Category: Golden Age Article

My Big Finish Twenty, Part Three

We continue our look at twenty great Big Finish releases in celebration of Big Finish’s Twentieth Anniversary. Last week we covered numbers 15-11. See Part One for numbers 20-16. This week we’ll cover numbers 10-6.

10) UNIT Encounters

Big Finish’s original Doctor Who license was limited to production based on the classic era of Doctor Who and the first eight Doctors. That changed in 2015 as they were allowed to tell stories based on characters in the revived series. The first new series that Big Finish did was UNIT featuring Kate Stewart (Jemma Redgraves) and Osgood (Ingrid Oliver) and adding a new cast of characters around them. The UNIT releases are action-packed stories of UNIT defending the Earth from danger in the absence of the Doctor.

Encounters is one of my favorite of these sets. While generally, the UNIT box sets feature four hour-long episodes based on a single threat, this is much more an anthology piece. In four different episodes, the UNIT team deals with a disabled Dalek in South America, has a creepy sci-fi ghost story, meets up with classic Doctor Who monsters like the Sontarans, and has a hilarious meet-up with an alternate dimension. It’s a fun box set that shows the great range of both the writers and the actors.

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9) Live 34

This is one of Big Finish’s most impressive experimental stories as we are brought four separate news casts from the radio station Live 34, the top channel on Colony 34 where the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and his companions Ace (Sophia Allred) and Hex (Philip Oliver)  have inserted themselves to challenge the regime of Premier Jaeger, the Colony’s long-time ruler, who has been delaying a general election for five years.

The story is chillingly realistic. The news programs feel true to life. Andrew Collins and Duncan Wiseby deserve a lot of credit for the way they played a news anchor and a news magazine host respectively. They manage to create a feeling of authenticity that brings appropriate gravity to the proceedings. The realism makes the grim nature of this police state planet feel plausible and that’s terrifying.

One complaint some people have about the story is that we’ve seen this all before: tyrannical government feeds masses misinformation and oppresses the planet, Doctor comes to the rescue. Yes, that’s true. But the difference between a good Doctor Who story and a bad one isn’t the total originality of the plot, it’s how the story is told. And this one is told brilliantly in a way that makes the grim reality of a police state come to life.

 

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8) The First Doctor Adventures, Volume 1

I was dubious of this series. The idea was to record adventures featuring the First Doctor, played by David Bradley (who played the original First Doctor William Hartnell in an Adventure in Space and Time.) The series also had the actors who played the original Doctor Who companion actors in that same film play the First Doctor’s companions. This seemed gimmicky and unnecessary.

Yet, it worked wonderfully. The two stories were marvelous. “The Destination Wars” features the First Doctor encountering the Doctor Who villain the Master in an encounter that predates their meeting on television in a great science fiction time manipulation plot. Then there’s “The Great White Hurricane” which finds the crew landing in New York City just before the Great Blizzard of 1888. This story is a fantastic historical which brings to life a part of American history which I’d never heard about before and tells a really compelling story.

The acting is also superb as each of the leads offers their own interpretation of their classic roles and makes these characters their own. Whether you’re a fan of the original Hartnell stories or not, this box set features some incredibly well-done drama and is definitely worth a listen.

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7) The War Doctor: Casualties of War

For Doctor Who’s Fiftieth Anniversary, the series introduced legendary British actor John Hurt as a previously unseen incarnation of the Doctor (the War Doctor) who lived and fought during the great Time War with the Daleks. Hurt’s appearances on TV were limited to two TV episodes, but Big Finish did a series of four three-episode box sets examining the life of the War Doctor, of which this is the last, having been released just after Hurt’s death in January 2017.

The box set contains three solid stories that deal with the cost of the Time War not only in lives, but in the cost to the soul, and to the very idea of truth. The set works on many levels. On one hand, the story is a great space opera offering big battles and high concepts. There are even a few moments of levity. On the other hand, the costs and suffering of the Time War are wearing on the Doctor’s heart and mind, particularly as he sees how the war has touched one of his previous companions, Leela (Louise Jameson.)

The entire set is well-written with great music and sound design, as well as solid acting including featured performances from Hurt, Jameson, and Jacqueline Pearce.

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6) The English Way of Death

In this story adapted from a novel by Gareth Roberts by John Dorney, the Doctor (Tom Baker) and Romana (Leela Ward) travel to 1930s England to return an overdue library book but they run into time tourists who have illegally come from the future and more alarmingly, a sinister alien who is using zombies in a nefarious scheme.

The villains in this story are somewhat generic, particularly the zombies, though I found one plot twist in part four to be quite hilarious. Roberts does best with character pieces and this is quite cleverly done as a period drama gives him the chance to introduce all the sorts of interesting characters including a gung-ho British Colonel who gets drawn into the adventure, the cowardly Percy, and some of his braver colleagues from the future. The dialogue is rich and is perhaps even funnier than the TV story, “City of Death”, though not quite as stylish.

This is one of Big Finish’s best releases with the most popular classic series Doctor and one of the funnier stories they’ve ever made.

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My Big Finish Twenty, Part Two

We continue our look at twenty great Big Finish releases in celebration of Big Finish’s Twentieth Anniversary. This week we’ll cover numbers 15-11. See Part One for numbers 20-16.

15) Dan Dare, Volume 2

Being an American, I never grew up with Colonel Dan Dare of Space Fleet as portrayed in Britain’s Eagle Comics, but Big Finish’s two Dan Dare releases in association with B7 helped me fall in love with this iconic British character. He begins as a bit of a cynic but quickly shows his stuff as a tough, principled, courageous, and tenacious hero as he battles his arch-enemy The Mekon as well as a few other baddies. This is imaginative, swashbuckling space fun with great moments. At the same time, Dare has to deal with corruption and political skullduggery that often undermines his mission. For me, this volume stands out because of the final story as Dare’s mental battle with The Mekon.

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14) Doctor Who Unbound:  Masters of War:

For the fortieth anniversary of Doctor Who, The Doctor Who Unbound range took a look at and altered several key concepts and events of the Doctor Who Universe. In “Sympathy for the Devil,” Emmy award-winning actor David Warner was introduced as an alternate version of the Third Doctor  (played on television by Jon Pertwee) who arrived on the earth in 1996 rather than in the 1970s as happened on TV.

This release was a sequel released five years later as this alternative universe Doctor is now traveling with his new companion, retired Brigadier Alastir Lethbridge-Stewart  (Nicholas Courtney) as they land on Skaro, the homeworld of the Daleks, the Doctor’s most iconic enemies where they are lording over the Thals. The Doctor being the Doctor, he is here to liberate the Thals from the Daleks. In our Universe, the Daleks are out to “exterminate,” to “conquer and destroy.” But in this Unbound Universe, the Daleks want peace.

This raises a lot of questions. How did this other Universe’s Daleks develop differently? What did their creator Davros do differently?  How will they interact with the Daleks? This story offers a different spin on one of the best Doctor Who stories of all time, Genesis of the Daleks, and it holds up. It’s a massive audio story at two and a half hours long, but in my opinion, well worth it as we get great acting from Warner, Courtney, and Terry Malloy (Davros), and a solid script. This is the type of story that’s best enjoyed by fans who’ve seen the original stories that these are based on, but it could also be enjoyed as a sci-fi epic in its own right.

Warner would reprise his role as the Unbound Doctor in two box sets in 2016 and 2017 alongside Big Finish’s first dramatic hero Bernice Summerfield and those are both good solid collections, though not quite as epic as this.

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13) Death and the Queen

The chronically single Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) is swept off her feet by the prince of a distant land which the Doctor (David Tennant) had never heard of. The prince asks Donna to marry him, but of course, Donna learns there’s a catch.

The story has some great comedic moments and is a bit of a fractured fairy tale with a science fiction twist. Tennant and Tate are one of most beloved pairings of Doctor and Companion in the revived series and this story is a great example of how charming these characters are together and how well the actors play off each other. The script moves at a fast pace while providing good dramatic scenes and a great resolution. This makes a great audio drama and would have worked very well on television.

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12) 1963: Fanfare for the Common Men

The Fifth Doctor and his companion Nyssa (Sarah Sutton) arrive in 1963 with the Doctor determined to show Nyssa the Beatles. The Doctor is in for a surprise as he discovers the Beatles have been replaced in time by another band known as the Common Men.

The story’s premise, the mystery, and its solution are perfect. The gorgeous Abbey Road-theme cover art is a delight. The music is well-done and really creates a 1960s feels for the world of the story’s wannabe Beatles.

Beyond that, the story makes an effective use of Nyssa not being from Earth as well as having her own separate storyline. The entire cast performed well, and the story has the added bonus of being easily accessible even to those who haven’t listened to Big Finish before.

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11) Solitaire

The Companion Chronicles range at Big Finish are typically dramatized audiobooks featuring an actor who played a companion of the Doctor telling a story of one of their adventures with the aide of another actor. This one is instead a two-handed audio drama without narration.

Eighth Doctor companion Charlotte “Charley” Pollard (India Fisher) arrives in a toy shop with amnesia, not even remembering who she is at first. She quickly finds the shopkeeper of this Toy Store is the Celestial Toymaker (David Bailie)who gives her no choice but to play a mysterious game that the player doesn’t realize they’re playing, and the game rules are unknown.

At its core, this feels like an old Twilight Zone story as the tension builds throughout towards the twist ending. The two-voice radio drama works brilliantly.  The actors are perfect, Fisher plays Charley as unnerved and confused at first, but whose intelligence leads her closer to the truth. Bailie manages to imbue the Toymaker with a sinister sense of mystery.  The story grows increasingly claustrophobic, and we get great interactions between these two actors and a wonderful payoff.

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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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Book Review: The Rivers Run Dry


FBI Agent Raleigh Harmon has been re-assigned to the bureau’s Seattle office as punishment for almost getting herself killed while not following orders on the case she solved in Stones Cry Out.

She finds herself a constant target for work no one else wants, including performing the unpleasant task of informing the well-connected family of a missing woman that the FBI can do nothing about the disappearance of her daughter and that the case belongs in the hands of local police until it’s clear a kidnapping has occurred. As new evidence emerges, Raleigh begins an investigation to find the missing young woman and rescue her from the hands of a dangerous kidnapper.

After a strong story, in Stones Cry Out, Sibell Giorello’s second Raleigh Harmon book is if anything, stronger than the first. Sibella is effective at capturing the quirkiness of Seattle and the beauty of Eastern Washington in this story, as she was at conjuring up the rich history and atmosphere of Richmond.

The characters are well-written and believable. Raleigh’s personal life takes a turn as her mother follows her to Seattle, with Raleigh still trying to hide the fact she works for the FBI from her mom. Both move in with Raleigh’s new agey Aunt Charlotte who tries to help Raleigh keep her secret while creating complications like trying to enlist a psychic to help Raleigh with her case.

The mystery is solidly structured, with a realistic procedural feel to most of the story. Raleigh’s background in geology and soil analysis is used frequently without becoming dry. There’s a good suspense throughout and a lot of different suspects as well as a few red herrings. If I had any complaint, it was about how the identity of the kidnapper was uncovered as it’s a bit weak as Raleigh does not get to catch him.

Still, I enjoyed this second book and will definitely read the third.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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