23 October 2017

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Writer: Marc Platt

RRP: £14.99 (CD) / £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: October 2017

Reviewed by: Nick Mellish for Doctor Who Online


"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."

It’s typical, isn’t it? You wait years for Doctor Who to tackle, and two takes turn up at once.

The latest to do this is this month’s Sixth Doctor play, The Behemoth. Written by Marc Platt after Colin Baker himself requested a pure historical adventure, it’s undoubtedly unfortunate timing coming so soon after Thin Ice, even though the way the subject is tackled in both plays is very different, as are setting and script, and in fairness to this play, it is suggested in the play’s extras that Platt himself suggested writing a play about this subject, and it’s not another case of Big Finish riding on the coattails of themes or plots used in the new series, which has happened a lot in the past. (The extended extras for subscribers may reveal otherwise but as is more often than not the case, these were not available at launch and if last month in any indication, it may take up to a month for them to be so.)

The Behemoth starts off simply enough. The Doctor lands in Bath in 1756 with his companions in tow: Mrs. Constance Clarke and Mrs. Flip Ramon (still credited as Flip Jackson, despite the play making clear that’s not the case throughout). There is a ball to attend if they can get the tickets, the mysterious Lady Clara to investigate, and a dark secret that runs through the society, which is where the subject of slavery comes up.

Some accept it, some rage against it, some are knee-deep in the trade, and some turn a blind eye towards it. It’s not the only thread running through this story though. We’ve also the oppression of women in society, animal cruelty and class as themes to greater and lesser extents.

It should feel cluttered perhaps, but it’s to Platt’s credit that it works well and gives us a decent snapshot of a time gone by through a modern-day prism. I’m not sure all of the attempts are as successful as others though, it must be said. The tone can sometimes wobble, some beats or lines feel a bit stereotypical, and the blurb of the play makes it sound like an alien menace or mystery is the real evil here which is a bit tactless.

Some of it rings as perhaps a bit heavy-handed with its approach and not all of it hits, but honestly I don’t mind. I think with subjects like this you can afford to be a bit less nuanced and more on the nose, even if perhaps not all of it chimed as strong or true as other parts.

As a white man myself, the owner and undoubted user (even if unintentionally) of great privilege with race and sex even now, the history of our country is depressing and grim and dark at times, and any attempt to highlight that is surely a good thing? Better to learn from it than ignore it, especially right now with the resurgence of far-right politic and emergence of sex scandals against women.

If this all feels a bit preachy and heavy then I make no apologies. I don’t think it would be right to make light of any of it.

Let’s look at some other parts of the play though. Georgina Moon is very good as Mrs. Middlemint (and I am sure I’m not the only one who saw a future Evelyn in her character), the music in the ball scene is especially lovely, and Jamie Anderson does a nice job of directing the play, though his declaration in the extras that the Sixth Doctor and Mel had a prickly relationship is slightly... off. That said, it’s been so long since Peri was in a play that perhaps it’s easy to get mixed up.

If I’ve made it sound all dark and weighty, then that’s wrong of me as parts of it are fun and light and quite funny, not least just who Lady Clara turns out to be and the Doctor’s attempt as an entertainer (the second time that’s happened this year, with The Carrionite Curse also showing him in this situation).

All in all, The Behemoth is an important play even if it’s not always my favourite, and whilst the relatively close proximity to Thin Ice is a shame, it is perhaps indicative of the time we live in and that these stories still cry out to be told.



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