Friday, 13 May 2011

Son of the Dragon written by Steve Lyons and directed by Barnaby Edwards

What’s it about: I am Prince Vlad III - son of Vlad the Great, and sovereign and ruler of Ungro-Walachia and the duchies of Amlas and Fagaras. But since my father's murder, I have had another name. I am Dracula.

An English Gentleman: When the Doctor says that the man is no longer suffering I couldn’t tell if he had slipped away or he had actively committed euthanasia to put him out of his misery but either way I enjoyed the ambiguity of the statement. The Doctor is no ones fool according to Erimem. The Doctor did meet some vampires once, fangs, bats – the whole package. The Doctor’s attempts to hide are so lamentable that Radu would rejoice if his enemies were employing agents such as him to be his spy! He appreciates the offer of a weapon but he never fights if he can help it. The Doctor thought that if he could save one life maybe there was a chance he could save Peri but he understands why Radu slaughters a man who is close to death to conserve supplies. He’s delighted to hear that Erimem is alive and Davison whispers the line in a beautifully touching manner. Until he has proof that Peri is dead he wont accept it. Its unusual to hear the Doctor so desperate and willing to fight – he declares that he will fight the son of the dragon himself if he has to because he brought his two friends to this time and he is not leaving without either of them. The Doctor searches his pockets to see what he can find to grease the wheel. The Doctor goes knocking on deaths door and looking through his letterbox when he is stabbed in one heart, a wound that would surely have killed him if he didn’t have another to kick in for overtime and repair the first. When the Doctor tells Peri to stay where she is whilst he rushes off to rescue Erimem he exhibits absolutely no surprise when he stumbles across her and ends every one of her sentence because he has heard it all before. He sighs at the conclusion that nobody ever listens to him.

Busty Babe: Both Peri and Nicola Bryant having been well served by audio, given some exceptional material and opportunities she was never afforded on the television. We have been treated to her homecoming which fleshes out her past in The Reaping and we get to finally put to rest her fate in the equally strong Peri & the Piscon Paradox. Between those extremes we have enjoyed a softening relationship between Peri and the sixth Doctor (…ish, The Year of the Pig) and a wonderful extra season for them with some absolute belters (Leviathan, Paradise Five, Point of Entry) and as mentioned below there have been a wealth of historical adventures where she has shone when highlighting her strong personality with Erimem’s. The eighties companions (Nyssa, Peri and Mel) have done very well indeed in their audio adventures giving them some of their best moments in the part. Peri is appalled that a man has been murdered and the Doctor and Erimem are pleased – this is a welcome reminder of their differences highlighted so effectively in The Kingmaker. Peri almost cracks up when Radu announces himself as ‘the handsome’. As soon as she hears the name Dracula Peri is frightened of her own shadow and falls prey to every Stoker cliché in the book! Her scream when Erimem makes her jump is hilarious! Peri is less used to fighting than Erimem but she has a fiery spirit and a tent pole that she is more than willing to shove up the nose of any soldier that attempts to accost her. The Doctor makes a very good point that Peri would probably judge Dracula less harshly if she lived in this time or even in Erimem’s. Peri swears she would make a terrible peasant and that she is terrified of being stuck in this time when the Doctor is wounded and she weeps that she needs him. Erimem doesn’t understand why Peri is so cynical and always looking for the worst in everybody. The Doctor tells Erimem that she doesn’t ever have ask to continue her travels with him.

Dusky Pharaoh: One of the casualties of the new broom approach to Nick Briggs take over as producer of Big Finish has that we lose several original companions. In C’rizz’s case I wont lose any sleep but Erimem is such a complex and riveting character it is a shame that we should say goodbye just as she is hitting her stride and producing such exceptional drama. Caroline Morris has delivered faultless performances throughout her time and in stories that focus on Erimem and her twisted morality she has provided some very unforgettable moments. The run of stories featuring this trio has been higher than average too with only Nekromenteia and Three’s a Crowd falling below par but winning with their fabulous historical adventures; Eye of the Scorpion, The Church and the Crown, The Council of Nicaea, The Kingmaker and The Son of the Dragon are amongst the finest Big Finish adventures of all time and in large part because Erimem provides a fascinating viewpoint to experience these periods from, especially when contrasting with Peri. It was a great shame to lose the character when we did but at least she went out on a high.

As usual Erimem makes an instant impression, she is such an unusual companion in that she has her own set of moral rules and is willing to murder if she thinks the situation is just. Erimem thinks it might time for them to leave as soon as she learns that she ad Peri are being lined up to be the Emperor’s concubines and the Doctor his fool. She is well versed in the art of swordplay and disarms a Turk soldier and is willing to fight for her freedom. She promises to the Doctor that she will only fight in self defence. In defiance of her captor Erimem refuses to enjoy the suffering of Vlad’s peasants. Erimem is a strong babe for sure but nothing would terrify me more than the thought of her becoming the bride of Dracula. The fact that she will do this to save Peri’s life proves how much she has come to care for her friend. She bravely asks Dracula what they can talk about at the dinner table because she would like to get to know the man between to whom she has pledged to spend her life with. There is a memorable sequence between Peri and Erimem where they argue over Dracula, Peri calling him one of the most evil and sadistic men that ever lived and the Erimem arguing that he is honourable man that fate has conspired again. The tension between them is the next step up from their differences that were exposed in both The Council of Nicaea and The Kingmaker and it is clear that one of them is marked to leave because these powerful personalities cannot continue to clash without the friendship being devastated. She tells Peri that she wants to stay and when they remember her for it to be of the good memories they shared. When she began travelling with the Doctor and Peri for the first time it felt like she had true friends for the first time and in her room aboard the TARDIS she felt as though the walls themselves were watching over her. Few women understand what it is to command a country at war and who understand the decisions Dracula has made – that is why Erimem is special to him. Erimem is willing to honour her allegiance to Dracula even after he tries to kill Peri.

Standout Performance: The most impressive guest performance in some time, James Purefoy’s turn as Dracula will haunt you for days after you have finished listening to this story. His quiet, purring voice menaces and the writing leaves you with no doubt that this is a man who would happily kill anybody who questions him. When he orders Maria to be taken below after she admits she is carrying his child I was repulsed and as Erimem tries to stand up for her she gets a cuff around the face. Such a terrifying man.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He delights in the slaughter of women and babies!’
‘The burials pits are filling with bodies the names of which we will never remember.’
‘I can only forgive so much…even from a face as pretty as yours. Push me too far and you will share the fate of all that displease me.’
‘you must always judged history in its context.’
‘Is it the thirst for power itself that makes men unfit to wield it?’

Great Ideas: Without putting too finer point on the matter the opening scene for this story is the most gripping with have heard in many a release – the Doctor, Peri and Erimem landing in a devastated village, consume by flames and a dying victim whispers about Dracula. What an introduction! Vlad the Impaler lived up to his name by dispatching rebellious citizens. Dracula means ‘the son of the dragon’. I love the idea that Lyons spends an entire episode building up the appearance of Dracula, giving him a sense of importance and drama before he even shows up. Then at the end of episode one he turns up almost imperceptibly, charming Erimem and providing a great cliffhanger. 20,000 bodies stretching in all directions as far as the eye can see, the forest of the impaled. Vlad marched men, women and children 30 leagues and slaughtered them and their impaled remains were left for the ravens. I don’t mean to be disrespectful to other Doctor Who genres but I have always considered the historicals to be so much more interesting, thoughtful and disturbing than the science fiction stories but why is it that the pure historicals feel so real? Always there is a sense of a passing a of time and that the setting has been portrayed in such depth. The surviving records of this time are infrequent and unreliable. Vlad had men butchered because they had sworn loyalty to other Princes and he could not trust them, in particular they had obeyed his eldest brother. Dracula has a son but relations between them is not as they should be. History told from one viewpoint is hugely unreliable. The woman who (almost) falls from the tower was never Erimem but Peri.

Audio Landscape: Dog crying, clashing steel, screaming armies, crackling fires, shifting beams, galloping horses, the Doctor falls into a trap as they are running away, whinnying horse, whipping wind, Erimem taking a drink, you hear somebody get stabbed in brutal realism, Dracula’s carriage, Erimem’s pen scratching, Peri screaming in the execution yard, farm animals, markets crowds, thunder rumbling in the skies, the rains come down dramatically, crackling flames, firing an arrow and it thudding into the wall, Peri’s scream as she hangs from the tower.

Musical Cues: A cinematic musical score that befits a superior historical adventure such as this. Exciting drumbeats accompany Peri’s fear as Dracula surveys his district. Effective string work plays as Erimem writes to her friend. The music as Erimem takes Dracula to the tower to see Radu’s forces surrounding the castle is extremely powerful.

Isn’t it Odd: Considering the strength of this story its almost a pity that they didn’t choose this as the story that Erimem departs, literally surrendering to history and throwing herself from the tower. It would have been a dazzling end of a brilliant companion but I guess as a result of her survival means we get to enjoy two more stories with her.

Standout Scene: I was gripped when Peri was dragged out to be executed and Erimem was forced to watch – a chokingly tense scene. Just when you think this story can’t get any better the Doctor calmly tells Peri he is sure that the man who just passed him had a knife because he just stabbed him in the chest! The music as Erimem takes Dracula to the tower to see Radu’s forces surrounding the castle is extremely powerful. Given what we have been told will happen the scene atop the tower between Erimem and Dracula where she tells him he is just looking for someone to blame and punish will leave you gasping for air.

Notes: The structure of Son of the Dragon is fascinating which each episode enjoying a pre credits sequence and failing to reprise the cliffhanger from the last episode. Its almost as if Steve Lyons has been listening to my complaints of the last handful of stories about the paucity of decent cliff-hangers – simply closing episodes on a moment of jeopardy that will be skipped over in the next instalment. The cliff-hangers in Son of the Dragon are important – they split the narrative in an exciting new direction. This is how I think it should be achieved on audio. The introduction of Dracula, Erimem agreeing to be his bride and the news that the bride of Dracula murdered herself and the Doctor heading off to alter history are all important moments in the story and twists that promise much more excitement to come.

Result: The third gripping historical in a row for the team of the Doctor, Peri and Erimem and one of the most effective Big Finish adventures I have heard, The Son of the Dragon is a shocking reminder of what we have been missing from the main range of late. I am more convinced now than ever that Steve Lyons is one of the most effective audio writers and he understands the medium and how to exploit the lack of pictures and yet still paint some effective imagery, stir up the emotions and teach the audience something about his chosen period of history. This powerful script coupled with some dramatic direction from Barnaby Edwards and a gorgeous cinematic score leaves you with a story that aims high and scores big. Vlad makes for a startlingly effective villain, stripping away all the myths that surround the character but making him no less bloody and the performance by James Purefoy had me on edge throughout the production. It’s a fantastic story for the three regulars too with the Doctor being punished by history, Peri struggling to cope with the morality of the period and Erimem once again every bit as spellbinding and as alien (at least to Peri) as she has ever been. This isn’t just ‘I’ve been waiting for a great story for ages’ good, this is bloody brilliant: 10/10 

Buy it from Big Finish here:


jennhi said...

Oh man... you can't forget Peri's cry of "Put me down, or... or I'll GO UP ANOTHER OCTAVE!"

Anonymous said...

Terribly inaccurate regarding the Ottoman invaders in general and Radu in particular; to say nothing of the circumstances of the death of Vlad's wife at the fortress...such nonsense destroys the narrative for any who know better.

Shame on you, Mr. Lyons.

David Pirtle said...

I agree that what makes this trio so good in historicals are the different perspectives of the contemporary Peri and the ancient Erimem, always coming at history from opposite angles. I'm sorry to hear that there are only two more stories together.

Lee said...
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