Released September 2009
The Draconians have always been vastly important at least on the periphery of the Doctor Who universe, having their name and cultural aspects occasionally mentioned in both televised and non-televised adventures. Yet despite their popularity, they have never anchored a story outside of their initial appearance in ‘Frontier in Space.’
Tasked with fleshing out a culture and background in much the same manner in which he tackled Time Lords in ‘Lungbarrow’ and the Cybermen in ‘Spare Parts,’ author Marc Platt turns his attention to Draconia and its denizens with similarly strong results. It’s a testament to the script that Draconia feels like an incredibly familiar world that has been visited several time before by its end, and Platt’s introduction of concepts such as the chess-like Sazou, origami-like warriors, and eternal tombs in space truly help flesh out the Draconian culture while paying respect to everything that has been shown previously.
Remarkably, much of the world-building is done in the absence of the Doctor and Charley. Instead, these two are much more directly involved in the true action and intrigue of this piece, a prequel of sorts to ‘Frontier in Space’ that picks up on the thread of the Doctor having saved the life of the fifteenth Draconian empire some five centuries previously and being made a noble. Answering a call to attend the funeral of the recently-deceased fifteenth emperor, the Doctor and Charley quickly find themselves involved in the rite of accession, discovering hidden secrets dating back to the very beginning of Draconian times.
Yet while the drama behind and the intrigue surrounding the events is undeniably thrilling, the pacing is very slow from the outset, sometimes painfully so. Slow pacing is not necessarily always a bad thing as that style can sometimes allow the drama and resolution to play out in a more tempered manner but, while that may be the case here as well, there is a distinct lack of a Draconian feel to the Draconians on display. Compared to the exceedingly restricted and mannered approach in which the Draconians were presented in ‘Frontier in Space,’ the individuals of the species here are simply much too animated and dissimilar. While this is undoubtedly a conscious choice by Big Finish for the audio medium and could potentially be explained away by the difference in time between the two stories, it is distinctly noticeable and could be a bit jarring for fans of the original series.
It should also be noted that the continuing storyline with Mila as Charley is hardly referenced here. Aside from the quick resolution of the cliffhanger to ‘Patient Zero,’ there is only one scene in which the dual identity is brought up. Although this scene is integrated into the plot exceedingly skillfully, overall it seems to be a missed opportunity and disappointing that there is not more forward movement to this potentially exciting turn. Regardless of the issues with pacing or tempered action, however, Colin Baker gives an utterly commanding and arresting performance as the Sixth Doctor, dominating every scene in which he is in and proving beyond a shadow of a doubt why he has earned the nickname of ‘the oncoming storm’ in so many different cultures. There are plenty of rather tedious moments through this release even as intricacies of the Draconian culture and its past are revealed, but absolutely no fault can be attributed to the Colin Baker who is on his finest form throughout this release.