Category: Audio Drama Review

Audio Drama Review: The Hobbit (NPR)

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien was adapted for radio in the 1970s by Mind’s Eye Theater in Virginia. It tells the classic tale of Bilbo Baggins’ journey through Middle Earth to a lost Dwarf Kingdom.

The story is one of the classics of the Fantasy genre and the adaptation deserves credit for its faithfulness to the story. It captures all of the most important and interesting moments of the novel. Ray Reinhhart (who plays Bilbo) does a good job portraying Bilbo’s transformation in the course of the story from respectable Shire Hobbit homeowner to the heroic burglar he becomes in the course of his adventures. While I think the performance is mostly serviceable and enjoyable, I think the production deserves some praise for the way it handled the scene where Bilbo met Golem. This was before the motion pictures so defined the character of Golem and how he talked. I found this audio adaptation to be different, but still genuinely chilling.

Where the story does lose points is with some of the acting. The cast are essentially unknowns and some of the voices don’t quite fit the parts. As was the case on several radio programs in between the Golden Age of Radio and the Twenty-first Century, the sound design was very minimalist. That’s not a huge problem when Bilbo and friends are walking down the road, but when you’re dealing with something like the Battle of the Five Armies, the Sound Producers couldn’t do it Justice, so you’d better have a really good imagination.

Still, the strength of J.R.R. Tolkien’s story and this adaptation’s faithfulness to it make it a worthwhile listen, if not a perfect one.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Dandelion Wine


Twelve Year old Douglas Spaulding is growing up in the 1920s in Green Town, Illinois, a town that’s full of life, energy, and a reliable circle of friends and family, and Summer is the best time of all. In the course of Summer, the magic of Green Town makes for many wonderful moments, but Douglas also has to cope with the first pangs of growing up.

Dandelion Wine was originally a novel by Ray Bradbury, who later wrote it as a play and then turned it into this audiodrama for Colonial Radio Theatre.

Dandelion Wine showcases why Bradbury is such a beloved author even outside of the science fiction genre. Bradbury’s at his best and this story works very well for radio as the lyrical dialogue paints evocative pictures that capture the imagination. Dandelion Wine manages to take even mundane moments in life and wrap them in wonder. One of my favorite scenes involves Douglas’ grandfather taking inventory of his stock of the medicinal dandelion wine. It’s a well-done scene that creates a sense of nostalgia and gives a keen insight into the childlike way Douglas views the world.

The play is well-acted with Jerry Robbins turning in a great performance as the mysterious and soft-spoken Mr. Forrester. The sound design is ably done and helps to re-enforce the tone of the story.

The play is a story for all ages, though younger and older viewers will view it differently. Douglas relates well to the younger listeners. Yet, for older listeners, it’ll call to mind a whole other set of emotions: reminders of childhood and the moments when it ended with the realization that the world was changing whether you wanted it to or not.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

Note: This Audio Drama is available for free through Audible Channels for Audible subscribers. It’s also available for purchase for non-subscribers.

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Audio Drama Review: Too Many Have Lived

In “Too Many Have Lived,” the Hollywood Theater of the Air presents a half hour Black Mask Audio Magazine dramatization of Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade short story of the same title.

Sam Spade is hired to find a missing poet by a man who would very much like to marry the man’s wife. When the poet turns up missing, there are plenty of suspects around.

“Too Many Have Lived,” is a fine classic hard-boiled story. It’s no “Maltese Falcon,” but the Theater of the Era does a great job capturing the mood and it’s very well-acted and narrated with a decent amount of sound design. The story has a solidly clever solution that’s worthy of Hammett.

It also serves as a nice sampler for Hollywood Theater of the Ear’s longer works, including a collection of Black Mask stories.

This story is available for free to Audible Members through Audible’s new “My Content” feature and it also can be purchased by non-members for less than $1.50

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: The Lost Episodes, Volume 3


Volume 3 of Big Finish’s Avengers: The Lost Episodes recreates four more lost episodes of Season 1 of the Avengers which featured John Steed (Julian Wadham) and Doctor David Keel (Anthony Howell).

The Springers: This story finds Keel undercover in prison as a notorious convict he hopes to impersonate. The story is a somewhat typical crime story but feels a bit more playful in places than some of the stories in the first box set. It’s a solid if unremarkable tale.

The Yellow Needle: An old friend of Keel’s is Prime Minister of an African nation about to declare its Independence from Great Britain. After an attempt on the Prime Minister’s life, Steed and Keel become involved in the case from several thousand miles away. The story reflects the process of breaking up the British Empire as former Colonies became Independent and the politics that often went into that. This gives it a definite historic value. Beyond that, it’s a taut and well-written political thriller.

Double Danger: Dr. Keel is kidnapped by desperate men who want him to treat a man they kidnapped so they can extract the secret of the location of stolen diamonds. This is set up like a traditional crime story but has a bit more going for it than many earlier stories. First of all, Keel’s adventures apparently have given him a bit of an edge of toughness as he’s far more calm than one would normally expect. There’s almost a hard-boiled aspect to some of the dialogue, and there’s more menace in the villains in this story than in many “thugs of the week” who have appeared before . The story moves at a fairly quick pace, and there’s a very effective use of humor with the old landlord.

The Toy Trap: This story takes a look at the seamier side of London life with a bit of a personal touch for Keel. Keel is to play chaperone to the wide-eyed innocent daughter of a friend, who has taken a job in London at a shop. They find one of her friends missing and that she’s been drawn off into a pornography racket exploiting naive young women. It’s a very well done crime story and it also introduces some genuine conflict between Steed and Keel. In the early going, Keel sharply disapproves when Steed starts doing his typical ladies man routine around his young charge, and then when Steed’s method for breaking the ring puts her jeopardy, Keel really lets Steed have it. Overall, this is probably my favorite episode in this series so far.

This collection contains some of the greatest Avengers Best Episodes Big Finish has produced and is my favorite of the four I’ve listened to.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: Steed and Mrs. Peel The Comic Strip Adaptations, Volume 1

Big Finish has so far adapted 20 of the 26 episodes from the lost season of the ITV hit The Avengers. Still, when people think of that classic British program, they think of the period with John Steed and Mrs. Peel that allowed the show to cross the pond to American Television.

In 1966 and ‘67, at the height of their popularity, several comic strip stories were written featuring the duo of Steed and Peel. Big Finish brings them to life in a new range with Julian Wadham playing Steed and Olivia Poulet offering her take on the iconic role of Mrs. Peel. Volume 1 of the Series offers four hour long stories.

Both the new actors are superb. I was familiar with Wadham from the more strait-laced “Lost Episodes,” but he does a good job playing the Steed of the Peel era with aplumb. Poulet offers a lively take on Mrs. Peel. Both succeed in making the rolls their own.

Here’s a breakdown of the episodes included in Volume 1 of the Comic Strip adaptations:

Return to Castle De’ath: A follow up on a T.V. episode, finds Steed and Peel returning to Castle De’ath to protect an insufferably arrogant prince who is key to British oil interests. This snappy script is littered with witty one-liners and the plot has outrageous twists. Only a few moments don’t quite translate to audio. But overall, a very good beginning for the series.

The Miser: A dangerous saboteur calling himself the Misers rocks Great Britain. Mrs. Peel and Steed go to work to find him before the nation’s leaders are forced to hand all of Great Britain’s wealth to him. Overall, this is fun, with a grain field that doubles as a minefield, impersonation, a wax works, and a notable villain, though the plot’s too predictable on the wind up.

The Golden Dresses: Several prominent officials have disappeared after their wives purchased fabulous dresses from a posh boutique. The story is well-told but a bit predictable. The villainess goes a bit too over the top even for the Avengers in the final minutes. Still, it’s a decent episode.

The Norse Code: Steed and Peel search for a missing colleague in Norfolk and find themselves having to thwart a Viking plot to destroy Great Britain. Overall, it’s a perfectly outlandish tale that’s clever and would have fit in with the 1960s show. There are many humorous parts, particularly the opening with Mrs. Peel learning conversational ancient Norse. (”Excuse me, my warship is on fire.”)

Overall, this set offers a fresh spin on two classic characters. While the adaptation from a strictly visual medium leads to a few uncertain moments, these are a few and far between. Fans of witty dramas will love this set.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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