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29 October 2021

Manufacturer: Big Finish Productions

Written By: Andy Frankham-Allen

RRP: £14.99 (CD) | £12.99 (Download)

Release Date: August 2021

Reviewed by: Robert Emlyn Slater for Doctor Who Online

“When the Doctor, Steven, and Dodo arrive in the Himalayas, they have no idea that they are about to set off a chain events that will haunt the Doctor throughout his many lives. 

Joining a pilgrimage to the nearby Det-Sen monastery, the traveller’s discover that everything isn’t as it seems. As the situation grows increasingly dire, they will have to uncover the secrets of Det-Sen before it’s too late.”

WARNING: The following review contains spoilers. You have been warned!

This may not be our first visit to the Det-Sen monastery on the slopes of the Himalayas, but for the First Doctor, it is, and events from this story are the catalyst for his troubles with the Great Intelligence throughout his various regenerations. 

The Secrets of Det-Sen, written by Andy Frankham-Allen, is a notable release by Big Finish for a couple of reasons. The first reason is that it acts as a direct (from the Doctor’s point of view) prequel to 1967s The Abominable Snowmen, and the second reason is that it’s the first appearance of 60s companion Dodo Chaplet in the Early Adventures range. Dodo, who was previously played by the late Jackie Lane, has now been recast, with regular Big Finish contributor, Lauren Cornelius now taking on the role. With Jackie Lane’s recent passing, it was very touching to hear that her character’s first appearance in the range was dedicated to the actress who bought Dodo to life so long ago.  

The Secrets of Det-Sen is set in the 1600s in what will one day become Det-Sen Monastery in the Himalayas. When the Doctor, Dodo, and Steven Taylor land in the Tibetan Mountains, they soon come across a group of pilgrims and decide to tag along with them on their trip to Det-Sen. Once there, things inevitably start to go wrong, and the TARDIS trio’s lives are put in danger when a group of bandits attack the monastery. 

This is pretty much a classic ‘pure historical’, something we don’t get anymore on TV. The villains are humans and there’s no alien or any other supernatural presence present. The only aspect of the story which would probably not make this a 'pure historical’ story is the yeti’s, who are in the background and don’t really have much to do until the final episode of the set. If you’re going into this boxset expecting a showdown with the Great Intelligence then you’re going to be disappointed, but if you’re going into this boxset looking for a historical story with characters at its heart, then you’ll be very happy indeed. 

The Secrets of Det-Sen is definitely a bit of a slow burner, and I hate to admit it, but I did find my attention wandering at times. There’s a lot of talking about Buddhism and the cultures and beliefs of those who live in the Det-Sen Monastery in the story, which I found to be a little excessive. Whilst the chats were quite interesting at times, it did tend to slow the story down and leave me a little bored. It’s a relatively simple story (which isn’t a bad thing in the slightest) that has been stretched out to 4 episodes, which I feel was perhaps an episode or two too long. 

This isn’t like the normal Big Finish audios that I listen to, as there was a narrator present for this piece. Peter Purves acts as the storyteller in this audio drama, and he also provides the voices for both the Doctor and Steven Taylor too. I was a little apprehensive going into this audio as I’m not the biggest fan of audiobooks, but I was pleasantly surprised at how smoothly integrated the narration of this story was. It didn’t slow the pace of the piece down, and it didn’t feel intrusive or annoying either. In fact, it helped keep the pace of the story up, cutting down bits of the story which could have ground the whole thing to a halt. Credit must be given to Frankham-Allen for this. The writer also deserves a lot of praise for his writing of the First Doctor, who I think he nails. He even gives him a little ‘sword fight’ halfway through the story too, which brought up some really amusing and entertaining mental images! 

As well as narrating, Purves does an excellent job with his impression of William Hartnell’s First Doctor. At times he sounded exactly like him, which was really quite cool. Overall, his impression was spot on enough for it not to detract from my immersion in the story, so I was very impressed. 

Lauren Cornelius also does a great job in the role of Dodo Chaplet. Dodo’s Mancunian accent is present in this story (I’ve read that it was replaced by RP on TV), and I felt as though the youthful energy of the character was portrayed very well. This is also a story where Dodo saves the day, which in hindsight, is very fitting. I hope to hear more of Cornelius as Dodo in the near future. 

Overall, this is an entertaining enough story that I do feel was stretched out a little too long. I did enjoy Dodo’s influential role in proceedings and I liked that Steven was a bit grumpy and like Ian does with the Thals in The Daleks, has to try and get the peace-loving Buddhist monks to take up arms and fight back to save their monastery, something they pretty much point blank refuse to do. However, I felt as though the story did drag at times with all the talk about Buddhism and the beliefs of the monks and pilgrims, though this may just be a personal thing, and you yourself may find those chats to be incredibly interesting and a rewarding listen. 

Ultimately, if you’re on the lookout for a ‘pure historical’ adventure for the First Doctor, then The Secrets of Det-Sen could well be the Big Finish audio drama for you! 

+ TEA 7.2: The Secrets Of Det-Sen is OUT NOW, priced £14.99 (CD) | £12.99 (D/L).

+ ORDER this title from Big Finish!

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