Big Finish Review: Doctor Who - The Behemoth

This month's Doctor Who main range release for Big Finish sees Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor and travelling companions Flip Jackson (Lisa Greenwood) and Mrs Constance Clarke (Miranda Raison) in a pure historical adventure set in 1756 Bath.

The Behemothwritten by Marc Platt and directed by Jamie Anderson, has been released on digital audio and CD. It's available for Big Finish customers now and goes on general release on the 30th November. Here's the synopsis...

"Bath, 1756 – and a very dashing gentleman known only as the Doctor is newly arrived in town, accompanied by his lady friends Mrs Clarke and Mrs Ramon. He’s created a stir among the gentlefolk of Georgian high society – and a stir in the heart of merry widow Mrs Theodosia Middlemint, rumour has it. They are not the only strangers from abroad causing tongues to wag, however. The mysterious Lady Clara, come from Amsterdam in the company of the noble Captain Van Der Meer, has the whole of Bath agog. Who is she, really? What is she, really?

But there’s something terrible beneath the veneer of Georgian gentility. As awful a horror as the Doctor has ever exposed, hidden inside Balsam’s Brassworks. Something that needs to be brought to light, for the sake of all humanity."

As usual, I'll be joined by my son Ben, the biggest Doctor Who fan this side of Gallifrey, to the review this latest release. Spoilers of course, if you haven't listened to it yet...

The Review...

Baz Greenland (aged 36)

This month's Doctor Who main range release for Big Finish is something rather different and rarely seen since the early days of the show; a pure historical. What's really interesting about it is that the story doesn't venture into any major historical event that would be perfect story for a riveting adventure like the Battle of Hastings or Columbus' arrival in America. Instead it takes the real life travels of two historical figures - captain Douwe Mout van der Meer and his travelling companion Clara the rhinoceros - and weaves them into story about eighteenth century aristocracy and slavery.

This tale sees Colin Baker's Sixth Doctor and travelling Big Finish companions Flip Jackson( Lisa Greenwood) and Mrs Constance Clarke (Miranda Raison) as they arrive in Bath for the debut of the mysterious Lady Clara. It take a little while for the true nature of this tale to get going, though Marc Platt's intricately written characters and deft direction by Jamie Anderson bring this world to life; Constance's well spoken nature fits in well and is balanced nicely by Flip's youthful brashness while the Doctor faces the admiration of Georgina Moon Mrs Theodosia Middlemint after he saves her dog from drowning.

But it's when Clara is revealed as the real-life travelling rhinoceros at the start of part two, that things really get going. The animal is paraded for the masses and Flip bonds with the animal even as it is abducted by Liam McKenna's Titus Craven and she finds herself kidnapped by him to become his property as his wife. And that's where the real heart of this tale lies, as the theme of human property becomes dominant in the tale of Middlemint's African maid Sarah (Diveen Henry) and her slave husband Gorembe (Ben Arogundade).

Platt delves deep into the horrors of humanity's slave trade as Sarah and Gorembe's tribe are sold for pots and pans and treated with utter contempt by Glynn Sweet's true villain, Sir Geoffrey Balsam. Between Balsam and Craven, the story doesn't need monsters or aliens; too often humans baddies are shown to be in league with some greater threat, so to have them here dominating the events with their sheer villainy is an interesting turn of events. And it absolutely works; so despicable are Balsam and Craven treatment of other human beings that no greater monster is needed.

I was intrigued to see how successful a pure historical would work - The Aztecs is still one of my favourite William Hartnell adventures - and the eye-opening nature of this tale and the issue of slave trading is given strong exposure in this tale without sensationalising the subject matter. It begins as a comedy, the Doctor pulling a chicken out of his coat, his quasi-romance with Mrs Middlemint and the bizarreness of Clara and evolves into something thoroughly engaging. But it doesn't forget to have that sense of adventure and the rousing freedom of Gorembe's tribe, the destruction of the slave ship and Middlemint confronting her villainous brother Balsam also give the conclusion a heroic feel.

It's also my first experience of hearing Raison's Constance but I like her role here, the more serious but still good-natured companion balancing off Greenwood's Flip and having a more mature relationship with Baker's Doctor.

The Behemoth might not be everyone's cup to tea and I was intrigued to see how my son Ben, being an avid Doctor Who Big Finish listener would find this tale as a younger listener. It won't stand out as the very best, but it is a very well paced and thoughtful tale and a welcome change in the continuing Doctor Who main range...

Ben Greenland (aged 11)

I must admit I'm not that much of a fan of the pure historical adventures, but for one to be on audio is an intriguing experiment. I enjoyed the character of Flip in May's Vortex Ice Cortex Fire, so to see her with Constance Clark was quite nice. The presence of Clara the rhinoceros is a great idea, an interesting choice of historical character.

It was definitely really flat for me, after Time in Office, but still an alright audio adventure. The idea of Flip being captured was a good one, and paved the way for the second half of the story. I liked how the Doctor got Clara into the TARDIS, and how he couldn't quite believe it. It was amusing having Middlemint try to become the Doctor's romantic interest. She failed where River Song would succeed. Bath was also a nice setting.

The subject of slavery was an interesting topic and was only really touched upon in the show in Second Doctor adventure The Highlanders.

Overall, it wasn't my favourite, but it was interesting. But I'm looking forward to next month's The Middle after that intriguing trailer. Just what will we get on Constance's birthday?

The Extras

The The Behemoth Music Suite at the end of disk two has a striking mix of atmospheric drama and wonderful African beats and drums that embrace the culture of both Clara and the slaves who have found themselves in this strange land of England. Like the tale itself, it certainly stands out as something different.

The trailer for the next story The Middle, continues the adventures of the Sixth Doctor, Constance and Flip and promises to be very different again in a futuristic tale where a birthday present is something very dangerous indeed.

The final interviews with the cast and crew are particularly interesting; we learn that Colin Baker asked for a pure historical and it's great to hear about Platt's approach to tackling the slave trade and his decision to add real historical figure Clara into the mix.

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