Category: Audio Drama Review

The Top Eleven Big Finish Audio Releases of 2022, Part One

The last few years, I’ve completed rankings of the top ten individual stories from the British audio drama producer, Big Finish. This year, I’m doing a top eleven list due to a special circumstance in this year’s story that we’ll talk about in this post.

As usual, I can’t claim to have listened to ALL of Big Finish’s magnificent output. My listening has been mostly to its Doctor Who and related ranges (for which Big Finish is most famous), but I’ve also listened to their Sherlock Holmes, The Avengers, Space 1999, and UFO releases. As the late great Regis Philbin once stated, “I’m only one man.” So I haven’t heard everything.

I’ll also warn that there’s some continuity notes ahead because as good as these stories are, most come from series that are not quite as straightforward as in years past.

11) I, Kamelion by Dominic Martin, read by Dan Starkey

This story is a bit of a surprise. It came as an interlude (aka an hour-plus long audiobook) for those who bought The Fifth Doctor Adventures: Forty, Volume 1, the first of two box sets to mark the fortieth anniversary of Peter Davison debuting as the Fifth Doctor. But this one is interesting and it features an unlikely hero: Kamelion.

Kamelion was a shapeshifting robot introduced in Davison’s second season. He was to be a companion for the Fifth Doctor, but the robot didn’t work. He was brought back over audio by Big Finish a few years back in a series of stories. My problem with that series was that it made Kamelion the central focus, and only served to show him as a problematic figure who constantly made life difficult for the TARDIS crew. Leave it to Dominic Martin to give us a story that gives Kamelion his due.

Kamelion finds himself having become an actual human being, not (as happened on the TV series) just disguised as one. He has to figure out what happened, and several peoples’ lives, including that of the Doctor and Turlough, are on the line.

The story is emotionally satisfying and explores Kamelion’s character in a very effective way, as well as showing how he relates to the other characters. While other stories have had robots inhabit human bodies, I thought that writer Dominic Martin added some really nice touches in exploring what that would mean to the robot.

Kamelion is a disliked or at least disregarded companion, but this story at last gives him a chance to shine and to make a difference in the best way possible. This was just a real treat to listen to.

10) The End by Rochana Patel and starring Jacob Dudman from The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles: Geronimo

This is part of The Eleventh Doctor Chronicles in which actor/impressionist Jacob Dudman portrays the Eleventh Doctor, who was portrayed on television by Matt Smith. In this story, the Doctor and his new companion Valerie Harper (Safiyya Ingar) arrive on a spaceship in peril twice simultaneously. In one timeline, the Doctor has been poisoned; in another, it’s Valerie. Together they have to solve the mystery of what’s going on.

This story has a lot going for it. The concept puts a fresh twist on the sort of time-wimey madness that happens in Doctor Who at all levels, while at the same time really exploring the characters of the Doctor and Valerie as they are pushed to the edge in multiple ways. The same is true of the guest cast, who are immaculately written in this story.

9) The Outlaws by Lizbeth Miles and Starring Steven Noonan from Doctor Who: The First Doctor Adventures: The Outlaws

This story sees the debut of Stephen Noonan as Big Finish’s new First Doctor (who was played on television by William Hartnell), with Lauren Cornelius playing Dodo (originally played on television by Jackie Lane) and featuring comedian Rufus Hound playing the villain, the Meddling Monk.

The Doctor and Dodo arrive in thirteenth century Lincoln, as England is under attack by King Louie and the Sheriff is having to deal with constant attacks from outlaws.

There’s a lot to like about this. It does a great job capturing the feel of a Hartnell-era historical. The story leans more into the comic rather than the tragic style of historicals. There are some really fun, delightful moments, with a few deaths to bring things back down to Earth.

Stephen Noonan is superb. He plays the first Doctor with a twinkle in his eye that comes through the audio. He does such a great job capturing Hartnell’s Doctor, even turning Hartnell’s “mistakes” into part of the performance.

Rufus Hound once again is excellent, playing in a scheme that’s a bit more consistent with where the Monk began as a character. Hound and Noonan are particularly fun together, with superb performance chemistry.

8) The Prints of Denmark by Paul Morris and starring Wendy Padbury and Rufus Hound from Doctor Who: The Companion Chronicles, The Second Doctor, Volume 3:

The Monk is on a mission and runs into Zoe Herriott (Padbury) at a museum. Finding out she’s a companion to the Doctor, he decides to bring her along for the ride. Will Zoe be able to turn the tables on the Monk, or will she inadvertently change Earth’s history forever by being led down a path one step at a time by the Monk?

There’s a lot to like about this story. Rufus Hound is given free rein in a story that really fits his characterization perfectly. As the human computer, Zoe becomes the perfect straight man in a lovely double act. Their interactions are perfect. I particularly enjoyed the irony of the Monk challenging the absurd cosmology Doctor Who portrays that makes time practically sentient while Zoe defends it.

The story is a brilliant continuity deep cut on the Monk’s original appearance on Doctor Who. There are also all sorts of interesting side features and Rufus Hounds gets to show a nice bit of flexibility, even appearing as himself.

This is the funniest Big Finish story in an age.

7) Death Will Not Part Us by Alfie Shaw Shaw and read by Adele Anderson. Released as Part of Doctor Who Short Trips, Volume 11
&
6) Rewind written by Timothy X Atack and starring Jonathan Carley. Released as Part of Doctor Who: The War Doctor Begins, Volume 3
These stories each achieve the same thing and do it in their own way. The Time War is a huge event in modern Doctor Who, as this was between the Daleks and the Time Lords that spanned countless eons and found the entire universe as a battlefield, with other species constantly having their history rewritten or being written or out of existence, all while time-altering weapons wreak untold mischief. While Big Finish has many stories set during this period, few have really captured the horror and emotional trauma this would bring to those unfortunate enough to find themselves caught between the two sides These stories do so brilliantly.
“Death Will Not Part Us” is a short audiobook. This story follows a woman whose planet was wiped out by the Time Lords, but she finds a weapon that allows her to rewind time and start again and even strike back at her enemies. It’s powered by the days of her life. Each time she fires the gun, she loses part of her past, but it’s a sacrifice she’ll make to save her world. This is a great story of an ordinary person getting caught in a war between two sides led by mad beings who believe they should control all reality.
“Rewind” is from The War Doctor Begins series which stars Jonathan Carley as a younger version of the character played by the late John Hurt on television.

This story follows Ignis Able (Sarah Moss), a poet and minor local government official focusing on arts and self-fulfillment when the Daleks come and invade to destroy her entire planet, and they do so over and over again, with her reliving those last hours in a continual loop, until she sees a light from the tower to investigate.

This is a great concept that does a few important things for the Time War. By being narrated by Ignis, you get a feeling of how the War affects those races caught in the Time War from the inside, and the horrific nature of it. At the same time, you also get a feeling for why the Doctor feels such guilt about his actions in the Time War. The Doctor is completely in character. He’s not trying to be cruel, but nonetheless, his actions help lead to pain and suffering.

I can’t say enough good things about Sarah Moss’ performance. She does a great job bringing Ignis to life. She’s brave, but has a poet’s soul.  She’s a mix of grit, sensitivity, creativity, and maybe just a little bit of impracticality. The ending is very bold and leaves the listener with a lot to think about.

To be continued next week.

Audio Drama Review: The Great Gildersleeve, Volume 4

Radio Archives’ The Great Gildersleeve, Volume 4 collects twelve episodes of The Great Gildersleeve from late November 1941 to late February 1942. Two episodes are missing from the collection; one, “Cousin Octavia Visits”, is in circulation but with much weaker sound quality than the ones in this collection. Still, I recommend listening to that one online because it shows how much the show’s focus and tone began to shift as America entered World War II. The contrast between the episode that was written before Pearl Harbor (but aired with breaking news bulletins, creating an odd contrast) and the one that followed it was striking.

“Cousin Octavia Visits” is a typical sitcom plot, where a spoiled child relative acts sweet initially but turns into absolute hellion once Mommy’s gone. The next episode finds the family in a financial crunch after Gildersleeve (Harold Peary) draws out most of their savings to buy defense bonds, while the housekeeper, Birdie (Lillian Randolph), shares her dark fantasy of poisoning Japanese soldiers. Don’t get me wrong, this volume’s not all patriotism and bloodlust. This set features some very funny episodes, but most episodes after Pearl Harbor reflect the subtle and not-so-subtle ways the War changed people’s lives.

The plots have a lot of great humor that center around comic misunderstanding, Gildersleeve throwing his weight around, and his inability to back out of an embarrassing situation. They also make good use of the fact that no one seems to communicate, which leads to, for instance, multiple people trying to sell the same Iron Deer statue from scrap metal. In another episode, the family ends up in a hilarious bidding war when Gildersleeve decides to surprise his daughter Marjorie (who is getting Red Cross training) with a bedroom makeover, only to find out that Marjorie (Lurene Tuttle) has hired someone else to do the job for her after they’ve already purchased a new bed. Gildersleeve’s son Leroy’s (Walter Telley) childhood hijinks serve as the basis for two episodes, one where he gets hold of Gildersleeve’s cigars, and another where he runs away from home.

The series also tries an expansion of the cast. Arthur Q. Bryan (best known as the voice of Elmer Fudd) arrives in the Cousin Octavia episode and stays on for another episode before departing. He’d return without the classic Elmer Fudd speech impediment later on in the series.

My three favorite episodes in the box set were: “Arrested as a Car Thief”, where a simple task of driving Leroy and some rabbits he’d been raising to an agricultural exhibit becomes a massive ordeal, involving horrible roads and multiple cases of mistaken identity; “Leroy Runs Away”, which has some similarities with mistaken identity, and not just of people, and also allows Harold Peary a rare dramatic moment and he doesn’t disappoint; and, my favorite, “Selling the Drugstore”, where Gildersleeve has been lecturing Leroy about the value of honesty and George Washington. Leroy takes the lesson to heart and then begins to hold Gildersleeve accountable for telling the truth. It leads to a lot of funny moments, but it also has a moral without being too moralizing. It also has one of the best comic twists in the set.

My least favorite episode (though by no means a bad one) is one where Marjorie’s Red Cross group needs education in fixing cars, and because Gildersleeve has been overheard talking about his prowess fixing sewing machines, he gets roped into teaching a class of female Red Cross trainees how to work on automobiles. It has some humorous moments and fun jokes but it’s just a little too contrived and disconnected from any sort of reality or logic for my taste.

Overall, this another solid set of restored episodes that really showcase the foundation of The Great GIldersleeve as one of America’s great radio sitcoms.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

 

 

Audio Drama Review: Murder from the Bridge and Six More

Murder from the Bridge and Six More collects a total of seven audio dramas written by Steven Olney and chronicling the adventures of retired police captain Waverly Underhill (Dave Ellsworth), as reported by his faithful friend Doctor Scofield (Wally O’Hara).

The series was broadcast as part of The Cape Cod Mystery Theater and has a wonderful local flavor to it, similar to the way The Adventures of Harry Nile captures Seattle. These sort of productions are really fun and I wish there were more solid detective audio dramas written in locations throughout the country. I will also say right off the bat that if you’re looking for detective stories that aren’t your typical whodunit, you’ll probably find a lot to like in this set.

The set opens with Murder from the Bridge, which is the shortest release in the set. Captain Underhill arrives to take a young man to the spot where his uncle jumped to his death from the Sagamore Bridge in an obvious case of suicide…or is it? This is a really good, suspenseful piece that builds tension and allows Captain Underhill to really shine, and show that sort of Columbo-like cunning of putting a killer at ease before bringing down the hammer.

In The Mystery of Anna Gale, Underhill investigates the apparent kidnapping of a little girl. This is a good one for showcasing Doctor Scofield’s superior humanity, and his ability to understand and be gentle with kids as a lifetime family doctor. It has an unusual and surprising solution.

The Curse of the Whale’s Tooth is a really solid Gothic mystery complete with a family curse, a cursed heirloom, and the mysterious appearance of a lion. It evokes a sort of New England Hound of the Baskervilles vibe, with a very modern twist ending.

The Mermaid on Halloween Bridge is about a mysterious mural of a topless mermaid being painted on Halloween Bridge. The painter is a young woman who is painting at night to avoid getting into trouble, and there’s an old man with gout who doesn’t like it and calls the police. This is a hard one to evaluate. My biggest problem is that Captain Underhill is shoehorned into the story. There’s a police shortage so severe that they decide to put the 70-year-old retired police captain out on the beat driving a prowl car that makes two appearances. The second problem is that it’s not really a mystery story as most fans expect. Technically, I guess the question of who is painting a mural is a mystery to the townspeople, but it’s not really a mystery to listeners. The story is not bad at all. The characters are decent, and the acting’s good, but the story is eighty-nine minutes long. There’s not enough going on in this story to make this worth a feature-length listen. This should have been no more than 45 minutes.

In The Case of the Automatic Murders, Waverly investigates a case where a young woman is waking up at night and apparently writing very creepy and spooky things in her journal. This one is a decent mystery with a good amount of atmosphere and probably one of the more spooky ones in the set.

The final two were released posthumously, after the death of star Dave Ellsworth.

The Spirit of Christmas finds Captain Underhill investigating an assault and robbery on a blind Salvation Army bellringer. This is probably the most humorous Captain Underhill adventure, although I really found its resolution to be a bit morally problematic.

The set concludes with The Final Case of Captain Underhill. Underhill had often jokingly pretended he was senile or had dementia. In an ironically sad twist of fate, our story ends with him on the cusp of the last stage of dementia, with only a few lucid moments. His friend of 50 years, Doctor Scofield, is working on staff at the facility where Captain Undersell is being cared for, so that he can be near his friend until the day comes when Underhill doesn’t remember him anymore. Underhill discovers a plot that could ruin the life of two young people and is determined to help them. Can Captain Underhill save the day one more time?

On one hand, this is a fitting final adventure that shows Underhill’s strength of character, tenacity, and resourcefulness, even when facing the toughest challenge of his life. On the other hand, without being maudlin, the story captures the devastating effects of Alzheimers and dementia on those who suffer it, and the heartbreak of those who care for them. It’s a poignant story that never feels manipulative, and is probably the best-written of the Captain Underhill stories.

This is a solidly written and well-acted set of stories. While there are stories I don’t like as much as others, on the whole I enjoyed the set. Waverly Underhill was truly a great detective and his adventures continue to be well-worth listening to.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

 

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Audio Drama Review: The Great Gildersleeve, Volume 3

The Great Gildersleeve was one of radio’s landmark comedies, which really brought along the development of the sitcom. Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve (Harold Perry) was a character introduced on Fibber McGee and Molly.  The character proved so popular, he was given his own series. He departs from Wistful Vista and his thriving business (Gildersleeve’s Girdle Works) to Summerfield to help take care of the financial affairs of his niece Majorie (Lurene Tuttle) and his nephew Leroy (Walter Telly) after the deaths of their parents. Gildersleeve ends up forced to permanently relocate to Summerfield after some misunderstanding by Judge Hooiker (Earle Ross).

Most of the circulating Gildersleeve episodes are in so-so condition, so checking out Radio Archives’s Great Gildersleeve collections seemed a good way to enjoy this series. We’re starting with Volume 3 because Volumes 1 and 2 were collections of later “lost episodes” from 1951 and 1952 that had recently been discovered. This collection features twelve programs and eleven of the first twelve episodes that are in circulation. The Audition was from May 1941 and the episodes collected are from August 31-November 16, 1941.

If you’ve listened to later episodes of the series, these can feel a bit barebones in terms of the supporting characters. It’s striking that these episodes don’t even feature Mr. Peavey (Richard LeGrand), let alone the entire stable of characters who would be introduced in subsequent seasons, and who give Summerfield the feel of a real town. Instead, the focus is on the family, Judge Hooker, and their housekeeper, Birdie (Lillian Randolph). In a way, this is an asset, as the show gets to establish its main characters in these more carefree days, prior to Pearl Harbor and America’s entrance into World War II.

The comedy works very well for the most part. Peary is in top form as Gildersleeve, providing pitch perfect delivery of his lines. Peary’s take on Gildersleeve is known for his signature laugh, but the noises he makes go far beyond that, as he emits a staggering number of perfectly timed comedic noises. Peary also has a few solid catchphrases, which can have different meanings depending on his tone of voice, such as, “You’re a bright boy, Leroy.” Earle Ross is a perfect foil for Gildersleeve, and these scripts go a long way to establishing the Judge and Gildersleeve as frenemies, a theme that would play out in the first Great Gildersleeve movie.

The first episode and audition are essentially the same, with a few minor differences. The largest is that, in the audition, Harlow Wilcox from Fibber McGee and Molly appears, to make an ad for that show’s sponsor, Johnson Wax, as the sponsor hadn’t been nailed down yet for the first episode. The first episode has a typical commercial for the show’s ongoing sponsor Kraft in its place. The episode is about GIldersleeve taking a trip to Summerfield to handle the estate of Marjorie and Leroy’s parents and accidentally annoying Judge Hooker, who forces him to take a long-term relocation. After that, the series is essentially episodic for the rest of the set.

The plots are deceptively simple. The second episode has Gildersleeve and Leroy returning home and eating a cake that Marjoie had baked for guests. However, their efforts to remedy the situation turn it into comedy gold. Simple plots, like everyone getting locked out of the house, Gildersleeve and Leroy visiting an old friend and ending up babysitting, and Gildersleeve trying to get thrown in jail to expose local corruption, are all well-executed. The characters are likable and generally well-intentioned. Gildersleeve is more competent than many old time radio protagonists, but his big mouth, pomposity, and tendencies to exaggerate lead to some really good comedy. The writers often include ironic twists that, when revealed, make everything else funnier.

The last episode in the set is the first Thanksgiving episode of the series. In November 1941, America (even though not involved in World War II) was strengthening its defenses and many new soldiers were being inducted. Summerfield is home to an encampment of new soldiers, and Gildersleeve gets the idea of inviting servicemen for Thanksgiving and encourages everyone in town to do so. He goes down to the Army camp the next day, in the hopes of collecting a serviceman, only to find they’ve all been taken. He has to fight with Judge Hooker to take home with one serviceman. It’s an absurd situation, but also one that reminds modern listeners that a new, less carefree era was on its way for Gildersleeve and the city of Summerfield.

The series does have some issues that could be nitpicked. In particular, it struggles with its relationship with Gildersleeve’s former show. The first episode sets up Gildersleeve as living in the same world as Fibber McGee, only having to moved from Wistful Vista recently. Yet, at another time, the series refers to Fibber McGee and Molly as people with a radio show. Also, the first episode had a major goof. It’s established at the start of the episode that Fibber McGee and Molly are out of town, but Judge Hooker calls them at Wistful Vista in the end to get a reference, and talks to Fibber McGee.

Howerever, this is modern-day nitpicking. Overall, for an eighty-year-old series, the opening episodes of The Great Gildersleeve are a delight that mostly stand the test of time quite well.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

The Great GIldersleeve, Volume 3 is available from Radio Archives.

Audio Drama Review: The Fiends of New York

The Fiends of New York City is Big Finish’s latest three-hour Sherlock Holmes release, starring Nicholas Briggs as Holmes and Richard Earl as Watson. It’s set after Watson’s latest marriage to an American actress and after the events of The Seamstress of Peckham Rye. (See: my review here.)

The story proper begins when a man claiming to be an American detective arrives on Holmes’s doorstep with an incredible story. However, he and the object of his pursuit disappear, and Holmes and Watson are beset with more troubles and mysteries, including the return of the elusive Seamstress of Peckham Rye.

The Fiends of New York City is an enjoyable ride through late Victorian London, with a lot of complex twists and plot turns. For the first two parts, the story may be the best we’ve seen from writer Jonathan Barnes, who has written many great Holmes releases. The sound design and acting are impeccable.

Yet, the final part, and in particular, the ending, is a bit frustrating. The core mystery is given a resolution and we’re told that certain things are likely to happen to certain people and Mycroft Holmes and the Seamstress of Peckaham Rye and maybe Sherlock Holmes are all playing games, but we have no idea what the endgame of any of this is. Given that this was cited as a conclusion to the previous release, the ending feels like an anti-climax, in the same way that The Seamstress of Peckham Rye was. While I was fine with that ending, repeating the trick multiple times leads to diminishing return, particularly without a clear indication that the story is going to be more fully resolved.

I can hope that these issues will be sorted out by the end of a future story, but it is frustrating to reach the end of a three-hour audio drama and feel no closer to understanding anything important going on with these characters than when you first started. This is a shame because apart from the weak ending, this was a very entertaining release.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

The Fiends of New York City is available from Big Finish.

Audio Drama Review: The Life of Riley

The Life of Riley was a radio sitcom that aired from 1944-1951 and starred William Bendix as Chester A. Riley, an aircraft riveter from Brooklyn who moves to California and eventually settles into a bungalow with his wife Peg (Paula Winslow), his daughter Babs (Barbara Ellis), and his son Junior (multiple actors including Tommy Cook and Alan Reed, Jr.). The series has many episodes in circulation and many episodes missing. The Life of Riley went through three distinct phases during its seven-year run.

1. War Worker Riley (1944-45)

From the beginning, Riley was known for his malapropisms and bizarre thought processes, but in these early years, Riley wasn’t near the dope he’d be portrayed as in later seasons. He was involved in essential war work, and in the middle of World War II, you didn’t make essential war workers out to be idiots. He developed one of the best comedy catchphrases of all time, “What a revolting development this is,” and it was often used either in moments of exasperation or surprise, sometimes even when there was a positive surprise after he’d worked himself into a lather.

There was plenty of comedy to be had, particularly caused by the free-loading character of Uncle Baxter (initially played by Hans Conreid). In addition, the housing crunch of the late War era impacted the Rileys, and they spent several episodes struggling to find a place to live. While not all episodes of this storyline remain, … there’s quite a bit of humor in their various ups and downs and what they have to do to find a place to stay. The series also captured another aspect of the war: proxy weddings. In one two-part story, confusion ensues when Riley has to stand in for a deployed bridegroom. The series also featured heartfelt stories, like when Riley invites the boss’s son over for Christmas and teaches him the true meaning of the holiday, or when the Rileys throw a New Year’s Party for troops departing by train.

John Brown would appear as Riley’s neighbor and friend from Brooklyn, Jim Gillis. Gillis would often be Riley’s pal but would also antagonize him.

2. Riley, the Well-Meaning Idiot (1945-50)

After the war, the writers seemed willing to make Riley a bit more ridiculous. Yet, he was still well-meaning. He unleashed havoc because his mind went off in weird directions and he misunderstood a situation. He only wanted the best for his kids, but sometimes comedy resulted from it.

The series also featured several recurring characters. In addition to Gillis, RIley had another neighbor named Waldo Benny (Dink Trout), a hen-pecked husband who stoked Riley’s worst fears to comic effect. Of course, the greatest supporting character on the show was the morbidly hilarious Digby “Digger” O’Dell (aka: “The Friendly Undertaker”) (also played by Brown). O’Dell’s appearance followed very rote procedures, often including his greeting of Riley, “You’re looking fine, very natural,” and his complaint about youths stealing signs from other businesses and placing them in his window. But the character often found a surprising way to turn the conversation back to Riley’s problem with a morbid twist. Digger is such an unusual character that it’s a stand-out in the golden age of radio. Alan Reed played the recurring role of Mr. Stevenson and Riley’s father-in-law, along with other characters.

There were also quite a few flashback episodes to when Riley and his wife Peg were in Brooklyn. This set the stage for other programs to do this a lot, such as The Dick Van Dyke Show, although The Life of Riley really made no attempts to put this into any continuity. In fact, none of the post-World War II episodes have much continuity, which allows for some script re-use.

It was a good run, but nothing lasts forever. The series’s decline over radio began with the introduction of Louella (Shirley Mitchell). Louella was the type of Southern belle character Mitchell was known for playing on a wide variety of programs, including The Great Gildersleeve. She’s a single woman who moves into the neighborhood and gets Riley to do things for her, like household chores and buying her gifts. The joke is that Peg and many people think there’s something between Riley and Louella, and Riley even thinks Louella’s trying to seduce him, when there’s nothing going on. However, knowing that it bothers Peg, Riley continually engages with Louella throughout the entire rest of the series. It wasn’t funny, particularly after the first Louella episode. No married man with any sense would do that to his wife, even Chester Riley. It was a bad turn for the series and a preview of what was yet to come.

3. Riley, The Terrible (1950-51)

The last season of The Life of Riley contains the worst character violation in old-time radio that I’ve ever heard. Riley by definition was a well-meaning family man. In the second episode of the 1950-51 season, the Rileys finally get a new car, and Riley and Peg take their driver’s tests. Riley fails the driver’s test because he didn’t study and has a horrible driving exam. Peg gets her license. Despite this, Riley insists on driving, gets into an accident, and tries to get Peg to take the rap for him. She ends up nearly going to jail, when he had been driving.

This is just one example. In another episode, Junior gets together with some other boys to start a lawn-mowing service, and Riley takes over and turns them into virtual slaves to his massive ego. A similar thing happens with a father-and-son concession stand that Riley and Junior start and that Riley ruins when he goes on a huge ego trip. In this season, Riley is transformed from a well-meaning but dim-witted husband and a father to an out-of-control narcissist. It’s often hard to find joy in these later, more cynical episodes.

John Brown’s Digby O’Dell continued to be a highlight, but his appearance and statements became increasingly disconnected from the plot. It’s as if old Digger O’Dell couldn’t care less about Riley’s self-inflicted problems caused by being a horrible person. And who can blame him?

The series did rebound a little towards the end, but its 1951 cancellation really put it out of its (and its audience’s) misery.

Bendix would reprise the role of Riley when the series returned to television in 1953, and the episodes I’ve seen lean more towards the lovable Riley of the early radio seasons, as opposed to the nasty 1950-51 version.

As a series, it’s a solid episodic family sitcom for most of its run, but the 1950-51 season is one of the worst seasons of a long-running show that you’ll find in Old Time Radio.

The first six years of the Life of Riley earn a 4.25 rating, but I’ll give the overall series a rating of 4 based on the horrendous final season.

You can listen to episodes of The Life of Riley on the Internet Archive for free.

Audio Drama Review: Raymond Chandler: A BBC Radio Collection

Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels have been adapted twice by the BBC. The most recent adaptations from the early 2010s starring Toby Stephens have been available as official releases for quite a while under the very similarly named collection Raymond Chandler: The BBC Radio Drama Collection. However, this relatively new collection (released in 2020) contains the 1970s and 1980s episodes, starring Ed Bishop, an American actor best known for his works with British producer Gerry Anderson.

Bishop starred in adaptations of the first six Marlowe novels, although the second novel was performed last due to rights issues: The Big Sleep, The High Window, Lady in the Lake, The Little Sister, The Long Goodbye, and Farewell, My Lovely.

Bishop is a strong choice to play Marlowe and his voice is probably better for the character than Toby Stephens, who starred in the more recent adaptations. Stephens uses a tough-guy accent like Marlowe came from the streets of Philadelphia or New York. Bishop’s voice sounds more like the Marlowe from the books, who, as revealed in The Little Sister, came from a small town. That said, it’s been a while since I’ve listened to the Stephens-led dramas, so I won’t comment on how Bishop’s performance compares in every detail. The BBC having given this an official release might allow me to do some fun comparisons as to which version better handled individual novels.

The acting is very good and they avoided the worst tendencies of British drama that feature American characters. The BBC’s portrayal of Americans were often hit-or-miss up until the 1990s, with exaggerated accents that made the entire thing very hard to take seriously. Here, the acting is right on the mark. Whether they were working with a lot of ex-pats like Bishop, or simply British actors who were skilled with American accents, I was never pulled out of the story by a bad or silly performance.

The sound is minimal and a bit primitive, but not more than most British Audio Dramas prior to the 21st Century.

The stories themselves are well-told and for the most part capture the spirit of the novels. They even did a good job adapting my least favorite novel of those featured here, The Little Sister. The biggest fault with the adaptation was an over-reliance on expository narration. Narration would be something you’d expect with hard-boiled detective stories, and in most productions, it works just fine. The problem is that each adaptation was fit into a very rigged hour and a half time slot. This worked fine for most of the novels, but for others, it didn’t. The Long Goodbye requires a lot of tough adaptation decisions as to what to include, what to exclude, and what needs to be condensed. The BBC chose instead to not decide and use expository narration a lot. Throughout The Long Goodbye, it felt like a third of the runtime was Marlowe expositing scenes that occurred off-air that probably should have been on-air. The result is an adaptation that feels a bit lifeless. This was also a problem, to an extent, with the adaptation of Farewell, My Lovely.

I think the other four stories are well done, and Farewell, My Lovely is still pretty good, but the adaptation of The Long Goodbye is disappointing despite the story being considered one of Chandler’s best.

The release includes a nice bonus, a 1958 interview of Raymond Chandler by James Bond creator Ian Flemming. The interview is really much more of a conversation between two friends who are both some of the most popular writers of thrillers in the 20th Century. It’s nice to hear it as if you’re a fly on the wall in the room.

Overall, if you’re a fan of Raymond Chandler and Philp Marlowe, this is worth checking out. Despite a lackluster treatment of The Long Goodbye, this is still a good value, particularly if you use an Audible Credit to purchase it.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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