Tag: top ten list

The Top Ten Big Finish Stories of 2019, Part Two

Continued from Part One

5) Lies in Ruin by James Goss starring Paul McGann, Alex Kingston, Lisa Bowerman, and Alexandra Riley from the Legacy of Time

This is the first story in Big Finish’s big 20th Anniversary box set. It opens with two Doctor Who archaeologists River Song (Kingston) and Bernice Summerfield (Bowerman) meeting on the ruins of a destroyed world. The Doctor (McGann) arrives and they realize what the ruins are (or think they do.)

While this is a big story with huge sci-fi concepts, it also works well as a character piece. Most of the story is the Doctor, River, Bernice, and the Doctor’s new companion Ria (Riley) interacting and it plays out beautifully. It’d have been tempting in bring River Song and Bernice Summerfield together to turn the entire story into a tit for tat verbal battle. Lies in Ruin doe have such moments, but the story moves on. McGann’s performance is marvelous, bringing his most melancholy and sad take on the Eighth Doctor late in his life. It helps even elevate Ria and give her annoying character some pathos.

4) Space 1999: Breakaway by Nicholas Briggs, Starring Mark Bonnar and Maria Teresa Creasey

I did a full review on two hour pilot episode last year (see here). This was a great re-imagining of the Gerry Anderson classic about a Moon Base about to launch a major space mission, but also dealing with a mysterious illness. Great acting, superb sound design, and definitely an intriguing story that whet my appetite for more.

3) The Sacrifice of Jo Grant by Guy Adams, Starring Katy Manning, Tim Treloar, Jemma Redgrave, and Ingrid Oliver from The Legacy of Time 

While observing a time anomaly,  UNIT leader Kate Stewart (Redgrave) and former Unit Agent Jo Grant-Jones (Manning) are sucked back in time to the 1970s where they meet the incarnation of the Doctor Jo traveled with, played by Tim Treloar.

This story works on a number of levels. There’s humorous moments, but it’s a great character piece, particularly in the focus on the relationship between the Doctor and Jo. It’s sweet to see how they interact and how the much older version of Jo relates to the Doctor she knew as a young woman. It’s a well-paced, fun, and emotionally satisfying listen.

2. Doctor Who and the Star Beast written by Alan Barnes from a comic strip by Pat Mills and John Wegner, starring Tom Baker and Rhianne Starbuck from Doctor Who, the Comic Strip Adaptations, Volume 1

This  was adapted from a Doctor Who Magazine Comic strip from 1980. In this story, a teenage foster child (Starbuck) decides to protect a cute alien from authorities. whose spaceship crashed. The Doctor (Tom Baker) gets caught in the middle as another group of aliens are hunting the cute alien and have mis-identified the Doctor as an accomplice.  However, another wrinkle is thrown in as we learn that the cute alien named Beep the Meep (Bethan Dixon Bate) is nowhere near as innocent as he appears.

In some ways, this comes off as a bit of a twisted send-up of E.T. (even though E.T. wasn’t produced until years after the comic strip.) It’s Doctor Who at its most wacky and insane, but it’s cleverly written and does work in a few emotional beats. The cast is great and it sounds like Baker is having fun with the material, which makes for a delightful listen.

1) No Place, Written by James Goss, Starring David Tennant, Catherine Tate, Bernard Cribbins, and Jacqueline King

This story finds the Doctor (Tennant) pretending to be married to his companion Donna (Tate). They’re traveling with her grandfather Wilf (Cribbins) and her mother Sylvia (King) as they’re remodeling a haunted house for a reality TV show.

This story has a lot going for it. There are multiple mysteries including what’s going on in the house and why the Doctor and why the Doctor and friends are even doing this. There are scary moments and fun moments. The characters play well off each other as everyone picks right up from where they left off on television a decade ago without a missing a beat. 

It’s enjoyable from start to finish and my favorite Big Finish story of 2019.

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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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The Top Ten Best Episodes of Night Beat

The recently completed Night Beat series was one of
the best-written and best-acted series we’ve ever played. There were so many great episodes. Narrowing it to a top 10 is a challenge, but here is my best shot.

10) The Man with Red Hair
Original Air Date: August 21, 1952

Randy is picked up in a bar by an intriguing woman who has an unusual itinerary for their date. Along the way, they’re stalked by a man with red hair. Good mystery with an emotional conclusion.

9) The Slasher
Original Air Date: November 10, 1950

A slasher has been terrifying women in the city. Randy thinks he’s discovered who’s behind it and the next victim. Some great twists in this one.

8) Mr. and Mrs. Carothers

Original Air Date: October 26, 1951

A cute, elderly couple ask for Randy’s advice on how to have a good time in the Windy City. All is charming until Randy gets a hint the husband is planning the unthinkable. The story builds up suspense and mystery while giving characters very believable motives.

7) Tong Water
Original Air Date: April 17, 1950

Randy goes to Chinatown to prevent a breakout of a Tong war that could spread across the country.

6) Jukebox Romance

Original Air Date: May 18, 1951

A man with dwarfism is ready to kill after a bully decides to arrange a meeting between him and the lady jukebox operator. In this special episode,a beautiful performance by William Conrad comes out of nowhere and steals the show.

5) I Know Your Secret

Original Air Date: April 10, 1950

Randy comes across a woman ready to commit suicide based on a simple message: “I know your secret.”

4) Einar Pearce and Family

Original Air Date: October 13, 1950

Randy is vacationing in Minnesota and is put on the trail of wanted criminal Einar Pearce, but is captured by the criminal’s family to stop him from going to the police…until they’re done with him. This is a very different Night Beat in a quaint rural setting with unforgettable characters.

3) Fear
Original Air Date: May 25, 1951

Randy receives a letter from a man threatening to kill him sometime during the night.

2) Sanctuary
Original Air Date: June 22, 1951

The set up is brilliant. A madman holds a boy hostage in a church belltower. Can police get the lunatic out without harming the boy? A suspenseful story with a surprise conclusion.

1) Expectant Father

Original Air Date: December 28, 1951

William Conrad’s best single performance on the series as he plays a carousing colleague of Randy’s about to become a father. The vast majority of the episode is Conrad and Frank Lovejoy playing off each other. The script has some dated elements, but it connects to common feelings and conflicts that men deal with. A great piece of writing, brilliantly acted.

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The Rathbone-Bruce Countdown, Part Four

After four weeks, we get to the cream of this crop of these fantastic films. (For previous films, (see Part One , Part Two, and Part Three.

3) Sherlock Holmes in Washington (1943):

The third of a mini-series within the films focusing on World War II sees Holmes and Watson off for Washington, seeking to recover microfilm vital to the war effort. The film is more a spy thriller than a traditional detective story, but Rathbone makes it work.

The film features another solid performance from Rathbone. In this one, Holmes is matched up against sophisticated and ruthless Nazi spies who will do anything to capture the microfilm. This is one of the best types of Holmes films, with the villains and Holmes racing against time towards a solution.

The tension is heightened by clever camera work surrounding the object of the quest, which is a matchbook containing the missing microfilm. The producers rarely let the matchbook out of our sight. We see it passed from hand to hand, even follow it on a tray at a party. It was a very clever and fun device.

2) Sherlock Holmes: The Voice of Terror (1942)

The Voice of Terror brought Holmes and Watson off the radio and back on to motion picture screens and relaunched the series at Universal, and set the series back into the modern times of World War II Great Britain, placing our heroes in the mix of one of the greatest fights in history. This movie has a ripped from the headlines feel as Holmes seeks out a man whose diabolical broadcast were designed to destroy the morale of the beleaguered British public by disclosing classified war information over the radio.

The cinematography was inexpensive but well-done. If you get the restored version from UCLA, the barroom scene where Holmes seeks help in weeding out the Voice of Terror is extremely well-shot. The solution to the case is unexpected and the film packs an emotional wallop. The spirit of World War II comes through in the film. The Voice of Terror is a film about sacrifice, courage, and the indomitable spirit that refused to blink in the face of Nazi Germany.

Of course, there are many people who question the decision to have movies where Sherlock Holmes fights in World War II. However, we must remember that at the time the movie was released, survival of Great Britain was an open question, and the movie has the sense of that. What this means is that the stakes of the film are high and the film had a sense of this larger story going on in the real world. It would be odd for Holmes not to be involved in these sort of cases.

World War II brought many changes to the lives of fictional detectives. Not only Sherlock Holmes, but other detectives such as Nero Wolfe and Charlie Chan lent their skills to the war effort. World War II was when people from all walks of life were having their lives shaken up. Holmes was no different..

And what would Arthur Conan Doyle think of his hero becoming a Nazi buster? The last line of the film provides a clue. Holmes tells Watson, “But there’s an East wind coming all the same. Such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less. And a greener, better, stronger land will be in the sunshine when the wind is clearer.” The quote was actually a line Doyle wrote for Holmes in “His Last Bow,” which was set during World War I. I have no doubt that this film is one Doyle would approve of.

1) The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1939)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes is not just the very best of the Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes films, but the best Holmes film I’ve yet seen. The movie begins with Professor Moriarty (played superbly by George Zucco) being acquitted of a crime and Holmes pledging to bring him to the gallows. Moriarty responds by planning an ostentatious crime and plans to keep Holmes distracted by giving him a puzzle so fascinating that it’ll keep Holmes occupied while Moriarty pulls off the crime of the century.

While Hound of the Baskervilles introduced us to Rathbone as Holmes, he really begins to own the role in this performance. The dynamic between Holmes and Moriarty has never been better. The crimes are clever and well-executed. The film represents the ultimate in the Holmes-Moriarty battle of wits and the battle is not limited to wits only. The confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty at the end of the movie is well-shot and well-scored, making for an exciting and well-paced end to the adventure.

The movie also has the some nice little touches including a fun musical interlude. In addition, unlike later Holmes films which were shot on a limited budget due to wartime restrictions, this film is a beautifully shot period piece.

Thus, while many great and good Holmes would follow, if I had to pick only one Sherlock Holmes film to take on a desert island, this would be the one.

The Rathbone-Bruce Countdown, Part Three

Continuing on our list of Rathbone-Bruce Sherlock Holmes movies from best to worst (see Part One and Part Two):

6) The House of Fear (1945)

Each of these films is a little different from each other, and this one is a classic old house mystery. The plot centers around seven retired gentlemen who buy an old house and live together as the Good Comrades. Members of the group start dying under mysterious circumstances, leaving no identifiable bodies.

This one is a puzzler. The solution to the mystery was incredibly clever and took me totally by surprise. This one doesn’t have as much action or tension as some of the other films, but the mystery more than makes up for it.

5) Sherlock Holmes and the Secret Weapon (1943)

This was the second of three Sherlock Holmes counterespionage movies. It places Holmes squarely against the Nazis and Professor Moriarty who is serving as a Nazi agent. The plot centers around Swiss scientists who come to the UK to supply the British with a powerful new weapon the Nazis would love to get their hands on.

These films liked to borrow an element from a Doyle story as a homage. Here, the Dancing Men makes for a fascinating puzzle as both Holmes and Moriarty try to beat each other to the punch. There’s a good battle of wits that’s worthy of the two geniuses with a prize that’s definitely worthy of their efforts: a weapon that could change the course of the war. This one had a nice mix of comedy in the midst.

It should be noted the final few minutes of the movie had almost a campy feel, with Holmes playing off of Moriarty’s intellectual vanity. Still, it was a very fun movie.

4) The Scarlet Claw (1944):

This film incorporated a greater horror element as Holmes receives a letter asking for help–written by a woman just before she’d been murdered. When Holmes comes to town, everyone is a suspect, including the woman’s husband, with whom Holmes had been having a spirited debate over the existence of the supernatural when they both learned of her death.

This film is perhaps the most frightening and tense of the series, as many of the locals suspect supernatural involvement. Similar to the Hound of the Baskervilles, the locals believe  a supernatural beast of some sort made the odd marks on the body, while Holmes believes an implement was used.

The denouement of the mystery doesn’t disappoint. Just like with House of Fear,  I was surprised by who the murderer was. (Although, the astute viewer may catch a clue when Watson references a Father Brown story in the middle of the film.)

 

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The Rathbone-Bruce Countdown, Part Two