Big Finish: Doctor Who - THE SECRETS OF DET-SEN Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: Doctor Who - THE SECRETS OF DET-SEN Review

Tony’s getting down with the Yeti.
The Abominable Snowmen, when it first aired, was a classic example of those exciting stories where the Doctor had been somewhere before, interacted with people that were new to us, made friendships in some unseen adventure that came before.

The Secrets of Det-Sen, by Andy Frankham-Allen, IS that story.

And squee like hardcore fans in 5, 4, 3, 2…

There’s a slightly stomach-punch feeling to the fact that this is a First Doctor story that stars a re-cast Dodo Chaplet (Lauren Cornelius), and was released almost contemporaneously with the passing of Jackie Lane, who played her on TV. But Lauren Cornelius gives a lovely bouncy energy to the role that evokes Lane’s original, and delivers a Dodo who loves her friends and traveling companions, but who also isn’t set on their rootless existence as a long-term plan. It feels like the grace note there was never quite enough time for on screen, and a moment of expansion of the kind at which Big Finish excels.

So – the First Doctor, Steven Taylor and Dodo Chaplet at Det-Sen Monastery, with yeti. Only – again as was mentioned on screen - these are REAL yeti, long before the arrival of the Great Intelligence and its metal monstrosities. That adds a whole new dimension to the shenanigans at Det-Sen this time round, and the thing it’s important to keep in mind about The Secrets of Det-Sen is that it’s not anything like as science-fictional as The Abominable Snowmen or The Web Of Fear. It’s played almost entirely as a pure historical – there are no aliens waiting in the immediate wings to swamp the world in outer space gittery, there are just monks, and pilgrims, and, because you need this sort of force in a pure historical to utterly complicate the lives of the Doctor and his friends, there are bandits. There’s the potential of a love story that goes badly wrong, there’s double-crossing and the reasons behind it, muddying the waters of motivation nicely.

So what are the so-called secrets of Det-Den? Well, if we told you that, you’d lose the pleasure of at least a couple of surprises. While there’s no alien palaver here, there is at least a direct connection to The Abominable Snowmen, and that’s a secret of Det-Sen. But there’s also fun here with decoded scriptures, a very precious bell, and an impressive lullaby that calms the sometimes savage beast.

For the most part though, as we say, this follows pure historical plot-beats – the Doctor and his friends end up somewhere, then things go wrong, and then they go even wronger, and the audience begins to fear that not everyone will make it out of this cataclysmic human collision alive. Here, the combination of monks, pilgrims, bloodthirsty bandits, yeti and the Tardis crew makes for a thoroughly entertaining listen, even if the business about why some things are secrets of Det-Sen rarely gets as foregrounded as perhaps it should have been to make us buy into it more.

There’s plenty of human drama here, and that’s something that’s too often forgotten in the more hardcore plot-driven sci-fi stories. There’s a sweaty, twitchy quality to the Det-Sen drama that makes it a kind of Tibetan base-under-siege story, and it’s deliciously Dodo and the yeti that save much of the day from the machinations of right old wrong’ un, bandit chief Norbu (Jeremy Ang Jones – anyone else just love the idea of a bandit leader named Jeremy?).

We rarely get to see or hear any softer side of Steven Taylor – he’s usually there to chivvy the Doctor along and occasionally despair at the old man’s nose for trouble. So The Secrets of Det-Sen is a welcome chance to hear what happens when the space pilot is tempted by softer emotions, as he is when he encounters Pema (Kerry Gooderson), a pilgrim on a mission. Don’t despair though, there’s plenty of standard Steven suspicion too, particularly of a mysterious man by the name of Oddiyāna, to whom the Doctor takes a shine in this story.

In fact, keep an ear out for Oddiyāna (Paul Courtenay Hyu) – he has at least a couple of the secrets of Det-Sen in his keeping, and for all he protests he’s a regular pilgrim to Det-Sen, practically nobody believes him. Should they? That’d be telling.

Andy Frankham-Allen knows his terrain in Det-Sen – he has a long history with the creations of Mervyn Haisman and Henry Lincoln. Here though, rather than seeming like a standoffish gatekeeper of the material, he creates interestingly and well, not embellishing the original setting and characters too far, but deepening them in a very human way that shows us life at Det-Sen BEFORE it was the bridgehead for an alien takeover.

It’s succinctly, emotionally involving, and you’re left with a pure historical which is, at the same time, pure fantasy. That’s a neat double if you can pull it off, and with The Secrets of Det-Sen, Andy Frankham-Allen does. If there are perhaps one or two “my boy”s too many in the Hartnell speech patterns, they only really become noticeable if you’re a demented old pedant with an ear for speech rhythms. Certainly, they don’t impinge on a story (and a performance by Peter Purves) that feels like a gift – like the Det-Sen adventure we always knew was out there, but about which we never had more details than The Abominable Snowmen gave us.

Try The Secrets of Det-Sen today – it’s richly textured, involving and emotionally satisfying, a fantasy pure historical that illuminates another chapter in the life of every fan’s favourite Tibetan monastery.

Doctor Who: The Secrets of Det-Sen is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 30 September 2021, and on general sale after this date.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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