The Doctor receives a summons from the Red Emperor of Draconia for an important state event; the TARDIS materializes and the Doctor discovers that the occasion is the Emperor’s own funeral and a vigil held in advance of the announcement of his successor. The time travelers haven’t even arrived on Draconia itself, but rather in the spaceborne tomb of the late Emperor, floating alongside the tombs of previous rulers of Draconia in deep space. Others are in the Emperor’s tomb as well: his late wife (and high priestess), his son (presumably heir to the throne), a lowly fisherman, a mercenary, and most alarmingly, the recently-murdered prefect who had come to deliver the decree of succession which would reveal the identity of the next Emperor. With aliens and commoners at odds with the nobles and their usual court intrigue, nerves are frayed and tempers flare. But elsewhere in this tomb lies an even deadlier threat – a dark secret that has outlived every Emperor of Draconia, and may now outlive everyone aboard the Emperor’s tomb, including the Doctor and Charley.
Cast: Colin Baker (The Doctor), India Fisher (Charlotte Pollard), Anthony Glennon (Prince / Young Red Emperor), Sara Crowe (Queen Mother), Paul Thornley (Gomori / Steward), John Banks (Soldier), Nicholas Briggs (Prefect / Red Emperor)
Notes: The Draconians’ sole TV appearance in Doctor Who came in the form of the 1973 Jon Pertwee six-parter Frontier In Space. However, the stylishly designed aliens with their intricate (even for the early ’70s) makeup and well-defined, honor-bound society captured fans’ collective imagination, and the Draconians have featured in novels and fan-made video productions such as Mindgame ever since. This is the Draconians’ first Big Finish appearance.
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: It seems like every SF property that originated on television has had its own honor-bound, samurai-inspired, vaguely-Japanese-esque alien culture: Star Trek’s Klingons (and the endless progression of eye-rollingly predictable 1990s “Klingon honor” episodes they inspired), Babylon 5’s Minbari (not quite as bad), and so on. For many years, fandom has tried to graft that same samurai honor code onto the Ice Warriors, most of whose on-screen appearances did not revolve around matters of honor at all. But the Draconians’ sense of honor was part of their makeup in their one and only televised adventure. Even their costumes drew from ancient Japanese culture. It makes more sense to go there with the Draconians than it does the Ice Warriors – and boy, does Paper Cuts go there.
From murderous life-size origami chess piece warriors, to entire structures (even the interiors of ships) being made of mechanized origami, to the elaborate ceremonies surrounding the departure of a dying Emperor, the Draconians in Paper Cuts are steeped in borrowed Japanese cultural imagery (and not in an insultingly stereotypical way either).
Downplayed in this middle chapter of Charley’s final trilogy is that fact that Charley isn’t Charley at all; Mila-as-Charley doesn’t do anything especially un-Charley here, and only one breadcrumb is dropped in the story to point up the ongoing identity crisis, and that breadcrumb – a semi-sentient paper wall that scrawls “she’s lying” across its own face – could just as easily have applied to any pre-Mila Charley/sixth Doctor story.
One of the great things about the Draconian storyline of Frontier In Space was how thick it was with court intrigue, and in that regard, Paper Cuts rings true as a new Draconian story, with I, Claudius-worthy, Shakespearean characters and plot twists. And the Doctor’s backstory with the Draconian Empire is expanded greatly from what was essentially a one-sentence throwaway line in part 5 of Frontier In Space – making great use of a bit of vague dialogue written nearly 40 years ago and making it something more concrete and central to the story.
Though perhaps not advancing the Charley/Mila story as much as everyone would like, Paper Cuts is a fascinating story that really does draw you into its own little world.