Category: Audio Drama Review

My Big Finish 20, Part One

My Big Finish Twenty

September is the 20th Anniversary of Big Finish productions turning out audio dramas and this month we’re celebrating with a series of articles looking at twenty great releases from Big Finish.

I should say that this is NOT a “Top 20 Big Finish” releases article, since I’ve not listened to every single Big Finish release. Some are only available on CD and shipping rates from the UK can be prohibitive. Some are for series that I’ve never gotten into like Blake’s 7 or Dark Shadows. Others I’d like to listen to someday but haven’t gotten around to. In addition, Big Finish has lost the license for some other properties such as Sapphire and Steel.

It’s also not my top twenty favorite releases. That would be heavily skewed towards Sci-Fi and certain Doctor Who actors. Rather this is a list of twenty great Big Finish releases. There’s still a lot of Science Fiction and Doctor Who on the list, but my aim is to cover a bit of the breadth of Big Finish’s catalog and offerings. I do have these in an order of quality. Comparing vintage mystery show revivals to madcap Science Fiction is a bit of a challenge, but we try.

20) Hound of the Baskervilles:

There have been many adaptations of the Hound of the Baskervilles, but this may be my favorite. Director/Star Nicholas Briggs and writer Richard Dinnick decided to do an absolutely faithful adaptation, which is impressive as most writers can’t seem to resist to tinkering with one of the greatest mystery novels of all time. What we get is the richness of the story, along with super but not intrusive sound effects. The cast is superb and professional, Briggs is a solid Holmes, and Richard Earl does a great job bringing Watson to life. One of the most remarkable facts about this is that the entire recording was done in a single day. It’s a must-listen-to for Holmes fans.

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19) Light at the End:

For the Fiftieth Anniversary of Doctor Who, on television, the Tenth and Eleventh known regenerations of the Doctor joined forces with the previously unknown War Doctor (played by John Hurt.) Yet, that left a lot of Doctors out. One of the key premises of Doctor Who is that when his life is in mortal jeopardy, the Doctor can regenerate into another human form.

Light at the End is the Anniversary special for all the other Doctors (save Christopher Eccleston, who took part in neither.) The five living Doctors from before the revived series (Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker, Sylvester McCoy, and Paul McGann) star along with one of their companions, with three now-deceased Doctors played by appropriate substitutes but only making brief appearances as they battle their long-time foe, The Master.

The most surprising thing about this story is that despite all these characters, the story is coherent. Writer Nicholas Briggs (who didn’t want to do a multi-Doctor story) wrote a script that managed to keep everything in balance and give each Doctor something to do, and give the script a coherent plot. Light at the End is a superb celebration of fifty years for the Doctor Who Series that still manages to hold up as a well-written, beautifully scored and directed production.

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18) Doctor Who:The Lost Stories The First Doctor Box Set

This was from Big Finish’s range of “Lost Stories,” which were adaptations of Doctor Who scripts that were written or proposed but never made for a variety of reasons. While the initial series focused on Colin Banker’s canceled second season as the Doctor, this expanded to the rest of the classic Doctors.

The First Doctor Box Set focused on two scripts written for William Hartnell’s First Doctor by Turkish writer Moris Farhi in 1964. During Hartnell’s time on Doctor Who, the series was split half between Science Fiction stories and historicals. The bulk of the box set is taken up by the story, Farewell Great Macedon, an epic script that puts the Doctor and his companions into the thick of events as they meet Alexander the Great just before his death.

Surviving cast members Carole Ann Ford and William Russell return as the companions Susan and Ian and voice the roles of their departed co-stars and provide narration in a brilliantly written story that manages to capture the feel of Early Doctor Who as well as pulling readers into the midst of this key time in history.

The second story, “The Fragile Yellow Arc of Fragrance” is good but a bit high-concept and it’s hard to see how it ever would have worked on television. At less than an hour long, it doesn’t have time to be fully developed. Still, if the second story is largely forgettable, the first story makes this box set well worth listening to.

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17)The Avengers: The Lost Episodes, Volume 3

When Americans think of the British TV series, The Avengers, they think of Emma Peel and John Steed bringing their larger-than-life adventures to America. They aired over the ABC TV network in Prime Time. Yet, before the Avengers came to America, there were three seasons of the series shot in the U.K. The first season of the series from 1961 was almost completely lost with only three episodes and part of another surviving.

Big Finish brought all 26 episodes of the first season to life in their Avengers: The Lost Episodes series which starred Julian Wadham as John Steed and Anthony Howell as Dr. David Keel, a general practitioner who joined Steed on missions after his fiancee is murdered by a gangster in the first episode.

The Lost Episodes are a much more straightforward 1960s crime drama, although later episodes do get into espionage. Big Finish does a great job creating the feel of the 1960s through sound effect, music, and the type of performances given, and several of these lost episodes show the first season of Avengers was good even in its early days.

For me, Series 3 is the best set of the series. Click here my full review of Series 3.

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16) How to Win Planets and Influence People

Not only can the Doctor regenerate, but so can his foes from his own race. Big Finish has added some new regenerations for some of the Doctor’s Time Lord enemies. Big Finish cast comedian Rufus Hound as a new version of the Meddling Monk and he’s had some great stories. However, my favorite thing Rufus Hound has done for Big Finish is the short trip, “How to Win Planets and Influence People.” This is part of the Doctor Who Short Trip range. Those usually feature a short Doctor Who story of between 25-40 minutes that’s available as a download only. However, this is a bit different.

In this story, the meddling monk is giving a speech to a corporate convention as a motivational speaker, giving attendees a crash course in supervillainy and detailing how to defeat the Doctor with his many examples of how he failed to defeat the Doctor.

The production does a great job playing off of Hound’s stand up skills, while also poking fun at Ted Talks, as well Sci-Fi genre conventions for both Doctor Who villains and supervillains in general. Yet, it becomes clear more is going on than just a speech as the story goes on. Overall, this release is just a hoot and a great showcase for Mister Hound’s talent.

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My Top Six Most Wanted Missing Old Time Radio Episodes

In podcasting, few things make me happier than getting word more detective radio programs have come into circulation. Over the last few seasons, we’ve revisited several series where I’d done every available episode for only for more episodes to come available.

The list of series I would love to have new episodes for is vast. I’d love more episodes of series that have 90% of their episodes missing, such as the Fat Man and The Thin Man. I’d love episodes for shows which we have only dozens of episodes out of hundreds, such as the Saint, Barrie Craig, and Nick Carter. I’d love more episodes of series where we already have most of them such as the Adventures of Philip Marlowe, Dragnet, Richard Diamond, and Johnny Dollar.

When it comes to specific missing episodes, the list is far shorter. We have no idea what the missing episodes are about, so one missing episode could be as good as another in theory. Yet, there are some episodes where we do have tantalizing details about them that make one I’m particularly curious about. Here are my top 6:

6) Dragnet, Production 1-June 3, 1949

We are missing the very first episode of Dragnet from the radio series that ran for six years and led to four different TV series, a major motion picture, and a successful spin-off in Adam 12. Production 1 is one of only eleven lost episodes of the radio show but it’s such a historic broadcast, and it’s a shame we can’t hear it. The only reason it ranks so low is we do have Production 2, which gives us a hint of what Production 1 was like with its very different opening theme and somewhat different style. Production 1 isn’t Dragnet as most people know it, but it’s still the beginning of the series, and I’d like to be able to hear it.

Note: This episode is one various sites frequently claim to have for sale, but when you listen to the episode, it’s actually Production 2.

5)Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Lonely Hearts Matter, Episode 4: April 28, 1956

The fifteen-minute Johnny Dollar serials with Bob Bailey are the best audio dramas of radio’s golden age. Thankfully, they are almost entirely intact, with only four installments missing. Three of these missing episodes are Parts Two or Three. If a chapter is going to be missing, one of these middle chapters is best as most plot developments are readily captured in recaps.

However, the Lonely Hearts Matter is missing Episode Four. In my opinion, that’s the second worst episode to be missing. The worst possible episode to not have is the final episode of the serial since you don’t know how the story ends. Episode Four is critical as it’s in this episode that Johnny begins to move towards the solution and the drama of the final chapter is set up. As it is now, the Lonely Hearts Matter is not a satisfying listen. The leap from parts three to five is a huge one.We can read about what happened in part four thanks to John C. Abbott’s definitive book on Johnny Dollar. However, there’s nothing like actually hear the episode.

4) Yours Truly Johnny Dollar: The Curly Waters Matter, 02/01/1959

After the end of the serial era, the show resumed the typical half-hour format. Most episodes were entirely self-contained. So while we may not have all the episodes, we don’t need them to understand the episodes we do have. One exception to this is the Curly Waters Matter. This episode is missing and that’s bad for two reasons. First, it introduces Betty Lewis who would be a recurring character for the last year and a half of the Bob Bailey era as Johnny’s first and only ongoing girlfriend. In addition, the plot for next week’s program’s (The Date of Death Matter) is a bit of a sequel to this one. Many of the events are recapped, so you can understand what went on in that episode, but it’s disappointing we couldn’t hear these events for ourselves.

3)Let George Do It: George Meets Sam Spade-09/26/1947

Dennis at the Digital Deli located a tantalizing ad from a newspaper for the radio series, Let George Do It with the caption, “George Meets Sam Spade.”

The radio show doesn’t exist in circulation (only one episode of Let George Do It from 1947 does), so we’re left with a lot of questions. Was this an actual team-up between George Valentine and Sam Spade despite being on different networks? Was it a guest appearance by Sam Spade actor Howard Duff on Let George Do It? Was it a situation where a parody of Sam Spade appeared, perhaps voiced by Elliott Lewis who worked for Mutual around this time and could be a soundalike for his friend Duff. We’ll never know until the episode is found.

2) Dragnet-The Big Cop-Original Air Date: 08/02/1951

This is the only radio/television episode of Dragnet from the 1950s to tackle the issue of police corruption. A listener emailed me with the theory the radio and TV versions of this episode were being suppressed. It doesn’t require a conspiracy. Hundreds of thousands of hours of 1950s radio are missing. That said, I’d love to see how Dragnet dealt with this topic in the 1950s.

Note: This is another episode that is often listed as being available for sale, but the episode sold is an unrelated burglary case.

1) Matthew Slade-The Day of the Phoenix, Part Three: July 1964

This episode concluded the 1960s Detective series Matthew Slade, Private Investigator. It aired in 1964, a couple years after the official end of the Golden Age of radio. The absence of the concluding episode of the Day of the Pheonix is why I’ve held off on doing this series.

This episode is tantalizing because there’s evidence it exists. It’s listed in the Digital Deli’s log, and I saw the episode for sale on a now-defunct website that offered Old Time Radio MP3 CDs. I didn’t buy it because of the seller’s shady setup, but it does give hope the show is out there.

We’re running out of great detectives that we haven’t done yet, so we may end up running Matthew Slade without Day of the Phoenix.

If you have any of these episodes, I’d love to hear them and to share them with my audience. Before emailing me, please be sure that you’ve listened to the episode and verified it is what it purports to be. (Particularly with the missing Dragnet episodes.)

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Audio Drama Review: The Red Panda Adventures, Season Three

The twelve episode 2007-2008 season of the Red Panda manages to do two things at once. Most episodes represent good standalone stories. However, several built towards long-term arcs and thematic points as well as developing the relationship between the Red Panda (Gregg Taylor) and Flying Squirrel (Clarissa Der Nederlanden Taylor) as they continued their adventures in 1930s Toronto..

Among the series highlights, “Tis the Season” is a fine Christmas special, writer/star Gregg Taylor made clear he wanted to match the tone and feel of Will Eisner’s Spirit Christmas stories and this story hits the spot nicely. In “the Callahan Mob,” Toronto is besieged by a new protection racket and there’s only one way to stop them and that’s to beat them at their own game. Easily the funniest episode of the season. “The Empty Box” is a great Shadowesque story with a series of creepy, unexplained murders of a jury who was promised revenge by a killer.

Two stories teased what’s to come in the rise of evil forces and the Nazi threat in “The Opening Gambit,” and the series finale, “The Field Trip.”

“The Field Trip” is probably my favorite episode of the season as the Red Panda went to New York City and found local superheroes having formed a bureaucratic organization that he has to go around to fight a dangerous Nazi scientist. This episode moves the relationship between Rad Panda and the Flying Squirrel in a new direction. It works really well because it laid the foundation throughout the season.

There were a couple episodes that didn’t work for me. The idea of “Now, the News,” was to offer three shorter adventures of the Red Panda that would have been features in newsreels. It’s not a bad idea, but the three stories weren’t connected and none were compelling on their own. “The Red Squirrel” finds the “Flying Squirrel” wondering who’s been impersonating her with seemingly superior technology. I won’t reveal the person’s identity, but she really is a bit of a Mary Sue in this story and for her to appear in this way needs more justification than we get.

Overall, this was another solid season. It managed to continue to offer new adventures in the style we’ve been accustomed to while advancing character arcs and continuing ongoing plots in a way that makes me ready for Season 4.

Overall rating: 4 out of 5.

Season 3 of the Red Panda Adventures is available to listen to for free online here.

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Audio Drama Review: More of Poirot’s Finest Cases


After its first collection of Poirot Audio Dramas, Poirot’s Finest Cases, the BBC has served up another collection called, More of Poirot’s Finest Cases.

The first collection contained Eight mysteries starring John Moffat as the famous Belgian Detective. That collection did contain most of the best Poirot cases. This collection is a reminder that Christie wrote a lot of great Poirot novels.

Overall, these stories are a notch below the first collection, the production values are up a bit. While most of the stories in the first set all seemed to have the same sort of generic 1920s opening theme, these do have more individualized musical scores and themes, “Sad Cyrpess” has a haunting opening. Audible’s division of these stories into chapters is a little less satisfactory as it takes each story and cuts it in half, even though some were serialized and some were broadcast as feature-length productions.

The stories on the collection are “Evil Under the Sun,” “Sad Cypress,” “Murder in Mesopotamia,” “Lord Edgeware Dies,” “Hallowe’en Party,” “Murder on the Links,” and “Five Little Pigs.”

Most of these are good Poirot tales. My favorite would be, “Five Little Pigs.” This particular production was my first exposure to Poirot, so I have a soft spot for it. It’s the story of Poirot helping a young woman considering marriage asking Poirot to investigate whether her mother murdered her father sixteen years previously. Poirot takes on this cold case and meets all the principles who are still alive. I like how the production brings each character to life and the solution is clever with a well-done denouement.

The weakest release in the set is, “Hallowe’en Party” where a young teenager known for telling wild tales mentions to mystery novelist Ariadne Oliver at a Hallowe’en Party that she once observed a murder but didn’t know it was a murder. She’s subsequently found murdered by being drowned in an apple bobbing tank. This story is well-performed and well-adapted, but this is generally not viewed as one of Christie’s better works. The story is darker than most other Christie’s stories as we have the murder of not one but two children. Yet, I don’t think those murderers were given the appropriate emotional weight. Add in a convoluted solution and this one one is the weakest story in the set.

“Murder on the Links” is a good story, but it’s different from most Poirot stories. This was only Christie’s second Poirot novel and he’s a lot more concerned with physical  evidence, as opposed to the psychological evidence Poirot is known for. Also, this story features Jeremy Clyde as Captain Hastings, who in the other radio adaptations was played by Simon Williams. This leads to a younger Captain Hastings which is a bit odd, though the performance is fine.

Overall, this set is a bargain for Poirot fans. For a single audible Credit, or a low purchase price, you get seven Poirot audio dramas featuring John Moffat. The stories are not Poirot’s greatest, but most have a high quality. When coupled with better production values, this makes this set a worthwhile purchase.

Rating:4.25 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: Jago and Litefoot Forever

Jago and Litefoot was one of the finest speculative fiction audio drama series ever made. It featured veteran actors Christopher Benjamin and Trevor Baxter in the leading roles of theater impresario Henry Gordon Jago and pathologist Professor George Litefoot. The two first played the roles in the 1977 Doctor Who Story, “The Talons of Weng-Chiang” and were first reunited in the one-off pilot story, “The Mahogany Murderers.” We’ve discussed the series in depth before.

Baxter’s death in 2017 meant the end of the series, which had finished its 13th series on a cliffhanger.

Jago and Litefoot Forever offers fans one last chance to say goodbye. The aftermath of Series Thirteen was resolved through exposition by Jago. Professor Litefoot has disappeared. Jago looks for him with the help of old friends but finds his memory starting to fade. The plot has some nice twists and a few red herrings thrown in to keep the listener guessing. For Jago and Litefoot, the plot is about average, though with some high points in it.

Much of the running time is taken up by flashback scenes as Jago and other characters recall past adventures. Professor Litefoot is given a part in the proceedings by copying dialogue from previous stories into this one. Writer Paul Morris went through the more than sixty scripts that’d been performed over the years to find lines he could give the Professor. The unavoidable flaw with this approach is that often Litefoot’s delivery feels unnatural to the context of the play.

With the use of clips and previously recorded dialogue, the cynic might compare this to Trail of the Pink Panther, the critically panned sixth Pink Panther film made after star Peter Sellers died. Trail used clips of previous Pink Panther movies and outtakes from previous films. It’s a point that producer David Richardson addresses in the extras. Despite the superficial similarity, Jago and Litefoot is something entirely different.

The writing is still solid, if not remarkable. Other than the somewhat awkward use of Baxter’s old lines, the production values remain high. The release succeeds as a tribute to Baxter and to the series with the return of several beloved guest stars, including Doctor Who Actor Colin Baker and Louise Jameson (who played the Fourth Doctor’s companion Leela). The ending also serves as a nice capstone for the series.

The release comes with some nice extras. The CD release includes the first CD release of the Jago and Litefoot short story, “The Jago and Litefoot Revival”  which is read by Baxter and Benjamin. It tells of the two Victorian Adventurers meeting with the Tenth and Eleventh Doctors from the revived series. The behind-the-scenes extras include interviews with all the principles. The extras give insight into the making of the release as well as what would have been in the Fourteenth Series. There’s also a lovely variation on the theme by composer Jamie Robertson.

Jago and Litefoot Forever was made with obvious love and respect for the series. It’s not intended for new listeners. However, for long-time fans, it provides a chance to properly say goodbye to a great series and is definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

The series exclusively at BigFinish.com through the end of the month.