The Secrets of Det-Sen brings the TARDIS to the Himalayas for a story with the First Doctor, Stephen and Dodo. Set some three hundred years earlier, it serves as a prologue to the Troughton-era story The Abominable Snowmen. The release makes for a Yeti-ful summer with The Web of Fear appearing on Blu-ray, its missing third episode animated.
As well introducing the setting of the remote Det-Sen monastery, this story also recasts a classic companion. Lauren Cornelius steps into the role of Dorothea “Dodo” Chaplet; the character was played onscreen by Jackie Lane across six stories in 1966, before an off-screen departure. Never choosing to reprise her role on audio, the actress passed away in June 2021 and this story is dedicated to her.
Hairy Himalayan Encounters
The TARDIS brings the time travellers to the Himalayas in 1630. Spying wild beasts on the mountain, the trio join a group on pilgrimage to the monastery of Det-Sen. Among the pilgrims, each makes a friend – Dodo with a younger girl and Stephen with a woman named Pema who travels seeking medicine for her ailing father.
Meanwhile the Doctor has meeting of minds with the group’s leader Oddiyāna. A perceptive and humble traveller, he sees there is more to the Doctor than meets the eye. And all the while, the group is being tracked by bandits, lead by the vicious Norbu.
Writer Andy Frankham-Allen, who helms the Lethbridge-Stewart novels, creates a compelling drama giving each of the principals plenty to do. There is a genuine sense of mystery surrounding the motivations of Oddiyāna and we love the use of the Yeti. While we have no particular understanding of Buddhism, the concepts are well-rationalised, and we liked the Doctor’s open-minded attitudes to the beliefs of others. Later, with the pacifist monks threatened by violence, the time travellers make a good case for defending what you believe in; the clash of ideas making for great dramatic tension.
Lauren Cornelius is perky and likeable as Dodo, her accent resting in the cockney area – a deliberate choice as it famously wavered geographically onscreen. The casting creates a fresh spot for adventures in Doctor Who’s third season with Dodo largely unexplored in extended media. In his dual roles, Peter Purves makes Stephen a plausible action-hero and the story gives him quite the emotional journey, while the Doctor is inquisitive and pushes the plot forward.
Director Lisa Bowerman has also assembled a strong guest cast. Paul Courtenay Hyu is terrifically charismatic as Oddiyāna and Kerry Gooderson delightful as Pema. Playing Norbu, Jeremy Ang Jones brings a well-judged level of moustache-twirling villainy.
We are always keen to hear pure-historical stories and this one is highly effective, thanks in no small part to Toby Hrycek-Robinson. His highly evocative soundscape includes chanting and bells, and there is a dramatic score (available as isolated tracks).
As the action wraps up, there is no escaping that certain pieces need putting in position. This is achieved admirably, deftly setting up the adventure to come when the TARDIS materialises on these slopes in 1935. Regardless of its future obligations, this is a compelling adventure in its own right and well worth seeking out.
If The Secrets of Det-Sen is a prequel, the other Early Adventure released this month is a sequel. The excellent After the Daleks follows Susan, the Doctor’s granddaughter, left behind in the ruins of a Dalek-ravaged Earth.
Doctor Who – The Early Adventures: The Secrets of Det-Sen is available on CD and download from Big Finish.