“My Life at Your Command!”
It’s been a long time since we heard that phrase. First uttered in Episode 5 of Frontier in Space as the Draconian emperor and his son interrogated the Doctor, Jo Grant, and the Master on the eve of war between the human and Draconian empires – a war, of course, manufactured by the Master.
The story has a lot going for it. It starts with a solid script by Malcolm Hulke. For a six-parter that mostly alternates between multiple jailings and jailbreaks for our heroes on multiple planets (and the moon!), Hulke makes it an enjoyable experience. By now, Jo’s an experienced time-traveller, on top of every situation, whether it’s planning escapes or infuriating the Master by resisting his hypnosis (how far she’s come since trying to blow them all up in Terror of the Autons). Meanwhile, the Doctor is at his most casual, breezing in and out of every scene, flowing along with his cape and calmly confounding Mind-Probes with a smile. Roger Delgado is his usual smooth, charmingly villainous self in his final go round. Just when you think a tense tale on the brink of war couldn’t get anymore interesting, they throw in the Master with the third episode! Never mind the Daleks in Episode 6! Sharp direction, dramatic lighting, okay model work, and some interesting interior design. Fascinating Earth fashion if you’re into a 26th Century look by way of 1973. (“I would have gotten away with it, Inspector, if not for the Big Collars!”)
But… amid these space battles, escape attempts, and warmongering, stand the Draconians. One of the most beautifully articulated alien species ever created by the Doctor Who production team. Specifically the wonderfully articulated half-masks (created by John Friedlander) that allowed the actors’ mouths to be seen, lending visual credibility, cited by Jon Pertwee as being among his favorites for just that reason.
Draconia. A proud empire. A vast civilisation. A species that claimed and controlled a galactic footprint every bit as large and powerful as the Terran Empire. Truly a force to be reckoned with in the galaxy.
Then they were gone. 46 years on, they’ve never been seen again on Doctor Who. The problem with creating a visually intriguing, memorable new race of aliens, complete with royal hails and a rich environment, is that people will want more. It wasn’t meant to be. One wonders if there wasn’t a tentative plan to bring them back in Season 11 but was forgotten or side-tracked like others after Delgado’s untimely death (from a car crash in Turkey later that year). A return of a certain race would fit the production team’s pattern, going by their use of another fan favorite, the Ice Warriors.
Still, here we had a very popular alien race for the show. The masks and costumes were still there, surely somebody coming after the Barry Letts/Terrance Dicks team would have leapt at the chance to craft another adventure involving these scaly noblemen? Ah, but Phillip Hinchcliffe and Robert Holmes had fairly definitive plans for the the Fourth Doctor, producing homages to Hammer horror films. Graham Williams though, has no such excuse. His only mandate was to lighten things up a bit so Mary Whitehouse (The Grey Guardian) could sleep at night. Wouldn’t the Draconians have been a wonderful addition to The Key To Time saga? No offense to The Power of Kroll or John Woodvine and his wonderful ability to countdown in The Armageddon Factor (repeatedly), but not all of the chapters were winners. Such a grand, season-long epic could really have used some Draconian intrigue. And really, I would have thought Douglas Adams could have had a wild time putting a script together for them, replacing – take your pick – Creature from the Pit, Nightmare in Eden, Horns of Nimon, even Shada (having had a decent look at it now that it’s been animated). But no joy.
Now, if any producer would have been a prime candidate to bring back the Draconian Empire, it was John Nathan-Turner. He specialised in returning characters. In his 9 seasons, he brought back not only the Daleks, and the Brigadier (3 times each), the Cybermen (4 times), the Master (7 times), but also, Omega, the Mara, Borusa (twice), the Black Guardian, the Sea Devils, the Silurians, and multiple Doctors (The Second… twice). He also had plans to bring back the Celestial Toymaker and the Ice Warriors during the aborted “hiatus season”. Oooof. Talk about being over-looked!
Time passed. The Draconians did make the odd appearance here and there in other forms such as comics but nothing on television, as we entered The Wilderness Years.
It’s cold there.
When Doctor Who returned, new showrunner Russell T. Davies wasn’t going to be leaning too heavily on the classic era foes, or at least, the more obscure ones but he did like a cameo, such as the Cyber-head on display in Dalek. To that end, it would have been a real hoot seeing a Draconian as one of the multi-species guests in attendance at the reception for The End of The World. Aside from that, RTD tried to ground a lot of his stories on present day Earth in order for the viewer to relate more easily to the programme. Mind you, he still managed to stick the Macra into Gridlock. Just sayin’.
But then came Steven Moffat, who fearlessly dove headfirst into bringin’ back the classics, as the Draconians were finally mentioned in The Pandorica Opens! We should be happy they got that. When you look among the crowd gathered to usher the Doctor into the Pandorica, they clearly emptied the makeup and wardrobe room from the past five series. When the Hoix, a creature from the opening of Love & Monsters, shows up at this august gathering instead of a Draconian, you figure that the budget has been stretched about as far as it can go. It did have a lot going on though, and just about everyone got a name check, so I’ll give Moffat a pass there. It’s possible that Moffat had a list of monsters and aliens in his head that he wanted to bring back and he succeeded with several old favorites, including the Zygons, Ice Warriors, Mondasian Cybermen, and even Alpha Centauri! Now that, dear reader, is what we call a “deep cut”. Bravo, Steven. Who knows? Had Moffat and Capaldi stayed any longer, the Draconian Empire might have been on the guest list. We can only guess.
There’s been little information about Series 12. But you never know when some writer will step up and pitch a new epic concerning the 26th Century and beyond. The Draconian Empire could go anywhere, be anything, rise or fall. All I ask is, just top it off with…
“My Life at Your Command!”