Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor returns to the world of Doctor Who with The Behemoth, a Big Finish audio adventure written by Marc Platt, who’s been responsible for some of the quirkiest – and some of the most brilliant – stories in the history of the range.
In The Behemoth, Platt delivers a story that is utterly profound – given the age in which we find ourselves – taking the Doctor and his companions to the height of the English slave trade: Bath in 1756 is a time and a place where rich white people buy, sell and use black people as slaves, enriching themselves and their societies on the profits made from blood and sinew.
There’s very little getting away from that industry, as it underpins a lot of our modern social issues some 250 years later, but – surprisingly perhaps – Doctor Who has always been hesitant to tackle the period and its issues head on. On the other hand, perhaps it’s not that surprising, because dealing with these issues directly in a way that provides both compelling storytelling and human sensitivity is no mean feat.
The Behemoth delivers this deeply difficult balancing act by keeping its story fairly straight and its social judgments more or less unclouded, and deploying bucketloads of characterisation. Platt crams his drama with good people, bad people, and people trapped in the middle, and each and every one of them is intensely interesting, whether you like them or not. There are slavers, prohibitionists, escaped and beaten slaves, and society ladies and gentlemen who simply accept the world of their own privilege, and Platt skilfully weaves them all into a gavotte that swirls from one level of society to another, one viewpoint to another, so that even if the focus of the story sometimes slips away from you, the characters and their voices are so distinctive that you’re dragged into their lives and conflicts, and made to care every step of the way.
From a 21st century perspective, it’s most easy to care for the slave characters: Sarah (Diveen Henry) and Gorembe (Ben Arogundade). And yes, it’s jaw-dropping to hear characters tell you that they’re not servants, they don’t just ‘work for’ their masters – they are owned by them. But Platt also gives us at least considered rationales and responses for the villains and those who are merely coasting on the cluelessness of their privilege, so they seem like real human beings, for better or worse. Which gives the whole thing both a pace and a theatrical feel.
It would do you a disservice to try and describe what the Behemoth of the title actually is, or the role it plays in the story, as that’s still a major point of drama almost halfway through the story, but it’s absolutely guaranteed to not be what you think it is, so when it finally hits you, it brings a whole new surprise to the party, and a spin to the story that you’d have to be stark raving bonkers to expect.
There’s credit by the bucketload due to Platt, to director Jamie Anderson, and to actresses Miranda Raison and Lisa Greenwood too, for establishing a new closeness and fun between the Doctor’s companions, World War II Wren Constance Clarke (Raison) and thoroughly modern girl Flip Ramon née Jackson (Greenwood). Their relationship has acquired some new added sparkle, and promises great things for future stories; despite both of them appearing in previous audio adventures, in this story they appear to have found a genuine friendship of equals, as each has their role to play in the drama, while looking out for each other and their Time Lord.
The Behemoth is a story with a social conscience. It also possesses richness of its characters, and the reality of their relationships; and – because it’s a Marc Platt story – an entirely delicious left turn halfway through. It’s a modern morality-clash, transported back in time to when race relations were at their most heinous, and a reminder that history judges those who stand on the wrong side of moral issues. One of the bravest audio stories you’ll hear this year, it’s an experience you won’t forget in a hurry, and a good primer before you dare to turn on the news in 2017.
[amazon_link asins=’1781788111′ template=’ProductAd-ExcitingStuff’ store=’editonli-21′ marketplace=’UK’ link_id=’49f0a425-b819-11e7-b907-231585f3fd83′]DOCTOR WHO: THE BEHEMOTH is available to buy now exclusively from Big Finish until November 30th 2017, after which date it will also be available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading audiobook retailers.