Released September 2007
Doctor Who historical tales are at their best when they portray the setting and era in a realistic sense without trying to modernize or clean up details. That’s exactly the case with ‘Son of the Dragon’ as the Fifth Doctor, Peri, and Erimem land in 1642 Wallachia directly following a brutal massacre in which a village and villagers were burned and livestock slaughtered. The story focuses on two royal figures, the invading Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II as well as Wallachia’s Prince Vlad, the latter of whom actually orchestrated the massacre because of the villagers supposedly sympathizing and allying with the Ottoman forces. The Doctor and Peri recognize Prince Vlad instantly, knowing him by his more famous title Count Dracula.
Steve Lyons is no stranger to penning historicals for Big Finish, and ‘Son of the Dragon’ is possibly his finest yet. He manages to input a tremendous amount of detail about the Ottoman invasion of Wallachia in response to Prince Vlad killing several Ottoman citizen without ever boring or overwhelming someone not familiar with the era. This is a pure historical with no added science fiction or technological twist, and Lyons does well in giving fair time to both sides involved, Vlad himself being the focus of the Wallachian force and the Sultan’s compatriot Radu the Handsome being the focuse of the Ottoman force.
With nothing but history and explanations to carry the plot, a necessary burden falls on the performances of the story’s actors, and fortunately everyone involved is on top form. Caroline Morris has had several brilliant outings as Erimem, but ‘Son of the Dragon’ offers arguably her finest performance yet. Erimem’s royal nature has only briefly and occasionally been mentioned, but here it allows her to converse and relate with Prince Vlad on a very personal level, able to sympathize with his fears of his throne being overtaken and outsiders imposing their will. Even if Vlad’s methods seems harsh and barbaric, Erimem finds herself unable to chastise him for them, recognizing that they’re not too far different from the methods employed in her native ancient Egypt. The relationship between these two works so exceedingly well because there is no overt attempt to change Vlad, but rather to get him to accept what is in front of him without succumbing to blind vengeance.
The other half of this wonderful duo is performed by James Purefoy, who maintains an unnerving menace just beneath his pleasantries and charm. There’s absolutely no doubt that Vlad is the villain, but Purefoy’s performance is mesmerizing and believable as someone who simply wants to do what is best for his country without descending into mania or cliches. Simply put, Purefoy offers one of the finest guest performances in Big Finish’s ever-expanding range.
Because of Erimem and Vlad taking so much of the focus, the Doctor and Peri are not as central and important to events as usual. Peri is understandably uncomfortable about the fact that Erimem can relate to the man known as Dracula, but it’s not until the end that she finally takes action into her own hands and tries to save her. Erimem’s ultimate fate is unknown, of course, and so the Doctor must accept that perhaps she is meant to become Vlad’s wife or even to die, and he also takes on a much more passive role until the final episode when he finally decides to stand up to Vlad. Both leads still put in great performances, but their actions are essentially stalling tactics until the final episode.
The pacing of the story is superb, and each of the three cliffhangers is spectacular. As events unfold and the fate of Erimem comes into question, the tension continues to increase until the very end. Bolstered by some sterling sound effects that bring the setting to life exquisitely, ‘Son of the Dragon’ is quite possibly the finest historical in Doctor Who‘s catalogue, unafraid to show the darker side of history and unafraid to face the consequences of actions.