Category: Audio Drama Review

Audio Drama Review: The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 4


The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 4 brings together six more Twilight Zone radio episodes:

“Steel” stars Lou Gossett, Jr. as a fight manager and former fighter in a world that’s outlawed humans boxing and now leaves it to robots. Gossett’s character has an assistant who doubts the efficacy of everything Gossett’s character does which begs the question of why the question of why the guy is training an outdated robot boxer. Despite that, this one still works for its overall thrust about the triumph of the human spirit in a world that seems to try to move human beings towards obsolescence.

“Four o’Clock” stars Stan Freberg as a crank who persecutes everyone as guilty of some kind of evildoing and sets out a plan to shrink every evil person to two feet tall. This episode is mostly Freberg ranting as an over the top character. It seems like a commentary on the McCarthy era using the most cartoonish caricature possible.

“Uncle Simon” features a woman named Barbara (Beverly Garland) who has spent her life caring for her disabled, brilliant, and cruel uncle (Mark Richman) in hopes of inheriting his estate. He has a secret experiment he carries on but won’t tell her about. This is an all-time classic Twilight Zone story with a great twist. Garland was a true professional and turns in the best performance of the entire set.

“The Parallel” is about an astronaut (Lou Diamond Phillips) who returns to Earth from space but everything in his life seems to be slightly different. This one may be a story that doesn’t hold up well in modern times. Genre savvy fans will easily guess what’s going on and the title may give the game away for modern fans. The solution to the problem is well-executed but  simple with relatively little consequence. The story’s strength is supposed to be its concept but the concept’s been done so often and so much better that this is the most forgettable story in the collection.

“A Hundred Yards Over the Rim” begins with a wagon train traveling from Ohio to Arizona. A man (Jim Caviezel) goes to see if he can find help for his sick son and stumbles into the then-present day. While in some ways, this feels like the Time Travel version of “Parallel,” there’s a bit more to the story emotionally with our hero trying to save the son, plus there’s a powerful idea of pioneers seeing the West that was founded on their efforts and the society that emerged. It’s a solid tale.

“One for the Angels” is about a kindly salesman (Ed Begley, Jr.) who has just gotten by in life. He’s kind to the kids in the neighborhood but is otherwise unremarkable. That’s when Death arrives to tell him to give him time to prepare to die. However, the Salesman objects he never had a  successful big pitch and asks time to achieve this pitch “for the angels.” Death agrees, but the salesman resolves to one-up Death by never making the pitch. However, Death is hard to cheat. Over television, the part of the salesman was played by comedy Ed Wynn. While Begley’s not the same sort of actor, he does do a good job and this is an enjoyable take on the story.

Overall, this is a pretty good collection. While there were a couple of stories that didn’t work as well as I’d like, these six trips into the Twilight Zone make for nice listening.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: The Red Panda Adventures, Season 6

The Red Panda Adventures’ sixth season brings the Red Panda (Gregg Taylor) and the Flying Squirrel (Clarissa Der Nederlanden Taylor) into the World War II properly after several episodes in the previous five seasons laid the groundwork and included several pre-war clashes with the Axis powers and their agents.

As the series opens, the Red Panda is restless and eager to go to war. However, Kit has taken a job as a writer for the Chronicle, a paper August Fenwick owns. She thinks the Red Panda’s work on the homefront is vital and writes glowing pieces highlighting that importance hoping to keep him home. However at the end of the premiere, Fenwick enlists.

To his disappointment, the Red Panda doesn’t go to war. Instead he is assigned to the Home Team, a group of super humans under the command of Colonel Fitzroy who he met in the previous season and doesn’t trust.

There’s a really good dynamic as the Red Panda and Flying Squirrel have to adjust to a new reality. The Red Panda previously ran his own organization and kept all other mystery men out of Toronto. In this season, most of his operatives are gone, and he has to team up with other heroes and even a few villains in his effort to stop the Axis.

I liked how real history was blended with fiction, and as an American I picked up some things I’d never heard about because they occurred before the U.S. entered the war. The season finale is also one of the best so far ending the season on a massive cliffhanger.

The two heroes spend most of the season on the trail of Archangel, a Nazi agent performing sabotage and instructing his underlings to pretend to be him. It got tiresome after a while and the pay off was unimpressive.

Kit’s newspaper career was another issue because nothing in the previous five seasons hinted this was a talent or even an interest in journalism. In addition, the character of editor Pearly comes off as a poor man’s Perry White and can be a bit grating at times.

The episode, “Girls Night Out” featured Kit heading west and encountering and a new female superhero. It was a bit contrived.

Still, despite the flaws, it was an enjoyable season. It does build to a big finale and manages to offer a nice mix of superhero action, science fiction, and war time drama.

Rating: 4.00 out of 5

The Red Panda Adventures Season 6 is available on the Decoder Ring Theatre Website for free download.

The Top Ten Big Finish Stories of 2019, Part Two

Continued from Part One

5) Lies in Ruin by James Goss starring Paul McGann, Alex Kingston, Lisa Bowerman, and Alexandra Riley from the Legacy of Time

This is the first story in Big Finish’s big 20th Anniversary box set. It opens with two Doctor Who archaeologists River Song (Kingston) and Bernice Summerfield (Bowerman) meeting on the ruins of a destroyed world. The Doctor (McGann) arrives and they realize what the ruins are (or think they do.)

While this is a big story with huge sci-fi concepts, it also works well as a character piece. Most of the story is the Doctor, River, Bernice, and the Doctor’s new companion Ria (Riley) interacting and it plays out beautifully. It’d have been tempting in bring River Song and Bernice Summerfield together to turn the entire story into a tit for tat verbal battle. Lies in Ruin doe have such moments, but the story moves on. McGann’s performance is marvelous, bringing his most melancholy and sad take on the Eighth Doctor late in his life. It helps even elevate Ria and give her annoying character some pathos.

4) Space 1999: Breakaway by Nicholas Briggs, Starring Mark Bonnar and Maria Teresa Creasey

I did a full review on two hour pilot episode last year (see here). This was a great re-imagining of the Gerry Anderson classic about a Moon Base about to launch a major space mission, but also dealing with a mysterious illness. Great acting, superb sound design, and definitely an intriguing story that whet my appetite for more.

3) The Sacrifice of Jo Grant by Guy Adams, Starring Katy Manning, Tim Treloar, Jemma Redgrave, and Ingrid Oliver from The Legacy of Time 

While observing a time anomaly,  UNIT leader Kate Stewart (Redgrave) and former Unit Agent Jo Grant-Jones (Manning) are sucked back in time to the 1970s where they meet the incarnation of the Doctor Jo traveled with, played by Tim Treloar.

This story works on a number of levels. There’s humorous moments, but it’s a great character piece, particularly in the focus on the relationship between the Doctor and Jo. It’s sweet to see how they interact and how the much older version of Jo relates to the Doctor she knew as a young woman. It’s a well-paced, fun, and emotionally satisfying listen.

2. Doctor Who and the Star Beast written by Alan Barnes from a comic strip by Pat Mills and John Wegner, starring Tom Baker and Rhianne Starbuck from Doctor Who, the Comic Strip Adaptations, Volume 1

This  was adapted from a Doctor Who Magazine Comic strip from 1980. In this story, a teenage foster child (Starbuck) decides to protect a cute alien from authorities. whose spaceship crashed. The Doctor (Tom Baker) gets caught in the middle as another group of aliens are hunting the cute alien and have mis-identified the Doctor as an accomplice.  However, another wrinkle is thrown in as we learn that the cute alien named Beep the Meep (Bethan Dixon Bate) is nowhere near as innocent as he appears.

In some ways, this comes off as a bit of a twisted send-up of E.T. (even though E.T. wasn’t produced until years after the comic strip.) It’s Doctor Who at its most wacky and insane, but it’s cleverly written and does work in a few emotional beats. The cast is great and it sounds like Baker is having fun with the material, which makes for a delightful listen.

1) No Place, Written by James Goss, Starring David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Bernard Cribbins, and Jacqueline King

This story finds the Doctor (Tennant) pretending to be married to his companion Donna (Tate). They’re traveling with her grandfather Wilf (Cribbins) and her mother Sylvia (King) as they’re remodeling a haunted house for a reality TV show.

This story has a lot going for it. There are multiple mysteries including what’s going on in the house and why the Doctor and why the Doctor and friends are even doing this. There are scary moments and fun moments. The characters play well off each other as everyone picks right up from where they left off on television a decade ago without a missing a beat. 

It’s enjoyable from start to finish and my favorite Big Finish story of 2019.

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The Top Ten Big Finish Stories of 2019, Part One

I’m a huge fan of Big Finish Audio Dramas. Mostly the ones I listen to feature stories with the past stars of Doctor Who reprising their original roles in new science fiction adventures as well as several Doctor Who spin-offs featuring other characters.

Big Finish releases a ton of new stories packaged together in box sets. I haven’t heard them all, so I can’t consider this a definitive list by any means of the best of the Big Finish. It is only the best of what I’ve heard of their 2019 releases.

10. The Perfect Prisoners by John Dorney starring Tom Baker and Jane Slavin from the Fourth Doctor Adventures, Series 8, Volume 2

This two episode story wraps up an eight episode two box set story where the Fourth Doctor (Baker) is joined by 1970s Police Woman Ann Kelso (Slavin) as they investigate a crime syndicate with schemes that stretch across time and space. This is a very complicated plot involving a sinister mind control scheme as well as multiple layers to the mystery of who is running the syndicate. We also get some big revelations about Ann that have an emotionally powerful impact on the Doctor.

9) Day of the Master written by John Dorney, starring Paul McGann, Nicola Walker, Hattie Moran, Michelle Gomez, Derek Jacoby, Eric Roberts, Geoffrey Beevers, and Mark Bonnar from Ravenous 4:

This is the big finale to the four box set Ravenous series and it is an epic story with multiple things going on. The Doctor (McGann) and Companions (Walker and Moran) have to stop the Ravenous from destroying the universe after the Master (Beavers) was apparently killed by them in the previous story. Like the Doctor, the Master is a Time Lord with multiple regenerations and three of these (Gomez, Jacobi, and Roberts) begin to get in the way of the Doctor and companions but eventually come together and team up. The series does a lot. Its an exciting two hour adventure with so many twists. It provides some real fun to hear these many iterations of the Master play off each other. At the same time, the story doesn’t forget that the Doctor is the hero and still gives him plenty to do. The deeper you are into Big Finish, the more you get out of this story as it not only provides the payoff for four box sets of the Ravenous story, but also pays off and answers questions that go back years before.  However, it doesn’t require a deep knowledge of the continuity to enjoy it.

8. The Vardan Invasion of Mirth written by Paul Morris and Ian Atkins, starring Peter Purves and Steven Critchlow from the Companion Chronicles: The First Doctor, Volume 3

Steven Taylor (Purves) finds himself separated from the First Doctor and seemingly stranded on Earth in the 1950s and working in a TV repair shop. However, he receives a mysterious message via television from the Doctor that leads him on a path to playing straight man to old time comic Teddy Baxter (Critchlow). The idea of Taylor (one of the Doctor’s more serious and no-nonsense companions) appearing in a comedy act is funny itself. However, the story is a charming and heart-warming tribute to the comedy of that era which Purves requested and the sincerity really shines through. Critchlow is great as Baxter as there’s some laughs to add but also a lot of sadness. The story has a nice mystery with a few good twists and this is a really fun hour of entertainment.

7. Companion Piece written by John Dorney, starring Nicola Walker, Hattie Moran, India Fisher, Alex Kingston, Rahkee Thakrar, John Heffernan, and Paul McGann from Ravenous 3:

This is an unusual story set during the Ravenous saga as the Doctor’s main companions for this series (Walker and Moran) are kidnapped from the events of Ravenous series by the Nine (Heffernan), a kleptomaniac Time Lord who decides to go about collecting all of the Doctor’s companions. There are cameos by a lot of different companions but the focus is on the companions of the Eighth Doctor (McGann): past (Pollard), present, and future (Thakrar) as well as River Song (Kingston.) They’ve got to come together to thwart the Nine and get back to their own place in time. It’s ultimately a distraction from the on-going story arc, but what a fun distraction.

6. The Bekdel Test written by Jonathan Morris, starring Alex Kingston and Michelle Gomez from the Diary of the River Song, Volume 5

This is set during the time that River Song (Kingston) was imprisoned for murdering the Doctor. She’s transferred to the Bekdel Institute, a prison filled with dangerous inmates, and most dangerous of all is Missy (Michelle Gomez), one of the Doctor’s oldest enemies. This story delivers on so many levels. Kingston and Gomez play off each other with some hilariously witty banter and a few really good character moments. The idea of the Bekdel institute is incredibly well-executed as a concept. Its name is a clever play on words for the so-called Bechdel test for female characters in fiction which also plays into the main plot of the story. This one has some really clever twists and nice surprises. It’s a superbly written piece that really lets these characters play off each other and the result is a delight.

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Audio Drama Review: The Holly Tree Inn

While Charles Dickens is beloved for his novel A Christmas Carol, that’s far from his only Christmas work. He wrote several Christmas stories. This is the fifth one that Colonial Radio Theater has adapted.

“The Holly Tree Inn” is a short story about a man caught in a snowstorm on Christmas Eve and taking refuge at the Holly Tree Inn where he wiles away time talking with the people at the Inn. As soon as the storm lifts, he’s continuing on his efforts to leave the country as he believes his sweetheart has jilted him for his best friend..

The Holly Tree Inn is a dialogue-heavy story. There’s little movement which can be a challenge with an audio drama. However, this is helped by the fact that the dialogue is by Charles Dickens which means there are some fun turns of phrases, stories told within the story, etc. In addition, Colonial does a superb job adapting it with its typical professionalism and a nice score.

The Holly Tree Inn is a sweet little story. It’s not much more than people sitting around during a snowstorm talking but it has a moral that is well-taken, if not earth-shattering. If you’d enjoy a relaxing story while wrapping presents or de-stressing from the Holidays, this is a bit of comfort listening.

Rating:3.25 out of 5