Category: Audio Drama Review

Audio Drama Review: Twenty-Six Hours

In Twenty-Six Hours (1952), Major Gregory Keen of MI-5 is dispatched to post-war Berlin. The diaries of a mentally unstable American general have been stolen by a ruthless ex-German General by the name of Manfred Von Remer who is holding them for ransom. The inflammatory nature of the diaries could set the world afire if they fall into the wrong hands  and its up to Keen to get the diaries with the initial plan of connecting with Remer, paying his ransom to get the diaries. However, it’s not that simple when both the Soviet MVD led by Colonel Pavlov and a neo-Nazi group led by Heinrich Schiller want the diaries as well.

This is the third Gregory Keen serial  produced by Australia’s Grace Gibson Productions (see reviews of Dossier on Demetrius and Deadly Nightshade) and far away, it is the best. For modern listeners, the serial may call to mind the TV series 24 and it bears some similarity to that, but not quite.

Like the previous two stories, 26 Hours is told over the course of 104 12-13 minute episodes. However, the previous two stories were set over the course of several weeks and in terms of story time, an episode might be set a few minutes after the previous or it might be set a day or two after the previous episode. In Dossier on Demetrius for example, there was time for a character to get critically wounded, go through weeks of recovery, and return to action. However, 26 hours is told in much more of a real time feel.

There’s no ticking time bomb of that will happen if the mission isn’t completed in 26 hours. It’s just stated from the beginning that’s how long Operation Quantro ran.

The result is quite pleasing as it creates a far more focused story. While there are a lot of characters in 26 hours, there are far less than in the previous stories and none as inconsequential as the shyster lawyer and designing legal secretary that showed up as a plot complication near the end of Deadly Nightshade.

The setting of 26 Hours in post-war pre-Wall Berlin is a fascinating and the series does a great job painting a picture of a bombed out ruined city still being rebuilt and going through the cold of winter. It’s evocative and realistic.

26 Hours is an astonishingly good spy story with all you can expect from a pre-Bond adventure with car chases, escapes through the sewer , prison breaks, daring rescues, standoffs with hand grenades, and missions behind enemy lies. The story is packed with thrills, and also suspense, as the radio drama does a great job setting up one tense situation after another. The final twenty parts or so are absolutely gripping radio.

Unlike its predecessors, 26 Hours relies far less on characters making stupid mistakes. Keen’s opponents: Remer, Pavlov, and Schiller are all solidly written intelligent characters who are very dangerous. The degree to which Keen outwits them comes from his own nerve (and boy he has nerve.)

Bruce Stewart, in his final serial as Keen, turns in a fantastic performance. In battle, Keen as tough as steel. However, away from the fray he’s a bit fragile and shell-shocked. The hours tick by and Keen keeps going. He’s haunted by the tragedy he’s seen in the prior two adventures, and this one. He’s fed up but he has a job to do.

The serial also features a solid romance with Keen falling for Remer’s accomplice Anna Hoffman. He’s determined to find someway to save her from the death that will eventually await Remer and offer her a better life than what she experienced in war-torn Berlin.

As usual, the story features a strong chemistry between Keen and his right hand man Sergeant Tommy Cutts. The strong bond of friendship between the two and conflict between friendship and duty is often quite moving.

There are things you could nitpick about  26 Hours. There are a few accents that are a bit off but not too many and some dialogue that’s a bit forced. However, that’s overwhelmed by just how good this story is. It is solidly entertaining and engaging, managing to portray realistic human emotion. The result is a true spy classic.

26 Hours can be purchased from the Grace Gibson shop which also has a free demo available.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5.0

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Audio Review: BBC Crimes: The Saint Overboard & The Saint Plays with Fire

In late Summer 1995, the BBC brough the Saint back to radio in a series of three radio plays starring Paul Rhys as Simon Templar: The Saint.

The first two of these plays are collected in a single audio release, “The Saint Overboard” and “The Saint Plays With Fire.”

“The Saint Overboard” has the Saint teaming up with a female insurance investigator who is trying to catch the culprit behind the looting of sunken vessels. She has a suspect but has to find out where he’s hidden the loot.

“The Saint Plays with Fire” on the surface level is about an arson and murder investigation but it has strong political overtones in a story that was originally written right before the outbreak of World War II.

Of the two, “The Saint Overboard” is the weaker story. It’s not a bad tale, but it does drag a bit in the middle and some of the side characters were a little tedious. The Saint also plays much more of an anti-hero in the story.

“The Saint Plays With a Fire” is a much more solid play. It’s a good mystery and the pre-war setting is pretty intriguing.

Overall, Paul Rhys is decent as the Saint. He’s definitely not going to make anyone forget George Sanders, Roger Moore, or Vincent Price, but he does a good job. He’s certainly not Val Kilmer and he’s a cut above Hugh Sinclair who replaced Sanders as the on-screen Saint in the 1940s.

The rest of the cast turns in exactly the type of solid performance you’d expect from the BBC. While it’s not a must-hear for fans of Leslie Charteris’ most famous creation, it’s still a well-done adaptation.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.0

This production is available from audible.com.

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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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