Category: Audio Drama Review

Audio Drama Review: The Rivals (BBC)


For the average mystery fan, when it comes to Victorian detectives, one name stands out: Sherlock Holmes. Other than perhaps Father Brown, most will know of no great detectives who were published between the first appearance of Holmes and that of Hercules Poirot. Yet detectives proliferated on both sides of the Atlantic in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

BBC Radio 4’s series, “The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes,”  introduces us to a few of Sherlock Holmes’ contemporaries. The collection from the BBC contains all twelve episodes from three series of audio dramas. In the first series, Lestrade is relaying the incidents to a reporter who originally approached him for insight on Holmes. Instead, Lestrade gives her tales of these rivals. In the latter two, Lestrade is writing his memoirs. He’s essentially a Victorian Age Forest Gump of detecting, rubbing elbows with nine different detectives and sharing their adventures. Paul Beck, Max Carridos, and Augustus S.F.X. Van Dusen make two appearances each.

Overall, fans of mystery fiction owe a debt of gratitude to the BBC of the series. Like a similarly themed Television series from the 1970s, it succeeds in bringing to life forgotten detectives and clever mysteries. The acting and production values are top notch, as you would expect with a recent BBC radio 4 series. The stories are (with one exception) true to their era with few embellishments. We get a great variety of detectives, including a fat gourmet detective in Eugene Valmont, a blind detective in Carrados, and a Columbo-esque gardener in Paul Beck, as well as three different lady sleuths, most notably Lady Violet Strange and Loveday Brooke.

On the negative side, the Series episode “Seven, Seven, Seven” added an adult plot element that wasn’t in the original story, was gratuitous, and untrue to a story of that era. In addition, Lestrade is written as having a huge chip on his shoulder about the prominence and fame of Sherlock Holmes. It seems like this series could have been made without making Lestrade into a man who is so bitter against Holmes and his portrayal in the Holmes story that he has to find every way he can to undercut Holmes.

Despite these flaws, this is a solid collection and will introduce fans to many interesting and long-forgotten detectives.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Avengers, The Lost Episodes, Volume 5

The fifth volume of lost episodes of the Avengers featuring John Steed (Julian Wadham) and Doctor Keel (Anthony Howell) offers four more adventures from that mostly lost first season of the 1960s classic.

In, “Nightmare,” a researcher who is one of Dr. Keel’s patients disappears and Keel impersonates him while a search is made to find the missing man. Keel finds himself the target of gangsters who want to make use of his patient’s research in psychological drugs. Overall, a pretty standard crime drama story that’s reproduced in a way that feels completely authentic to the era. I do wonder if the original screen version might have made the psychotropic drugs used feel more trippy which would have added to the period feel.

“The Girl on the Trapeeze” is a rare Steed-free episode as Dr. Keel appears to witness the suicide of a woman who he remembers from somewhere. A magazine picture leads him to a circus where a big secret is being hidden. It’s a nicely done mystery with some great moments between Keel and Carol.

“Crescent Moon” features Steed going to the Caribbean to investigate the kidnapping of the daughter of the late dictator of an island. It’s very well-done multi-layered story with a lot of great guest characters. At first, it appeared that, following the previous Steed-free story, we were going to have a story without Dr. Keel, but he ends up appearing in the second half of the episode and plays an interesting role in the denouement without ever leaving England. This has actually been my favorite lost episode so far.

Finally, “Diamond Cut Diamond” finds Steed going undercover as an Australian Airline steward to bust a diamond smuggling racket. It’s a solid and well-paced adventure even though it’s very similar to many earlier stories in the Avengers series. Okay, but not remarkable.

Overall, this collection is enjoyable and has a more solid sense of identity than many of the earlier sets partially because the original 1960s writers had a better sense of what they wanted the Avengers to be as well as the fact that Big Finish is very comfortable with these characters.

While there’s no “Making Of” extras on this CD, there’s a tribute to the late Patrick Macnee from the writers and cast. It adds a touch of class to an already very classy release.

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Audio Drama Review: The Avengers-The Lost Episodes, Volume 2

The second volume of Avengers Lost Episodes continues to provide authentic recreations of lost episodes from the first season of the Classic TV series, “The Avengers,” with Julian Wadham recreating the role of John Steed, Anthony Howell as Doctor Keel, and Lucy Briggs-Owen as Carol.

Below are the summaries of the four episodes:

“Ashes of Roses” features Steed looking into an arson and he recruits Steed’s nurse Carol to go to undercover as a customer of a posh hair salon he suspects of being tied to the arson.

Overall, this was a great mystery story and it’s really helped by Carol taking such a big role as she plays very well off Steed. The guest characters are great and there’s a good amount of both suspects and red herrings to keep the listener fully engaged.

In “Please Don’t Feed the Animals,” the death of a man in a private zoo’s crocodile pit is tied into an attempt to steal government secrets. It’s an intriguing story with great action and suspense, helped by a superb premise and there’s also a good guest villain.

“The Radioactive Man” was easily, the most different episode from what the Avengers would become so far as Steed and Keel take a backseat to an Eastern block refugee who walks off with a radioactive isotope, endangering himself and everyone around him.

The plot  has problems. Not only is the case far from anything that Steed would typically handle, there’s no reason for Keel to be called in. In addition, as our hook, we’re given the plot of some of the refugees wanting to blow up a cargo train but it doesn’t really amount to much in the larger story. Plus how and why the refugee takes the isotope is a bit far fetched.

The story has some interesting ideas, how refugees as “strangers in a strange land” relate to the wider culture and choose to assimilate and become part of it (or not) and whether they can trust each other. What holds up this odd script is the acting and Big Finish’s superb recreation job. Like the previous episodes, it maintains a genuine 1960s feel. It’s just the story it tells genuinely doesn’t fit well with the Season 1 template we’ve heard so far.

“Dance with Death” is an interesting tale as it begins with the actions of Keel as he’s called to an office where a woman has nearly been asphyxiated. When she visits her dance studio the next day, she finds the rest of the staff carrying on as if she had died. Then, when she is murdered, Keel becomes a suspect.

This starts out as a fairly clever mystery with a twist solution where the murder of the dance studio’s co-owner is a means rather than an end, and Steed and Keel have to thwart the ultimate end. This could have been a bit more suspenseful, but still this is an entertaining conclusion to the set.

Overall, the set continues to offer an amazing degree of authenticity, feeling very true to the early 1960s the scripts were originally performed in. The acting remained solid, and I think the scripts in the set were better than in the previous set even if, “The Radioactive Man” wasn’t to my taste.

Audio Drama Review: The Avengers, The Lost Episodes, Volume 1


Many TV producers did little to preserve their programs for posterity, leading to many TV episodes from the 1950s being lost to time, perhaps never to be seen again. In the United Kingdom, this continued into the 1960s with many programs lost to the ages due to the BBC’s “wiping policy.” It effected Doctor Who where more than 90 black and white episodes of the series are only available on audios and numerous other series that don’t exist in any form.

The case is worse for the first season of The Avengers. Only two full episodes and the fragment of another exist and no audio exists for the missing programs. The hit TV series was best known for the pairing of the Roguish spy John Steed (Patrick Macnee) with Mrs. Emma Peel (Diana Rigg.) However, Mrs. Peel only joined the series in Season Four. The first season featured Steed fighting alongside Dr. David Keel. What was that season like? Beyond the fragments we had, the entire first season of adventures was lost.

Then Big Finish came along. The company, best known for their Doctor Who dramas, agreed to produce the missing episodes of the Avengers as Audio Dramas and cast Julian Wadham as John Steed, Anthony Howell as Dr. Keel, and Lucy Briggs-Owens as nurse Carol Wilson.

The first volume collects four episodes of The Avengers: “Hot Snow,” “Brought to Book,” “Square Root of Evil,” and “One for the Mortuary.”

Throughout the set, Big Finish does an incredible job creating a sense of authenticity. The background music and soundscape succeed in making the set seem like a well-preserved recording from the 1960s rather than a modern imitation. The direction and acting are authentic to the era. When I listened to these, I found it easy to forget these were recorded in 2013.

The stories themselves are different from the type of stories told in the Steed and Peel era. Episodes from the Steed and Peel era included fantastic plots like a mad tycoon who planned to turn his department store into a nuclear bomb. The early Avengers episodes seemed to enjoy far more typical crime dramas.

The first episode, “Hot Snow,” focuses on drug dealers who  start Keel’s career as a crimefighter by murdering his bride to be.”Brought to Book” has Steed and Keel working to bring down an extortion ring with ties to the hitman that murdered Keel’s fiancee. “The Square Root of Evil” features Steed infiltrating a counterfeiting ring, In “One for the Mortuary,” Keel agrees to carry a life-saving formula to the World Health Organization in Geneva but finds himself in the crosshairs of international ne’er-do-wells who want to steal it for their own ends.

“One for the Mortuary” is the most exciting story in the collection, and it  gives the biggest hint of what was to come for the series with an exciting and dangerous spy game with assassins and international intrigue. The first three were well-produced and well-acted but quite ordinary crime dramas. It’s odd to think the show went from basic undercover work to trying to stop a department store from being used as a doomsday weapon.

The one story that had a significant problem was “The Square Root of Evil.” The reason Steed goes undercover is so he can find out who the Mr. Big is behind the counterfeiting operation. However, the episode ends before Mr. Big is caught or Steed learns who he was. Also, modern listeners may take issue with Keel’s reaction understated reaction to his fiancee’s murder. However, this is true to the era.

Each episode features a short extras segment which provides insight into the production of the set. I found the interview with John Dorney interesting as he adapted the original scripts and he explained the unique challenges in this task.

Overall, the stories are enjoyable and the finale is particularly good. The entire collection manages to recreate four classic TV episodes that we haven’t experienced for over five decades and does so with a great sense of respect and authenticity.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Wisdom of Father Brown, Volume 1

Colonial Radio Theatre has begun release of its second series of G.K. Chesterton’s legendary crime-solving priest, Father Brown. This latest series of sets will focus on the second book, The Wisdom of Father Brown.

First up is “The Perishing of the Pendragons,” a story featuring Father Brown, Flamebeau, and a friend encountering one of the last surviving members of a supposedly cursed sea-fearing family living on a remote island. There’s a lot of backstory until the mystery gets going but its to Father Brown’s credit that he sees the plot at all.

“The Head of Caesar”-Father Brown stumbles on a proper young lady in a quite improper place fleeing from a blackmailer who has threatened to expose her theft from the family coin collection. It’s an interesting tale with a good solution that includes a thoughtful exploration of the difference between collectors and misers or the lack thereof.

“The Absence of Mister Glass”-Father Brown goes to a super sleuth for help in investigating a young woman’s boyfriend. They find the boyfriend tied up and our super detective has to figure out what happened. He has a brilliant solution—but is it the right one? This is one of the funniest Father Brown stories and Colonial does a superb job performing it.

“Paradise of Thieves” finds Father Brown in Italy in a swirl of intrigue.over tourists and the re-emergence of a romantic bandit. In my opinion, this is one of Chesterton’s weakest stories because he gets so carried away making his points that he gives us a confusing plot where the actions of the villain are puzzling to say the least. Still, Colonial does the best they can with it and manages to capture the best the story had to offer in its atmosphere and a little bit of humor.

Overall thoughts: While all the Father Brown books have their charms, I have to admit The Wisdom of Father Brown is the book I enjoyed least. There were so many stories where mysteries were buried or hard to follow in that particular collection.

Colonial deserves credit for a collection that makes these stories accessible. G.K. Chesterton had a fantastic way with words. One of the best things about the way writer MJ Elliott does in adapting these stories.is to take Chesterton’s beautiful descriptions and commentaries and turn them into dialogue which allows the listener to enjoy the richness of it.

The direction and music are all at Colonial’s usual strong standards, and the acting is mostly very good, although there were a couple of accents that could have been done a bit better.

Still, this is a worthy and welcomed production for fans of Father Brown and the works of G.K. Chesterton.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Disclosure; I received a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

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