15 September 2016

Audio Review: Bernice Summerfield - The Draconian Rage

After a brief break inspired by apathy thanks to The Bellotron Incident (or as I think of it, Dullotron) and a lack of time, I'm back with Professor Summerfield just in time for her trip to Draconia. This is a much better story but still isn't perfect in my eyes. It deals mostly with political manoeuvrings and the return of a dark cult; there's plenty to fill out the requisite seventy minutes.

It all begins when Brax tells Benny she is to visit the Draconian homeworld to help identify and comment on an artefact they have found. She does her best to refuse but soon finds herself there anyway. After initially getting off on the wrong foot, Benny befriends Lord Vasar, who has spent many years in the company of humans. Once they reach the location of the artefact she is to examine though, things take an unexpected turn as she is abducted by Lord Paranash after being shown a human skull. 

It turns out that both Paranash and Vasar are agents of the Dark Flame, who Benny previously met while travelling with the Seventh Doctor and Ace in Trevor Baxendale's The Dark Flame. The pair want to use the professor to help bring about the cult's supremacy, and as such reawaken the part of the Dark Flame that is apparently dormant in her mind. The upshot of this is basically to assassinate the Emperor, Shenn, in order that Paranash may take his place and control half the galaxy. The method used isn't particularly agreeable, especially from Benny's perspective I'd venture. The pair physically drill into her head while she's still conscious, a particularly gruesome treatment of their supposed guest.

This is quite an enjoyable play, and it demonstrates well how to use a limited cast - aside from Benny the only proper characters are Shenn, Vasar and Paranash - and create interesting dramatic situations. The Draconian politics do sometimes veer over into melodrama, but then that is entirely authentic to their appearance in Frontier in Space, which was the only other licensed and performed production to feature the species at this point. It's not only the intonation of the Draconians that is authentic but the entire way they're performed. The three actors' portrayals marry up nicely together but also hark authentically back to the 1973 story, giving this a really nice sense of continuity.

The main thing to discuss is Benny's torture, for that's what it is. Baxendale seems to understand the Draconian culture well, expanding the world believably. The procedure of drilling into the skull to remove all the unnecessary bits is said to be one long used on females, who are still believed to be far inferior to males in their culture. The same process is used on Benny but for a different purpose. Lisa Bowerman gives a particularly good performance here - not that she falters throughout - and it certainly brought back memories of Just War for me. This is a different type of torture but there's no denying the similarities. I would probably say the earlier encounter was tougher but the physical, body horror of this story (including shaving Benny's head) is greater. It's quite well written and justified given the Draconians' ruthlessness. It also adds a layer of believability to Paranash's willing to go to any lengths for the betterment of his people. He has his finger on the trigger of the gun that shoots the Emperor by proxy.

David Darlington's sound design and music is as accomplished as ever. It's so consistently good and appropriate that I'm seriously struggling to find new things to say. The Draconian Rage requires only voice-change effect, and I was disappointed Joseph was replaced by some other robot. He brightens every story he's in and I'd love for him to get a more central role in proceedings again, as at the start of the third series. Darlington clearly has such a strong sense of the series' identity that he can just bash out a play a day, which is a really remarkable achievement.

This, in conclusion, is a marked improvement in my eyes. The series has been on something of a decline in my humble opinion since The Green-Eyed Monsters and this is certainly the best story since that point. It's reinstated my faith in the series a certain amount, by not just using the Doctor Who connections (which are much more explicit than I expected) as a gimmick, and by creating a world of intelligent, interesting characters. It also has a sense of humour too - the scene in the bath is great. I hope this upward swing in quality can be maintained across the rest of series four. Lisa Bowerman, Philip Bretherton, Kraig Thornber and Johnson Willis all give very strong performances that lift Trevor Baxendale's complex script further still.

1 comment: