The Doctor and Romana land on a World War II era British submarine at the start of this latest Fourth Doctor Adventure from Big Finish, but it immediately becomes apparent that not everything is as you’d expect. For a start, it’s floating in space. Most of the crew are missing, and there are creatures flying around outside, trying to get in. And then there’s the talking chimpanzee.
This is, undoubtedly, a brilliant set-up – a Douglas Adams-esque mix of sci-fi and surrealism that fits in perfectly with Tom Baker’s run on the show, and which immediately conjures up images in the mind. For that, we can commend Adrian Poynton, a sitcom writer making his Doctor Who debut.
As the Doctor investigates all the questions thrown up by this odd situation, however, the answers he uncovers aren’t quite so imaginative. The second half of the story revolves largely around a scientist regretting having created what he’s come to see as a monstrosity, a Frankenstein-inspired trope which we’ve seen or heard in Doctor Who many times, while Sheila Ruskin’s villain Flague struggles to be much more than a war-hungry megalomaniac. There are a few nice touches on top of the rather generic plot developments, however, particularly in the neat way with which the Doctor resolves his predicament.
And, as ever, the production from Big Finish is of a high standard, with some nice musical effects used to build tension. Tom Baker steals every scene with his witty delivery, while Lalla Ward’s stern Romana continues to be a good foil for him. The absence of John Leeson’s K9, a regular in this series, is felt, but at least we have John Banks’ enjoyable performance as Franklin, that chatty chimp.
Despite all this, however, it still feels a shame Dethras never fully delivers on its promising premise, instead turning into cookie cutter Who.
THE FOURTH DOCTOR ADVENTURES 6.4: DETHRAS (DOCTOR WHO) / AUTHOR: ADRIAN POYNTON / DIRECTOR: NICHOLAS BRIGGS / STARRING: TOM BAKER, LALLA WARD, ALISTAIR PETRIE, SHEILA RUSKIN, JOHN BANKS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW