THIS STORY TAKES
FINISH AUDIO DRAMAS
"PATIENT ZERO" AND
BIG FINISH CD#125
RELEASED IN SEPTEMBER
The Empire is lost. The
are dead. The future
may never happen.
An urgent summons
returns the noble
Doctor to a planet he
saved from disaster
long ago. But
Draconia, so elegant
and so savage, is in
worse turmoil than
Who will be next
Emperor? The highest
Prince? The lowest
peasant? The soldier
with no name? Or the
Doctor himself – his
life at their
controls the army of
warriors? And is the
truth about Charley
painted on paper
walls in the
History is taking
revenge on the
Despite their vast popularity, Malcolm Hulke’s Draconians never really got past their television debut Frontier in Space. Even within Doctor Who’s vast panoply of spin-off media, their appearances have been limited to the most peripheral of roles in novels such
as Love and War and Catastrophea. This notwithstanding, the Draconians’ presence has still been felt throughout the canon, fleeting references to their Empire; their Devil; and even their unique zodiac having permeated not only the new television series of Doctor Who but The Sarah Jane Adventures too. And yet no-one has brought them back as the principal protagonists in a full-length Doctor Who adventure; at least, not until now.
And Marc Platt’s Paper Cuts doesn’t just bring back the Draconians; it fleshes them out
and really deepens their culture. Those familiar with Platt’s seminal works Lungbarrow and Spare Parts will be able to attest as to the man’s unsurpassed aptitude for world-building, and I’m pleased to report that the same talent that breathed new life into both Gallifrey and Mondas has now done the same for Draconia. Elucidating upon every loose thread dangled by Hulke in Frontier in Space, and adding into the mix a whole host of his own ideas, Platt’s Draconia has as much depth and as much ethnicity as any world that we’ve visited before. The same imagination that gave rise to genetic looms, ‘cousins’ and dodgy shops selling knock-off limbs now gives us ghostly origami warriors, Sazou and Tombs floating in space where “deathless” means exactly that. And when considering that Platt accomplishes all of this without having the Doctor and his companion even set foot on Draconia itself, you’ve really got to take your hat off to him.
“They want me, Charley. In revenge for what I did to their Empire.”
Set in or around our present day, Paper Cuts is a prequel of sorts to the Draconians’ only televised appearance to date. Frontier in Space alluded to the Doctor having saved the Empire of Draconia from a great space plague some five hundred years prior to that story (see Alex Mallinson’s stunning visual interpretation, above), following which he was made a noble of Draconia by the fifteenth Emperor. This story sees the Doctor summonsed to attend the funeral of the recently-departed fifteenth Emperor (“the Deathless Red” Emperor), where he becomes embroiled in the accession process for the heir to the Empire and stumbles upon a dark secret that dates right back to the time of the first “Deathless White” Emperor.
The only trouble is, Platt’s claustrophobic narrative is slow-moving in the extreme. Now this wouldn’t necessarily be the end of the world if the supporting characters were sufficiently compelling, but regrettably I couldn’t sympathise with any of them. The Prince and his odd mother are both thoroughly disagreeable, and the others aren’t much better. Even India Fisher’s Charley isn’t herself, literally: Paper Cuts features Mila from Patient Zero walking around inside Charley’s form, masquerading as the Doctor’s companion, and for the most part doing a bloody good job of it.
Indeed, very little occurs within Paper Cuts that pushes the season’s ‘Stalker’ story arc forward. The first episode begins with a pre-title sequence that resolves the immediate Patient Zero cliffhanger, and there is one scene between ‘Charley’ and Gomori right at
the death that plays into the ongoing story rather deftly, but apart from that you would be
hard-pressed to tell Paper Cuts apart from any stand-alone release. In fact, listening to
the play I couldn’t help but wonder how late an addition the ‘Mila’ Charley was to the script.
They sound, well… varied; animated, even. The Draconians
of Frontier in Space were so damned measured and impen-
etrable that the actors playing them almost sounded wooden, and whilst I appreciate that to replicate that same intonation in an audio drama would be aural suicide, I think that a little less vocal diversity would have gone a long way towards making this production sound more evocative.
Fortunately though, the man that the Draconians (and, it seems, the Daleks) call Karshtakavaar (“The Oncoming Storm”) truly lives up his billing, Colin Baker’s storming performance really carrying the play through its weaker moments. His scenes with John Banks’ character towards the back end of the story were particularly well-played, I thought, and genuinely quite affecting.
“Paper cuts can be nasty, can’t they?”
And so whilst I appreciated the odd flourish of humour or action, for the most part I found Paper Cuts to be relatively sedate affair, the deathless Empire of a Hundred Rising Suns coming across as phenomenally well-drawn, but ultimately a little lifeless.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
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