The Maltese Penguin

Posted in Audio by - January 08, 2019
The Maltese Penguin

Released November 2002

Originally released as a free bonus to Big Finish subscribers whose subscription included ‘Neverland,’ Robert Shearman’s ‘The Maltese Penguin’ thrusts Frobisher, the shape-shifting comic strip companion of the Sixth Doctor, into the spotlight as a private eye in what could easily be seen in retrospect as a precursor to The Companion Chronicles. Channeling the classic noir dramas of old, a beautiful woman offers Frobisher a case he simply can’t refuse, one that will lead him into a dangerous web of murder and deceit.

Frobisher is the absolute epitome of what the comics medium can offer given his preferred penguin appearance and larger-than-life demeanour, but Big Finish proved that the character is able to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Doctor in the audio medium as well with the stellar ‘The Holy Terror’ that was also penned by Shearman. He’s often sardonic and cynical, but he’s determined to do good no matter what is asked of him, and the combination of bluster and humility he exudes creates an incredibly endearing figure that Robert Jezek again fantastically brings to life. Here, he has left the TARDIS after feeling that the Doctor was getting in the way of him being himself, but after three weeks he is ready to rejoin his companion, the only thing precluding him from doing so being his own pride. Yet it’s that same pride that keeps Frobisher so dedicated to the singular task assigned him here even when a much better deal than his agreed upon twelve muzumbas a day plus expenses presents itself, and his return to the TARDIS for more adventures at the conclusion is certainly well deserved now that he has remained true to his ideals while proving to himself that he has not gotten soft.

This is very much Frobisher’s story, and the recollections of his past add a much more nuanced and intimate angle to this character who is purposefully rather ostentatious at times. At the same time, the brief cameos from the Sixth Doctor are a joy, and his increasing boasts of everything he has achieved since Frobisher left in an effort to draw him back on board are played perfectly. Baker and Jezek share an immensely engaging chemistry together that captures the more grandiose nature of their characters supported by a more understated understanding, and it’s only fitting that Frobisher should choose the form of the Doctor when in need of a humanoid shape, wondering just how the Doctor is able to remain so mobile in a form so alien to his preferred shape. This also affords Colin Baker the rare opportunity to play with a novel American accent, itself reason enough to give this audio a listen.

Of course, Frobisher is not the only link to the expanded continuity of the comics, and Toby Longworth brings recurring nemesis Josiah W Dogbolter into the audio medium with distinctive style. He’s a ruthless capitalist who is so rich that he practically exists in anonymity even as he controls the finances of so many worlds, and he insists that everything stay just as is so he can maintain his hold on power. To that end, he is here searching for ‘the something,’ an unknown object that has the power to inspire anything and that could significantly cut into his profits. Fittingly for how dangerous events turned, that something turns out to be a microchip that tells a joke when in place, an action that inspires conversation and more ideas, and the true identity of Alicia who had hired Frobisher to look into the affairs of Arthur Greengrax in the first place is wholly satisfying and further rounds out Frobisher as a character. With two incredible Frobisher stories produced, it’s clear that this is a uniquely charismatic character with staying power should he ever be given the chance, but as a standalone release ‘The Maltese Penguin’ is a fitting if sometimes too formulaic homage to the noir genre that gives lasting audio life to material from the comics, featuring an incredible score and direction to bolster the engaging performances.

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