Tag: positive review

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.

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Audio Drama Review: The Red Panda Adventures, Season 2

Season 2 of the Red Panda features twelve more adventures featuring the Red Panda. It stars Greg Taylor, who also writes the series. Clarissa Der Nederlanden Taylor plays his sidekick Kit Baxter (aka the Flying Squirrel.

Season 2 took what worked in Season 1 and expanded on the Red Panda’s world. We meet some of the Red Panda’s agents. In the previous season, the idea of agents was abstract. In the episode, “When Darkness Falls,” we finally meet some of the operatives, including a police officer and local businessmen. Note the Shadow magazines also gave the hero a team of undercover operatives throughout the city. That likely influenced Taylor. The Red Panda’s agents make several appearances in Season 2 and make a solid addition to the series.

Having established our heroes, the series reveals more backstory in “Secret Origins.” The title likely references a 1986-90 DC Comic series. In the episode, we learn how Kit Baxter met the Red Panda for the first time. “The Big Top”  presents the Red Panda with a moral dilemma.

Throughout the first season, the Red Panda’s foes were mostly thugs and supervillains. In “The Black Hand,” we get the first real case of the Terrific Twosome of Toronto battling the supernatural. The Red Panda deals with a threat to his secret identity in, “The Hidden Door.”

In the season finale, “The World Next Door,” the Red Panda has a crossover with the more comedic Original universe. A character from its future is out to steal something the Red Panda is trying to protect.

Beyond this, the Red Panda continues to dish out justice to villains who could have been on the Shadow. The Red Panda programs’ quality has improved from Season 1. Occasionally, the sound effects or a performer will be off. Other than that, the Red Panda found its groove in Season 2. There’s not a bad episode among this bunch. It’s sure to delight fans of the golden age of radio and superheroes.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

You can listen to Season 2 of the Red Panda here.

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Audio Drama Review: The Third Man

LA Threatre Works adapted Graham Greene’s The Third Man in 2009.

The story follows novelist Holly Martins (Kelsey Grammer) as he arrives in post-War Vienna hoping to get a job from his old friend Harry Lime, only to find Lime has died of an apparent car accident. However, he stumbles on evidence that there may be more to Lime’s death than meets the eye, and his friend may not be the man Holly thought he was.

This audio drama is a well-done retelling of the classic film with few deviations along the way. Kelsey Grammer is superb as Martins bringing just a right mix of toughness, romance, and innocence to the role. The rest of the cast is generally good, though John Mahoney used an American accent when playing the British Major Calloway which took me out of the story a few times.

The production quality was pretty good, with only a few scenes having minor issues. The entire production feels authentic to the original movie, helped by a good rendition of the classic theme. Overall, LA Theatre Works provides a worthy adaptation of a great story.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: Jimmy and the Star Angel

In Colonial Radio Theatre’s musical Jimmy and the Star Angel, Jimmy and Samantha, a young brother and sister, are dealing with their first Christmas without their dad. On Christmas Eve, Jimmy destroys one of his father’s Christmas tree ornaments which leads to them being shrunk to the size of ornaments. All the ornaments on the tree come alive. Jimmy and Samantha need their help to reach the top of the tree by dawn to ask the Star Angel for help or risk being turned into Christmas ornaments forever.

If you like Babes in Toyland or the Wizard of Oz, Jimmy and the Star Angel is that type of journey, so you’re sure to enjoy it. This magical quest up a Christmas tree is full of imaginative and fun characters. It’s also an emotional journey for Samantha and especially Jimmy.

The music in this is great. The songs alone are worth the price of the purchase. They vary in tone, mood, and purpose, but they’re all fun. I loved the swinging “Snowman Spectacular” and the penultimate song “Star Angel” is still bouncing around in my head more than a week and a half after I listened to it.

While the plot is a fantasy, there’s an emotional through line for  Jimmy and Samantha that’s moving. I also found the use of the Christmas trees to be interesting. Jimmy’s family has passed down ornaments for years and the idea these ornaments serve as a family connection through the generations is well-presented, and it helps to serve as a solution to the problem.

The plot has minor issues that adult listeners will pick up on. The villain, the pirate Scrimshaw (Jerry Robbins) feels like he’s  been written because these stories need a villain which leads to the less than satisfactory way in which he’s dispatched as well as the strained way he’s brought in. That said, though Scrimshaw’s not necessary to the plot, Robbins (who wrote the play) is a lot of fun in the role. I like the idea of a Christmas Tree ornament seeking revenge against the boy who broke him.

Overall, this is a great production for the whole family. I recommend you try it out and see if it becomes a tradition like your favorite Christmas tree ornaments.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Disclosure: I received a free digital copy in exchange for an honest review.

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Audio Drama Review: Lord Peter Wimsey: BBC Radio Drama Collection Volume 1

The BBC has begun release its adaptations of Dorothy Sayers novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. The series originally aired between 1973-1983 with one story being recorded in 1993. All feature Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter.  The first collection features radio adaptations of Wimsey’s first three novels.

The collection begins with the first novel Whose Body. It opens with his mother calling him when a dead man is found in an architect’s bathtub and the dead man is wearing nothing but a pair of pince-nez glasses.

The story does a good job of establishing Wimsey as a detective as well as much of the supporting cast. The story has a light tone. One big exception is when Lord Peter has an episode of what we would now call Post Traumatic Stress Disorder related to his service in World War I. His servant Bunter (Peter Jones) served with him in the war and has to bring him out of it.

Overall, Whose Body is delightful and at five parts, it moves at a quicker pace than the other stories in the set. It’s a well-done and pleasant puzzle mystery.

Next up is Cloud of Witnesses in which Lord Peter returns from abroad to find his sister’s fiancé has been murdered and his brother is suspected of the crime.

This is an eight-part adaptation, and the mystery is much more involved and complicated. It works and it gives some insights into Lord Peter’s family and their relationships to one another.

The final story in this collection is the seven-part adaptation of Unnatural Death which has Lord Peter investigating the death of an elderly woman three years previously that was apparently from cancer. Her heir was her great niece who had served as her nurse. A doctor became suspicious of the true cause of the death and was pushed out of the town because of it.

The question of motive is at the heart of the mystery. Lord Peter recruits a marvelous spinster to help with the investigation.

The mystery is complicated and several elements are a bit iffy. The story also suffers from a lack of Bunter, who is absent from most of the tale. By no means is it a bad mystery, it is just not as good as the other two.

Beyond the mysteries themselves, the acting is good throughout. I also love the theme music. It fits the detective like a glove.

I have to say I was impressed by the quality of the sound and the sound effects. It was better than it was on the Poirot’s Finest Cases set that the BBC released a while back, which is odd. The Poirot adaptations came later. Whether this is due to advances in audio restoration technology or due to the Whimsey production team creating a better sound, the sound design is very impressive.

Whether you’re a long-time fan of Peter Whimsey or you like old-fashioned British detectives in general, these radio plays are a delight and I highly recommend them.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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