Category: Audio Drama Review

Audio Drama Review: The Collected Bowdrie Dramatizations, Volume 3

The final collection of dramatizations of stories featuring Louie L’Amour’s tough and smart Texas Ranger, Chick Bowdrie (Reathel Bean) offers six more adventures as he hunts down and solves mysteries as he roams the state of Texas serving justice as he goes.

The first four stories in the set have a strong mystery element and he makes a good detective. The mysteries aren’t top tier, but they’re engaging enough.

The last two stories, “Down Sonora Way” and “Strange Pursuit” are different as each is about Bowdrie chasing outlaws. “Down Sonora Way” finds the ranger in a stalemate with an outlaw when they both observe a settler family butting heads with indigenous peoples and they decide to call a truce to rescue the family from harm’s way. In “Strange Pursuit,” Bowdrie is on the trail of a quick-witted outlaw whose exploits included hanging a sheriff who was trying to hang him and riding off with the sheriff’s horse. Bowdrie spent weeks on the man’s trail and spends much of the story making little progress and picking up new tales of his exploits.

Overall, these are at the same level as the previous two collections. While most of L’Amour’s characters aren’t complex, they do have some interesting wrinkles. His level of research and knowledge of the old west is profound. In fact, one of these stories includes a bonus addition of L’Amour talking about sign tracking. The stories are thoroughly entertaining. Bean is superb at Bowdrie and all the other actors are on-point.

The Bowdrie collections would be enjoyed by anyone who loves tales of the Old West, or even if you’re not big into Westerns, if you like well-made audio dramas, this is definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

 

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice, Season Nine

Season Nine of Black Jack Justice sees Jack (Christopher Mott) and Trixie Dixon (Andrea Lyons) back for six more investigations. The ninth season continues the same high standard. It offers everything you come to expect: The opening monologue that introduces a well-worn aphorism as a basis for the case, the clever banter, and the solid mystery stories you come to expect.

Jack’s status as a newly married man has a small impact on the series. Had there been romantic tension between the two lead characters, it would have been much more major. However, unlike in most detective fiction, where statements of contempt hide passionate love, the statements of contempt between Jack and Trixie reflected that they didn’t much like each other personally but had a good working relationship. However, Jack’s mood is less dour than in past seasons as he’s enjoying conjugal bliss. One episode, “Home for the Holidays” saw Jack getting involved in solving a crime in a small town so Jack could get home to his wife.

The series had limited appearances from the recurring guest cast. Jack’s wife is seen and not heard after appearing in the previous two seasons. King the office dog and Freddy the Finger are far less present than in previous seasons.

The episodes are all good. I particularly liked the contrast between the last two episodes of the season. In “The Big Time,” Jack and Trixie get an unexpected opportunity to take on a big case for an insurance company with a big payoff. This is followed by, “The Learner’s Permit” where they agree to help a writer do research for his new detective story, and then bungle their way into a murder investigation where they should be able to tell the police everything needed to solve the case and provide photographic evidence, but instead have bungled it so badly that someone else has to step in and solve the case. Creating a contrast between a high water mark and one of their most embarrassing moments business is a clever take by writer Gregg Taylor.

While I did miss some of the recurring characters, this was still a fun listen. If you enjoyed any of the past Black Jack Justice seasons, Season 9 is well-worth listening to.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

Black Jack Justice Season 9 is available to listen to for free at Decoder Ring Theatre.

Radio Series Review: My Friend Irma

My Friend, Irma came to radio in 1947 starring Marie Wilson as Irma, a quirky young secretary from Minnesota who came to New York and was befriended by Jane Stacy (Cathy Lewis and later Joan Banks) who took her on as her roommate. The series is all about their misadventures. 

It would be spun off into two films as well as a TV series. The series was created by Cy Howard, who would go on to create Life with Luigi and it’s stylistically similar in many ways as well as both series featuring legendary  voice actors Hans Conried and Alan Reed. 

The series had a lot of running jokes. Conried’s character Professor Kerplotkin would greet Irma and Jane with an analogy to two things with the latter being a back-handed suggestion Irma wasn’t quite all there and would apologize stating it was “a little joke” he’d picked up somewhere. Mrs. O’Reilly, their landlady would show up and also get insulted by Professor Kerplotkin. The Professor would also complain about his room in the most over the top way possible and make a suggestion of something romantic with Mrs. O’Reilly (played by Jane Morgan and later Gloria Gordon) only to pull the rug out from under her with yet another insult.

Irma’s shiftless boyfriend Al (John Brown) would always try to turn any situation to his own benefit through (often poorly thought out) schemes. When he ran into a situation where he didn’t know what to do, he would say, “There’s only one man who knows what to do,” dial a number and then say, “Hello, Joe….Got a problem.” Nothing is inherently funny about this but Brown’s delivery practically wills it into a laugh line.

Probably the biggest running gags in the series center around Irma and could be paraphrased, “You know how weird Irma is?”

Marie Wilson deserves a lot of credit for her performance. It’d be easy for a character like Irma to become annoying, but she rarely does, and it’s the writing that sometimes makes Irma too whiny. Her comic delivery and timing is great and helps to sell the show. She’s particularly adept at having Irma’s mixing up messages other people tell her to deliver to sound completely natural.

The supporting cast is good Again, it’d be easy for them to come off badly and for the most part, they don’t. While they all know Irma’s a little bit off, they’re all supportive. Her boss, Mr. Clyde was mean but most comedy bosses during that era were mean, so that was to be expected.

My biggest problem in the series was Jane Stacy. On one hand, she could be nice to Irma and help her out and she could also be long-suffering with all the problems Irma caused. On the other, she often could lose it. In addition, she was the one who introduced the episodes and talked to the audience. She tended to deliver the meanest and most cutting remarks about Irma not only to other characters, but to the audience.

I came to view Jane as Irma’s “friend” who resents having her around and complaints constantly to other people about Irma. I found Jane insufferable and two-faced. I had negative reactions to other Cathy Lewis characters because I’d think of Jane Stacy when I heard them. Joan Banks’ take on Jane Stacy and Mary Jane Croft’s character of Kay Foster weren’t any better but they didn’t have as much time to wear on my nerves as Lewis did.

Numerous casting changes occurred in the course of the program, and not all of them are well-documented or observable. The bulk of episodes in circulation are from the show’s earliest days from 1947 to the spring of 1949, so many casting or character changes are unexplained within the radio program as any transitions occurred in episodes that were lost. There was a total of three episodes in circulation for the three year period between March 1949 and January 1952, and a smattering of episodes for each year from 1952-54. While I have limited exposure to later casts, the original cast, with both Brown and Conried is probably is the best the show had, though the later actors did fine.

Overall, My Friend Irma is a decent comedy. While it’s far from my favorite, it has some laughs. There’s little continuity, so you don’t suffer that much as a result of the missing seasons.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: The Crogan Adventures

In 2013, Decoder Ring Theatre, best known for producing Black Jack Justice and the Red Panda Adventures released the Crogan Adventures, an audio drama based on Chris Schweitzer’s graphic novel series following the adventures of the Crogan family throughout  history.  

Each of the six episodes has the framing device of the modern Crogan children doing something that sets their father into telling a story from the rich history of the Crogan family.

The Crogan Adventures are set in a variety of times and places. The interesting historical settings include South Africa during the booming diamond mining era, a foreign legion camp, and two boats out at sea. The productions have a strong repertory company feel with different casts outside of the framing scenes each week, so actors who were regulars in Decoder Ring Theatre’s regulator productions get an opportunity to play different parts. Each episode offers a nice combination of mystery, drama, and humor that’s relatively family friendly.

If I had one complaint, it was that the framing scenes did seem a bit cheesy, but that almost feels like the point.

Overall, if you like exciting adventure stories spread throughout history with amazing locations and outlandish protagonists, the Crogan Adventures are definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

The Crogan Adventures can be listened to here.

Audio Drama Review: The Red Panda, Season Eight

The Eight Season of the Red Panda Adventures is its third World War II season and sees another shift in the series’ dynamics. The Red Panda (Gregg Taylor) is back in Canada after his wife Kit (played by Clarissa Der Nederlanden Taylor) (aka The Flying Squirrel) held down the fort for a long time believing him to be dead while he was in Europe.

Now their focus is on winning the war as the series marches on towards D-Day. Also with our heroes newly parents, there’s a focus on laying the groundwork for their retirement… if they survive the war. As a noted loner, the Red Panda is forced a new role as leader of a patriotic superteam of young heroes known as the Danger Federation.  At the same time, he and the Flying Squirrel battle a mix of foreign and domestic threats.

I enjoyed this series quite a bit. It may be my favorite war series so far. It managed to have a great balance of different types of stories, while still having ongoing threads. I enjoyed them all. Three were the best. “The Honored Dead” finds the World War II-era Red Panda and Flying Squirrel travelling back in time to the 1930s and meeting their old comrades. It’s a nicely done piece with a lot of emotion. In “The Lab Rats” the Red Panda has to use his scientific skills to thwart a Nazi weapon in a team up with the former Supervillain the Genie, and his old ally Doctor Chronopolis. The season finale, “The End of the Beginning” features the Red Panda teaming up with another hero and leaving the Flying Squirrel behind as he travels to Occupied Europe just before D-Day to stop a Nazi super man.

The writing and acting remain strong throughout. Probably my biggest issue with the season is some interesting ideas didn’t get the exploration they could have.  The Danger Federation could have been the focus of more stories. I also thought exploring our heroes as parents would be interesting. Instead, the baby is a plot point that sets up their desire for retirement.

The sound design does continue to be primitive, which is usually not a big deal. But in, “The End of the Beginning,” the climatic fight scene is great, but it suffers from weak sound design. If they ever decide to remaster the series with better sound effects, this is the first episode that should be done.

Overall, this was one a strong season of wartime action that moves our heroes closer to the end of the war.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

The Red Panda Adventures Season 8 can be listened to for free here.

The Top Ten Big Finish Stories of 2020, Part Two

Continued from Part One

5) Conflict Theory by Nev Fountain

(From the Sixth Doctor and Peri box set)

The Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri (Nicola Bryant) are going for therapy on a ship run by Sigmund Freud robots. They both have issues, and their own side of the story to tell.

While Nev Fountain has written some good material for other ranges and other Doctors, his greatest legacy at Big Finish as the definitive writer of this Doctor/Companion team and he once again gets this just right. The story has some hilarious moments, a clever plot that would get an attaboy from Douglas Adams, and enough serious explorations of the characters to make the story well-balanced. I also liked the twist about the villains.

The Doctor and Peri’s cheat in this episode is a bit farfetched. Still, I had such a good time, I can’t make a big deal of it.

4) Restoration of the Daleks by Matt Fitton

(From the Eighth Doctor: The Time War, Volume 4):

This is one of the few Big Finish stories where I literally felt chills as I listened. It’s the massive finale of Fourth box set and features Davros and the Daleks both returning to the Doctor’s universe.

Without spoiling it, this hits its mark beautifully. The acting by all the main cast is pitch perfect: Paul McGann, Rakhee Thakrar, Terry Malloy, and Nicholas Briggs all bring their best to this story. The writing is also on-point. This story ties into a lot of continuity and the writer is given massive “toys” to play with, but Matt Fitton avoids over-indulgence and keeps the plot right on course, with believable and intriguing twists.

This one has great scenes and pairings. Bliss (Thakkar) paired with Davros (Malloy) is superb. Finally, she emerges as the Doctor’s perfect Time War Companion. She didn’t step on the TARDIS for a joyride. Her life has been disrupted by the Time War and she’s willing to take actions the Doctor’s Companions don’t typically go for, particularly when the Doctor’s not around. I do feel this hasn’t been established well throughout the series, but I hope this characterization of Bliss carries for any future sets featuring her.

Also, I adored the scenes with the Doctor and Dalek Time Strategist as we do get to see some real cunning from the Doctor in this story.

The sound design is appropriately cinematic for the scale of this adventure.

3) Barrister to the Stars by James Kettle

(From the Diary of River Song, Volume 7)

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, the Rumpole of the Bailey influences are clear with 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 also quite a bit of imagination and world building that goes into creating this situation and also the weird and amazing creatures that inhabit it. It’s a wonderful, hilarious, and practically flawless mix of genres.

2) Palindrone by John Dorney

(From the Eighth Doctor: Time War 4) Laths

In a Universe in which the Thals and Kelads made peace, Davros (Terry Malloy) lives as a successful scientist with his beloved wife. However, four days after the Doctor comes through a dimensional portal, Davros and his wife are murdered by interdimensional Daleks, and Davros wakes up after dying to find it’s the previous day.

While this is technically a Doctor Who episode, the focus is on this benevolent Davros from another dimension trying to protect his world and his wife. It’s a different sort of Davros and the concept that time is flowing backwards for Davros and that each day after he’s killed, he wakes up and it’s the previous day are well-played.

The first episode ends with Davros taking a turn that sets the stage for the rest of the story.

The second part of Palindrone continues where the first one left off. Davros is determined to save his world. The Dalek TIme Strategist arrives and tells him that there is only one way, and lays out a plan to save this Universe’s Skaro from the Doctor.

Without spoiling the story, it’s an amazing and stunning tale, thanks in no small part to Terry Malloy’s acting. He carries the production and the emotional power of this story as the Doctor and Time Strategist battle to convince Davros that they’re right and battle for Davros’ soul. Nicholas Briggs deserves credit for a strong performance as the Time Strategist, really making him stand out from the Daleks and be a persuasive force.

  1. Expiry Dating by James Goss

(From the Tenth Doctor and River Song box set)

In Expiry Dating, the Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) receives a message from River asking for him to go to the Apocalypse Vault. While the Doctor’s intrigued by River and who she he is, he has no interest in being told what to do and thus responds negatively, setting off a string of correspondence between them that goes through the run of the story.

This story has quite a bit going for it. The format allows this big Moffat-like tale with so many fun and intriguing settings and events, but with a very limited cast aided by Glenn McCready’s talent at creating multiple characters. The humor is spot on throughout with so many great lines. Peter Davison’s guest appearance was a lot of fun and sweet, with a different take on the Fifth Doctor, and Colin Baker’s cameo worked well. The story has a satisfying enough conclusion (even if they cheat a bit.) If you want to get really critical, the story’s portrayal of Jane Austen as a merciless killer of supernatural monsters is a bit at odds with the story done in the Eleventh Doctor Chronicles a while back, but I actually prefer this version.

Next week, I’ll my look back at Big Finish’s 2020 with my ranking of Big Finish’s best box sets.

Top Ten Big Finish Stories of 2020, Part One

We’re going to countdown my top ten favorite Big Finish stories of 2020. Big Finish is a British producer of audio dramas, best known for producing licensed Doctor Who Audio Dramas in spin-offs but have also have licensed several other series as well as doing their own originals.

In 2020, Big Finish not only released their expected releases but also was able to take advantage of the lockdowns to produce more audio dramas.

As usual with this list, while I listen to a lot of Big Finish, I can’t claim to have heard it all, and there are many ranges such as Torchwood, Class, Dark Shadows, Blake 7, Adam Adamant Lives, and Time Slip that I don’t really listen to. In addition, I have not heard every single release they’ve done this year even in the ranges I am interested in. That said, I’ve heard quite a bit and these are my favorites of what I have listened to. ‘

We’re going to have a lot of Doctor Who stories. So this article is going to assume basic knowledge of the series and how it works with the Doctor being an alien who travels in time and space in his ship, the TARDIS and when he dies, he regenerates into a new body (and is played by a different actor, with the latest being an actress. Each is numbered chronologically.)

10) Out of Time 1 by Matt Fitton

This is one of Big Finish’s lockdown productions and features the meeting between the most popular Doctor from the series’ original 26-year run and the most popular Doctor of the revived series. The Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker) and The Tenth Doctor (David Tennant) end up meeting by accident at a sci fi cathedral and have to team up to defeat their archfoe, the Daleks.

This story is a lot of fun with great interactions between the Doctors, as well as a few clever ideas, and at least one interesting side character.

The release is a perfect introduction to the type of audios that Big Finish makes today and is affordably priced for those who are curious about Doctor Who audio dramas. The story itself is a well-done but basic story of the Daleks invading to get what they want and killing anyone that stands in their way. But the moments between Tennant and Baker make this a fun release.

9) Scorched Earth by Chris Chapman

The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and his companions Flip (Lisa Greenwood) and Constance (Miranda Raison) arrive in a French village right after it’s been liberated from the Nazis. They find a festive atmosphere but its marred when an angry mob shaves the head of a young woman they label as a collaborator and the Doctor suspects that a monster made of fire may be inserting itself into the war.

The story really brings about a genuine conflict among the TARDIS crew that’s quite reasonable. This isn’t immature bickering but disagreements that come out of who the characters are. Flip is a Twenty-First Century woman and Constance is from Wartime Britain having served as a WREN.

The difference is about something that matters as Constance thought the punishment of the young woman was justified. Flip didn’t, and the Doctor is trying to walk a fine line to keep his companions safe and avoid alienating either. Constance does grow through the story. My only complaint about the conflict is that Flip never understands Constance’s point of view. Constance is of course wrong, but being able to understand where someone’s coming from even when we disagree is important.

The monster works pretty well and compliments the themes of the story. There’s some solid soundscapes and the story does a great job making it easy to imagine the scope and power of this creature. There’s also just the right amount of humor, and some really fun action in the fourth episode that makes this a worthwhile listen.

8) Vanity Trap by Stuart Manning

(from the Sixth Doctor and Peri Volume 1):

The Sixth Doctor (Colin Baker) and Peri meet up with an aging Hollywood star who claims to have met them, and so the Doctor travels back to 1972 and a film that was never finished.

This is a piece helped by a superb cast, including Stephen Critchlow. I enjoyed Sarah Douglas’ performance as the aging starlet, who is played as a very complex character who is better than her obvious faults.

The Doctor and Peri are given great material to work with, including good tension between them that is believable and avoids going over the top. I liked how Colin Baker was given a change to establish the menace of the situation, as Sylvester McCoy often does, but in a way that fits his Doctor.

The sound design and music are superb, knowing when to use a light touch, and when to add subtle touches to ratchet up the tension.

Overall, this was an engaging story that’s underrated.

7) Ghost Station by Steve Lyons

(From the Anthology Time Apart):

Ghost Station finds the Fifth Doctor (Peter Davison)  in an underground station beneath the Berlin Wall in the 1970s confronting an East German soldier with a body on the ground. The set up for the story is great, with superb atmosphere and effects. This story is a rare two-hander that allows the Fifth Doctor and the guard to play off each other for the entire runtime. Both Peter Davison and Timothy Blore turn in magnificent performances and play beautifully off one another. There’s just the right amount of plot and the story has some superb emotional beats. Overall, this is one of the best one-part Stories Big Finish has done. 

6) Quest of the Engineer by Andrew Smith

For this year, the ninth series of Fourth Doctor Adventures, Big Finish reunited the Season 18 Tardis Crew of the Fourth Doctor (Tom Baker), Romana (Lalla Ward), Adric (Matthew Waterhouse), and K-9 (John Leeson) and told four additional stories set in Adric’s home dimension in E-space. 

In the “Quest of the Engineer,” E-Space creator Andrew Smith returns to write the final script. Smith offers a massive concept that begins with the TARDIS crew arriving on a planet that forbids technology and encounters a remarkable man who gives them information that leads to a planet-sized ship that’s the domain of the engineer.

This is a superb story. The concepts are all great, imaginative sci fi ideas that are quite mind-blowing. The Engineer is one of the stronger villains Big Finish has created. He boasts a combination of arrogance, hubris, and cruelty as well as genuine genius that makes him a force to be reckoned with. Except for K-9, all the regulars are given a chance to shine.

The Engineer’s backstory is more complicated than necessary. Through the course of the episode, its revealed that the Engineer had been a ruthless war criminal. Smith tries to add an extra layer to that, a more personal angle, but it’s a bit hard to buy. Overall, still a very fun listen and the best Fourth Doctor story of the year.

To be continued next week…