Category: Audio Drama Review

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice, Season 5

Season Five of Black Jack Justice featured six new cases that aired between December 2009 and February 2010 as Jack Justice (Christopher Mott) and his partner Trixie Dixon, Girl Detective (Andrea Lyons) take on six more cases in a post-war American city.

The season kicked off with, “Requiem for an Elf” the duo’s first Christmas special involving the duo’s underworld contact Freddy the Finger getting caught in the midst of a charity Santa racket and once again needing bailed out.

The other five episodes in the season all centered around famous sayings and proverbs. It’s an idea that may have been borrowed from the golden age radio series, The Amazing Mr. Malone but it works well here, giving each episode a sense of organization. Every episode this season hit perfectly with me. “Stormy Weather”is probably my favorite so far with some of the best banter I’ve heard in the series as well as good suspenseful moments. As usual, the series’ great comedic moments are balanced by more serious action, and the final episode has a few hints of romance for Jack.

Overall, Season 5 was great fun and probably my favorite series so far.

Rating:4.75 out of 5

The entire season is free to download from Decoder Ring Theatre.

Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume 03: Steed & Tara King

Big Finish has released two prior sets of Comic Strip adaptations based on the 1960s Avengers TV show featuring John Steed and Emma Peel. This set features adaptions of comics strips featuring Steed (Julian Wadham) and Peel’s successor Tara King (Emily Woodward) There are four episodes on the set and here’s a run-down on each:

In It’s a Wild, Wild, Wild West: There have been several Old West style stick-ups and Steed and Tara King suspect an American-style Dude ranch opened in England and all is not what you expect. This is a well-acted story and the writing and acting is good enough to make a fairly absurd plot entertaining.

Under the Weather is not as humorous as other episodes. Steed and Tara race to save England from sinister forces that have seized control of the weather. This one has more mystery to it than many other episodes, while still having a far out concept that fits the Avengers of the later seasons.

Spycraft feels more like the Lost Episodes from Season 1 of the Avengers rather than comic strip adaptations as Steed and King are charged with guarding an important leader of an emerging African democracy. While working undercover, they stumble into agents of his own country’s government that are also working undercover.

The story has slow moments but does get going once they team up . Overall, this is a solid story with some of the most fun moments in the set.

…Now You Don’t is a standard “evil hypnotist” story where Tara is hypnotized to kill Mother. Decently executed, and well acted, but the villain is undone because he doesn’t understand the basic rules of hypnotism. Also Dorney’s decision to adapt this story and to then adapt the one that came before it featuring Emma Peel in the next box set is a little baffling and feels like just making things complicated for the sake of it.

Overall, this was a decent box set, without any bad stories, but it’s not as enjoyable as the Emma Peel box sets or the “Lost Episodes” productions Big Finish did. This felt like it took a middle ground approach between the strait-laced drama of the Lost Episodes and the wacky situations of the comic strip adaptations and wasn’t as satisfying as either.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: The Prisoner, Series Two

Series Two of Big Finish’s Prisoner adaptation features four more stories that re-imagine the world of the 1960s TV series:

“I Met a Man Today” is based on the TV episode, “Many Happy Returns.” It takes a different approach than on television. In the TV episode, Number Six wakes up and goes to get his shower, and discovers everyone in the Village is gone. Eventually, Number 6 builds a raft, fights a couple men on a boat, and makes his way to London, finding himself at his old house where both his house and car are owned by a woman.

All that plot is summarized in the middle of the audio episode. The audio version focuses on Number Six’s emotional journey as he found himself in London, exhausted, unsure who to trust, or if this was real. The story also takes some time to develop and explore the relationship between Number Six and Kate (the woman who owns his house and car.) Lucie Briggs Owens is wonderful as Kate, and Elstob is on-point as Number 6 throughout the story.

Overall, this is a pleasing re-interpretation of a strong episode that may be better than the source material.

In “Project Six,” Lucy Briggs-Owens takes her turn as the new Number 2 and is the best thing about the  majority of the episode. She brings a menace to the role and creates a contrast with the character she played in the opener.

The plot is one of the most difficult ones in the set. Number 6 decides to not eat or drink anything given by the village for fear it might be laced with mind control drugs, but doesn’t seem to think he’ll need sustenance until he has to lick dew off the ground.

The take on the TV episode, “A,B, C” was weird and convoluted without offering much until the final moments when the story improved quite a bit.

“Hammer Into Anvil” bears a strong resemblance to the TV story of the same name. A new and more sadistic Number Two arrives determined to break number Six, quoting the axiom, “You must be the hammer or anvil.” However, when Number Six witnesses Number Two’s cruelty on someone else, he becomes just as determined to break Number Two, and sets out to wage psychological warfare on the people behind the Village.

Aside from the basic plot, the story goes off in a different direction. The route  Number Six takes to break down Number Two is different from in the TV show, and in some ways simpler and also more realistic, though a little less stylish. Both methods have their strong points, but it works to do something different in the radio version so it doesn’t feel superfluous. I also like that it plays off the end of the previous episode.

Overall, I think this is a case where the radio and TV versions are pretty close to being equal. Once again, the Prisoner gives us excellent acting and superb sound design.

In “Living in Harmony,” writer Nick Briggs takes an entirely different tact than the Western-themed Prisoner TV episode of the same name as this episode appears to be set in space.

Number Six finds himself on a rocket to a moon base, alongside Number Nine, who had apparently died in the previous series, but is now back and calling herself Number Ninety. Of course, being the Prisoner, the questions immediately raised is whether he’s going anywhere (or on a spaceship) and if number 9/90 is actually with him.

This is a great script for the Prisoner. It gives Number six pivotal, character-defining moments when he faces a key choice. At the same time, the sense of mystery as to what’s going on never entirely lets up. It answers some questions, but leaves so many questions that it serves to set up Series Three.

Overall, this was another solid set, and stronger than the first with compelling takes on memorable stories from the TV series.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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Review: Sealtest Variety Theater

Doing a live radio broadcast from a Houston hotel ballroom to a rowdy crowd on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1949 seemed like a good idea to someone. That infamous 1949 broadcast of the Sealtest Variety Theater became one of the biggest live radio fails in history and what the series is remembered for.

The Sealtest Variety Theater had a total of 42 broadcasts between its premier in September 1948 and it going off the air in July 1949. It was hosted by Dorothy Lamour who had co-starred in most of the Road movies with the legends Bob Hope and Bing Crosby. The show featured a dazzling array of stars including Jimmy Stewart, Edward G. Robinson, Gregory Peck, William Powell, Boris Karloff, and Sidney Greenstreet along with legends such as Hope, Abbott and Costello, Jim and Marianne Jordan as Fibber McGee and Molly, Norris Goff and Chester Lauck and Lum ‘n Abner, Harold Peary as the Great Gildersleeve, and Ed Gardner as Archie from Duffy’s Tavern.

Lamour’s charisma and star power was on full display. She remained likable throughout the series run and provided nice musical performances as well. She appeared to have been enjoying the series, laughing regularly and making the audience want to laugh along with her.

Additional musical entertainment was provided by Henry Russell and his orchestra and the Crew Chiefs. The music is all pleasant to listen to and on par with what you’d hear on most other radio programs.

Through the show’s first seven months on the air, the format included plenty of music, a dramatic sketch between Lamour and the guest of the week, and a comedy bit. Sometimes Lamour performed in the comedic sketches. Other times, a comedy team like Abbott and Costello would perform a typical routine or there’d be an occasional stand-up sketch.

The comedy was pretty solid for the Golden Age. The dramatic sketches were a mixed bag. Some were fairly good, but others seemed trite, silly, or simplistic. I mostly enjoyed them, but there were a few times I felt bad that a talented actor had to work with that material.

The infamous Saint Patrick’s day performance fell during this run. The wild crowd and technical difficulties led to sound quality issues and a profanity being spoken over the air by a male voice. To her credit, Lamour remained calm through it all. It was radio veteran Gardener who lost it and ignored her attempts to keep the show on script by trying to come up with something random that would make the crowd happy.

The event made headlines and Lamour didn’t run for it. In one sketch later on where she had to boast of what deeds made her character tough enough for something, she said, “Oh yeah, well I did a show at a hotel in Houston.”

In April, the show tweaked its format. The music stayed, but the dramatic sketches and individual comedy guest spots were done away with. Eddie Bracken joined the series and it became something of a sitcom like Lamour and Bracken playing fictionalized versions of themselves, with Bracken finding ways to get himself and Lamour into trouble every week.

Bracken was a fair comic talent. In many ways, his style called to mind Alan Young’s style as an exuberant born loser who often believed Hollywood actors were exactly like the people they played in the movies.

Young filled in for Bracken in an incident that illustrates the culture of the golden age of radio. Young happened to be at the studio to record his own program and did the guess spot on Sealtest on 15 minutes notice. You couldn’t even tell the script had been written for another actor.

Overall, this is a decent comedy/music program.It didn’t have mind-blowing comedy or music, but it’s a pleasant and fun listen with some great talent. It deserves remembered for more than technical difficulties and some rowdy drunks ruining its Saint Patrick’s Day program.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: Unguarded Moment

Unguarded Moment is different than other Louie L’Amour audio dramas I’ve listened to because this one is not a Western but rather a noir story.

Arthur Fordyce is a man with a rising corporate career who goes to the track with a client. The client drops his wallet with a substantial amount of money. Arthur takes the cash instead of returning it. Unfortunately for him, he’s spotted by a small time crook who is determined to use his knowledge of Fordyce’s unguarded moment to make a big score.

This is your typical Noir tale of a regular person who gives into temptation and finds themselves in a downward spiral. In some ways, the plot calls to mind an episode of the radio series, The Whistler. While it was a polished modern production, the acting and mood captured the feel of another era.

The story is decently written and well-acted, but felt predictable throughout most of it. Until the last ten minutes, I could have called this story beat-for-beat, when the story took an unexpected turn and went somewhere else. While the twist was believable, it would have been nice if it had been foreshadowed a bit more.

Still, if you like old noir films or episodes of the Whistler, I think you’ll enjoy this audio noir story from one of America’s most beloved authors.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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