The TARDIS brings the Doctor, Peri and Erimem to 15th century Wallachia – a future part of Romania, but known for now as Transylvania. Immediately the time travelers find evidence of a brutal war in progress, and they’re caught up in events before they have a chance to leave. Radu the Handsome, a contender for the Wallachian throne who now sides with the Turks, is leading an army to remove his brother, Prince Vlad III – also known as Vlad Dracula and Vlad the Impaler – from that throne. Peri immediately balks at even the possibility of meeting Dracula himself, despite the Doctor’s assurances that the fictional character bears little resemblance to the man who inspired him. The Doctor warns his friends not to become involved, but when they find themselves surrounded by a pitched battle, Erimem is left with little choice but to take up arms, and finds herself at the mercy of Prince Vlad, whose life she has saved without knowing who he is. He spirits her away to his palace, while Peri tags along as a refugee from the war. The Doctor, still in the company of Radu, tries to convince him that further bloodshed may not be necessary – but according to the history books, the Doctor may have no influence on events and may not even be able to save both of his companions.
Cast: Peter Davison (The Doctor), Nicola Bryant (Peri), Caroline Morris (Erimem), James Purefoy (Dracula), Douglas Hodge (Radu), Barry McCarthy (John Dobrin), Clare Calbraith (Maria), Steven Wickham (Soldiers), Nicola Lloyd (Ayfer)
Timeline: between The Kingmaker and The Mind’s Eye
LogBook entry and TheatEar review by Earl Green
Review: The barely-adequate throwaway description of “Doctor Who meets Dracula” is an awfully broad brushstroke with which to paint this story for the uninitiated, but I suppose that probably gets more people to put money on the table than “Doctor Who in an exciting adventure with a speculative fictionalized version of the historical figure whose atrocities, and the grisly legends arising thereof, form part of the core legend of Dracula”. The latter is more accurate, but a lot less sexy. However, those expecting vampires to show up here – after all, for better or worse, Doctor Who has embraced vampire lore and has even made it part of Time Lord mythology – may feel a bit deceived by the less accurate (but far more sexy) tagline. And I, for one, am positively delighted to report that nobody drinks anyone else’s blood or turns into a bat in the course of Son Of The Dragon.
Maybe that’s a bit unfair, as both the BBC (see The Curse Of Fenric) and Big Finish (Project: Twilight) have found ingenious new twists on the basics of vampire lore. Okay, not Anne Rice ingenious, but at least smart enough to stay away from Hammer Horror pastiche (though that’s been done in Doctor Who too – see the TV story State Of Decay). Son Of The Dragon doesn’t even go there at all. It features, as a central character, the historical figure of Prince Vlad the Impaler, set in his proper historical context with nary a hint of alien or supernatural influence. The Dracula myth is acknowledged in the story, but for a regreshing change, it’s essentially dismissed as rumor, an exaggeration of Vlad’s atrocities spread by his victims to rally forces against his hunger for conquest. Even Vlad himself is aware of the stories, and they’re a millstone around his neck – he finds himself having to dispel the rumors even among his own subjects, who live in fear of him.
And yet the story makes very clear that, stripped of the fantastical exaggerations, Vlad was not a nice guy – his atrocities were real and were already sufficiently horrifying without the embellishment, even if they were acts that were being committed by other rulers at the time. But there’s still time devoted to what motivates Vlad’s violence, as well as hints that his brother – and rival for the throne – may not have been any better a ruler than Vlad himself. The historical research behind Son Of The Dragon is impeccable, to say the least, and again, it’s refreshing to see a historical story with no silliness like giant alien wasps dropping in from out of left field – this is something the TV series might want to experiment with, even if it’s just once.
The casting of the story is pitch-perfect, with James Purefoy providing menace aplenty as Vlad without stepping into the cliches one might associate with that character. Caroline Morris winds up stealing the show from her fellow TARDIS travelers, as the story seems to hint at a possible tragic exit for Erimem. Even though the sense of inevitability building up around that possibility is short-circuited at the end of the story, it doesn’t necessarily feel like a cheat. Overall, Son Of The Dragon is a great historical Doctor Who adventure which stands up to repeated listening.