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Top Ten Big Finish Stories of 2020, Part One

We’re going to countdown my top ten favorite Big Finish stories of 2020. Big Finish is a British producer of audio dramas, best known for producing licensed Doctor Who Audio Dramas in spin-offs but have also have licensed several other series as well as doing their own originals.

In 2020, Big Finish not only released their expected releases but also was able to take advantage of the lockdowns to produce more audio dramas.

As usual with this list, while I listen to a lot of Big Finish, I can’t claim to have heard it all, and there are many ranges such as Torchwood, Class, Dark Shadows, Blake 7, Adam Adamant Lives, and Time Slip that I don’t really listen to. In addition, I have not heard every single release they’ve done this year even in the ranges I am interested in. That said, I’ve heard quite a bit and these are my favorites of what I have listened to. ‘

We’re going to have a lot of Doctor Who stories. So this article is going to assume basic knowledge of the series and how it works with the Doctor being an alien who travels in time and space in his ship, the TARDIS and when he dies, he regenerates into a new body (and is played by a different actor, with the latest being an actress. Each is numbered chronologically.)

10) Out of Time 1 by Matt Fitton

This is one of Big Finish’s lockdown productions and features the meeting between the most popular Doctor from the series’ original 26-year run and the most popular Doctor of the revived series. The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) end up meeting by accident at a sci fi cathedral and have to team up to defeat their archfoe, the Daleks.

This story is a lot of fun with great interactions between the Doctors, as well as a few clever ideas, and at least one interesting side character.

The release is a perfect introduction to the type of audios that Big Finish makes today and is affordably priced for those who are curious about Doctor Who audio dramas. The story itself is a well-done but basic story of the Daleks invading to get what they want and killing anyone that stands in their way. But the moments between Tennant and Baker make this a fun release.

9) Scorched Earth by Chris Chapman

The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and his companions Flip (Lisa Greenwood) and Constance (Miranda Raison) arrive in a French village right after it’s been liberated from the Nazis. They find a festive atmosphere but its marred when an angry mob shaves the head of a young woman they label as a collaborator and the Doctor suspects that a monster made of fire may be inserting itself into the war.

The story really brings about a genuine conflict among the TARDIS crew that’s quite reasonable. This isn’t immature bickering but disagreements that come out of who the characters are. Flip is a Twenty-First Century woman and Constance is from Wartime Britain having served as a WREN.

The difference is about something that matters as Constance thought the punishment of the young woman was justified. Flip didn’t, and the Doctor is trying to walk a fine line to keep his companions safe and avoid alienating either. Constance does grow through the story. My only complaint about the conflict is that Flip never understands Constance’s point of view. Constance is of course wrong, but being able to understand where someone’s coming from even when we disagree is important.

The monster works pretty well and compliments the themes of the story. There’s some solid soundscapes and the story does a great job making it easy to imagine the scope and power of this creature. There’s also just the right amount of humor, and some really fun action in the fourth episode that makes this a worthwhile listen.

8) Vanity Trap by Stuart Manning

(from the Sixth Doctor and Peri Volume 1):

The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri meet up with an aging Hollywood star who claims to have met them, and so the Doctor travels back to 1972 and a film that was never finished.

This is a piece helped by a superb cast, including Stephen Critchlow. I enjoyed Sarah Douglas’ performance as the aging starlet, who is played as a very complex character who is better than her obvious faults.

The Doctor and Peri are given great material to work with, including good tension between them that is believable and avoids going over the top. I liked how Colin Baker was given a change to establish the menace of the situation, as Sylvester McCoy often does, but in a way that fits his Doctor.

The sound design and music are superb, knowing when to use a light touch, and when to add subtle touches to ratchet up the tension.

Overall, this was an engaging story that’s underrated.

7) Ghost Station by Steve Lyons

(From the Anthology Time Apart):

Ghost Station finds the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison)  in an underground station beneath the Berlin Wall in the 1970s confronting an East German soldier with a body on the ground. The set up for the story is great, with superb atmosphere and effects. This story is a rare two-hander that allows the Fifth Doctor and the guard to play off each other for the entire runtime. Both Peter Davison and Timothy Blore turn in magnificent performances and play beautifully off one another. There’s just the right amount of plot and the story has some superb emotional beats. Overall, this is one of the best one-part Stories Big Finish has done. 

6) Quest of the Engineer by Andrew Smith

For this year, the ninth series of Fourth Doctor Adventures, Big Finish reunited the Season 18 Tardis Crew of the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), Romana (Lalla Ward), Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), and K-9 (John Leeson) and told four additional stories set in Adric’s home dimension in E-space. 

In the “Quest of the Engineer,” E-Space creator Andrew Smith returns to write the final script. Smith offers a massive concept that begins with the TARDIS crew arriving on a planet that forbids technology and encounters a remarkable man who gives them information that leads to a planet-sized ship that’s the domain of the engineer.

This is a superb story. The concepts are all great, imaginative sci fi ideas that are quite mind-blowing. The Engineer is one of the stronger villains Big Finish has created. He boasts a combination of arrogance, hubris, and cruelty as well as genuine genius that makes him a force to be reckoned with. Except for K-9, all the regulars are given a chance to shine.

The Engineer’s backstory is more complicated than necessary. Through the course of the episode, its revealed that the Engineer had been a ruthless war criminal. Smith tries to add an extra layer to that, a more personal angle, but it’s a bit hard to buy. Overall, still a very fun listen and the best Fourth Doctor story of the year.

To be continued next week…

 

A Look Back at the First 100 Episodes of the Amazing World of Radio

With Wednesday’s episode of the Whistler, we marked our 100th Episode of the Amazing World of Radio. The series launched in June 2016 to feature our first Summer Series of Patreon-chosen programming. That first series was only six episodes, but it has been followed by three longer Summer Series, four rounds of Christmas and Thanksgiving episodes, along with other various holiday programs and spring series. It’s not an every week series. It intermittently presents a wide variety of different radio programs.

We really aim to bring a wide variety of different programs, including some well-known shows as well as some more obscure offerings. Here’s a list of every series we’ve played so far:

Lux Radio Theater (17)
Les Miserables (7)
Cavalcade of America (6)
Suspense (6)
Screen Guild Theater (5)
Bold Venture (4)
Escape (3)
The Whistler (3)
Hallmark Playhouse (3)
You Are There (2)
Bing Crosby Show (2)
NBC University Theatre of the Air (2)
Proudly We Hail (2)
Stars Over Hollywood (2)
The Les Paul Show
Jackie Gleason and Les Tremayne Show
Diamond Dramas
Meet Corliss Archer
Hour of Charm
Columbia Workshop
Abbott and Costello Show
Stroke of Fate
Shakespeare Cycle
Humphrey Bogart Presents
Father Knows Best
Grand Central Station
The Big Show
Living
The Man Called X
Mr. President
The Quiz Kids
Elgin Holiday Special
Railroad Hour
Dr. Christian
Chicago Theatre of the Air
Coast to Coast on a Bus
Anthology
MGM Theatre of the Air
NBC Star Playhouse
The Great Gildersleeve
Here’s to Veterans
Bird’s Eye Open House
New World A Coming
Shirley Temple Time
Prudential Hour of Stars
CBS Network Special
The Jack Webb Show
One Out of Seven
Three for Adventure
Are These Our Children?

Lux Radio Theater is our top series because every episode in our Great Movies Over Radio series was an episode of Lux. Plus we brought four hour-long adaptations of Humphrey Bogart adaptations to you during our Summer of Bogart which also featured four weeks of Bold Venture. For our 2018 Spring Series, we played the entire seven-part Orson Welles-led Les Miserables.

Most of the other programs with a lot of play are anthology programs which produced episodes in a variety of themes. My goal is to share a sampling of a wide spectrum of radio programs. As a whole, we’ve played fifty series.

I continue to look for new and different programs to bring you on the Amazing World of Radio. Between now and Easter, I’ll have eleven more episodes of the Amazing World of Radio for you before I sign off until our summer series. Of those eleven episodes, only two come from a series we’ve featured frequently, and only three come from a series we’ve featured at all.

There were a whole lot of amazing programs produced during the Golden Age of Radio, and here’s hoping we get a chance to share many more.

What Joe Friday Did

We offer a t-shirt that tells us Joe Friday never said “Just the facts, ma’am.” This often lead to the question, what did Joe Friday say and do?  In this article, we’ll break down highlights from Sergeant Friday’s appearance in more than 600 television and radio show episodes, two movies, and one novel I’ve read. Some are serious and some are fun, but it’s all in the spirit of celebrating one of the most iconic character of TV’s golden age. For simplicity’s sake, all programs first broadcast on radio will be cited using their radio dates. Programs aired after 1955 will not include a reference to medium unless it’s a book.

General facts:

-Friday and his partner were so in demand, they changed departments often (sometimes every week)

-Friday spent hours waiting for suspects to show up, spent days on fruitless stakeouts and spent entire patrols waiting to catch a criminal.

-While Friday is known for the epic speeches entered into congressional record, he favored the snappy one-liners he delivered nearly every episode.

Friday career highlights and facts:

-Friday joined the force sometime before 1939 (Radio: 07/14/1949) His time on the police force was interrupted by service in World War II (Radio: 01/05/1950) where he made a friend who subsequently committed a crime that got him sent to prison.

-He nearly blew up City Hall when he tripped while carrying a bomb in a bucket. Thankfully, it didn’t go off due to a flaw in the wiring.

-Friday lived with his mother  (Radio: 05/04/1950) for many years until she went back East to live with other relatives.

-While undercover, Friday was twice hired to kill a woman. (Radio: 09/28/1950, TV: November 6, 1967)

-Friday was sent undercover to buy drugs, but when it came time to do the buy to arrest the suppliers, the police didn’t have money to complete the buy. Friday was given a stack of whatever money various captains could get at the last minute, pieces of newspaper, and good wishes that the suppliers wouldn’t insist on examining Friday’s roll too closely. (Radio: 10/26/1950)

-Friday helped a convicted narcotic’s dealer’s kids and helped his wife get a job. This led the convict to give a Friday a lead on a $100,000 narcotics ring. (Radio:01/03/1952)

-After a woman tried to abandon her baby born out of wedlock, Friday and his partner intervened to help her and to gain understanding from her husband. (Original Air Date:04/10/1952)

-Friday once had a girlfriend named Anne who stood by him after he was forced to kill a young man in the line of duty (TV:12/17/1953). However, she was never seen again once he made the fatal relationship move of getting her a stationary set for Christmas despite warnings from Frank Smith. (Radio:12/22/1953)

-Joe Friday and Frank Smith once got into an epic indoor technocolor fist fight against a mob boss’ local hoods. (Dragnet Movie:September 4, 1954)

-Friday once stood silently on a porch for ten minutes in the middle of an investigation while an old man read a long essay about the love of dogs. (Radio:11/16/1954)

-Friday played charades when he was eleven but doesn’t understand why adults would do that. (Radio: 08/09/1955)

-Friday and Smith went out of their way to make sure an escaped convict doesn’t suspect his wife came to them and told them about him. (Radio:08/09/1955)

-Friday watched the Boston Blackie  TV show. (Book: Dragnet: The Case of the Courteous Killer)

-Friday stopped a neo-Nazi from blowing up a school that was integrating. (TV:January 19, 1967)

-Friday failed to sign a receipt for ransom money leading to a frown and a long conversation with the Captain. (Original Air Date: February 9, 1967)

-Friday wrestled a teenager with a live grenade. (Original Air Date:  September 14, 1967)

-Friday was brought before a shooting board and found justified in shooting a burglar at a laundromat. (Original Air Date: September 21, 1967)

-Friday once took half an hour out of his date to hold a debate with a drug guru. (Original Air Date: January 11, 1968)

-In the premier of Dragnet 1969, Friday and his partner went on a TV panel show and spent the entire program debating a calm professor and an over-the-top rebel setting the tone for all the excitement in that season. (Original Air Date: September 19, 1968)

-Friday worked to recruit African American police officers, including a character played by O.J. Simpson. (Original Air Date: October 3, 1968)

-Friday and his partner provided support for the LAPD Command post when Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. (Original Air Date: October 10, 1968)

-Friday helped the Secret Service with an uneventful visit by the President, since it was Season 3. (Original Air Date: November 14, 1968)

-Friday helped with the training and recruitment of policewomen. (Original Air Date: November 21, 1968)

-Friday and Gannon went out in the woods and wore casual clothes to have internal police conversations about community relations because once again it was Season 3. (Original Air Date: January 2, 1969)

-Friday and Gannon tracked down a dog that bit a little girl and saved her  from having to take an anti-rabies serum she was allergic to. (Original Air Date: March 27, 1969)

-Friday went back to college to get a Master’s Degree in order to become a better police officer.  (Original Air Date: March 19, 1970)

-Friday showed a fellow student he knew the difference between cooking spices when a student was openly carrying a bag of marijuana. He claimed, “It’s oregano,” and that he was no different than any other student carrying cooking spices to class in plastic bags.  (Original Air Date: March 19, 1970)

-Joe, in making the arrest, strained his friendship with a woman in class he’d been friendly with. Thus she never received a stationery set for Christmas. However, despite losing any chance at a close relationship, Friday was saved from being thrown out of class by a one-eyed lawyer. (Original Air Date: March 19, 1970)

For the purpose of this list, I consider all Dragnet productions featuring Jack Webb to be connected. Two episodes of Dragnet present a combined problem. In the July 10, 1949 radio episode of Dragnet a criminal who Friday and Romero put away 10 years ago comes for a visit. This indicates Friday had been a cop for at least 10 years (when this was interrupted by war service as detailed later in 1950 in the Big Escape.) However in the Dragnet TV episode, the Shooting Board aired on September 21, 1967, Friday stated he’d been on the force twelve years then and contradicted the radio/1950s TV series about the number of times he’d drawn his weapon.

It can be argued that Dragnet 1967 was neither a continuation or a revival of the original radio/TV series but a soft reboot in the same way DC Comics subtly changed the timelines of Batman, Superman, and Wonder Woman to reflect a more recent beginning for each of these iconic characters. This theory is bolstered by the fact Joe Friday ended the original series as a Lieutenant but was back to being a Sergeant in the 1960s series.

However, I’d rather not go for the Dragnet multiverse and just acknowledge the series was not into continuity. The reference to breaking a case ten years previously in 1949 made Joe Friday older than Webb (who had just turned 29) while the reference in 1967 to having been on the force twelve years served to make Friday younger than the forty-seven-year-old Webb.

At any rate, here are a few stand out facts about Joe Friday. If there are any that I stand out to you, please share in the comments.

Other fun quotes. Check out some great Joe Friday/Dragnet quotes at the Internet Archive or Wikiquote.

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Abbott and Costello Meet the Internet

One popular genre of YouTube videos is the reaction video which involves watching someone react to a TV episode or other YouTube video that they’ve not previously seen. If they’re reacting to a TV episode, the video will usually only show the highlights of them reacting, but a longer video will have the entire video played in a box window next to the reactor.

I was surprised to stumble across half a dozen videos reacting to Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First?” routine that have been posted in just the last few months, with most having positive impressions of the routine, and a few of them have gone on to react to other classic Abbott and Costello bits.

I’ve watched several of these videos and what makes them fun is it gives me an opportunity to remember what it was like to see this classic routine for the first time. It’s also great to see people from a younger generation who are outside the typical demographic for classic comedy enjoying Abbott and Costello at their best.

It speaks to how well their material holds up. Their routines relied less on topical humor or ethnic jokes of many comedians of the day and more on physical humor, clever wordplay, and of course Costello’s characterization and Abbott’s timing. They offer a style of comedy that still appeals to many modern day viewers, but for which there’s really no modern day source.

In short, if the reaction videos prove anything, it’s that nearly sixty years after Lou Costello died, the team is still able to win over new fans.

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Understanding the Expanding Public Domain

The public domain is that magical place which creators can draw inspiration from. Public domain works can be published and sold by anyone. It includes the works of Shakespeare, Dickens,  and Edgar Allen Poe. However, in the US, it doesn’t include many works made after 1922 and the public domain has remain frozen since 1998. However, on January 1, 2019, New Year’s Day will be Public Domain Day, as a plethora of works created in 1923 will enter the public domain.

Why the Public Domain was Frozen

Until the early 1990s, the public domain grew in two ways. First was expiration of the original copyright term. Works written prior to the 1976 Copyright Act  had twenty-eight year copyright terms that could be renewed for another twenty-eight years (increased to 47 years though the Copyright Act.)  If the copyright owner didn’t renew their copyright, their work came into the public domain after twenty-eight years. This is how many Hollywood movies, TV episodes, and a few books from 1963 and before slid into the public domain. Congress put a stop to this by renewing all outstanding copyrights in 1992.

The other way the public domain expanded was when the renewal term expired. That ended in 1998. Media companies led by Disney had been trying to get  the copyright extended for years. The first Mickey Mouse cartoon Steamboat Willie was set to enter the public domain in 2004. Congress passed the Sonny Bono Copyright Extension Act  (named after the late singer and Congressman) which added another twenty years to all Copyrights. Works passed after the 1976 Copyright had a term of the author’s  lifetime plus 70 years, and those pre-1976 works had a term of 95 years.

At the time of passage, copyright extension promotions seemed to want far more. Bono’s forth wife  and successor in Congress, Mary Bono made the point that Sonny Bono had believed Copyright should last forever. That is unconstitutional. The Constitution requires  copyright be for  “limited times.” She spoke favorably of long-time Motion Pictures Association of America Chairman Jack Valenti’s suggestion this could be worked around with a copyright term of “forever minus one day.” Opponents of further Copyright extension didn’t expect an effort that audacious, but they did expect some effort to increase the length of copyright if for no other reason than for Disney to save “Steamboat Willie.” In the end,  no effort was made and the Public domain will grow once again.

What Will Happen

At the end of 2018, copyrights on works created in 1923 will expire. On January 1, 2019, the public domain will expand.

Starting on January 1st, organizations such as Google Books and Project Guteneberg will make books written in 1923 available to readers across the Internet to download for free. Librivox will make audiobook recordings of them.  In addition, filmmakers will be able to adapt them, as will American audio drama producers such as Colonial Radio Theater.

Mystery fans will enjoy the third Agatha Christie book to enter the public domain, Murder on the Links. In the addition, one of only ten Sherlock Holmes stories still under Copyright in the United States, “The Adventure of the Creeping Man” will enter the public domain.

Silent films such as the original Ten Commandments or Charlie Chaplain’s The Pilgrim will be enjoyed online for free as well as on discount DVDs.

Filmmakers will at last be able to freely include songs such as The Charleston and Yes! We Have No Bananas Today in their films.  Churches won’t have to pay to include “Great is thy Faithfulness” in their services.  Community theaters will be able perform Noel Coward’s first play London’s Calling.  Before, doing all of these legally required paying a royalty or license fee. However that all changes in 2019.

The public domain will continue to expand, allowing free distribution of an ever-growing number of influential works. The Jazz Singer, the film that launched the era of talking pictures, is set to enter the public domain in 2024. Dashiell Hammett’s novel The Maltese Falcon will enter the public domain in 2026, and Fer-de-Lance, the first novel featuring Nero Wolfe, will enter in 2030.

Continued growth of the public domain will depend on Congress not extending copyright again. Entertainment companies have powerful lobbyists on Capitol Hill and may demand more protections. If Disney lets “Steamboat Willie” go into the public domain, they may raise a fuss at the prospect of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves entering the public domain in 2033, one year before the first Superman comics are set to become public domain.

For now though, the long overdue expansion of the public domain is beginning. Here’s hoping it continues for many years to come.  If you want more information on works entering the public domain in 2019, check out this article from the Duke University School of law. 

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.

 

If you enjoyed this post, you can have new posts about Detective stories and the golden age of radio and television delivered automatically to your Kindle.