Dragons’ Wrath

Posted in Audio by - July 23, 2018
Dragons’ Wrath

Released September 2000

The first series of Big Finish’s Bernice Summerfield range has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride as the series has managed to balance somewhat average affairs with genuine classics during the emotional and often complex explorations of the eponymous heroine and her ever-changing surroundings. Closing out this experimental run is the audio adaptation of ‘Dragons’ Wrath’ from the novel penned by Justin Richards, but the more action-oriented approach that foregoes the previous stories’ willingness to tackle heavy themes along with the extreme truncation of the tale to fit on one disc that mitigates the source material’s strong pacing and core mystery make this production a notable misfire.

Whether this was a purposeful decision given the tone of the preceding serial or not, much of ‘Dragons’ Wrath’ feels like it is being played slightly more for humour than it should be which undermines some of the innate tension and intrigue that unfolds following Bernice’s stint at a cursed dig that manages to uncover the legendary Gamalian Dragon statuette, a figure she already has in her possession after a murdered colleague left it for her. Teaming with historian Nicholas Clyde to determine who amongst them is the traitor following the slaughter of so many of the expedition, Bernice’s university administrator Mappin Gilder, the famed archaeologist Truby Kamadrich, and the strange librarian in the employ of the warlord Gamaliel’s descendant are all called squarely into question.

Following the introduction of secret underground vaults, cybernetic guard dogs, and a volcanic lair, all of the pieces are in place for a genuinely engaging adventure, even if it’s one that relies more on spectacle than true drama or characterisation. Unfortunately, these more visual aspects only serve to highlight how deficient and emotionless the plot is as a whole, and even Bernice has a fairly marginal impact on the overall story with little room for Lisa Bowerman to get into the true spirit of her character like usual. The novel originally featured the mysterious Time Lord Braxiatel who became quite the prominent recurring figure through Virgin’s run, but he is one of the many substantial plot components that has been removed from this adaptation, and though Gary Russell does an admirable job portraying the replacement character Gilder, Gilder is simply not intriguing enough to carry this story in the same meaningful capacity. Still, Russell is easily the most seemingly engaged and enthusiastic of the supporting cast, but Richard Franklin Jane Burke are plausible enough as the menacing warlord and shadowy archaeologist, respectively. Unfortunately, the overdramatic librarian Reddick has no redeemable qualities and becomes grating to the extreme while detracting from the overall experience.

Accompanied by a new theme song, it seems clear that Big Finish was aiming to craft a story along the lines of James Bond, but its shorter running time means that this adaptation suffers from far too many leaps in its narrative that simultaneously take away from the intelligence and the intended impact of its twists. There are absolutely hints at what could have been a monumental release that highlighted the extreme range in tonality and scope that this series could convincingly cover, but the end result is a jarring hodgepodge of ideas and characters that never come together into a satisfying whole like in the source material. This is a rather dour note upon which to end this first series, but the ensuing switch to original stories like this adaptation seemingly wanted to be will hopefully breathe fresh life into this dynamic heroine.

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