Category: Audio Drama Review

Audio Drama Review: Jago and Litefoot Forever

Jago and Litefoot was one of the finest speculative fiction audio drama series ever made. It featured veteran actors Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter in the leading roles of theater impresario Henry Gordon Jago and pathologist Professor George Litefoot. The two first played the roles in the 1977 Doctor Who Story, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” and were first reunited in the one-off pilot story, “The Mahogany Murderers.” We’ve discussed the series in depth before.

Baxter’s death in 2017 meant the end of the series, which had finished its 13th series on a cliffhanger.

Jago and Litefoot Forever offers fans one last chance to say goodbye. The aftermath of Series Thirteen was resolved through exposition by Jago. Professor Litefoot has disappeared. Jago looks for him with the help of old friends but finds his memory starting to fade. The plot has some nice twists and a few red herrings thrown in to keep the listener guessing. For Jago and Litefoot, the plot is about average, though with some high points in it.

Much of the running time is taken up by flashback scenes as Jago and other characters recall past adventures. Professor Litefoot is given a part in the proceedings by copying dialogue from previous stories into this one. Writer Paul Morris went through the more than sixty scripts that’d been performed over the years to find lines he could give the Professor. The unavoidable flaw with this approach is that often Litefoot’s delivery feels unnatural to the context of the play.

With the use of clips and previously recorded dialogue, the cynic might compare this to Trail of the Pink Panther, the critically panned sixth Pink Panther film made after star Peter Sellers died. Trail used clips of previous Pink Panther movies and outtakes from previous films. It’s a point that producer David Richardson addresses in the extras. Despite the superficial similarity, Jago and Litefoot is something entirely different.

The writing is still solid, if not remarkable. Other than the somewhat awkward use of Baxter’s old lines, the production values remain high. The release succeeds as a tribute to Baxter and to the series with the return of several beloved guest stars, including Doctor Who Actor Colin Baker and Louise Jameson (who played the Fourth Doctor’s companion Leela). The ending also serves as a nice capstone for the series.

The release comes with some nice extras. The CD release includes the first CD release of the Jago and Litefoot short story, “The Jago and Litefoot Revival”  which is read by Baxter and Benjamin. It tells of the two Victorian Adventurers meeting with the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors from the revived series. The behind-the-scenes extras include interviews with all the principles. The extras give insight into the making of the release as well as what would have been in the Fourteenth Series. There’s also a lovely variation on the theme by composer Jamie Robertson.

Jago and Litefoot Forever was made with obvious love and respect for the series. It’s not intended for new listeners. However, for long-time fans, it provides a chance to properly say goodbye to a great series and is definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

The series exclusively at BigFinish.com through the end of the month.

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season Three

Season Three of Black Jack Justice features six half hour episodes and finds the team in a fairly well-established routine with Jack (Christopher Mott) and Trixie (Andrea Lyons) joined by the office dog, King.

The types of cases they solve this season are far from unheard of, yet the series is enjoyable due to their great sense of style.

The season opens up with, “Payback” where Jack is determined to solve a murder case that led to him getting thrown into jail for thirty days and to get payback on the client who caused the incarceration.

“Sabian’s Law” finds Jack and Trixie on opposite sides as Trixie would rather lose a reward to the firm than have to deal with the indignity of losing a bet to Jack, which leads to an unlikely team up with their police foe Lieutenant Sabian. “Trixie’s Pet” finds Trixie getting the firm involved in investigating a case where Button Down Theo, an operative for the big detective firm in town, has landed himself in trouble.

“The Reunion” finds Jack and Trixie trying to help a wealthy widow facilitate a meeting between her and her estranged twin sister.

“Much Ado About Norman” has the two searching for their emotional client, because they fear he’s about to do something stupid, rash, and illegal.

The season concludes with, “Dance, Justice, Dance” which opens with Jack and Trixie in a firefigh. Then Jack reveals the true version of the oft-misquoted statement, “Music soothes the savage beast,” before explaining how they got a job protecting musicians who got a contract with a big casino along with anonymous warnings that they might not live to fulfill it.

There’s not a bad episode in the bunch and each has its own unique features that make for fun listening. “The Reunion” may have been the best mystery of the season. I also loved the more character-driven nature of “Much Ado About Norman.” And “Dance, Justice, Dance” has a great bit of world-weary narration, particularly the ending.

The sound effects continue to be a bit dodgy. This could be heard during the gunfight in the finale. Other than that, though, the third season of Black Jack Justice was quite a delight.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Listen to Season 3 of Black Jack Justice for free at the Decoder Ring Theater website.

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My Favorite Non-Detective Old Time Radio Dramas

While we play detective shows on the Great Detectives of Old Time Radio, I love many other programs from radio’s golden age, too. If you’re looking for family drama or for an exciting adventure, this list might provide some programs that are good for you.

Family Theater (1947-57):

The program was brought to you by the idea of family prayer. This is a lovely program that engaged some of Hollywood’s finest actors from Vincent Price and Bob Hope to Edmond O’Brien and Maureen O’Sullivan and Raymond Burr. The stories range from retellings of classics to dramatic tales that illustrated powerful lessons. The program’s messages are positive, inspiring, and thought-provoking. Some dodgy moments may offend modern sensibilities. Otherwise, this is a great example of what a family program can be. My favorites include the original story, “God and the Red Scooter” and their adaptation of “The Hound of Heaven.”

Cavalcade of America (1937-55):

Cavalcade of America would occasionally tell well-known stories of American history. Those episodes are okay. However, what makes me listen to Cavalcade are all of their obscure stories. They’ll tell about some aspect of a founding father’s life few remembered back in 1937 or talk about some now unsung hero who made a great difference in American history.

Cavalcade of America tells stories about how an American began selling ice overseas or the first American to become an opera star overseas. There’s the story of a lawyer who set out to protect an abused child in the absence of laws against child abuse by trying to apply laws for the protection of small animals. I learn so much from this show, and I am more historically aware than the average person. Most Cavalcade episodes are entertaining and enlightening. A few are a little too pedantic, particularly some early episodes. This anthology series also has a great cast, including episodes featuring Orson Welles, Humphrey Bogart, Dick Powell, and Basil Rathbone.

Dr. Christian (1937-54)

After playing a kindly doctor in a series of films featuring the Dionne Quints, the Danish-born actor brought to life the kindest country doctor imaginable. As Dr. Christian, he stood at the center of the upstate New York community of Rivers End. Dr. Christian lived a life of selfless love and care for everyone in the community. He not only cared for broken bodies but broken hearts and the health of the whole community. Later episodes in the 1940s were chosen from fan-submitted scripts. The lessons in Dr. Christian are often out of fashion, but few are useless relics. Usually, they’re timeless truths that we have forgotten.
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Fort Laramie (1956)

Just before he achieved stardom on TV, Raymond Burr stars as the rugged and wise Captain Lee Quince, second in command of Fort Laramie. The program featured uncompromising realism in its portrayal of life in the army in this Old West fort. Despite this, the show wasn’t dry or constantly dark or humorless. It was intelligently written. One episode would be funny and light, reflecting some odd but true aspect of life in the West. Then it would be followed by a tragic story. That meant the tragic story hit harder than it would have otherwise. The feature has a solid recurring cast including Harry Bartel and Jack Moyles and great production values.

Voyage of the Scarlet Queen (1947-48)

Captain Phillip Carney (Elliot Lewis) captained the Scarlet Queen as she sailed across the world. He various adventures with the aid of his first mate Red Gallagher (Ed Max). This was one of the few adult adventure series on the radio. It’s brilliant, filled with great characters, suspense, and an ability to bring exotic ports to life in a Hollywood radio studio. While all 35 episodes of the series are good, the first 20 are superb. They have a running plot of a particular cargo Carney is trying to deliver with a big enemy that’s trying to stop him through the villain of the week. It’s a pretty interesting approach and not something done in the 1940s.

The Greatest Story Ever Told (1947-56):

A lot of religious dramas aired in the 1940s and 50s. In my view, this was the best. It dramatized stories from the Bible, mostly the New Testament. It features a good (but uncredited ) cast and almost no commercial interruption. Much like some later dramatization of the Bible for television, it expands on some stories to fill half an hour. Usually, this works. On occasion, new themes are drawn from the added material and take the story in an odd direction. Again, most of the time, it worked quite well. It’s a shame more episodes of the series didn’t survive, with only about 1 in 7 circulating today.

I’ll also offer honorable mentions to Bold Venture and I Was a Communist for the FBI.

Share your favorite radio dramas in the comments below.

Audio Drama Review: Agatha Christie: The Lost Plays:

Agatha Christie: The Lost Radio Plays collects three BBC radio plays that aired between 1948 and 1960. It also includes some bonus material.

“Butter in a Lordly Dish” from 1948 stars Richard Williams as Sir Luke Enderby KC, a skilled prosecutor who is also a philanderer, who is headed out on his latest fling. Then there’s Personal Call, a 1955 original story about a man receiving calls from someone claiming to be his dead wife. It stars Ivan Brandt and Barbara Lott. Finally, Williams stars as Poirot in the hour-long adaptation of Christie’s “Murder in the Mews.”

The acting is mostly solid with a few exceptions. There is a slight bent to the melodramatic in the original radio plays, and Williams isn’t the best Poirot ever.

As for the writing, anyone expecting new masterpieces will be disappointed. “Butter in a Lordly Dish” is comparable to an above average episode of the 1960s American series Theater Five.  “Personal Call” is comparable to an average mid-1950s episode of Suspense. “Murder in the Mews” is a good story undermined by direction and style that is competent at best and Williams is a somewhat mediocre Poirot.

The extras include Agatha Christie-related audio recordings and interviews with actors who appeared in the original London stage production of her play the Mousetrap. In addition, comedian Toby Hadoke interviews the last-surviving cast member of the radio plays. In that extra, they discuss his showbiz career and how he became a successful costume designer on both sides of the pond. Hadoke is a talented interviewer who shows great interests in his subjects and makes this far more interesting than you might otherwise expect.

Overall,  major fans of Agatha Christie will enjoy this release. It features rare and little-heard radio productions featuring her work that are okay, but not remarkable. In addition, the bonus material is well-presented and engaging.

Overall Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: The Master of Blackstone Grange

Big Finish’s latest Sherlock Holmes release features a three-hour Sherlock Holmes adventure and a one-hour Christmas special.

In the titular Master of Blackstone Grange, Holmes is bored by the lack of a challenge now that Professor Moriarty is gone. However, Watson’s barber is distraught because of some strange problem he’s having with his wife. Watson sees this as a case that can get Holmes out of his doldrums. While Holmes is initially interested, that interest wanes when Moriarty’s henchman, Colonel Sebastian Moran is released from prison. This leaves Holmes unavailable when their client heads to the home of the country’s newest multi-millionaire, Honest Jim Sheedy. However, the barber has plenty of company as all the country’s great men are coming together at Blackstone Grange. But why?

The plot of this story borrows a lot from other Doyle work. The story pays homage to both The Valley of Fear and Hound of the Baskervilles. Yet, this doesn’t stop the story from having its own original plot and mystery but helps to set up the story and give it a sense of authenticity.

The performances are solid as usual. Nicholas Briggs is a very good audio Holmes, able to adjust his performance to capture different aspects and eras in Holmes life. Here, he manages to play mostly to Holmes’ melancholy and do so quite skillfully. Richard Earl is the consummate Watson, and in this story, we get to see a little of the widowed Watson. The rest of the cast is very competent, but Harry Peacock deserves special praise for his performance as one of the villains, Honest Jim Sheedy. Peacock is able to play Sheedy alternately as charming and menacing in ways that are equally convincing.

In The Fleet Street Transparency, Sherlock Holmes gets a mystery at Christmastime of a columnist who complains about his columns being edited before they appear in the paper. He doesn’t want to take the case at first but relents out of curiosity when a thug is hired to threaten him into doing it.

This is not a great Holmes story but it is pretty good. The solution doesn’t tax Holmes’ brainpower much, but it has a unique ending. What does make it worth listening to is the general authenticity of the script. There are moments that feel positively like it’s out of canon. A couple moments take you out of that, such as Holmes and Watson passing judgment on their client’s political views. However, it maintains authenticity far more often than not. Briggs and Earl turn in another solid performance. The story is sure to be a fun Christmas listen.

Both stories feature superb music by Jamie Robertson which captures both the feel of the era and the respective seasons.

Overall, this is another solid box set from Big Finish.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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