The Burning Prince marks the start of an epic space opera for the Doctor and plays out an adventure that spans three of his incarnations; it’s an audacious beginning of something that Big Finish haven’t tried for many years - not since the Excelis trilogy.
The general setting, the Drashani Empire, spans a mighty civilisation but with this particular story, things start on a smaller scale with the focus very much on character. The Fifth Doctor, arriving alone and expecting to find Amsterdam outside the TARDIS, instead finds himself on board a ship bound for the planet Sharnax, the last known whereabouts of the missing Princess Aliona. On board is her bipolar fiancé, Prince Kylo, the aforementioned Prince with fire in his eyes. Not only is he in quite a state about his lost beloved, but he also seems to have a child-like naivety towards the creatures that are stored on board: the genetically-modified and very vicious Igris. Things go from bad to worse as a saboteur forces the ship to crash land on the planet, which is revealed to have quite a shock in store for everyone indeed. Naturally, the Doctor is held in high suspicion for a lot of the story, but proving his innocence in events is the least of his problems as nasty Igris and double agents all fall out of the woodwork.
The Burning Prince has a lot to set up as the first story of an epic three-parter and writer, John Dorney manages to unfold events in an even and exciting way. Tensions build, cliff-hangers keep raising the game and the dialogue is very sharp indeed. Some may find this tale sobering with its themes of love and loss - but listen closely because there’s plenty to enjoy.
There’s also no denying that this is a grand political thriller, but where some Big Finish tales in the past have leant too heavily on the political element rather than the thriller, this story gets it right.
Prince Kylo, with all his pyrotechnic abilities, is wonderfully performed by George Rainsford, who swings his emotional anchor from left to right with every effort he can muster. There’s a lot of growing up that occurs within The Burning Prince and Kylo’s character is a prime example of this: he flies from child-like to enraged, to pathetic, borderline heroic and beyond in a mere two hours - not something that every actor can accomplish!
Beyond the characters at war, we have the monster of the adventure: the Igris. They’re not clever, they’re not conniving; they’re just there to hinder the players at every corner and that works brilliantly. There’s no reasoning with them, no banter to be had. Just pure killing machines dying to rip flesh apart. With so many people having to play their parts, an intelligent villain might have overcooked things, so having these Alien-like creatures helps to form a common goal.
Overall, The Burning Prince is an interesting and exciting Doctor Who story that exists well as a single adventure and sets up plotlines that will surely be dealt with in the next two stories of the trilogy.
A very promising start indeed!
The Burning Prince is available from Big Finish now.