Category: Audio Drama Review

Audio Drama Review: The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner

The Sherlock Holmes Audio Drama The Adventure of the Perfidious Mariner was originally released by Big Finish to coincide with the 100th Anniversary of the Titanic disaster. It’s set during Holmes’ retirement to Suffolk to raise bees. The story finds Holmes estranged from Watson, who is grief-stricken after his second wife died aboard the Titanic. Watson’s visit to Holmes is disrupted by Bruce Ismay, an executive of the line which owned the Titantic. He escaped from the ship alive while many women and children sank into the sea and he was viewed as a cowardly villain. Ismay asks for Holmes’ help because he believes he’s being haunted by a specter–a specter that’s leaving people dead in its wake.

Overall, this production is an emotionally meaty story. Unlike many actors who have played Holmes in the past, Nicholas Briggs makes changes to his characterization to reflect the aging of the character. There are slight changes to his voice, but more to his mannerisms. In one scene, Holmes has deduced Watson’s entire reason for coming. Watson says he doesn’t care how Holmes knew he’d come. Holmes tells him anyway as if on auto pilot. Watson has some great scenes with Ismay. The mystery itself is engaging, but not the main attraction of this story. What makes this tale work so well are the great character interactions and the thorough historical research.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles


The Hound of the Baskervilles is like the Christmas Carol. You don’t watch or listen to an adaptation to find out what happens but to see how well the creators have captured the story. Big Finish does a superb job of capturing the spirit of the Hound of the Baskervilles in  a very traditionalist adaptation. Amazingly, the entire program was recorded and rehearsed in a single day.

The cast is  wonderful. Richard Earl has got the part of Watson nailed and that’s vital since most of the story centers around him. John Banks and Charlie Norfolk did Yeoman’s work, playing five parts and three parts respectively. They did it so seamlessly, I didn’t know they didn’t have separate actors for each part until I listened to the Extra’s CD. Samuel Clemens is very compelling as Sir Henry Baskerville. And of course, Briggs is great as Holmes.

Of course, what  makes the piece so atmospheric over audio is the sound design and music, coupled with Earl’s narration and they did an incredibly good job in post-production. It captured the spookiness and suspense of the story. Overall, Big Finish does Doyle’s most legendary story justice in a superb adaptation.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Reification of Hans Gerber

The Reification of Hans Gerber is an original Sherlock Holmes audio drama written in the twenty-first century. However, if you weren’t familiar with the Doyle canon, you’d be hard pressed to know that this was written by Doyle himself.

The plot captures the feel and atmosphere of Holmes without retreading over old ground. Holmes is called in to investigate the death of a wealthy man who left behind three nephews and a niece who expect to inherit until the will disappears, then one man is set to inherit. At first, it’s the eldest cousin, but a disowned relative named Hans Gerber emerges to claim the estate. It appears he’s out for more than the old man’s money when one of the cousins is murdered. The mystery is thoroughly engaging from start to finish.

Nicholas Briggs turns in his usual superb performance as Holmes, and Richard Earl plays Watson perfectly in the Edward Hardwicke tradition. One of the reasons the story feels so authentic is the amount of narration and description involved and Earl is a superb narrator. The other outstanding performance was Terry Malloy who plays Inspector Bainbridge, a police inspector who shows an amazing amount of competence.

It’s hard to overstate how much I enjoyed this. Pastiches so often fail to capture the feel of the original or are so busy inserting modern sensibilities and personalities into the story that they feel out of place. The authenticity of the story is outstanding. It’s tour de force  in writing, acting,  and production values.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Final Problem / The Empty House


The second series of Big Finish’s Sherlock Holmes range kicks off with the adaptation of the two Sherlock Holmes stories. “The Final Problem,” where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle attempts to kill Holmes off,  and “The Empty House,” where Holmes returns.

As writer/star Nicholas Briggs admits, these are not traditional adaptations.  In the previous adaptation, a bonus talking book of “The Speckled Band” was released with a word-for-word reading of that story. This is similar but this production dispenses with “He said.” Otherwise this is a  straightforward, almost word-for-word adaptation of Doyle’s stories with most of it told through Watson’s narration or Holmes narrating to Watson what has happened previously. As such, the strength of these adaptations rest on the strength of the underlying story.

However, Big Finish does add some nice touches. There’s an emotional core in these stories that Richard Earl, as Watson, does a superb job of capturing. Briggs turns in a solid performance as Holmes, playing the character perfectly as written, even when he’s being smug in “The Empty House.”  And one of the most interesting and subtle things they do in “The Final Problem”is tell the narration as Watson writing this down, and we hear the pen crossing the paper and the sound of pen will change and become more pronounced at certain emotional points. It’s a simple bit of sound design, but it’s  clever and adds something interesting to the production.

These are solid, dramatic readings with a good soundscape added in. However, given the wealth of material and the countless adaptations of these stories, the appeal of this release is limited and this would be the last time Big Finish used the format for Sherlock Holmes.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5.00

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Audio Drama Review: The Empire Strikes Back Original Radio Drama


The Empire Strikes Back was adapted by NPR soon after its release, just as the original Star Wars film was. Mark Hamill and Anthony Williams once again reprised their roles as Luke Skywalker and C-3PO with Billy Dee Williams also joining the cast as Lando Calrissian. The rest of the roles from the movie were filled in by other actors with Ann Sachs as Leia, Perry King as Hans Solo, Brock Peters as Darth Vader, and introducing John Lithgow as Yoda.

Compared to the solid Star Wars Radio Drama, the ten part Empire Strikes Back is a far better production. There’s hardly any padding (and none after the first episode.) The production works perfectly as an Adventure radio serial rather than a supplementary derivative of its source material. There’s quite a bit of extra running time and it’s all used to good effect and the big winner is the character of Hans Solo who is fleshed out even more than in the film. The audio drama fleshes out his relationship with Luke as well as Leia.

Perry King started off a bit shaky in Star Wars as Hans Solo, but he gives a really compelling performance here and his interpretation of Solo is different but just as good as what Harrison Ford did on the screen. Ann Sachs turns in another great turn as Princess Leia and again, the audio makes her a much stronger character.

The same thing goes for Brock Peters who is absolutely brilliant as Vader, who also gets more scenes in the course of the search for rebel base and for Vader. Peters has captured the essence and menace of Vader while offering his own twist.

Anthony and Billy Dee Williams as well as Hammil turn in good performances that are little different than what they did on screen.

The sound effects and music are exactly what you’d expect from Lucasfilms and the action is really well-executed. The awkward adaptations from screen to audio in Star Wars has become much more seamless and natural.

Probably the only really disappointing aspect of the production was John Lithgow as Yoda. Lithgow is a talented actor who has gone to much bigger and better things, yet while Peters, King, and Sachs took their iconic roles and made them their own, Lithgow essentially does a so-so imitation of Frank Oz’s performance. It made me wish they’d just gotten Frank Oz in the first place.

Still, despite that weak spot, this is one of the best Audio Drama series I’ve heard. It shows greater appreciation for the medium and really hits it out of the park, making this iconic story come alive.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5.0

 

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