Tag: sci-fi

AWR0115: X Minus One: Martian Sam (Old Time Radio Baseball)

Amazing World of Radio

The struggling Los Angeles Dodgers sign an eighteen inch tall Martian pitcher to turn around their fortunes.

Original Air Date: April 3, 1957

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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 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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TV Series Review: The Prisoner

“I’m the new Number Two.”
“Who is Number One?”
“You are Number Six.”
“I’m not a Number, I’m a Free Man!”

Most episodes of the 1967-68 series The Prisoner begin with this meeting between the hero of the series (Patrick McGoohan, who also created the series and wrote several episodes) and his antagonist of the week.

The Prisoner is about an unnamed British secret agent who abruptly resigns and returns home to pack for a trip to Bermuda and is gassed and wakes up in the Village. On its face, the Village is a pleasant, happy community set in a gorgeous environment. In reality, it’s a police state where everyone goes by numbers instead of names.

The organization that runs the Village wants to break Number Six and obtain the valuable information stored inside his head, beginning with an explanation for why he resigned. The Village is administered by Number Two, who also directs the Village’s campaign of psychological warfare against the Agent, designated by the Village as Number 6. Each week, there’s a different Number Two to serve as a foil for Number 6, although some Number Twos repeated.

Patrick McGoohan turns in a stunning performance at every turn, capturing the character’s default defiant mode, but also the reactions to all of the Village’s attempts to break him really make them believable.

The rest of the cast is generally solid, including the rotating Number 2. Each actor brings something different to the role, but my favorite is Leo McKern (who would star in Rumpole of the Bailey.) The penultimate episode, “Once Upon a Time” becomes a two-hander between McKern and McGoohan for almost the entire run time and it’s an acting tour de force.

The series has solid writing, but not all stories are episodes are created equal. McGoohan said  he only wanted to do seven episodes of the Prisoner but the network (ITV) wanted more than that in the series. Thus, seven episodes would be considered essential and the rest merely filler. McGoohan didn’t specify which episodes were the essential ones. The popular fan theory is  the first six episodes to be filmed plus the finale were all McGoohan wanted. However,there are other theories including the idea McGoohan didn’t want hour-long episodes at all, but seven ninety minute episodes, with each containing elements of two of our existing episodes.

Regardless, there are episodes rife with social commentary and deeper meanings and there are episodes that are little more than superb 1960s Spy programs littered with sci-fi content. The only episode I  didn’t care for is, “Do Not Forsake Me All My Darling” which features Number 6 swapping minds with a man known as the Colonel and then being taken back to his life in London as the Colonel and is having to try and convince someone that he really is himself. The reason the story was written this way was so  McGoohan could appear in just the opening and final scenes and therefore be able to take off from filming to go  film the movie Ice Station Zebra. Creative decisions made for reasons like this rarely go well.  The story isn’t horrible, it’s just a bit middling for a great series.

The production values on this series are superb.  Visually, the series stands up better than anything I’ve seen from the 1960s. Portmeirion in North Wales was an absolutely fantastic location for most of the Prisoner’s location work.  However,  there’s a lot of real workmanship involved with every episode. In an age when many TV dramas were just point and shoot, there’s some deliberate choices made to frame shots to communicate the mood and add layers to the story.

The Western episode  of The Prisoner, “Living in Harmony” was well-filmed and felt authentic in the setting, costuming, and most of the characters.

The Prisoner has other weird and wonderful touches such as inventing a new sport named Kosho in which Number 6 and his opponent bounced around on trampolines wearing kimonos, helmets, and boxing gloves while trying to knock each other into a pool. Then there’s the episode where the Prisoner showed that week’s Number Two doing some great martial arts moves…for no apparent reason.

Not everything weird that the Prisoner tries works. The ending, for example, was so controversial  McGoohan had to go into hiding for several day after its airing. To this day, lots of people  think it was a horrible way to end the series. However, its oddness and the questions it raises does fit the rest of the series, and fans overall give the episode an 8.1 out of 10 on IMDB.

The Prisoner is a television experience.  It’s incredibly rewatchable, and not just because there are only seventeen episodes, but three alternate viewing orders have been recommended by various fans over the years to better enjoy the series. Overall, this is an unforgettable classic.

Rating: 4.75 out of 5

Currently, the series is available to watch for free for Amazing Prime subscribers.

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Audio Drama Review: Night of the Triffids

In Night of the Triffids from Big Finish productions, the survivors’ great advantage against the Triffids appears to be thrown in jeopardy by the coming of a worldwide darkness. David Masen, the son of the protagonist in Day of the Triffids leaves the Isle of Wight by airplane to investigate.

The Production has some commendable elements. The cast is strong, particularly Sam Troughton and Nicola Bryant. The effects do a good job of bringing the Triffids to life. The sound design helps create tense scenes, particularly the part with David and Marmi swimming and battling Triffids who have evolved to survive underwater.

The writing is the challenge.  Night of the Triffids is a good adaptation of a so-so book. The story has some interesting ideas such as finding out how the United States fared in the catastrophic blindness, the encroachment of the Triffids, and the aftermath. Yet, the story’s inciting incident fades from importance and resolves itself in the last two minutes. At the same time, the story asks us to follow a lot of wild and improbable plot twists. Most notably is the attempt to take a character from the original book and turn him into the prime villain of this story when this story is set mostly in America. They have to explain how the character survived probable death, got across the ocean in a post-apocalyptic future, and rose to be a major leader.

This is not horrible, but it isn’t a worthy successor for the original.

Rating: 3 out of 5

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