Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Story of an Empire - the Drashani Empire trilogy

With eight episodes done and the Doctor and Charley, along with C'rizz, now back in the proper dimension it felt like the perfect end of season. Which also allowed me to take a break from them. Now I've been doing a bit of planning for the blog, and once again it looks like Doctors 5, 6 and 7 are going to be hard done by before 12 comes back for his second season. So I took this season break as an opportunity to dip my toes into their respective audios.

Long time readers will know I've had mixed success with this. Big Finish continuity is all over the shop because they're producing regular material for five Doctors all at once. With the first three getting the odd look in with spin-off series too. But I found a trilogy that was perfect.

Now we're used to the Doctor turning up somewhere, solving a problem and buggering off without really worrying about the consequences. It's not something that can be really addressed in the show, unless you decided to change things up and have the Doctor jump forward a hundred years or so and check up how everything turned out. Which is a bit unlike him. Or the reality of doing a sequel to a serial several years old might alienate some of your audience.

However, Big Finish are in the perfect place to show that sort of thing, by spreading it out across three of the Doctors currently in their care. Which is what usually causes me trouble with their continuity. But this is a different kettle of fish, as this was written as a self contained trilogy. Also no companions, which helps.

The Burning Prince
This is a lovely and dark little tale with the Fifth Doctor that manages to set the scene of two warring factions of a split empire, and put in place all the major players for the rest of the trilogy. All without sacrificing its own integrity and story. A brilliant start.

It's also one of those adventures where the Doctor completely and utterly fails. In fact not only does he fail, he probably makes things worse, as without his interference no one would have survived long enough for the big bad to have pulled off the last part of their plan. It's a dark day for the Doctor, one that reminds you of moments like “The Waters of Mars” when Tennant was at his lowest.

The Acheron Pulse
But time and distance can put a different spin on things. Such as thirty years and no survivors allows the universe to look at the event with extremely rose tinted glasses, and peace be brought to the Empire in the name of the two Royal 'lovers' that died that day. Which is where we find the Sixth Doctor turning up, and the daughter of one of the few good characters from “The Burning Prince” now crowned Empress. It even picks up a plot point from Five's outing that was woefully underused.

It's a shame then that it absolutely drops the balls about halfway through. The big bad Lord Tenebris gets all monologuey at the start of part 3, and part 4 just sort of bumbles along with a concept that is nowhere near as good as the writer probably hoped. Tenebris and the Doctor thrown into a psychic plane, where we've just been told no one can come back from, to have an argument. Which deflates its existence somewhat. With Tenebris' arrival there, there was a chance to do something epic. Instead we get something entirely disappointing, and poor resolution to one of the driving forces of the first half.

Even the setup for the third part is both blatant and slightly eye-rolling. For some reason, “The Acheron Pulse” doesn't seem up to the usual Big Finish Six material either. At points, despite it being Colin Baker, it didn't even sound anything like the Six we've come to know. Except towards the end. It is one of the most disappointing audios I've listened too.

However, the Doctor's return to this part of space does work well. In the intro I pointed out it was unusual for him to come back to check. Five's part had him given a keepsake for the daughter. Here he finally gets round to returning it. The fact it's a companion-less Six that finally does deliver it does scream classic Doctor behaviour.

The Shadow Heart
Another Fifty years pass, and to start with you almost wonder if you're listening to the right audio. We start in what almost feels like Mos Eisley. Aka a spaceport full of scum and villainy. A little different to royal family story we've followed so far.

After “The Acheron Pulse I was a bit worried that maybe my choice of this trilogy was a bad one. Turns out I was wrong. It's a great adventure with the Doctor, with multiple moving parts, build on the previous parts before it yet has plenty of its own material to make it all work. There's also a bit of the Master Manipulator everyone goes on about for Seven but I've not seen so far (excusing Fenric cos I was drunk which is probably why I'll rewatch it when we get there).

Also debuting Chase Masterson as Vienna Salvatore. Now that's not a name that might mean much to a lot of people. But some Star Trek fans might remember her as Leeta. The dabo girl that took the Ferengi Rom's heart. Leeta never was a major part, but it was a reoccurring one, and as I was fifteen when DS9 was going, Leeta stood out for … certain reasons. Here she's cast in a totally different role. That of a ruthless mercenary. But this is Chase Masterson, and it appears that even in audio she can do the same thing that grabbed me as a teenager. Just in her voice Masterson manages to pour sexy tones in it, and Vienna comes across as a fantastic femme fatale as a result.

She obviously was received well as Big Finish gave her (yet another of their) mini-series, and is soon to get a second and third season. She's certainly a different kind of character. Who rarely relies on sex to sell (Peri not-withstanding), but that's clearly the idea with Vienna, and by the fact that she's American already puts some distance between her and most of the cast as Big Finish have kept the old tradition of everyone being distinctly British.

Suitably epic, nice finale, that wraps everything up

Overall, the Drashani Empire trilogy is quite good. The middle part is the obvious weak link, but the tight and dark beginning with Five, and the timey-wimey manipulation heavy end with Seven are both fantastic and make it worth the time.

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