Tag: Big Finish

Audio Drama Review: The Prisoner, Series Two

Series Two of Big Finish’s Prisoner adaptation features four more stories that re-imagine the world of the 1960s TV series:

“I Met a Man Today” is based on the TV episode, “Many Happy Returns.” It takes a different approach than on television. In the TV episode, Number Six wakes up and goes to get his shower, and discovers everyone in the Village is gone. Eventually, Number 6 builds a raft, fights a couple men on a boat, and makes his way to London, finding himself at his old house where both his house and car are owned by a woman.

All that plot is summarized in the middle of the audio episode. The audio version focuses on Number Six’s emotional journey as he found himself in London, exhausted, unsure who to trust, or if this was real. The story also takes some time to develop and explore the relationship between Number Six and Kate (the woman who owns his house and car.) Lucie Briggs Owens is wonderful as Kate, and Elstob is on-point as Number 6 throughout the story.

Overall, this is a pleasing re-interpretation of a strong episode that may be better than the source material.

In “Project Six,” Lucy Briggs-Owens takes her turn as the new Number 2 and is the best thing about the  majority of the episode. She brings a menace to the role and creates a contrast with the character she played in the opener.

The plot is one of the most difficult ones in the set. Number 6 decides to not eat or drink anything given by the village for fear it might be laced with mind control drugs, but doesn’t seem to think he’ll need sustenance until he has to lick dew off the ground.

The take on the TV episode, “A,B, C” was weird and convoluted without offering much until the final moments when the story improved quite a bit.

“Hammer Into Anvil” bears a strong resemblance to the TV story of the same name. A new and more sadistic Number Two arrives determined to break number Six, quoting the axiom, “You must be the hammer or anvil.” However, when Number Six witnesses Number Two’s cruelty on someone else, he becomes just as determined to break Number Two, and sets out to wage psychological warfare on the people behind the Village.

Aside from the basic plot, the story goes off in a different direction. The route  Number Six takes to break down Number Two is different from in the TV show, and in some ways simpler and also more realistic, though a little less stylish. Both methods have their strong points, but it works to do something different in the radio version so it doesn’t feel superfluous. I also like that it plays off the end of the previous episode.

Overall, I think this is a case where the radio and TV versions are pretty close to being equal. Once again, the Prisoner gives us excellent acting and superb sound design.

In “Living in Harmony,” writer Nick Briggs takes an entirely different tact than the Western-themed Prisoner TV episode of the same name as this episode appears to be set in space.

Number Six finds himself on a rocket to a moon base, alongside Number Nine, who had apparently died in the previous series, but is now back and calling herself Number Ninety. Of course, being the Prisoner, the questions immediately raised is whether he’s going anywhere (or on a spaceship) and if number 9/90 is actually with him.

This is a great script for the Prisoner. It gives Number six pivotal, character-defining moments when he faces a key choice. At the same time, the sense of mystery as to what’s going on never entirely lets up. It answers some questions, but leaves so many questions that it serves to set up Series Three.

Overall, this was another solid set, and stronger than the first with compelling takes on memorable stories from the TV series.

Rating: 4 out of 5

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.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

Audio Drama Review: Wizard of Oz

Big Finish’s adaptation of the Wizard of Oz harkens goes back to L. Frank Baum’s original novel. Dorothy (Ally Doman) is thrown into Oz along with her dog Toto where she kills the Wicked Witch of the East when her house lands on the witch.

The adaptation is faithful to the novel and its darker tone rather than the more universally known 1939 film version. People who have only seen the film will be surprised by Dorothy getting the Wicked Witch of the East’s Silver Slippers, and even more shocked by the grisly tale of how the tin woodsman was changed from a normal woodsman to his tin form.

That’s not to say that the story is oppressively dark or over-accentuates these elements. It only does enough to convey what was in the original. The story moves at a good pace from one fantastical scene and setting to another, and the characters develop throughout. The score is nice, doing a good job setting the tone without overwhelming the story.

While Big Finish is a British company, the accents were very good for the most part. Canadian Actor Stuart Milligan was good as the Wizard and the narrator throughout the rest of the story. They did decide to make the lead flying monkey a British “Jobsworth” character, but I actually enjoyed it.
Overall, this an enjoyable take on a classic story.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

My Big Finish Twenty, Part Four

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

We wrap up our Big Finish Twenty with my final five.

5) Jago and Litefoot Series 10

I love Jago and Litefoot. I wrote four long posts detailing the history of their wonderful audio drama adventures, so of course they’d go on this list. Their absolute best Series was Series 10. (See my review here.) The set features some great adventures including Jago and Litefoot sending letters to their younger selves, competing with each other for the attention of their biographer, and Jago being buried alive and waking up in a dystopian future. The individual episodes are superb with the finale serving as a capstone to the first Ten Series of Jago & Litefoot.

Other contenders for Best Jago and Litefoot Series for me would include Series 1, Series 3, Series 5, and Series 8.

4)The One Doctor

The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and his companion Mel (Bonnie Langford) arrive in what the Doctor terms as a vulgar period of history where most things are known and there’s little exploration or curiosity. The Doctor and his exploits are pretty well-known. So well-known that a con man is impersonating the Doctor with the aide of his assistant Sally. The Doctor stumbles onto his impersonator but before he can get that sorted out, an evil overlord shows up and threatens to destroy the entire star system unless the system’s greatest treasures are brought to him.

This is the best Doctor Who comedy story Big Finish has released. It has a great cast including the future Doctor Who companion actor Matt Lucas, a clever script that makes sense, while still delivering a variety of humorous situations. Overall, this is an absolute joy.

3)Hamlet

Yes, you read that right. While it’s best known for its Science Fiction and Nostalgic TV adaptations, Big Finish did two Shakespearean plays, King Lear and Hamlet. Both plays were  well-performed with stellar casts that bring these legendary stories to life. Hamlet is my favorite of the two, since I generally like Hamlet a bit more than King Lear.

Hamlet is one of the best stories ever written, but that doesn’t mean adaptations of Hamlet are all good.  There are many poorly acted and poorly executed versions of the play that involve actors giving hammy performances or droning through their lines. There was a version of Hamlet that was subject of a Mystery Science Theater 3000 riff.

This is a brilliant Hamlet. Big Finish didn’t mess around with the script but they got some very good actors to appear in it. Alexander Vlahos is a great Hamlet. His delivery is pitch perfect. He makes every line real and credible.

The big advantage of this one is the sound design. Most audio versions of Shakespeare plays tend to be either recorded versions of the play or actors just reading the lines. However, this story has a very realistic and well-done sound design done by a company that specializes in making great-sounding audio. The sound and music are never intrusive or overdone and definitely enhance the experience.

This is a tremendous production that does justice to one of the greatest stories of all time.

2) Doctor Who: The Chimes of Midnight

The Eighth Doctor (Paul McGann) and his companion Charlotte Pollard (India Fisher) arrive at an Edwardian Mansion on Christmas where on the stroke of midnight, a servant is killed in a bizarre way. The Doctor and Charley find themselves drawn into the story and try to solve the mystery as reality and time seem to bend in this strange and unusual place as more servants continue to die each time midnight strikes.

This is an amazing and multi-faceted story. It’s science fiction, it’s a mystery, a dark comedy, and a satire on the English class system. It has some hilarious moments, some dark moments, and ends with some sweet and emotional moments. It features great acting, superb direction, and top-notch writing. Chimes of Midnight has been consistently listed as one of Big Finish’s best releases since it came out in 2002. (In 2015, it was voted the best monthly Doctor Who release by listeners.) It’s a story that lives up to its massive hype and is a must-listen.

1) Doctor Who: The Last Adventure

All of the Doctors who appear in Big Finish Doctor Who stories were given a proper ending to their tenure on television with their regeneration, or I should say all but one.

When Colin Baker was cast to play the Sixth Doctor, he had high hopes for a long, happy tenure in the role but ended up with a short, unfortunate tenure. His character as written was unlikable (particularly in his first story) while he was given a clashing, multi-color costume universally panned. On top of that, the show’s script editor thought he wasn’t fit for the role and said so publicly. The show went on hiatus for 18 months and when the show returned, it did so with a “trial” that reminded the audience of the recent unpleasantness. Baker did a good job with what he was given, but was ultimately fired from the show and didn’t return for a regeneration story. Instead, his successor Sylvester McCoy appeared on the TARDIS set wearing Baker’s outfit and a blonde wig.

Baker’s Doctor got a second chance at Big Finish. On audio, the Sixth Doctor became a more likable character and got several new companions while starring in a host of well-written and memorable releases including the previously mentioned One Doctor. That really gave Baker a chance to show how good a Doctor he could be and gave many fans a new appreciation of his Doctor.

After so many years and so many stories, Producer David Richardson had the idea of finally giving the Sixth Doctor a proper ending. This led to the Last Adventure, which features four stories throughout the Sixth Doctor’s life that ultimately set the stage for his regeneration and a final confrontation with his enemy the Valyard. Each story is told with a different companion and the stories take different tones from an eerie story about a strange train yard to a light-hearted story about doglike people who have stay indoors to avoid becoming human to a suspenseful tale of malicious evil in Victorian London (with Jago and Litefoot) to a final confrontation in the TARDIS, this box set covers a lot of ground and each chapter is well-written and well-executed. They’re not only a solid conclusion to Baker’s era, but they also each stand up as strong stories in their own right.

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.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

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.

Purchase from Big Finish
Purchase from Amazon

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.

 

Purchase from Big Finish
Purchase from Amazon

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.

Purchase from Big Finish
Purchase from Amazon

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.

Purchase from Big Finish
Purchase on Amazon

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.

Purchase from Big Finish
Purchase from Amazon

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.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase

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.

Buy from Amazon
Buy from Big Finish

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.

Buy from Amazon
Buy from Big Finish

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.

Buy from Amazon
Buy from Big Finish

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.

Buy from Amazon
Buy from Big Finish

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.

Buy on Amazon
Buy at Big Finish

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.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that items purchased from these links may result in a commission being paid to the author of this post at no extra cost to the purchase