Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Bernice Summerfield: Dragon's Wrath

The first series of Bernice Summerfield suffers its ups and downs, but even at its blandest it is at least admirable. Unfortunately Dragon’s Wrath ends the series on a particularly sour note… And that could be directly due to the fact it is cut down to one disk of audio. For the first time the story desperately suffers in the transition to audio. Bernice’s first series up to now has explored big themes like pantomime, sexuality, time travel and war… This time it explores Bernice pretending to be James Bond only without the budget.

Justin’s Richard original novel boasted an intriguing mystery, great writing and simple pacing. The audio looses all three as huge swathes of the story are carved up to fit it on a single disk. Perhaps the biggest single loss is that of Irving Braxiatel, who presumably hadn’t been cast yet, a character who will go on to have great impact on the series future. Braxietel’s grand presence in the story is replaced by Garry Russel playing Mappin Gilder, it’s not a bad performance but Gilder is a relatively weak character with none of the gravitas Braxiatel’s presence would have brought.

The plot unfolds quickly, walking in circles as Bernice is sent on a ‘cursed’ dig to uncover a statue that turns out not to be what it seems. Along the way she gets a ‘hunky’ male companion who helps her to break into a secret underground vault and fight off some cybernetic dogs. As the story unfolds a mock trial is begun and an ancient plot by legendary ‘Knights of Jeneve’ is revealed. Each ‘set piece’ seems to take no more than five minutes.

Richard Franklin does a decent job as Romelo Nusek but the character never quite manages to be as menacing as it should. Sadly thwarting interstellar warlords has never seemed quite so… easy.

Jane Burke puts in a credible performance as Truby Kamadrick, famous archaeologist with a dark side, but the rest of the cast doesn’t provide much menace. Jez Fielder puts in a particularly dodgy performance as Reddick, the ‘bizarre librarian’ who ‘never leaves Nusek’s vaults’ (check the Big Finish website). This character is just crying out to be punched as he dances around with the answers before the listener’s ears, smugly refusing to say a thing whilst being incredibly over dramatic at the same time. After all that baiting the corny cliff-hanger at the end smacks the reader as badly as the ill judged theme song at the start.

Ah yes, the theme song. The most obvious clue that this adaptation was inspired by James Bond. I won’t dignify it much criticism except for the simple question, ‘What were they thinking?’

The whole tone of Dragon’s Wrath is slightly off. Perhaps in response to the uber seriousness of Just War, but everyone treating this with far more obvious humour than they should. Oh No it Isn’t got away with it for a reason, and I said then they shouldn’t try to repeat it. To fit in a short running time the plot makes bold leaps forward in awkward moments and clever plot twists are thrown around so loosely they start to loose any meaning at all.

This is especially disappointing as it rounds out what had up till now been a very promising series.

4 / 10

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