Released September 2012
The latest Big Finish trilogy sees the Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh Doctor each taking part in an independent story that all link together by showing the Drashani Empire at various stages of its existence. Beginning with John Dorney’s ‘The Burning Prince,’ the Empire has been ravished by the Imperial claims of two warring royal houses, those of Gadarel and of Sorsha. The impending wedding of Prince Kylo and Princess Aliona is set to change that, though, until Aliona’s wedding ship crashes upon the planet Sharnax and falls completely out of contact. As the Fifth Doctor lands upon Kylo’s search ship, secrets and monsters that threaten the very existence of the Empire slowly begin to reveal themselves.
‘The Burning Prince’ quickly turns into a very dark story, mirroring the internal anguish of the titular Kylo as a series of grisly deaths occurs in the first episode and the death count continues to mount until the very end of the tale. Fortunately, these deaths are not included simply for shock or to fill the running time, and each is rightfully afforded the emotional impact that any death should entail. Similarly, the genetically-modified subservient Igris soldiers so prone to violent outbursts and uprisings are a fascinating species and concept, and they certainly entertain as a seemingly unstoppable force while potentially setting themselves up as a recurring presence in the upcoming two releases.
Indeed, the story itself is fairly straightforward with an impetus on action, but it’s the superb characterization of the Fifth Doctor that elevates ‘The Burning Prince’ beyond the script itself. Peter Davison seems to revel in the opportunity to fly solo after sharing the TARDIS with three companions for the past several stories, and his Doctor here instantly takes a much more commanding and proactive role as he dictates the course of action even as others ignore him before reaching an emotionally-charged conclusion in which Davison truly excels. The prince and princess, on the other hand, are rather more one-note characters that are much less intriguing. George Rainsford’s Kylo is blinded by love, understandably, but his clueless moaning and complaining come off as grating and immature rather than evoking a sense of compassion and empathy. The forced reveal of the effects of his genetic mutation is quite effective, however, his pyrokinetic burning given greater meaning as the story progresses. And while it’s perhaps inevitable that Kirsty Besterman’s Aliona ends up being the true villain of the piece, the character is very much the quintessential stereotype of evil with no regard for anyone else or, indeed, her own hypocrisy.
‘The Burning Prince’ is an action-adventure tale that never pretends to be anything that it isn’t, offering an intriguing cast of characters in a setting where nothing can be taken for granted. The villain is appropriately psychopathic, even cutting her fiancée’s hand off to obtain a DNA sample in order to use her genocidal weaponry, and even if that performance verges on over-the-top, the fallout from the revelation of her identity is superb. It’s not complicated and it’s not aiming to change the programme’s mythology, but ‘The Burning Prince’ relies on the audience’s imagination to create a vast action-packed space opera, in the process increasing anticipation for the coming two releases that are so closely linked to the events that occur here.