Category: Audio Drama Review

Review: Avengers: The Lost Episodes, Volume 4


The fourth volume of Avengers, The Lost Episodes offers listeners four more recreations of the lost first season of the Avengers.

The set kicks off with, “Kill the King,” in which Steed has to protect a visiting king who is key to the British gaining access to his country’s oil. The story becomes a pretty interesting thriller as we encounter three separate individuals who all appear to be setting out with the same assassin’s mission. The story has a very clever twist at the end that hits Steed like a punch in the stomach. It’s the best episode of a very good set and probably one of the most innovative stories in the Lost Episodes range.

Next up is, “A Change in Bait.” Originally, aired at Christmastime, this episode has a lighter tone than, “Kill the King,” as Steed tries to break up a complex insurance racket involving arson at warehouses. The story isn’t laugh-out-loud hilarious,or so over the top in its humor that it would feel like it didn’t belong in this season, rather the humor is mixed in in a way that feels quite natural. The arsonist is probably the most amusing guest character. His stance that they couldn’t steal money from a building they were burning because that would be unethical is priceless. Overall, a fun story.

In, “Hunt the Man Down,” a convicted robber is released from prison and immediately waylaid by two thugs who want to know where his loot is. Steed intervenes and Keel treats the ex-convict. Carol is kidnapped by the gang who believe she knows where the loot is. Overall, this is an exciting case with good twists, particularly as to who the boss of the gang is. A very solid outing.

Finally in, “Dead of Winter,” Steed investigates a body found in a shipment of beef and sends Keel undercover to a man he suspects is behind it after a a pathologist is murdered and the body disappears. This one of the more fantastic plots in the Lost Episodes and very reminiscent of the sci-fi like stories that would come during the show’s most well-known run with Mrs. Peal.

Overall, this is a strong set. It’s not as great as Volume 3, but there’s not a poor episode in this bunch.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Sacrifice of Sherlock Holmes


Continuing where the previous box set left off, this box set finds Holmes overseeing the funeral of his brother Mycroft. Holmes is the only one who believes Mycroft’s death is anything other than an accident. More than a quarter of a century after he and Watson faced off against the Society in the prior box set, the anarchist evil organization returns with a vengeance with the goal of bringing down the war-weary British government and the world.

This is a  rich set. The four episodes tell one story over the course of a single day. Several themes run through them: Holmes’ retains much of his deductive powers but finds himself out of place in the 1920s. At many times, Holmes feels like John Wayne’s character in the Shootist past his prime but with one last fight in him. The Society’s strike comes right after World War I, and shows a younger generation wants to escape from war and is willing to pay any price to appease them, compared to Holmes and Watson who view them as intolerable evils.

Watson’s marriage is an interesting focus as Eleanor is cool to his adventuring ways and he feels she loves him less than his first two wives. Plus Holmes is menaced by a figure from his past.

Some elements in this story don’t quite work for me. The Extras portion of each CD references this as being, “Victorian Melodrama,” which neither of the previous box sets were. This seems to paper over a few elements that are over the top and out of place in the tone set by the previous sets. This isn’t enough to ruin the stories by any means but without them this would be a perfect four-hour, suspense-filled, action thriller with many great character moments.

As usual, Briggs and Earl are on top form as Holmes and Watson. Natalie Burt and Elizabeth Rider are superb additions as ex-spies. (Vivienne Scott and Eleanor Watson respectively.) The soundscape conveys the epic power of the script quite nicely, and despite a few minor issues, the story is compelling listening from start to finish.

Rating 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Tom Swift and His Motorcycle

When I was growing up, I’d say I read Tom Swift books from the library. That wasn’t exactly true. I checked out 1950s books about the atomic age adventures of Tom Swift, Jr. and a 1990s reboot. Tom Swift, Jr. was an inventor and tech genius extraordinaire who had far out adventures with atomic age technology. His dad was a supporting character as the CEO of Swift Labs. Little did I know, he’d had adventures of his own, adventures that had started the whole Tom Swift craze all the way back in 1910.

The original Tom Swift series was forty children’s books published between 1910 and 1941, and the first of twenty-five of which have fallen into the public domain. Colonial Radio Theatre recently adapted the first of these, Tom Swift and His Motorcycle.

In it, Tom Swift lives with his inventor father Barton Swift in upstate New York. Tom repairs a motorcycle and plans to drive his father’s patent plans as well as a model of his father’s latest invention to the attorney’s office but is waylaid by a gang of robbers who steal the invention. Tom ends up trying to get them back and foils the robbers.

This story is a basic boys adventure story, the type which was so popular for much of the twentieth century but made accessible for modern listeners. It paints a picture of a transitional time in American history as technology such as the telephone and the motor car were making inroads but weren’t universal particularly not in Swift’s upstate New York stomping ground. The story highlights that these technologies were like the wifi hotspots and natural-gas powered cars of their day, so it’s a fascinating look at their era that I don’t think I’ve seen explored in any modern works.

Tom (Colin Budzyna) is the perfect hero for this sort of story: loyal, honest, and a compulsive tinker who has to fix anything he sees that’s broken.

The play is well acted and charming with some dialogue that’s unique and unintentionally hilarious to twenty-first century ears. One character is constantly prefacing his sentence with phrases beginning with, “Bless my-” such as, “Bless my liver….” and “Bless my very existence.” That gives it a nice period feel.

Overall, this is a fun treat. Colonial took an obscure and less-remembered book and has skillfully brought it to life, creating a play that’s enjoyable for both kids and those who remember what it was like to be kids. In doing so, they manage to capture a less remembered era in literature and America History. And Bless my iPod, that’s an accomplishment.

 

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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A Look at Jago and Litefoot, Part Four (Series 9-Series 11)

See Parts One, Two, and Three


Series Nine of Jago & Litefoot came out in April 2015 and finds Jago and Litefoot on a cruise, trying to enjoy some R&R after the ordeals of Series Eight.

The Series kicks off with, “The Flying Frenchmen,” Jago and Litefoot where they’re quickly thrown into mystery as the ship becomes trapped in a mysterious fog and they begin to encounter familiar faces–their own, however alternate universe versions where London has fallen under the different countries so there’s a German Jago and Litefoot, a Russian Jago and Litefoot, and a French Jago and Litefoot among others.

Overall, the story is interesting but mainly in the way it sets the stage for the rest of the series. There are clever elements thrown in that make these more than “Jago and Litefoot with different accents.” A lot about this story is unresolved by the end of it but it does set the stage for the subsequent episodes quite nicely.

In “The Devil’s Dicemen”, Jago and Litefoot disembark their ship and stumble on a series of mysterious deaths while Jago is led into a high stakes casino where winning requires forfeiting his soul. The story and features a great guest appearance by David Warner as a man who joins Litefoot in investigating the deaths. Though why he’s investigating is an open question.

Jago is a little too dense to how really dangerous the people who are inviting him to gamble at the Dark Casino are. After eight series, such credulity seemed way out of character. This is made up for at the end where Jago’s intelligence does re-emerge in a surprising twist. Plus, the mystery of what Doctor Betterman is up to is interesting throughout.

The “Isle of Death,” is another atmospheric diversion for Jago and Litefoot as they disembark from their ship to explore an uncharted isle. It’s got a nice Isle of Doctor Moreau feel with a mysterious monster causing mischief. A major highlight was the humorous twist in the reveal of the villain.

Finally, “Return of the Nightmare” is a thoroughly exciting finale as Jago and Litefoot find themselves in danger on the boat and have to confront the cause of the trouble that occurred in the series opener and has been in the background all along. What follows is an action-packed and exciting race to the finish. It’s probably the fastest paced episode of Jago and Litefoot I’ve heard. The plot is solid but is let down slightly by an ending that’s too predictable.

Overall, this is an enjoyable series even though it’s not one of Jago & Litefoot’s best. The third tale, “Isle of Death,” is probably the highlight of the box set like good Victorian Science Fiction.

In between Series 9 and 10, Jago and Litefoot appeared in the Doctor Who: Sixth Doctor: The Last Adventure. Due to contract difficulties with the BBC, Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor was not given an appropriate final exit and regeneration story, so Big Finish decided to fill in that gap in the Sixth Doctor’s history which they do with a four episode box set. Jago and Litefoot appear in the third story, “Stage Fright.”

The Doctor and his companion Flip arrive in Victorian London where Jago is taking it easy after Mr. Yardvale (an anagram for the Doctor’s enemy The Valeyard) has rented Henry’s theater at a very high rate so he can stage auditions for his own play behind closed doors. However, all the scenes played are those of the Doctor’s past regenerations. The Doctor is set on their trail when Litefoot asks his help on examining bodies that appear to be aged to death–the actors who played in the Valeyard’s sick little drama.

“Stage Fight” has a great sense of terror as well as suspense. It features the first direct confrontation between the Valeyard and the Doctor in the box set and it’s a memorable one. The supporting cast is superb. Jago, Litefoot, and Inspector Quick are top notch, and Colin Baker really has some strong moments. Flip is a fun character, but her best moment was towards the end of the story when she faced her stage fright in a powerful way.

Series Ten begins with “The Case of the Missing Gasogene” with introduces Jago and Litefoot’s biographer Carruthers Summerton as the two try to one up each other and investigate a locked room mystery separately in order to impress Summerton. The story is full of fun and excitement, and I found it to be one of their most amusing tales.

In “The Year of the Bat,” Peter Davison’s Fifth Doctor interacts with Jago and Litefoot, albeit indirectly, through the Yesterday Box, a device that allows letters to be sent back in time, altering the current time line. This is good because they find themselves facing a foe they’d each fought thirty years before (without knowing the other party had fought their foe.) The story is one of Jonathan Morris’ most madcap Jago and Litefoot tales as we get some key highlights including the first meeting between Jago and Litefoot (which neither knew about.) This is a solid plot gimmick that works for an entertaining episode.

In “The Mourning After, ” Henry Gordon Jago is dead, or so Professor Litefoot believes. But after the coffin is lowered, we learn Jago is still alive even as his coffin is being buried.

This story is beautifully orchestrated as Henry finds himself in an apocalyptic future with the last member of the Jago and Litefoot Society while Litefoot faces the threat of zombies in the present. The story is clever and while you have an inkling of what might be going on, there are some amazing twists and turns. The scenes with Jago in the coffin are probably the most tense in the series’s history. The story also does a great job setting up the finale.

The set concludes with, “The Museum of Curiosities” where a series of bizarre murders rocks London and demands Jago and Litefoot’s attention as they have to deal with the “help” of Carruthers Summerton and muse about whether the mysterious Doctor Betterman is involved.

The story works brilliantly as a mystery. While I guessed the solution, the story didn’t let me be sure until the very last ten minutes. In addition, this clever mystery leads into a nice celebration of all the mischief and mayhem, Jago and Litefoot have faced in the course of ten series without going overboard or undermining the plot.

This is probably my favorite series of adventures. The individual episodes are superb with the finale serving as a capstone to the first Ten Series of Jago & Litefoot.

Big Finish obtained the rights to do audio dramas using characters from the revived series of Doctor Who that began in 2005. A natural fit would be to combine Victorian Age characters from the Classic and Revived Series, thus in November 2015, Jago and Litefoot were teamed with Strax the Sontaran butler in the feature length: Jago & Litefoot, & Strax: The Haunting.

The plot finds Strax, having lost his memory and moving in with Jago and Litefoot to hunt a creature that steals brains. This story is a delightful and lighthearted tale that while being fun, never crosses the line into being absurd or campy. Strax fits right into world of Jago and Litefoot, and there’s fantastic chemistry between the three leads.

The one thing I was nervous about listening to the trailer (and having seen Strax on TV) is that the entire story would be one big joke about Strax’s tendency to be unable to distinguish gender in humans. Yet, I needn’t have worried, while Justin Richards played to this suggestion from Stephen Moffat, he didn’t overplay it, thanks to a very clever scene with Ellie in the Red Tavern.

While the plot is a bit simple, the highlight is the fun character interactions. Overall, this wonderful production does a great job bringing Classic Who and New Who together.

This eleventh Jago and Litefoot series brings them face to face with the Master (played by Geoffrey Beevers) who remains in the background throughout the series before coming to the fore in the Series finale. Below is a look at each story:

Jago & Son: A fun romp that introduces us to a potential son of Jago as well as an old friend of Professor Litefoot’s. There’s plenty happening, but this story feels far less self-contained than the previous Jago & Litefoot lead off stories. It lays out a lot of threads that will be connected in later stories, with suspense and spookiness around a Satanic cult thrown into the mix.

Maurice: Probably my least favorite Jago and Litefoot episode and a bit of a disappointment from writer Matthew Sweet. The story seems almost like a generic Jago and Litefoot story, but without anything to really make it stand out. There are a few confusing points and the regulars, while still good, aren’t really given the material they need to shine.

The Woman in White: A solid installment that finds Jago meeting up with his friend Bram Stoker in response to Sir Henry Irving behaving oddly. In addition, the most recent production has been plagued by a series of disappearances and strange happenings. The professor’s end of the investigation is a little less interesting, but taken together, this is an exciting and suspenseful story.

Masterpiece: The episode suffers from a lot of waiting and repetition. A body is dropped off at the morgue drained-just like in the previous episode, although there is a difference in what it has been drained of. The focus of the episode is Jago and Litefoot trying to solve a mystery that’s already been revealed to the audience. We also spend much of the episode waiting for the Doctor to arrive.

What does make this work are the solid performances, most notably from Geoffrey Beevers as the Master. The Master isn’t content to wreak havoc for his purposes, but also sets up Ellie for danger and disaster in Series Twelve. The story deserves credit for how it gets the Doctor in. You spend most of the episode expecting the Doctor’s arrival (for that’s the whole point of the Master’s plan) only to realize the truth. Of course, once you realize the truth, the rest of the plot becomes obvious.

Overall, this is probably my least favorite Jago and Litefoot outing. The stories aren’t bad by any means but most of them call to mind prior stories, and recent ones in many cases. Jag & Son uses a satanic cult after one had just been featured featured in Series Nine’s “The Devil’s Dicemen.” Even the best story in the set, “The Woman in White,” has a similar to solution to Jago, Litefoot, and Strax: The Haunting, and I’ve noted my problems with “Maurice” above.

The problem may be the Master. Don’t get me wrong. Geoffrey Beevers is great but this may be a case of mixing two great ingredients and not getting a good finished product. Jago and Litefoot, two mystery-solving paranormal detectives matched against Beevers’ Master, the skulking and the obvious ultimate bad guy really doesn’t work as well as you’d think.

Even though the most recent series was disappointing, Jago & Litefoot has a strong track record and will bounce back with Series Twelve, which will be released later on this month.

Over the course of the last seven years, they’ve had an amazing variety of fantastic adventures. The entire series is a testament to the power of audio and imagination as two Octagenerian actors play characters who embody the spirit of adventure through one vigorous case after another, something that just couldn’t be done on television.

Big Finish has created a series that has an established brand and feel but still manages to come up with new twists and new facets to their characters. Jago and Litefoot have had an incredible run and I hope they carry on for many years to come.

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A Look at Jago and Litefoot, Part Three (Series 6-Series 8)

See Part One and Part Two

Minor spoilers ahead.

Right around the same time as the release of Series 5 of Jago and Litefoot, the duo guest starred in a Big Finish Doctor Who story featuring Tom Baker as the Doctor with Mary Tamm as his companion Romana.

The story is kind of a Victorian version of Judge Dredd meets Superman as a steampunk cyborg vigilante delivers swift vengeance to evildoers on the streets of London. It’s a great yarn but Jago and Litefoot are pretty much in sidekick roles.

Series Six came out in the fall of 2013 and sees them returning to their best form as they encounter the mysterious Colonel who has some business for them to do on behalf of the crown.

The series gets back to its Victorian roots with, “The Skeleton Quay,” where they go to investigate a series of murders off the coast of Shingle Cove. The atmosphere on this is perfect and the plotline is very well-written. It’s probably the most authentically Victorian story Jago and Litefoot have done.

It does feature Jago and Litefoot conveniently forgetting their time in the 1960s and their travels in the TARDIS to Venus for no explicable reason and concluding it was a dream. It’s a case of plot and writer convenience. The experiences, if retained, would probably change the characters too much so I understand why they did it. However, that being the case, Jago and Litefoot shouldn’t have gone there or they should have come up with a more explicable explanation for what happened.

Next up is, “Return of the Repressed” which has Jago and Litefoot meeting up with Sigmund Freud in a nice psychological drama. The story begins with Jago telling Freud of his dreams and then those dreams end up coming to life.

The story has some great humorous moments and for once, Professor Litefoot provides them. At the same, it provides some insight into Jago and Litefoot’s characters. It’s brilliantly written and a lot of fun.

In “Military Intelligence,” the mysterious Colonel, who called Jago & Litefoot into service for the crown at the beginning of the sixth series wants information regarding their encounters with Doctor Tulp who they battled in the “Mahogany Murderers” and during Series One of Jago & Litefoot. However, Litefoot smells a rat. A s he asks questions, the situation gets more dangerous.

The story is exciting and packed full of intrigue, mystery, steampunk elements, and a surprise guest character all leading to an ending that sets up the Series finale beautifully.

In, “The Trial of George Litefoot,” Litefoot is arrested for the murder of Jago. The idea for the plot was an intriguing one, but in the first half they strained credulity far too much. It seemed like they were concerned about laying the groundwork for the premise of Series Seven that they cut a lot of corners to get there. At fifty-three minutes, the story could have benefited from being a bit longer to fill in the gaps of logic.

However, the last twenty minutes has the story back on track with our heroes having a thrilling climatic battle with the Colonel, who has an utterly insane plan to bring down the British empire. Overall, it is a decent conclusion to Series Six.

As a whole, Series Six re-established the series’ original premise and sets the stage for Series Seven which would have Jago and Litefoot on the run and wanted.

Series Seven begins with, “The Monstrous Menagerie,” which finds Jago and Litefoot in disguise as Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson and sent out on a case by none other than Arthur Conan Doyle (played by Steven Miller) himself.

The story is set after Doyle’s killed off Holmes in “The Final Problem” and finds the author encountering constant cries from fans to bring Holmes back. Miller does a great job in the story and Jonathan Morris’ script does a great job playing up Doyle’s frustration.

There are some great hints and references to future Doyle stories including, “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “The Lost World.” This is a very delightful, well-acted tale and the strongest opening to a Jago and Litefoot box set since Series One.

While the previous Series’ “Return of the Repressed” took a somewhat lighthearted look at the psychology of our heroes, Series 7’s “Night of 1,000 Stars,” examines Jago, Litefoot, Ellie, and Leela (who has appeared for a reason that’s key to the story).

It’s meaty material that has our heroes questioning which of them is behind their predicament and they come to the conclusion that one of them is in fact a killer. It’s a clever script that could easily be performed as a stage play. It’s a fantastic script that shows that there’s still a lot more depths to plumb with these characters.

Murder at Moorsey Manor features Jago and Litefoot showing up at a mansion for a party under assumed names to speak to a key witness who can clear them. However, they find out that they’re at an early convention. Then they and the other guests discover that they’re in an old house where one person dies every hour. Murder at Moorsey Manor is evocative of, “And Then There Were None…” and other “old house” murder stories.

The story moves at a good pace and manages to blend suspense with comedy in a way that is seamless. The finale and solution to the case are superb and cleverly executed. The story concludes with them apparently arrested.

However, in the series finale, “The Wax Princess,” Jago and Litefoot, to their surprise, find themselves not under arrest. Instead, they learn Jack the Ripper was captured by Inspector Abeline but he’s escaped and it’s up to them to find him.

The story works. There are some great suspenseful moments, a strong performance for Sergeant Quick, a nice bit of misdirection over the identity of the Ripper, and even a somewhat funny bit where Lightfoot impersonated Jago.

The story wasn’t perfect. The whole premise of the box set was dealt with and dismissed rather quickly. “Forget about that whole being on the run thing, the police need you to hunt Jack the Ripper.” Also, I have to admit the realization of Queen Victoria was a little weak. Having the actress who played her talking in a very high falsetto seemed a bit below the typical standards of the series, although she still managed some good moments even with that voice.

Overall, though this was an enjoyable conclusion to one of the best series of Jago and Litefoot.

Between Series Seven and Eight, Big Finish released, “The Worlds of Doctor Who,” a good marketing idea that featured a story that would feature episodes from three Doctor Who spin off ranges and then a Doctor Who episode with Colin Baker’s Sixth Doctor. The four stories would be inter-linked by the same villain operating in different times and places.

Jago and Litefoot are in the lead off story, “Mind Games,” where the duo look into a series of murders in London when they find a man who dreamed he committed the murder and another is awakened before following through. The clues point back to a hypnotist named Mr. Rees. Overall, this was unremarkable Jago & Lightfoot fare. Our heroes provide charm but little else. The story’s problems may stem from the fact it’s the start of a storyline that would be picked up 3/4 of a century later.

They do make a cameo appearance in the third story for UNIT, “The Screaming Skull,” via a recording done on a wax cylinder. It’s a nice touch and Big Finish did a great job treating the audio so it sounded like an authentic wax record from the late 19th or early 20th centuries.

In the fall of 2014, Jago and Litefoot Series 8 was released and it was a bit of a departure from most of the recent box sets. Usually, at least three of the four stories are interconnected, starting with the first episode. However, in this set, the first and second stories are standalone tales and the final two episodes are essentially a two parter.

The set kicks off with Jago deciding to hire a puppet act in, “Encore of the Scorchies.” Little does Jago know the Scorchies are evil alien puppets (from a Doctor Who audio in which they were the titular characters.) It doesn’t take long before those evil killer puppets are up to their old tricks as they get hired on to perform at Jago’s theater and the result is mayhem.

The episode is full of superbly written musical numbers and are performed brilliantly with some very good guest vocalists as well as a couple of strong numbers from Jago and Ellie. The Encore of the Scorchies has some very funny scenes, most notably the one where the Scorchies expected to blow Lightfoot’s mind by explaining they were evil aliens bent on world domination and found him unimpressed, plus the final scene for Ellie has a great humorous twist.

At the same time, the story never loses sight of the genuine horror of what the Scorchies are doing and it how it effects the characters in the story, which manages to give it a neat balance. Overall, this was a very memorable start to the series.

“The Backwards Men,” has Jago and Litefoot looking into mysterious deaths that center around Wednesday’s World of Weird Wonders. It marks the return of Andy Lane who wrote the Mahogany Murderers but hadn’t written for the series since Series Three. The story has a lot of fun touches that seem quite true to the Victorian era . The story features an extra-terrestrial element including an alien symbiote that’s not everything he seems to be.

The villain was given an interesting backstory and motive. The final few minutes were riveting with Jago fighting for his life and mind.

“Jago, Litefoot, and Patsy,” introduces the Mudlark Patsy,  who discovers a fish with a man’s severed hand in it. This leads to her foisting herself on Jago and Litefoot as she wants the fish back when the investigation is done. Through the course of the story, she’s given an interesting backstory as the Queen of Jacob’s Island.

This one is solidly atmospheric with Flaminia Cinque turning in a solid performance as Patsy and the story maintaining some great Victorian atmosphere and a well-done final confrontation and a final scene that set up the box set’s finale.

“Higdson and Quick,” is a very different finale that finds something very wrong with our heroes and it’s up to Ellie and Inspector Quick to save the day.

At the core of the story is the idea of Jago and Litefoot being under an alien influence but it not changing their personality. It’s very well acted by the two leads. The whole plot is fascinating, and it features well-realized scenes on a train.

Series Eight left our heroes quite beleaguered and emotionally drained and ends with them deciding to recharge by taking cruise expecting nothing eventful at all to happen, but they’d learn better in Series Nine, which we’ll discuss next week.

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