absolutely love it. Even the chimpanzee gets a revelation. (For future reference, the chimpanzee is called Franklin.)
Considering that the majority of the first episode of Dethras was seemingly written to confuse the listener and throw more curveballs at us than normal, I have to say the cliffhanger isn’t as beguiling as I expected, which is a slight disappointment, I must say.
Pretty early on in the second episode, we learn a lot about what, or who, Dethras is; luckily the Fourth Doctor knows a lot on the subject and gets to fanboy a little bit.
As the Doctor gets separated from Romana (though, to be honest, when doesn’t the Fourth Doctor and his companion get split up in these releases?) we get to meet a woman known as Flague who I must say reminds me strongly of Madame Kovarian from A Good Man Goes To War, and I think she’s really well written. Even though this is the first story I’ve heard from Adrian Poynton, I can tell that he writes characters that are shades of grey; it seems as if no character is completely good or completely evil, much like us real people.
We get a really interesting expositional scene about a third of the way through the second episode, which gives us some more information about Dethras and the motive that caused these events to take place. Normally, as you’ll know, I’m not a huge fan of these exposition scenes, as they can feel forced in to catch up the listener, but with the incredible sound design, provided by Jamie Robertson, it was extremely engaging and well paced.
There’s a lot to enjoy in Dethras, but my personal favourite is how Flague acts like a petulant child when things don’t go her way, whilst also being rather evil (though remember what I said earlier about how the characters are written). I personally think that there’s a chance we’ll revisit Flague as a character in Big Finish’s future, as there’s still a few questions about her that I would like answered.
The conclusion to Dethras is somewhat fairytale, with lessons being learned and everyone almost gets their happily ever after. At it’s heart, Dethras is a story of redemption, and it plays out beautifully. Every performance is stellar, especially John Banks who plays Franklin.
Overall, listening to Dethras was honestly the quickest feeling hour of Big Finish that I’ve listened to in a long time. The story was fun and enjoyable and paced very well; this may be Adrian Poynton’s first foray into Big Finish, but I personally doubt that it will be his last.
Should you want to purchase Dethras, it’s currently available from Big Finish for £10.99 on CD or a £8.99 download which you can purchase here.