Tag: British

EP3269: Man Called X: Spot the Eight Ball

George Raft
After watching a plane take off carrying a man who identified himself as a British knight affiliated with the Air Ministry, Ken Thurston learns the man is actually a criminal and spy.

Original Air Date: January 4, 1948

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AWR0113: Inheritance: But for the Courage of a Woman (Julie Bennett Tribute)

Amazing World of Radio

In 1774, a young woman risks her life to get a message from her brother’s forces to another group of rebels across British lines.

Original Air Data: June 6, 1954

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Audio Drama Review: The Diary of River Song, Series 7

River Song (Alex Kington) was married to the Doctor in Doctor Who, making her last appearance opposite Peter Capaldi. This spin-off series continues her adventures.

One thing that was established in the TV series was that River Song was a detective, operating in New York under the name Melody Malone. For the Seventh Series of her spin-off, Big Finished did an anthology release featuring River encountering mysteries in a series of different genres from Scandinavian Noir to Legal Dramas.

“Colony of Strangers” finds River Song in a Nordic Noir story on an Earth Colony world that just happens to feature a Fjord and a perpetually frozen landscape. Bodies of creatures begin washing up on the shore where River Song is renting her house and the local police begin to suspect her.

The mystery, its solution, and the sci-fi element are all well thought out, but ultimately what makes this story so compelling is how it goes all in on its concept. This is River Song doing Nordic Noir and they hold to that pattern, unlike the 2018 Doctor Who audio story Hunting Grounds which borrowed some elements but was essentially a Doctor Who story. It maintains clipped stylized dialogue, sparse soundscape, and a downbeat feel. This could easily come off as pretentious, but it’s done well and the result is something that’s very different from any other River Song story we’ve heard.

In “Abbey of Heretic,” River arrives at a 12th Century convent disguised as a nun. When she arrives she discovers a strange disease spreading with the blame being cast throughout the nunnery.

“Abbey of Heretics” is inspired by the Brother Caedfel Mysteries and the TV adaptions starring Derek Jacobi which are set during the same time period. This is a fairly good story, though it felt longer than it needs to be. There’s a great sense of atmosphere and each of the characters is well-drawn. I also thought it showed a sufficient amount of respect for faith.

In “Barrister to the Stars”, River’s accused of murder at a bizarre space station. River appoints an English attorney from the 20th Century as her barrister. This is a remarkable story, particularly for the writer’s first Big Finish. While the writer cited a number of sources in the extras, Rumpole of the Bailey’s influences are clear from the barrister’s asides during Counsel/judge statements, and he refers to himself as an old Bailey hack. This is nearly a perfect Rumpole pastiche but set…in space. David Rintoul is fantastic as the barrister.

There’s quite a bit of imagination and world building that goes into creating this situation and the weird and amazing creatures that inhabit it. It’s a wonderful, hilarious, and practically flawless mix of genres.

“Carnival of Angels” is the only story in the set that doesn’t standalone. It’s a prequel to the Doctor Who TV episode, “The Angels Take Manhattan” and also sees the return of what seemed to be a one-off assistant character from the fifth River Song box set, though its not required to have listened to that story as its explained with some blatantly expositional dialogue.

The story finds River Song operating as a private detective in New York City as Melody Malone when a hard-boiled musician comes into her office to report he saw someone murdered…himself.

Like all the stories, this one aims for a sense of atmosphere…this time the feeling of 1930s and 40s Film Noir. It hits somewhat, but at times it tries too hard and at others gaps in knowledge show up. For example, the writer has American characters use British idioms like, “What are you playing at…”

Still, there are are some spooky moments as well as a great hook for the start of the episode. Despite the flaws, most American production companies couldn’t have done better in creating the feel of film noir. So this story was still a worthwhile hour of listening.

Overall, if you liked River Song on Doctor Who, or if you just like mysteries with a Science Fiction twist, this is a pretty good box set with Barrister of the Stars easily the highlight of the set.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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

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Audio Drama Review: The Prisoner, Series One

The classic British Sci-Fi series, the Prisoner,  comes to audio in a series of four episodes produced by Big Finish as Number 6 tries to escape the Village. Here’s a break down of the episodes:

“Departure and Arrival” is a re-imagining of the first episode of the TV series which finds Number 6 arriving in the village after offering his resignation. The story does a good job establishing the dystopian world of the Village. Most of the cast performed well, though  it took star Mark Elstob maybe the first twenty minutes to feel right as Number 6, and John Standing was a little over-the-top cheery as the first number 2.

At 78 minutes in run time, the story does go on a little longer than necessary and could have been tighter. I chuckled at the idea that leaders of British Intelligence wait at home like fathers whose children are out late after a dance because they’re meeting with a contact. It introduces Cobb and gives us a sense of how he knows Cobb (as opposed to the TV series which just had number 6 asserting that he knew him.) Otherwise, much of the new material before Number 6 is sent to the Village doesn’t add much.

Other change may have been disorienting but did work. The idea of online payments and AIs being part of the village  seems out of place for a series set in the 1960s and it seems to suggest someone had all of this technology since the 1960s but didn’t release it. However, the technology and feel of the village served to wow and capture the imagination of the original audience and if the audio version is to work, the technology has to impress twenty-first-century listeners.

In, “The Schizoid Man,” after seeming to escape, Number 6 ends up back at the Village (of course) and discovers Number 9 can do mentalist card tricks. Number 6 wakes up the next day to find himself with a mustache and using the wrong hand. Number 2 informs him that he is Number 12 and he’s been sent here to discomfit Number 6 about his identity. Number 6 returns to what he believes is his house to find a doppelganger of himself there.

There’s a lot going for this episode. The music and sound design is among the best Big Finish ever turned out. The story is intriguing and manages to capture a different angle on the horror that Number 6 feels. It’s helped that the audience really has to pay close attention to tell the two apart. The acting is great. Elstob is improved over a mostly solid performance in the first episode. Celia Emrie steals the show as Number 2. In this performance, she outdoes every TV Number 2 except Leo McKern. She is clever, cunning and manipulative, she plays cat and mouse with Number 6 and Number 9 and knows exactly how far to let them go before bringing them back. She wants them to feel like they might get away before bringing down the hammer.

My criticism centers around the ending. The original TV episode left some questions open, including  where did the “other” Number 6 come from and how did the woman in the TV episode gain this power of being able to see the card that Number 6 was holding away from her. Instead of leaving these as mysteries, this production decides to answer the questions. However, the answers are  stock sci-fi cliches and anti-climatic. It seems like an attempt to make the show less scientifically impossible. But one of these tired answers is more absurd and far-fetched than if it was left as a mystery.

Still Celia Emrie’s performance really does carry the day, and other than the attempted explanations, the story is still solid.

“Your Beautiful Village” finds Number 6 and Number 9  plunging into the midst of a horrific situation where all of their senses are challenged and for once, you begin to wonder if the Village is actually behind this.

This is a well-done episode and a necessary one. On television, the Prisoner was such a visual program, writing an episode that could only be done over audio was a must. The result is brilliant. You do have to focus hard on this, but the difficulty in the audio quality brings you to Number 6’s world where everything is spiraling out of control and his senses are coming and going rapidly, including his sense of time.

Sara Powell and Romon Tikaram are great as Number 9 and Number 2. Tikraram is particularly good at making subtle changes throughout the performance. However, Mark Elstob has to carry most of the weight of this performance, and he is masterful.

If I did have any complaint, it was that Number 6 has been made a slightly weaker character than the character on the TV show. The situation comes close to breaking him. Left to his own devices, he would have crumbled. If this method came that close, then there are  many interrogations methods that would have worked.

Still, despite a few conceptual problems, this is entertaining and does a good job of establishing the potential of the Prisoner in an audio format.

In the “Chimes of Big Ben,” Number 6 tries to help the Village’s newest arrival, a Lithuanian woman designated as Number Eight. He comes up with a bold plan by which they both can escape the Village.

Of the three adapted stories, this feels closest to the original episode with tweaks being added that improve the story, but otherwise it captures the same feel as the original.

While the entire cast performed well and Elstob was at his best, the highlight of the episode was Michael Cochrane’s Number 2 who begins the story exuding a lot of joviality which masks some far more sinister aspects.

Overall, this is a good set. I didn’t love every change made, but the changes didn’t objectively hurt the franchise. While the audio drama is different than the TV series, it’s not different in a bad way.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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