The Great Detectives of Old Time Radio The great ones are back in action.

11Jan/140

Audio Drama Review: The Power of the Daleks

Last Christmas, Time of the Doctor marked the end of Matt Smith’s reign as the Eleventh Doctor, and this fall the BBC will kick off a new series featuring Peter Capaldi in the role. Today, we take a look at the first regeneration from First Doctor William Hartnell to Second Doctor Patrick Troughton, “Power of the Daleks.”

Due to the BBC's horrible archival policies in 1960s, this isn’t a story people can “watch.” This is one of several stories that are completely missing on video and the only way they can be enjoyed is as audio dramas using the TV soundtrack recorded by fans and narration by a star from the series..

Without belaboring the point, in the “Tenth Planet,” the last First Doctor story, it was clear that William Hartnell was pretty well played out in the role. The four episode story featured almost no action from the Doctor in the first, second, and the fourth episode, and the third episode was spent with the doctor asleep. The fourth ended with the Doctor changing into Patrick Troughton.

Troughton actually really gets into the role right off the bat. While long time Whovians have seen newly regenerated doctors go through the process of picking out their wardrobe and getting used to new appearances, Troughton was the first and does it quite well. His character is fun and clever. The Second Doctor plays a recorder which is another nice bit of characterization.

Of course, his companions, who were with the First Doctor, are skeptical that this is really the same Doctor, with Ben being far more skeptical than Paulie.

The Second's Doctor’s inaugural adventure is a blast. The TARDIS lands in the future on Earth's colony Vulcan where they discover the murdered body of a government official called an examiner. The Doctor assumes the examiner's identity and is determined to uncover why the Examiner was killed and what was going on in the colony.

In the course of his investigation, the Doctor comes across his most dangerous enemies, the Daleks. One of their ships has crash landed and a scientists is studying the dead Daleks. The Doctor wants them destroyed but finds out to his horror that the scientist who discovered the Daleks is actually trying to revive one and that he succeeds.

The revived Dalek, whose gun armed has been removed insists, "I am your servant." The Doctor of course doesn't buy it and is trying to stop the crazy scientists from reviving more Daleks. However, the whole Dalek issue is caught in a web of political intrigue which has more than one person thinking they can use the three revived Daleks as pawns. Some consider the small numbers of Daleks to be minor matter, but the Doctor warns that one is enough to destroy the entire base.

This is a wonderful serial that really works on every level: it has intrigue, mystery, suspense, and fantastic sci fi action. This is a story that illustrates the true power of audio story telling. The early writers of Dr. Who had great imagination, but lacked in special effects. That's no problem here. The music and the dialogue tell the story powerfully.

The story has some genuinely scary moments that are really brought home by the audio. Of course, the Daleks are up to evil and two separate episodes end with Daleks chanting and there are few things more scary than a group of Daleks chanting, "We will get our power! We will get our power!" as they circle the scientist brought them back to life.

The scientist, Dr. Lesterson also has a fascinating character arc as the Daleks true nature becomes more apparent and things go from bad to worse. His final scene is the last episode of the serial is just haunting and fascinating at the same time.

Bottom line: "The Power of the Daleks" packs a powerful punch with a tone that's often a bit dark, but also brilliantly conceived and executed.
Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0.

The Power of the Daleks is available at Audible.

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4Jan/140

Book Review: Pattern of Wounds

The latest murder Houston homicide detective Roland March investigates seems awfully familiar. March believes that the killer staged the scene of a dead one in a pool based on pictures from the book on the first big murder he ever solved, the Kingwood Killings. While higher ups dismiss the idea, some people think there's a pattern to the book: that a serial killer was behind the latest killing, as well as several others, including March's signature case. Worst of all, the writer who lionized March becomes an adversary who believes that he and March blew the original case.

This book succeeded in upping the ante from the first book with March having to deal with the potential of his entire career being reduced to rubble by this new allegation. He has to struggle to find out who is friends are really. March is all too human character who makes enemies who are willing or even anxious to see him taken down a peg, and he struggles to find someone who he can rely on as an ally. March's big problem is that in the midst of a case, little niceties like gratitude are overlooked which only builds more resentment.

One of the more interesting character bits in this story was March's interaction with a New Orleans police officer who had officially gone dirty and begun to coerce confessions. It's scary for readers to realize that March is often just a step or two away from crossing the line, though March seems to think he's a little bit further away than he is. We also get some good back story on what had put him on the outs at the start of the previous book.

The mystery is better than in the previous book. No breaks seemed overly convenient, and Bertrand was very skilled with throwing suspect after suspect at the readers, leading to a realistic but explosive conclusion.

The only negatives I can find is that the inclusion of the Teresa, a major character from the first book felt pointless in this one and she didn't really do anything. Also, while the book description makes a point of describing March's marriage as troubled, there's very few hints of this in the actual story.

Still, a fascinating and engaging read for mystery fans that I wholeheartedly recommend.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

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28Dec/130

Radio Drama Review: Gregory Keen: Deadly Nightshade

The character of  Gregory Keen was introduced in the Australian radio serial Dossier on Dumetrius. In that serial, Keen, a MI-5 Major played by New Zealand Actor Bruce Stewart, hunted down an international war criminal named Dumetrius through the streets of London. (see review here). The second Keen serial turns to more familiar territory for the writer and original audience: the streets of Sidney, Australia.

In Deadly Nightshade,  Stewart returns as Keen. Also returning was the actor who played the villain from Dossier. The character of Felix Huberman is the half brother of the Keen's archenemy. (Yes, it's contrived but work with us.) Huberman is an official with Australian federal law enforcement who is also the chief lieutenant of Carla Mingione who is trying to get organized crime established in Sidney. Keen is sent by MI-5 because of the disappearance of scientist Bruno Kesselring who is feared to have defected to the Russians, though this is largely forgotten through most of the serial as Keen finds himself trying to find the truth behind the Nightshade ring, believing it will lead to Kesselring.

Deadly Nightshade has its strong points. Like its predecessor, it is a  highly addictive and is a fairly complex 104-part story.  In many ways, it's a better  Keen story.  Dossier featured our hero, Major Keen as a somewhat dense character who did majorly stupid things for a huge number of episodes including his 40+ episode manhunt for innocent bystander Peter Ridgeway and believing the treacherous Heddy Bergner innocent for nearly 70 episodes because he was in love with her. Here Keen is not gulled for that length of time. To be sure, there are some stupid moments. Early on, Keen concludes that Huberman's up to no good but decides he has no choice but to play along with him which involves not introducing himself to the police and not meeting up with the contact that'd been designated for him by London. This stupidity ends after less than ten episodes and other lapses of sanity and reasonable judgment are short.

Keen in Deadly Nightshade  is a man to be feared in a story that's far darker than Dossier. Keen is clearly a much more ruthless character than in the previous serial.  Keen is driven and at times, seems almost mentally disturbed in his pursuit of the Nightshade Ring, even being willing to kill unarmed men to achieve his ends. He's still haunted by his memory of Heddy Bergner, much to the chagrin of Sherry Reed, a party girl who fell for Keen and became involved in his adventures, only to find Keen constantly spurning her.

The story is darker but not necessarily better in places. While Deadly Nightshade is a far more logical tale with a minimal number of plotholes, it was also a little less fun than Dossier.  The story is interesting due the concerns with organized crime making its way to Australia and the wide variety of plot twists that can fit into a story of this length.

This makes a decent listen, but definitely not for kids under 13.

Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5.0

14Dec/130

Audio Drama Review: The Father Brown Mysteries Volume 5

Colonial Radio Theatre's fifth collection of Father Brown Mysteries starring JT Turner showcases CRT's increasing  production values. The whole collection is graced by a much more polished theme, and the general quality of acting and dialects were also up from when the series first started.

This collection features three of the most popular Brown stories.  Three of these were adapted for the 1970s ITV Father Brown television, and two by the 1980s BBC radio series and Colonial's adaptation is at least the equal of these previous adaptations.

The stories included are:

  • The Hammer of God: The wealthy reprobate brother of a local minister is found murdered with a small hammer that hit him with a seemingly impossible amount of force.  This is one of Chesterton's most thoughtful and clever stories. JT Turner's portrayal of Brown's compassion even in the midst of confronting the murderer really gives a whole new spin on that part of the story.
  • The Curse of the Golden Cross: A professor  acquires a rare golden cross, but also a deadly enemy who is determined to kill the professor and claim the cross. The professor he's been followed to England where a vicar claims to have found the rare cross' twin. All is not as it seems. The original story wasn't Chesterton's greatest, but this is a faithful adaptation that hits the key points quite nicely.
  • The Mirror and the Magistrate: A respected magistrate is murdered and suspicion falls on a radical poet who had a grudge against him. However, Father Brown is certain the poet is innocent. This one is a fun case as we hear Brown's deconstruction of the prosecution's case and how the fact that the prosecutor wears a wig plays into the startling conclusion.
  • The Wrong Shape:  If there was one story in this collection I expected not to like, it was this one. I didn't get Chesterton's original story when I read it. The written version seemed a little too metaphysical. However, I have to say I really enjoyed the radio adaptation. Colonial did a great job of bringing this more obscure but still very clever mystery to life.

Overall, I was thoroughly entertained by this set.  CRT continues to bring  these great stories to life with the humor and social commentary that Chesterton brought to the originals.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

Note: I received a copy of this production in exchange for an honest review. 

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7Dec/130

Book Review: Stranger in Town

Brett Halliday knew how to catch a reader's attention from the get-go. The book begins with Michael Shayne stopping for a drink in a small Florida town. A beautiful young woman walks out to him and then two hoods drag him out of the bar, beat up and nearly run him down with their car.

Shayne gets thrown in jail after blowing his top in a confrontation with the local police force but hangs around town determined to find out who the woman was that fingered him and why she did it. Along the way, Shayne discovers that she was an amnesiac who stumbled into town and was supposed to have been taken back to her father in Orlando. Shayne discovers the story was a lie and to find the truth he has to untangle a web of crime and corruption.

The book buzzes along and is a fast paced story filled with plenty of suspense and great plot twists and action throughout most of it. The only flaw in the pacing is that the book does slow down about 3/4 of the way through before wrapping up strong with the last chapter and a half.

The book also gives some keen insights into social attitudes of the mid-1950s and deals with a hot topic of today. Even though Shayne is no huge moralist, he reflected the values of his time in a way that's intriguing or sad depending on your point of view.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

The copy I read plus another Michael Shayne mystery are available on request with the first donation received of $50 or more for listeners in the US or Canada.  See details here.

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30Nov/130

Audio Drama: The History of Harry Nile, Set Six

The History of Harry Nile Set 6 covers 24 cases in which the late Phil Harper portrayed the Seattle Private Detective, set between May of 1956 and Summer of 1958.

At this point, it’s tough to add much to what I’ve written in the previous five reviews. The series while produced in the 1990s and early 21st century sounded just like a vintage detective series from radio’s golden age.

Both Harry (Phil Harper) and his red-headed assistant Murphy (Pat French) were well-established in their roles and had them down to a tee. And producer/writer Jim French really knew how to do a 19-23 minute radio drama and make it shine.

The stories are mostly typical PI fare but with a few surprises thrown in such as, “Submarine Warfare” which has the owner of a new subshop asking for Harry’s help with vandals while his wife is sending Harry notes that her husband wants to kill her. Harry’s cases take him to New Orleans, to California, and to three different western cities where a salesman is keeping different girls and runs into predictable problems. There’s a theft at a mission around Christmastime. And the story of a missing fire extinguisher salesman where Harry has to live up to the bill of one of America’s top ten private investigators.

These are well-done tales with no real clunkers, but consistent quality from episode to episode. The only downside is that on occassion, the motive may be a little thin. Some listeners may be bothered by the relationship between Harry and Murphy with Harry, with Murphy pining for Harry but Harry showing no interest whatsoever. However, this too is a throwback to some golden age programs like Let George Do It.

Overall, this set lives up to the high standards of its predecessors and is a must for fans of Phil Harper’s Harry Nile.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

The set is available at French's website for $49.95 on CD or as a digital download for $25.

The History of Harry Nile, Set 6  (along with Sets 1-5) are available on Audible for $19.95 for members or 1 Credit. I bought this set with my an Audible listener Credit ($14.95).

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23Nov/130

Movie Review: The Brasher Doubloon

This 1947 adaptation of the Philip Marlowe novel, The High Window is an illustration both of how not to adapt a book and how not to do a detective movie.

As soon as I saw the Mustached George Montgomery, I knew I'd had trouble buying him in the role of Philip Marlowe. Philip Marlowe with a mustache? He couldn't carry it off and it was more than the facial hair.

To be clear, Montgomery does give the best performance in this movie, but that's not saying much. Every performance in this movie is either extremely wooden or hammy.

The movie was also incredibly inconsistent with Marlowe narrating, with it being present at the early part of the film and then disappearing later on. In addition, the voice overs he did were pointless. A good voice over should communicate something we didn't or show off the hard boiled nature of the private eye or the setting. The narration here did nothing other than say things that we could see on the screen or were just plain bland. In addition, while this is supposed to be a hard boiled private eye movie, it ends with a gathering of the suspects and Marlowe revealing whodunit like it's Charlie Chan or the Thin Man.

The biggest problem with this movie is that it's a story of the greatest hard boiled eye of them all, Philip Marlowe and the "romance" angle in this movie is so hard to swallow. In the novel High Window, Marlowe recognizes that the timid secretary of his client is emotionally wounded and needs helped. He gallantly works to help her with no idea of doing anything romantic with her. Here, George Montgomery's Marlowe is downright creepy in his attempts to seduce Merle Davis (Nancy Guild). It just felt icky and my feeling has nothing to do with our politically correct times. Chandler recognized this was not the way a hero should act and that a man who has to hit on an emotionally traumatized woman is not only a cad, but a loser.

The movie does have a chase scene that's half way decent. In some way screenwriter Dorothy Bennett did manage to pare down Chandler's more convoluted story line and eliminate character like Leslie Murdoch's wife. The story features a young Conrad Janis who looks a lot like Leonardo DiCaprio in this film. Finally, the DVD release is long overdue, and it's worth watching once for Philip Marlowe completists.

In the end, this is just a poor film, and it's poor for a B-film. It'd be understandable if this came from a studio like Monogram, but Fox made this and they showed in both Charlie Chan and Mr. Moto that they could make entertaining B detective movies, for whatever reason, they didn't here.

Rating: 3.0 out of 10

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16Nov/131

Book Review: The High Window

Philip Marlowe is hired to recover a lost coin for a crotchety widow. She suspects her daughter-in-law and wants Marlowe to arrange for her daughter-in-law to divorce her son.

Marlowe, of course, encounters a ton of obstacles and a mounting body count. In addition, to the official side of the business, he suspects something is really wrong with the old woman's secretary, who is being mistreated.

The case is somewhat average fare. It's by no means a bad story but it's also not The Big Sleep and it's not Farewell, My Lovely. It has its moments such as when Marlowe is justifying non-cooperation with the police on the basis of a case they mishandled through corruption, and then later he admits the story was made up and later on, says maybe it wasn't. However, the characters aren't as good and the dialogue isn't either. In addition to this, there are few less threads that are left hanging and there are a few more, we really don't care about.

On the positive side Marlowe's noble actions towards the secretary and the purity of his motives really live up to his Knight in Tarnished Armor Rep. In the end, it's a great story but not a classic.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5.0

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9Nov/133

Telefilm Review: The Hollow

This is the final film in the ninth series of Poirot, originally broadcast in 2004.

In, “The Hollow” Poirot is staying at a cottage in the country. After being invited for a return visit, Poirot finds a doctor dead and his wife holding a gun. The doctor’s secret mistress tells the wife to thrown the gun to the water which in the end doesn't matter as it’s not the murder weapon.

Poirot seeks to untangle the truth of the very complicated relationships but runs into resistance and new suspects at every stage.

Overall, I thought this was a solid production and it rose above the typical mystery of its sort where the characters of wife and the other woman can be cardboard cutouts. The husband is really just a very selfish person in his private life with the only thing coloring that is his more noble professional efforts as a doctor. However, both the wife (played by Gerda Christo) and the mistress (played by Megan Dodds) were fully fleshed out as complex and fully developed characters. The interaction between the mistress and Poirot was particularly well done. It was also a thrill to see Edward Harwicke (Watson from the Grenada Sherlock Holmes series) in it.

I had two complaints about this. First was the ending which featured Poirot allowing the murderer to walk away and get something after their identity has been revealed based on their promise not to go anywhere and tragedy results. It really is out of character not that Christie’s original ending would have worked but they had to come up with something better. Also they added in a sex scene that while not r-rated and not even showing actual flash was just unnecessarily gratuitous and titillating which doesn't suit this series at all.

Overall, despite these flaws, The Hollow is a great adaptation of a book that’s not usually considered one of Christie’s best.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5.0

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2Nov/130

Book Review: The Golden Spiders

The Golden Spiders finds Wolfe and Archie in ill-temper. Archie decides to admit a neighborhood boy who comes to Wolfe because of Wolfe’s antipathy to police and the fact that he saw a woman in a car apparently in trouble. Wolfe handles the boy well and agrees to help by tracing the plate of the car.

However, the boy is murdered the next day and the case goes to another level. The boy’s mother asks Wolfe to find out why he was killed and offers her son’s savings which amounts to $4.30 to find the killer. They begin the process by placing an ad, and get a response that’s followed by another murder.

This sets Archie and the teers on an investigation that leads them to the high and low end of society and on to the trail of an extortion ring that’s the key to the whole plot.

This is really a mixed bag in terms of quality. It has more action than any other Wolfe story, including a torture scene that’s somewhat uncomfortable. To be fair about that, the bad guys started it by torturing Orrie Cather before Archie and friends turned the tables on them.

There’s also a very strong scene with Inspector Cramer that’s probably his best scene as a detective in any of the books he’s featured in. There are some good bits between Wolfe and Archie, and a pretty good final denouement.

The book’s weak point comes with Wolfe proposing a ruse for Archie that’s so transparent, it doesn’t fool anyone. It’s really pathetic and beneath the standard of fun ruses that characterize the Wolfe books.

The Golden Spiders was the basis of the pilot movie for A Nero Wolfe Mystery, and I have to say this is one case where the movie beat the book. And the biggest difference was emotional impact. The book deals with the death of a child, but it doesn't seem to impact the characters correctly. Stout could do this and often did with tragic adult deaths which Archie or Wolfe inadvertently played a role in books like in Prisoner’s Base, but just doesn't seem to deliver here. It’s worth noting that Pete Drossos is the only child to play a major role in any of the Wolfe stories, so writing children may not have been Stout’s forte.

There’s enough good stuff to keep this interesting, but overall I can only give the book a:

Rating: Satisfactory

You can find all the Nero Wolfe books in Kindle, Audiobook, and book form on our Nero Wolfe page.

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