Category: Audio Drama Review

Audio Drama Review: Charlotte Pollad Box Set

Charlotte Pollard Box Set
As we continue to honor Big Finish’s 15th Anniversary of doing Doctor Who Audio plays, we’ll take a look now at their latest Doctor Who Spinoff series, Charlotte Pollard.

Charley Pollard (India Fisher) was introduced as Eighth Doctor Paul McGann’s companion in 2001 and continued in that role until 2007. She is most aptly described as an Edwardian Adventuress, originally from the 1930s. In 2007, she departed from the Eighth Doctor, falsely believing him to have died. She then ended up travelling with the Sixth Doctor, a previous regeneration which caused untold paradoxes. She ended up leaving the Sixth Doctor in 2009’s Blue Forgotten Planet, and began travelling with the Viyrans, a race dedicated to ridding the universe of a series of viruses released in an explosion.

The Charlotte Pollard Box Set features four adventures of about an hour as Charley breaks free of the Viyrans and begins her own adventures.

1) The Lamentation Cipher

This story picks up with Charley continuing her work for the Viyrans who have been repeatedly using her services for a time and then putting her into Chryogenic sleep until needed in. Charley is not happy with this life though she believes the Viyrans intents are altruistic. However, when a mysterious Viyran who is different from the semi-automotons of that race offers her a chance to escape she takes it and eventually makes it.

This is a necessary chapter as it does a great job establishing where Charley is at and Robert Buckham Jr. (James Joyce) and others who would be play a key role in the story. It also does the necessary work of introducing people to the character who hadn’t followed the Doctor Who stories Charley appeared in.

2) The Shadow at the Edge of the World:

Charley escapes from the Viyrans via the Forever and Ever Perlexity and finds herself in the 1930s wandering with a group of women who are the last survivors of an expedition. The story has plenty of suspense and atmosphere and is a great all female performance. (With the exception of monster voices done by Producer Nick Briggs.)

3) The Fall of the House of Pollard

This story focuses on Charley’s family and at last she returns home only to find how much her disappearance has affected them. At times, the pacing is a little slow as it takes quite for Charley to interact with her parents. The way Charley actually gets home is oddly contrived and doesn’t make much sense, the cruel treatment of the character of Michael Dee seems gratuitous, and the ending is disappointing. Still, the scenes with Charley and her family are moving with Terrance Hardiman and Anneke Wills turning in solid performances as Lord and Lady Pollard. This one works primarily as a character piece that probes issues rarely raised in the classic Doctor Who series about what happens to the families of those who travel in time and space.

4) The Viyran Solution

Charley is back with the Viyrans and learns that the virus hunting cyborgs have come up with a solution to eliminating all viruses but it’s one that is so insane that the entire Universe depends on her discovering it and thwarting it. Meanwhile, Robert Buckham Sr. has other plans to use the Viyrans for his own profit.

The story concludes in a way that could mark, a “the end” moment for Charley or could leave the door open for future installments.

This also comes with a bonus “making of” CD with more than an hour of interviews with writers and cast members on each episode.

The series has some high points. Throughout, everyone performs well. Though Charley is a bit more cynical than her run with the Doctor, she still a likable character who delivers some great lines, particularly in Episode 4. The story concepts are interesting particularly in Episode 2, which gives a good idea of what Charley would be like in an adventure where the Viyrans were not playing such a huge role as pursuers.

The downside as I see it is that Charley’s actual role in these drams is a bit too passive. Charley doesn’t come up with clever plans or even take initiative for the most part. For example, her escape from the Viyrans in the first episode wasn’t really her idea. While she makes a couple key decision in Episodes 2 and 4, the first box set of Charlotte Pollard is much more about things happening to Charley rather than her doing anything or making anything happen. That’s fine if you’re the sidekick. Not so much if you’re the main character.

However, I hope there is a second series of adventures. Charley’s definitely a fun character with a very unique voice. The stories are well-written and intelligent, and the folks at Big Finish are consummate professionals whose use of sound effects makes the story come to life with fantastic sound effects.

Overall, I give Series One a rating of 7/10.

The Charlotte Pollard Box Set  is available from Big Finish Productions.

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Audio Drama Review: 12 Angry Men

12 Angry Men was first written as an episode of the Anthology Show, Studio One and then turned into the classic 1957 film starring Henry Fonda and Lee Cobb. It’s the culturally iconic story of twelve men in jury room in the Capital case of a young man accused of killing his father and how these very different people interact and how their biases and perceptions shape the way they vote. The film became a classic which was parodied and copied more times than anyone could count. In 1997, it was made into a HBO telefilm but updated to modern times. Rose also made a stage version which was performed by LA Theatre Works in 2005 and released as an audio drama.

Of course, the script is solid with great tension. The weakest part of the play is at the beginning. The judge reads the jury instructions in monotone and every line of dialogue seems to be delivered just a tad too fast. This might have been the director’s attempt to show the rush to judgment but it doesn’t work all that well.

However, once the cast gets going, they’re true professionals. Some of the voices in here include Hector Elizondo as Juror #10, Dan Castellaneta (Homer Simpson) as Juror #5, and Armin Shimerman (Quark from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) as Juror #4. The story unfolds beautifully with a lot of high tension scenes and most of them come off brilliantly on stage and on audio.

The relatively weak performance of the play had to be Jeffrey Donovan as Juror #8, the story’s protagonist. It’s a tough role to be sure particularly when giants like Henry Fonda and Jack Lemon have played the role on screen, but Donovan’s performance was just weak. Given the caliber of the rest of the case, it’s surprising they didn’t get a stronger performer for this role.

Also, this is not a true audiodrama but rather a recording of a play. This really only hurts in one scene where Juror #3 delivers a racist tirade and the entire jury, those who vote guilty and not guilty turn their backs on him. On stage, the audience could see it, but the audio audience had to rely on memories of the film and just hope that was what was going on.

The way Rose wrote the play or the way the Director adapted Rose’s play (I’m not sure which) also hurt the quality of the story. In the scene where Juror #9 analyzes why an elderly witness may have pretended to see more than he actually saw due to his feeling insignificant, another juror challenged this and a single look at the camera told us that the elderly juror was just like witness. Here, it has actually be said and in a way that’s a little clumsy.

Discussion of a piece of psychological testimony is added to the play but that actually detracts from the story, and in the same scene from the movie that’s so powerful, Rose seems unable to resist the temptation to overwrite in the play.

In the ’57 film, After Juror #3 goes on a racist tirade and tells people to listen, Juror #4 says, “I have. Now sit down and open your mouth again.” The change is slight and perhaps in the 1997 version where Juror #4 says, “Sit down! And don’t open your filthy mouth again.” These are powerful moments. In the play version, Juror #4 gives a much longer less crisp response.

In some ways, this might be nitpicking, but when a radio play in based on such a famous and profoundly brilliant drama, it invites it. The original 12 Angry Men is nearly perfect for what it is, this stage play recording falls short.

That doesn’t mean the audio version is without merit. It’s $6.95 on Audible or $4.86 if you’re an Audible member and at 1 hour and 50 minutes (which includes a 17 minute interview with Rose’s widow) it’s great for a long drive and manages to do a good job with most of the key moments and performances.

Overall I’d rate it 3.5 out of 5.0.

12 Angry Men is available at audible.

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Radio Drama Review: Death on the Nile

The plot of Death on the Nile is familiar to me. In the past,  I’ve reviewed the Ustinov big screen version and the David Suchet version.   Recently, I was pleased to enjoy the BBC Radio 4 version.

It can seem odd to listen to, watch, and experience a mystery multiple times because to the viewer or listener, it’s no longer a mystery. We know whodunit and we know why. Yet, there are some stories that are so compelling that the stories never get old. And that’s definitely the case with Death on the Nile. 

The plot has Poirot (John Moffat) on vacation in Egypt and stepping smack into the middle of huge drama.  Simon and Linnet Doyle are on their honeymoon being staked by Jacqueline, Simon’s former fiancee who he jilted in order to marry Linnet, who was Jacqueline’s far richer best friend. Poirot sees trouble coming and tries to head it off, warning Jacqueline not to let evil into her.  However, the tragedy occurs when Linnet is murdered with Jacqueline’s gun. However, Jacqueline didn’t do it as she had just attempted to kill Simon and had panicked and was staying with a nurse at the time Linnet died.

The good news for Poirot is that the boat is full of potential suspects or at  the very least, people who have their own secrets to hide.  Thus Poirot has to sift through an amazing array of lies to find what really happened.

While you listening to the radio adaptation, you may miss the stunning visuals that defined the television and film adaptations, I think that the radio version may have the been the best at capturing the emotional conflicts at the heart of Death on the Nile. The pacing is very deliberate. It was aired a five part drama, and the first murder didn’t occur until the end of  part three. They really did a great job setting up the situation and the characters. The interactions between Poirot and Jacqueline are priceless, and the resolution to the secondary storylines add a more positive counterbalance that makes this enjoyable.

Death on the Nile is a great story that brings home the brilliance of the murder and the tragedy of the perpetrators in a way that captures the imagination and makes this a must-listen to Poirot adaptation.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

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Radio Drama Review: The Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon

In January 1934, newspaper readers were introduced to the adventures of Flash Gordon, an athletic Yale graduate who is kidnapped by Doctor Zarkov and taken in a rocket to the planet Mongol along with the lovely Dale Arden.

In 1935, Hearst brought Flash Gordon to radio a 26-part adventure starring Gale Gordon as Flash Gordon in The Interplanetary Adventures of Flash Gordon. Radio serials from this era are relatively rare, so I was surprised to find the whole 26 part story is available for listeners.

The serial is actually not all that good to start with. While it’s a faithful adaptation of the comic strip, the writers seemed to struggle with being faithful while transitioning Flash Gordon from a visual to an aural medium. One big thing was that very important scenes were skipped over in the early going, so you felt someone was giving highlight of the story rather than you listening to it.

The serial got much better around the sixth episode as the scene shifted to Flash’s goal of taking over  the Blue Magic land from the witch Queen Azura. What followed over the next eighteen episodes was a dazzling display of imagination and plot twists with hypnosis potions, invisibility machines, angry dwarfs and a wide variety of reversals of fortune. This was radio fantasy for kids with all its gusto.

The series did break with continuity in the comic books,  so it could bring listeners another program. Episode 24 ended with Flash, Dale, and Zarkov accidentally heading back towards Earth in a rocket ship and in Episode 25 they crashed in the Jungle near long time radio character Jungle Jim. In Episode 26, the two were finally wed to wrap up the series, so that Jungle Jim could take over its time slot.  This wouldn’t be the last Flash Gordon was heard on the radio, but it would be the last complete program.

Overall, the serial was good.  Some people might be offended by Flash’s active conquest, but in the end it’s just fantasy.  While the beginning was rushed, and the end while good was a little out of place, the middle chapters are packed with great story.  The acting quality varies quite a bit from character to character and there are a fair share of hams on the story, but the series works.

It particularly works as a promotion for the Flash Gordon comic strip. Characters like the Blue Magic Men, Hawk Men all sound exciting, fun, and worth seeing as well as hearing.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Doctor Who: The Highlanders

Just like the first of the Second Doctor episodes of Doctor Who, only the audio remains for the second serial, “The Highlanders.”

In The Highlanders, the Second Doctor (Patrick Troughton) and his companions Ben and Polly find themselves caught in the midst of a war between the British red coats and the Scottish highlanders.  The Doctor and his companions have to escape from the British and get back to the TARDIS while also thwarting the plot of a corrupt government barrister who plans to ship captured Scots to brutal slavery on Carribean Islands.

This story isn’t as good as Power of the Daleks, but it definitely is worth a listen. This serial features some great comic scenes for Troughton and the Doctor certainly shows some cleverness in this tightly plotted story.  This was actually a surprisingly strong story for Polly who in two previous stories I’ve seen/heard her in, her role was limited to making coffee as serving as a hostage. In this case, she’s the one member of the TARDIS not captured and key to their rescue.

This serial was noteworthy for a couple other reasons. After about a third of the First Doctor stories were historicals, Troughton wanted to get away from them, so this would be the last purely historical Dr. Who episode until 1982. Also, this episode introduced the character of Jamie McCrimmon (Frazier Hines) who appeared in more Doctor Who episodes than any other companion.

Overall, this is a historic serial with plenty of fun, swashbuckling action, and the introduction of a great companion in Jamie, so it’s definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0