Friday, 11 March 2011

The Draconian Rage written by Trevor Baxendale and directed by Ed Salt

What’s it about: On the fringes of the Draconian Empire, an entire planet has gone mad: 20 million Draconians lie dead - victims of an ancient, apocalyptic suicide ritual. Now the Draconians need an archaeologist - and in pratciular they want Professor Bernice summerfield.Female an human, Benny is everything a Draconian distrusts... So why has she been invted to the very heart of the Imperial Homeworld? As an age old conspiracy deepens around her, and her own memories are disturbed, Benny wonders if she can really trust the Draconians...and, even worse, is she can even trust herself...

Archaeological Adventuress:
Bernice has received a formal invitation to visit Draconia, a rare honour. She doesn’t want to go, she wants to spend some quality time with Peter. In different circumstances she would have been so tempted she would have bitten their hand off. Tried to charm Lord Vasar but fails miserably (she gets the wrong end of his stick!). An expert in many of the civilisations that flourished in Earth Space. She’s what you call a working mum (no Draconian woman would dare leave her hatchlings). Bernice is almost giddy at the thought of going inside the Imperial Palace. Quite exceptional for a human, Vasar finds her excitedness charming. There is a real emphasis on her knowledge and experience in different cultures in this season that gives the character a great deal of intelligence, I really like that. She’s seen more human remains than she cares to remember but the Trenagus artefact made her feel as though there was an itch in her head. How brilliant for Trevor Baxendale to tie this to his Doctor Who audio, The Dark Flame, reminding us of her adventures with the Doctor on audio. A fragment of Vilus Krull’s will trapped in her head waiting to be extracted. Is it the pain that bothers her or the sense of invasion in her mind? Bernice’s anger towards Vasar is palpable. If Krull has been hibernating in her skull ever since Maran Alpha, has she passed its influence on to Peter? She doesn’t enjoy watching people suffer but is willing to make an exception for Paranesh. Bernice will not be able to put ‘assassinating Draconian Emperor’ on her CV! Personally Shenn can’t wait to see the back of her!

Standout Performance: Miles Richardson is wonderfully charming in the first scene – Bernice tells Brax she refuses to go to Draconia and he charms her into it. All the Draconian performances are deliciousssly snakelike. Lisa Bowerman really captures Bernice’s panic as she is shaved and almost has her head drilled! After what she has been through you really believe for a second that Benny really will kill the Emperor!

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘My bath water is not worthy of your presence.’
‘Your very presence here offends me, Professor! Your very sex! Its all I can do to talk to you without vomiting!’
‘Draconians have three hearts. One for truth, one for lies and one for the Empire.’
‘You know they’re right aren’t they? Never trust a Draconian. If he wont stab you in the back then his mate will!’
‘I’m losing count of the double crosses!’
‘Drop dead your excellency!’

Great Ideas: A relic has been discovered on one of Draconia’s colony worlds that they need Bernice to examine and Braxiatel wants to see if it is worth anything. A political embarrassment, the deaths of people on Trenagus, 20 million Draconians committing suicide. How many human beings get an invitation to Draconia? I love all the Draconian racism regarding the human race – Trevor Baxendale manages to tap into the casual xenophobia that was so rife in Frontier in Space. The Draconian Rage – their new warlike stance? The artefact is a human skull was found on Trenagus, which was once part of the Earth Empire. Paranesh is an agent of the Dark Flame! The skull is the last remnant of Vilus Krull the leader of the cult. The Flame has existed for thousands of years in the minds of its followers, including Bernice – smouldering like a tiny ember in the darkness. In the old time drilling into the minds of Draconian females was considered the only way to cleanse them of the dirt in their minds. The Emperor suspects everybody of betraying him and that seems like a good idea from where I’m standing. Paranesh is desperate for power, using the cult of the Dark Flame to incite fear and loathing between Draconia and Earth – the cult is supporting acts of terrorism throughout the galaxy. It was responsible for the mass suicide on Trenagus, the planet that spawned Vilus Krull, the crucible in which the cult was formed. They killed themselves because it was their destiny, it was arranged a long time ago. Bernice really thought the Dark Flame was just a stupid cult but it has survived for thousands of years, has agents in many walks of life, secret societies, criminal organisations and even political movements. Many followers are in positions of power and it won’t take long for them to overthrow the established authorities. The suicide pact on Trenagus was the signal of the beginning of the end. Draconian warships will be sent to protect their interests and will cause unrest, Paranesh will overthrow the Emperor and then one half of the galaxy will be controlled by the Dark Flame. The Emperor of Draconia assassinated by a human – imagine the chaos? Vasar pretending to help her and let Benny loose with a gun so she could kill the Emperor. Vasar knew that Paranesh intending to murder the Emperor and set him up with a force field so he could dodge the bullet. Wowza – Vasar is decapitated by the Emperor for being a member of the Dark Flame, despite the fact that he has just renounced them!

Audio Landscape: Ticking clock, shuttle systems, docking, flying over the city, birdsong, flowing waters, bath water, a rubber duck, torture equipment including something that sounds like a saw, Bernice having her head shaved, the drilling sounds are truly horrific, the Emperor whipping his blade around, rats screeching,

Musical Cues: The music is wistful, lyrical, suiting the Samurai theme of the Draconians.

Standout Scene: Well worth listening to just to hear the Emperor visit one of his subjects in the bath!

Notes: Brax mentions that if he wanted the relic to be brought to him by underhanded means he would have sent Bev Tarrant, suggesting she has a future in the series after her cameo in The Bellotron Incident. I like how this series touches on different alien races that turn out to be much more important than they seemed at the time. The Fifth Axis felt like a tin pot group Justin Richards was flirting with until Jac Rayner made them truly frightening in The Glass Prison and Paul Cornell gave them a stifling foothold on the Collection in Life During Wartime. This might feel like an excuse to bring Doctor Who fans to the series (and indeed I bet it was at the time) but the Draconian’s make their presence felt very strongly in later seasons. Even moreso than the Virgin New Adventures, the Bernice Summerfield Big Finish is building a very impressive mythology and painting this future in a great depth.

Result: A beautifully crafted piece of theatre that explores galaxy wide implications through a small, well-characterised cast. It reminded me at times of the Gallifrey series with its political machinations and quality, almost Shakespearean dialogue. Trevor Baxendale has written his best audio script, taking the most interesting parts of his underwhelming Doctor Who script and working them into the Bernice range with some style and he explores Draconia both culturally and politically rather than being just the inclusion of an old Who alien race. The story twists and turns with surprising confidence and Vasar undergoes several brilliant character inversions. An atmospheric production of court intrigue and fantastic performances that proves you don’t need the main cast to make this series shine: 9/10

Buy this from Big Finish here:

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