Tag: audio drama

The Top Ten Big Finish Stories of 2019, Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Audio Drama Review: The Holly Tree Inn

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

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

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

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

Rating:3.25 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season Six Review

After five seasons and thirty-six episodes, Black Jack Justice had established  the main characters of Jack Justice (Christopher Mott) and Trixie Dixon, Girl Detective (Andrea Lyons). Season six features a fair share of experimental episodes.

“Cops and Robbers” is a story told mostly by the supporting cast, “The Sky’s the Limit” is a story of a Poker game where the players try to suss out what happened on a case where no one has all the facts. “Man’s Best Friend is told from the perspective of the office dog, King.

Of the three, I think “Sky’s the Limit” was probably the best. It’s definitely fun to hear the story pieced together and to be learning details as the characters are. The ending is a bit ambiguous but it’s still a lot of fun. The other two stories have their moments but don’t work as well. The side characters are not as interesting as Jack and Trixie so that limited my enjoyment of “Cops and Robbers.” As for, “Man’s Best Friend,” the dog narration part landed flat. The approach seemed to be, “I’m a dog who thinks he’s a detective.” I think it would have been funnier had he been thinking more like an actual dog.

I personally preferred the other three episodes which were more traditional Justice and Dixon mysteries. “The Albatross” was my favorite as Lieutenant Sabian (Gregg Taylor) hires them to look into the murder of a black girl in a tenement which his superiors want him to lay off of. The episode examines the idea that certain unresolved cases haunt detectives, whether official or otherwise.  It’s a well-done episode.

Overall, while I’m not crazy about all the experimental episodes in this season, I still enjoyed it pretty well.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

You can download Black Justice Season Six from Decoder Ring Theatre.

Audio Drama Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes

In Colonial Radio Theater’s 2007 adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s novel Something Wicked This Way Comes, a carnival arrives in a small Midwestern town in late October. Two thirteen year old boys, Jim and Will, discover something sinister is behind the carnival and its leader Mr. Dark.

The story itself is pure Bradbury at his best. Superficially, it’s about a couple of kids in a small town and a scary carnival. But there’s a lot of depths and themes here such as age and youth, innocence, and evil. Yet Something Wicked This Way Comes never seems like it’s trying to be profound and it never forgets to be an entertaining and scary story.

The dialogue is not typically the way most people talk either now or then. It has a stylized, almost lyrical quality.

The production qualities are solid. I’ve listened to hundreds of hours of Audio Drama from many companies. So far, Colonial has the best sound design this side of the Atlantic. Even though it was recorded twelve years ago, the sound design and music hold up and build that creepy small-town atmosphere. Colonial’s talented team of actors delivers good performances all around and manage to handle Bradbury’s unique style of dialogue.

Overall, this is a fun and well-done take on a Bradbury classic that’s definitely worth a listen.

Rating:4.5 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: The Mark of Zorro

On the big screen, Val Kilmer played iconic heroes such as Batman and the Saint. In 2011, he added the role of Zorro in LA Theatre works presentation of The Mark of Zorro, based on Johnston McCulley’s novel The Curse of Capistrano.

The play opens with Don Diego de la Vega (Kilmer) trying to woo the beautiful Lolita Pulido (Ruth Livier) to be his wife as his father is pressuring him to wed now that he’s in his mid-twenties. Lolita isn’t interested because of his foppish, bookish nature, however she falls in love with the masked adventurer and vigilante Zorro (also Kilmer). The villainous Captain Ramon becomes a rival for Lolita while also trying to capture Zorro.

The play has some great professional sound design and music. The cast is generally good, though a couple are very broad and big for audio. Unlike another Hollywood Theatre of the Ear Production I reviewed (The Maltese Falcon), this doesn’t have each character narrating their own actions. Instead, the events are narrated by the landlord at the local tavern (Armin Shimerman) giving the effect of the story being told to you by your friendly barkeep Shimerman. This is a fun choice and the casting may be a bit of a nod to his role on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as Ferengi bar owner and landlord Quark. I also think the story story did a good job establishing the culture and values of the time.

This story strives for book accuracy probably more than any other Zorro work. That does mean there are some surprises. In most adaptations, Zorro is an action hero who romances his lady. In this adaptation, Zorro is first and foremost, a romantic figure sweeping Lolita off her feet and protecting her from Captain Ramon. The story is a bit more romantic comedy than an action tale, and the dialogue and plot isn’t exactly out of Jane Austen.

Don Diego is never revealed to be Zorro, even to the audience. Zorro’s secret identity is nearly as well-known to the public as Batman’s and Superman’s, so this is odd. It’d be like a Batman movie that never showed Batman was Bruce Wayne despite the audience knowing it. Again, I think this is an example of being loyal to the book, but it didn’t work for me.

Overall, though, this was a good time. If you’d like a Zorro tale with some adventure, political intrigue, and some cheesy romance, this is a well-acted and enjoyable way to spend a few hours.

Rating:3.75 out of 5.0