Category: Audio Drama Review

Audio Drama Review: CBS Radio Mystery Theatre: Your Move, Mr. Ellers

“Your Move, Mr. Ellers” aired over the CBS Radio Mystery Theatre on December 30, 1976. In the episode, an insurance investigator (Bob Readick) is investigating a series of thefts that have occurred over several years from a respected jeweler. He’s concluded it must be an inside job and his suspicions appear to have fallen on the firm’s most respected employee, the chess-loving Mister Ellers (Roger De Koven), who has a friend (Jackson Beck) with a shady past and maybe a shady present. And the young man (Jack Grimes) Ellers mentored seems to have found himself in the middle.

For today’s old-time radio fans, the casting of this episode includes some wonderful Easter egs. Readick was the immediate successor to Bob Bailey as radio’s most well-known insurance investigator. In addition, the other three members of the cast were all veterans of the Golden Age of Radio. Grimes had voiced Jimmy Olsen on “The Adventures of Superman”, where he also worked with Beck, who served as announcer and was the star of several old-time radio series, including “Philo Vance”. DeKoven was no star, but a consumate character actor who was perfect for a role like Ellers’.

While Readick’s presence evokes Johnny Dollar, I actually think the episode has undertones that evoke a more contemporary influence: Columbo. At one point, the insurance investigator states that he had Ellers convinced he was an incompetent bungler: the exact sort of situation that Columbo thrived on. And while we don’t “see” (or hear) the crime committed beforehand, and it’s not a strict inverted mystery, it definitely isn’t exactly a traditional whodunit either.

The story uses chess as a theme, and weaves through the narrative right up to a satisfying and insightful conclusion. It’s a carefully plotted and well-produced play performed by four pros who know their business. There are certain plots that are a bit predictable, but more than enough surprises and good drama to make this a very satisfying forty-five minutes of listening.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: The Great Gildersleeve, Volume 8

The eighth volume of The Great GIldersleeve from Radio Archives collects the twelve circulating episodes between episodes seventy-seven to ninety-one and all starring Harold Peary in the titular role as Tow Water Commissioner Throckmorton P. Gildersleeve. This set takes us through the end of the show’s second season and features two episodes of the third, all from 1943. While there are three lost episodes, it feels like we miss less that impacted ongoing plotlines than in previous box sets. The big exception would be that the mini-feud between Gildersleeve and Judge Hooker (Earle Ross) over a fender appears to have been ironed out in the missing eightieth episode.

I have to praise Radio Archives for the wonderful cover art that they commissioned for this set, with Gildersleeve and Leila Ransom (Shirley Mitchell) as the the focal point of the first ten episodes of the set, which build up to their scheduled nuptials. Related plots deal with planning the wedding and the honeymoon, as well as Gildersleeve’s attempt to work up a budget. I think the second half of the season gives a bit more meat to Leila as a character beyond “Southern Belle who likes to manipulate men,” making her much more sympathetic and well-rounded. In the season finale, just before the show went on summer vacation, the wedding day found Gildersleeve with a serious case of cold feet, leading to a shocking season-ending twist.

There is more than the wedding going on in Summerfield in this set. This box set also sees the introduction of Ben (played by future Dragnet co-Star Ben Alexander) as the bashful young beau of Marjorie (Lurene Tuttle) and he makes a fun addition to the cast. Meanwhile, Leroy (Walter Tetley) goes to work for Mr. Peavey, the druggist (played brilliantly by Richard LeGrand) in the second half of the season. Gildersleeve and a few of his pals also sing together, which is a foretaste of the coming of the Jolly Boys Club in later seasons.

The War features, although in a smaller way, during the second half of season two. When Leroy gets his first paycheck, he buys a lot of knick-knacks for the family and otherwise wastes it on typical kid things. He is reproved for not using some of his money to buy war bonds. Season three’s larger focus on the War would show up in the final episode in the set.

The new focus was due to the donation of the sponsor, Kraft, to the Third War Loan Drive. The town is focused on selling more bonds to meet its quota and sends the head of city departments out canvassing (including Gildersleeve) door-to-door to sell bonds. Yet, in many ways, Gildersleeve’s heart is just not in it. For one thing, he is mad at the chairman of the drive, the local newspaper editor. He tries to start a one-way feud over the editor having published an editorial raising reasonable concerns about the town’s water quality, and drags his feet on getting out to cover his territory. Gildersleeve also expresses frustration with the war, with how it has disrupted the world and changed the general focus and behavior of women. Nearly two years after Pearl Harbor, Gildersleeve is no doubt speaking for many listeners. Yet, the end of the episode brings him, and hopefully other war-weary Americans, back to center.

The episode may be the strongest of the set for showing Gildersleeve’s humanity. And really that’s the strength of the series. Gildersleeve is a funny character, but ultimately quite human with both big flaws (such as as being a loud-mouth and braggart) and positives such as being well-intentioned, responsible, and caring. And after its second season, Summerfield feels far more like a real town where real people live, which makes the comedy far more satisfying.

Overall, this is another strong collection from an old time radio sitcom that was getting even better as it went along.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A Look at the Hardy Family

A big Hollywood studio grabs at a recently popular film franchise from the past, turns it into a series, and uses it as a centerpiece of a new package of programs. Sounds like the story of the latest Netflix/Disney/Paramount series.

It actually happened in 1949. MGM launched MGM Radio Attractions, a package of syndicated radio programs that would eventually land on the Mutual Broadcasting System. While there were some original series not based on any actual movies, and they would add the British-produced Black Museum in 1951, MGM leaned heavily into their film legacy. MGM played into its back catalog of film hits with MGM Theatre of the Air adapting old MGM movies as a sort of low-budget answer to The Lux Radio Theatre, and then it took its short film series, Crime Does Not Pay, and turned that into a radio series. It had Ann Sothern reprise her role in the ten Maisie films in The Adventures of Maisie. Lew Ayers and Lionel Barrymore were invited to pick up their stethoscopes and play their parts from the Dr. Kildare series. And to bring us to our subject, Mickey Rooney, Lewis Stone, and Fay Holden were invited to bring the Hardy Family of fifteen films to radio.

The Hardy Family first appeared in a 1928 play called Skidding, which was adapted to film in 1937, A Family Affair, and featured sixteen-year-old Mickey Rooney as Andy Hardy, with his father played by Barrymore. It was decided to make a series centered around the Hardy family, with Stone cast to play Judge Hardy and Fay Holden to play his wife Emily. The series was popular, although the one public domain entry and final film, “Love Laughs at Andy Hardy” may be the best-known to non-fans. The series follows Hardy as he grows up and goes through the pangs of life and young adulthood and all the various misadventures that happen along the way.

Of all the major film tie-ins, this is probably the one that has fared worst in terms of serving episodes and quality of recordings, although they’re still listenable. There were likely 78 episodes made, but there are maybe a dozen that you could collect from various websites. The Internet Archive has a decent sample of what’s out there. In reducing Hardy’s adventures from feature-length films to half hour radio programs, the result is much more typical sitcom fare. The radio series didn’t feature the film character of Aunt Milly, and while some lost episodes might mention her, it appears that Andy Hardy’s sister went the way of Chuck Cunningham, as all dialogue seems to indicate that Andy is an only child.

Most of the episodes center on something happening to Andy which he views as magnificently stupendous and the most amazing thing to ever happen to anyone. Invariably it’s not, and there’s no chance for it to be. And the comedy ultimately centers on his over-the-top expectations and imagination meeting reality.

This is a series where the scripts are decent, but nothing amazing. What ultimately makes the series are the performances. Mickey Rooney brought massive, manic energy to the role. These stories had to be faced and he powered through each episode with one of the most energetic performances you’ll ever hear. Fay Holden plays Emily Hardy with a sort of eccentricity that’s reminiscent of a more low-key Gracie Allen. Lewis Stone’s Judge Hardy is a calm voice of reason that brings balance to the stories. With their work in film, they play off each other beautifully.

The series lacks a lot of the heart of films, which included some moments that brought heart and sentiment that the radio series lacks. But it also doesn’t undermine the films. If you want a decent sitcom with a talented cast who gives each script their all, or if you’re a fan of the Andy Hardy films, this series is worth checking out.

Rating: 3.25 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: The Great Gildersleeve, Volume 7

The seventh volume of The Great Gildersleeve from Radio Archives features twelve episodes that aired between November 29, 1942 and April 4, 1943. This stretch of episodes continues along the same lines as previous volumes, with its typical cast of characters including his niece Marjorie and nephew Leroy, the cook Birdie, and key characters from around town, such as Judge Hooker, Mr. Peavey, and Floyd the Barber. Gildersleeve’s budding off-again on-again romance with Leila Ransom takes center stage. It also introduces the bashful and easily manipulated boyfriend of Marjorie, Ben (played by future Dragnet co-star Ben Alexander.)

Highlights of the season including a lovely Christmas episode, less with a centralized plot but more with a series of vignettes that capture someone trying to celebrate Christmas with good cheer even while being patriotic and operating on a limited budget.

The series also has a formal crossover with Fibber McGee and Molly (Jim and Marion Jordan), with radio’s most iconic comedy couple traveling from Wistful Vista to Summerfield, which is a nice moment for fans, as the Gildersleeve character started on Fibber McGee. This crossover occurs after Gildersleeve and his nephew Leroy (Walter Tetley) appear on the post-Christmas episode of Fibber McGee and Molly, in which the Jordans had been unable to appear due to a health issue.

The episode “Income Tax Time” is a fine patriotic episode about the importance of everyone reporting their income tax, as Gildersleeve struggles with whether to report his interest income. The great part of the episode is that through all the sincere patriotism, the episode has a hilarious twist ending that’s comedy gold.

On the war front, there is also an episode warning about the danger of over-vigilance and assuming the worst and getting paranoid, as Gildersleeve accidentally starts spreading a rumor about sabotage and creates all kinds of problems.

There’s nothing wrong with this set in terms of its audio quality. It collects the episodes that Radio Archives was able to lay its hands on with the highest quality available. Missing episodes are a fact of life for old time radio listeners but they’re especially felt here. The collection covers 19 weeks but there are only twelve episodes available. This leads to some changes occurring perhaps in missing episodes or off-screen. For example, Gildersleeve’s super-competent secretary disappears without explanation, and is replaced by barely competent help whom Gildersleeve keeps meaning to fire but never gets the time. In addition, the engagement between Leila and Gildersleeve is called off in one episode but apparently things are patched by the time the circulating episode was released four weeks later.

Probably the biggest challenge for many modern listeners to enjoy is the Gildersleeve-Leila Ransom relationship. While Leila fits into a comedy trope of the time, she’s messed up. She uses flattery to get men to do what she wants and to keep them competing with one another for her affection. She’s prone to over-the-top jealousy, and any deviation of plans to do something else is met with a manipulative, pouty statement like, “Well, Throckmorton, if working late because you’re in a job that oversees infrastructure in the middle of the War is more than me, that’s fine.” Lelia is well-played by a really talented actress, Shirley Mitchell, who played many of these sorst of characters. She does her best with the material given. Still, a bit of Leila can go a long way, and some of these episodes have a little bit too much.

Still, despite Leila’s antics, this is an enjoyable set. Ben is fun, and the barbershop setting helps to give the show a sense of rhythym. The show in its second season is clearly moving in the right direction.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: The Red Panda Adventures, Season One

A version of this article was posted in 2017.

The Red Panda Adventures by Decoder Ring Theater was one of the earliest of the new podcast audio dramas to be released in recent years. It launched for the first time in October 2005, with a new episode airing every two weeks until December, with the second half of the series airing every two weeks beginning in April 2006.

The Red Panda Adventures is set in the 1930s in Toronto (where the series was produced). The series is a mash-up between The Green Hornet and The Shadow radio series while adding its own unique improvements.

It’s like both series in that the hero is a wealthy young man, though it leans more towards The Shadow in that The Red Panda (Greg Taylor) has no active business concerns in his dual identity that we’re told about.

The Red Panda is like The Shadow in that he has strange hypnotic powers. However, unlikeTthe Shadow, he doesn’t limit his mind-control powers to a single trick of invisibility. He creates all manner of elaborate mental illusions, such as making the villain see multiple versions of himself. It’s a much more imaginative take on the idea. The villains also bear a strong resemblance to The Shadow’s big, over-the-top megalomaniacs.

The Green Hornet influences can be seen in the hero’s super-fast car and crime-fighting gadgets, as well as the suspicious attitude by which he’s viewed by police. However, unlike the Green Hornet, the Red Panda doesn’t try to pass himself off as a criminal mastermind.

Of course, the Red Panda goes beyond what the original mystery men of the 1930s did on radio, with a greater sense of superheroics, and the series intro actually refers to him as Canada’s greatest superhero.

Perhaps the most unique thing about The Red Panda is his sidekick, Kit Baxter (aka. The Flying Squirrel) played by Clarissa Der Nederlanden Taylor. She’s a very well-written and well-rounded character. She’s tough and more prone to using physical violence than the Red Panda, occasionally getting carried away with it.

Her relationship with the Red Panda is complicated. Like the female assistants of many golden-age heroes, she pines for him, while he feigns cluelessness about her feelings in this first season. Yet you also get a strong sense of the Red Panda being a mentor figure to her, and also being protective of her without being smothering. The dynamic between the two is probably the strength of the series.

In terms of the plots, this first series has a lot of standard, boilerplate stories. There’s the episode with someone impersonating the Red Panda, there’s the episode with a mysterious ghost ship, and the episode with the cursed house, and the one where a hunter decides to hunt the most deadly game of all: The Red Panda. Probably the most interesting and original episode is “The Devil’s Due,” where the Red Panda investigates a series of deaths where the victims sold their souls to the Devil, and he’s here to collect…or is he?  Even though most of the plots are well-worn, they’re also well-executed and the strength of the characterization helps the stories to work. While later seasons would be more innovative, this season serves to establish the characters and their world.

The tone of this first season is relatively light. While there are some scary moments, as well as a few violent ones, the series doesn’t try for the constant dark and foreboding feel of The Shadow. It also isn’t designed in such a way that you’re likely to forget that you’re listening to a production made in the twenty-first century rather than one in the 1930s, like many of the early episodes of Harry Nile. It’s a clear homage to the Golden Age of Radio, but it is also a modern production. At the same time, it’s not goofy or a parody like the original Red Panda Universe (a topic for another time).

If the first season had any weakness, it is the sound design, which on occasion doen’t support the show and the epic scale of the adventures portrayed. But doesn’t detract too much from the series because of the strong characterization and also because it played off Golden Age Radio Dramas, where the quality of sound effects and sound design really could vary.

Overall, this is a very strong start to a much-beloved Internet series.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

The first season of the Red Panda Adventures is available for free on the Decoder Ring Theatre website.

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice Season One

A version of this article was posted in 2017.

Black Jack Justice was produced by Decoder Ring Theatre in Canada. Like The Red Panda, it’s a period series. Black Jack Justice is set after World War II and is a detective series in the style of hard-boiled detective shows like Philip Marlowe and That Hammer Guy.

Unlike most narrated private eye series, Black Jack Justice features two detectives, and each takes turns narrating the story. The series stars Christopher Mott as Jack Justice and Andrea Lyons as Trixie Dixon: Girl Detective, his partner. Writer Gregg Taylor plays their recurring police foil, Lieutenant Sabien.

The format of the series works well. Both characters are hard-boiled, but their styles vary. Justice’s narration tends to be a bit more world-weary and sarcastic, while Dixon is lighter and more smart-alecky in her approach. It makes for interesting narration and also good banter between the characters.

There’s definite friction between them, and lots of sniping back and forth. Still, there’s a great amount of professional respect as well as a shared sense of right and wrong.

The first season features twelve episodes, unlike future seasons which would included only six. The episode titles in this first season employed many puns on Justice’s name, such as, “Justice Served Cold,” “Justice Delayed,” “Justice be Done,” and “Hammer of Justice.”

Almost every episode has a good mystery plot. The stories are intellectually engaging and often offer surprising solutions. Most have a tone and style that would fit into the golden age of radio. On some issues, particularly the role of women and domestic violence, it feels a bit more modern, but it doesn’t go overboard.

The music is great, particularly what’s used during the narration. It establishes the mood well.

The only episode that left me a bit cold was the series finale, “Justice and the Happy Ending.” The mystery was not challenging and the plot ultimately came down to how Justice would handle a temptation. However, it was somewhat predictable the way it played out.

Still, the season is overall quite strong. If you love golden age detective shows, it’s definitely worth a listen.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Season 1 of Black Jack Justice is available on the Decoder Ring Theatre website.

A Look at the Radio Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett

Even when I was growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet had a certain reputation, as a somewhat bland brand of entertainment. Even though I watched a lot of reruns, Ozzie and Harriet were never on. The only time I saw them in a TV listing was for a PBS marathon that was way past my bedtime.

I watched a VHS release of their 1952 movie Here Come the Nelsons and found it pretty funny at the time. Whether I still would I don’t know as it was never released on DVD, and the entire TV series waited decades for an official DVD release, even as public domain episodes became available from various companies. The official DVD releases of the first two seasons came out in 2022, with the entire series landing on DVD in 2023. Now the entire series is available for streaming through Amazon – all fourteen, yes, fourteen seasons, adding to more than four hundred episodes. That’s more than stalwarts like Father Knows Best, I Love Lucy, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. 

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriett began airing on television in 1952, the year after I Love Lucy premiered over at CBS. By the time it left, The Andy Griffith show had been on the air for five seasons, and Get Smart had just finished its first. Yet its history was even longer than that, as Ozzie and Harriet had begun over radio.

Before The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet

Harriet Hilliard (born Peggy Lou Snyder) was a singer when she met bandleader Ozzie Nelson. The two worked together on programs for the Bakers of America in the 1930s and were married in 1935. In 1941, they joined the Raleigh Cigarette program featuring Red Skelton. Ozzie led the band and Harriet served as vocalist and also appeared in the comedic sketches, most notably as the mother of Junior, Skelton’s “Mean Widdle Kid” character.

In 1944, Skelton was drafted, leading to the end of his radio program, but this would provide an opportunity for the couple. Ozzie wanted to find a way for them to spend more time with their children, and a radio sitcom proved the perfect opportunity to shift their careers from their more demanding schedule.

America’s Favorite Young Couple

The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet premiered in October 1944, and was a domestic comedy based on the Nelsons’ home life. Ozzie and Harriet, aged thirty-seven and thirty-nine, were billed as “America’s Favorite Young Couple” and continued to be billed as such well into their forties (one of those things you could get away with over radio). The series was initially heard over CBS, but later switched to NBC, and finally ABC. The series was sponsored by International Silver and later by Heinz.

For the first five years, the Nelsons’ sons David and Ricky were played by child actors, until a 1948 guest appearance by Bing Crosby pushed Ozzie towards having their sons play themselves, starting in 1949.

John Brown was the most prominent supporting cast member. He played Ozziet and Harriet’s neighbor, Mister Thornberry, or “Thorny.” It’s worth noting that, for much of the run, Brown was also a regular cast member on the sitcoms My Friend Irma as Irma’s boyfriend Al, and on The Life of Riley as both Riley’s neighbor Gillis and Digby O’Dell, “the friendly undertaker.” Brown was therefore doing triple duty most weeks until the early 1950s, or perhaps quadruple if you count both Life of Riley roles.

The Circulating Episodes

The series aired 402 episodes over the radio, of which around eighty are in circulation. The various websites that post the series feature a lot of mis-dated and duplicate episodes. I tried to listen to every episode and ended up having to use three or four sources to find them all.

In general, the circulating episodes are spread throughout the series run, with a higher number of episodes coming from the last season, and only two episodes from 1946 in circulation. This is only because long-running comedy programs evolve, and the episodes of Ozzie and Harriet that were considered worthy of saving come towards the tail end of its run over radio, rather than the earliest years. I can only evaluate what I have, but it’s always possible that more episodes might alter the evaluation of the series.

Review of the Episodes

In some early episodes, Ozzie and Harriet did the sort of musical skits that they did on The Red Skelton Show, but this ended early in the series run. What remained was a style of comedy that stood out from its peers for what it wasn’t as much as what it was.

For one thing, there were no catchphrases. Old Time Radio comedies of the era relied on them. You’ll find no equivalent to, “Tain’t funny, McGee,” “You’re looking fine, very natural,” “What a revoltin’ development this is,”  “Well, now, I wouldn’t say that,” or “Hello, my fellow, pupil,” recurring lines that filled other sitcoms and earned the actors laughter and applause before an actual joke

The comedy felt more grounded than many of its old-time radio contemporaries  There were comic misunderstandings, a scheme or two, and a few lies told throughout the series, but it never reached a point where it stretched your disbelief. The series didn’t rely on characters being inordinately stupid, greedy, or out of touch with reality to make the plot work. In some ways, I think it’s less discussed than most other old-time radio comedies because it’s so different.

Most episodes center around Ozzie’s ill-fated ideas. Ozzie is written as the one person in the Nelson house most likely to get carried away with some new fancy gizmo, make a big bet, propose major changes to the family, and the one most likely to put on airs or to boast of something that reality won’t cash. The other source of comedy is the Nelson boys, acting like brothers and finding ways to pick at each other, with Ricky, especially, having some great lines. Harriet is likable, charming, and always seems to be a step ahead of Ozzie in the end.

The series has some fairly clever episodes. My favorite had to be the episode where Ozzie and Thorny try to boost the neglected small-town minor league baseball club, and get some help from a local used-car salesman (played by Gale Gordon), who has some ideas on how to improve the team. This is probably peak writing for the series, and also an interesting turn for Gordon, whose later career was defined by playing bombastic authoritarians like Osgood Conklin with a slow burn. This really showed some of his range as a performer.

If the series has one fault, it’s that it feels almost too domestic, particularly in some episodes where the action (such as it is) doesn’t leave the Nelsons’ home. Indeed, there are way too many circulating episodes where everything happens either at their house or immediately next door. Also, there’s a certain generic feeling to the series, with the lack of recurring characters in their generic (and never-named) suburban hometown, and Ozzie having a job that’s never specifically mentioned in the radio episodes, and even the local store that is known as “The Emporium”, rather than a specific name. That the episodes have a general feeling of things going wrong precisely when Ozzie tries anything new leads to a (perhaps unintentional) ethos of, “Do what you’ve always done. You’re a fool if you try to do anything different.” So, if you wanted to create some superficially pleasant 1950s sitcom world with a dark reality behind it, this would probably be what you’d base it on.

Also, I think Harriet is almost too nice and too understanding. While Ozzie isn’t at the extreme end of boneheaded radio sitcom husbands, he does some things that most wives would lose their cool over. I actually got a thrill from the one episode in which Harriet loses her temper with him when he tries to teach her to play golf.


All in all, The Ozzie and Harriett radio program comes down to a matter of taste. For what it is, it works. It’s a light, mostly inoffensive family comedy that’s generally a bit more subdued than its contemporaries. If you prefer the more extreme situations of something like The Burns and Allen Show, or the characters that inhabit places like Summerfield in The Great Gildersleeve, this may not be for you. But if you’re in a mood for a comedy that’s a bit silly, and you can overlook the overly generic nature of the setting, this may be worth seeking out.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5



Audio Drama Review: Paul Temple: The Complete Radio Collection, Volume 2

The second volume of Paul Temple Radio Adventures collects all of the surviving BBC’s Paul Temple radio serials from the mid-to-late 1950s. These all star Peter Coke as mystery writer Paul Temple, with Marjorie Westbury as his wife Louise (nicknamed Steve) as they solve mysteries in cooperation with Scotland Yard.

Each serial is made up of eight thirty-minute episodes, which allows for well-developed mysteries. The show’s writer and creator, Francis Durbridge, made the series because of his love of the mystery novel. And I have to say that I’ve never encountered a radio series that felt so much like reading a vintage mystery novel.

There are a total of five serials in this collection: ‘The Gilbert Case’; ‘The Lawrence Affair’; ‘The Spencer Affair; ‘The Vandyke Affair’ (the 1959 remake) and ‘The Conrad Case’. The series was such that if you like one Paul Temple mystery, you’ll enjoy them all. Listening to these, I never encountered one that I thought was a let-down, nor did I hear one that blew me away.

Each story is well-constructed and honestly, a bit formulaic. Each story features loads of polite questioning of witnesses and suspects. Drinks will be poured frequently, with some tea mixed in here or there. Eventually, someone’s going to plant a bomb that nearly takes out our mystery-solving couple, the villain will have the idea of trying to abduct Steve to get Paul Temple off the case, often by calling the house and impersonating Paul Temple, a trick that happens so much that Paul and Steve have worked out a code phrase for it. In the final episode, when the killer is revealed, the killer doesn’t come quietly but invariably ends up with a frantic and desperate chance to escape. Despite these repeated plot points, the stories never become predictable, as we’re always given more than enough suspects and motives to account for several murders.

Coke came relatively late to the role of Paul Temple. ‘The Gilbert Case’ was his first serial playing the role, sixteen years after the first Paul Temple series premiered. He’s the best-known Paul Temple actor in part because all but one of the serials he starred in survived. His performance in these stories is superb, bringing the right mix of humor, seriousness, and occasional moments of annoyance, plus his pitch-perfect delivery of Temple’s signature phrase, “By Timothy!” Marjorie Westbury wasn’t the first actress to play Steve, but she first appeared as Steve nearly a decade before Coke, and played the role opposite four different actors as Paul Temple. Her voice was perfect, conveying the wit, fun, vitality, and glamour that listeners associated with Steve. Together, the two are delightful to listen to.

The only individual production I’ll mention is ‘The Vandyke Affair’, which is actually a 1959 remake of a 1950 serial that happens to be one of the two pre-Peter Cook Paul Temple serials that exists and was released as part of Volume 1 (see Volume 1 review). In that 1950 story, Coke appears as one of the suspects. The script is essentially the same, so fans who own both volumes can compare the performances.

The set also includes a bonus feature with interviews of Coke, Westbury, and others involved in the production of the Paul Temple radio series, providing a little extra behind-the-scenes insight.

All in all, if you enjoy comfortable, well-crafted, upper-class British murder mysteries from the 1950s, this is a fantastic set to purchase. With more than eighteen hours of entertainment, this is a great value, particularly if you purchase the set with Audible credits. You’ll be sure to have a great time with Paul Temple and Steve.


Rating: 4 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: Jimmy and the Star Angel

A version of this review was posted in 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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

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The Avengers: The Comic Strip Adaptations, Volume Seven

Big Finish continues to put out new episodes in the world of that classic TV Spy/Mystery series The Avengers. As is the case with every volume of Avengers from Big Finish, Julian Wadham stars as John Steed and in this volume, Emily Woodward returns as Tara King, with Christopher Benjamin starring as the spymaster, Mother.

This box set features three stories adapted from serialized scripts in the British magazine TV Comics. Each strip was only a few pages long, and is expanded upon by a Big Finish writer into a full hour-plus audio drama.

The period when The Avengers included the character Tara King was one that had gone very solidly in a more silly, over-the-top direction, and this set reflects that sensibility.

It kicks off with “The Fabulous Sky Beam Dilemma.” Steed and Tara King are charged with serving as bodyguard and tour guide for a visiting President, as well as investigating a series of strange, unexplained stomach illnesses.

Bad propaganda movies, silly accents, and mind-control-flavored ice cream: this story has a lot going on in it, with so many outrageous over the top moments. There’s a lot of fun to be had if you can just go with the silliness.

For the most part, I could. What I took issue with is how the story was resolved. The character that figures things out and saves the day isn’t who you would think, and it’s not done in a way that seems clever or satisfying.

Still, the ending weakens but does not ruin a solid hour of entertainment.

In “A Tale in Tartan,” with Steed unavailable, Tara King is off on her way to a Scottish castle to retrieve a stolen formula that “the other side” means to use on their athletes to boost their chances at the next Olympiad. However, there are strange goings-on at the castle. And what about McSteed (also played by Julian Wadham), the guy who looks like Steed but only with a beard, and speaking with a Scottish accent and wearing a kilt?

This is a tricky story to evaluate. It’s weird that there would be a comic strip set at a Scottish castle, given that there was an actual Avengers episode set at a Scottish castle, and a comic strip sequel to that (which Big Finish has adapted in “Return to Castle De’ath”).

That said, this is a decent story. It’s always entertaining, but like many an Avengers story from this era, it has an over-the-top setting and general feel, with so many odd and weird things happening, and off-the-wall characters. It never becomes too much, nor does the story reach some ascendant level of brilliance. Rather, we’re treated to a solid, weird, and ever-so-slightly grounded Avengers Highland tale. It’s different enough from the Castle De’ath stories as to not feel derivative, while still being a good time.

The set concludes with “This Train Terminates Here.” A special train is nearly derailed because of a collapsed viaduct, but is saved by the chance action of a passerby. However, the derailment was no accident. The train was carrying a shipment of gold bouillion bound for the IMF. Something sinister is behind it, and it’s up to Steed and Tara King to sort it out.

This story is a delight, as it draws its inspiration from the world of British trains and the odd characters that inhabit them. The late Paul O’Grady is the perfect Avengers villain as the sinister station master gone bad, Septimus Crump. He clearly played the part with gusto.

The story also features one of the best Audio Action scenes you’ll find in a tense and thrilling climax on a runaway train. The story also is full of witty lines and clever train puns. This is one of the best Avengers stories Big Finish and a perfect conclusion to this set.

All in all, if you’re into off-beat 1960s mystery/adventures, this is a solid set. The production values are top notch and the writers nail the feel of the era. There are two very good, though not perfect, stories, combined with another story that represents the pinnacle of this range with Big Finish. Well worth listening to.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0

.The Avengers: Steed and Tara King is available at the Big Finish website.

Audio Drama Review: The Great Gildersleeve, Volume Six

Volume 6 of Radio Archive’s Great Gildersleeve features the final two episodes of the 1941-42 season and the start of the 1942-43 season, with Harold Peary as the Great Gildersleeve, Earle Ross as Judge Hooker, Lurene Tuttle as his niece Marjorie, Walter Tetley as his nephew Leroy, and Lillian Randolph as the household’s cook and housekeeper Birdie. Featured are episodes from the last two weeks of June and then from between August 30 and November 22, 1942. As always, Radio Archivesdelivers these episodes in the highest possible sound quality

The penultimate Season One episode features a similar gag to other Gildersleeve episodes, where family and friends create confusion by going at the same end without telling one another. In this case, it’s the goal of getting Gildersleeve a new chair for Father’s Day. It’s a simple idea, but well-executed and before the episode is over, chairs are being moved in and out with a dizzying degree of comic absurdity.

The final episode of Season One features Gildesleeve trying to romance Judge Hooker’s sister, Amelia, despite the judge’s objection. While Gildersleeve and the judge have many battles in the first season, the finale offers the most satisfying. It also previews some of the romantic plots that would make up later seasons of The Great Gildersleeve, only condensed into a single episode.

The Season Two episodes really saw the series starting to take on a form more familiar to those who have encountered later seasons of The Great Gildersleeve. Gildersleeve has an ongoing interaction with the Summerfield Water Commissioner that ends with him being appointed to the job. We also hear  the Gildersleeve cast expand, with barber Floyd Munson (Mel Blanc), along with one of the most important Gildersleeve supporting players, Mr. Peavey (Richard LeGrand). LeGrand joined Peary in three of the four Great Gildersleeve episodes.

Unfortunately, the characters seem to just appear in the series. This may be because the three episodes prior to their first appearance are missing. So it’s possible there was a more fitting introduction to the characters that were originally broadcast but have since been lost.

The series also introduces Southern Belle widow Leila Ranson (Shirley Mitchell) as Gildersleeve’s crush. Leila is a bit of a flirt who uses her “wiles” to manipulate men (particularly Gildersleeve and his rival Judge Hooker) into doing her bidding. Mitchell plays another Southern Belle character in Season One, but this one would stick and be part of Gildersleeve’s life off and on for years to come.

The War and related government messaging remained part of the show, with the plots being used to hone key points. Summerfield was hit with an October snowstorm to educate the public about the importance of buying coal early and completing conversions from oil-powered to coal-powered furnaces necessitated by wartime shortages. Four weeks later, in response to a government directive to stay home to cut down on expenses and consumption. Gildersleeve, in a sort of Goofus and Gallant example of how not to follow the directive, stocks up on food and supplies and even buys a new piano for his quiet evening at home, which quickly goes awry and becomes a house party.

Overall, The Great Gildersleeve was headed in the right direction. Summerfield started to feel less like it was inhabited solely by Gildersleeve’s household and Judge Hooker and the episodes were generally even funnier than the first season’s already strong outings. On the other hand, I do think that setting up Judge Hooker as Gildersleeve’s rival for Leila Ranson’s affections just doesn’t work with the way the Judge was generally portrayed in the series. It feels like the writers needed Gildersleeve to have a recurring rival and didn’t want to introduce a new character. Never mind if it made sense.

It’s worth noting that the show seemed to forget its own continuity and imagine that Gildersleeve had been in Summerfield far longer than he had, with references in the Thanksgiving episode to Judge Hooker always eating Thanksgiving with Gildersleeve when this was only Gildersleeve’s second Thanksgiving in town and Hooker wasn’t there for the first one. However, while it might annoy modern listeners, it’s hard to consider it a demerit against the series, as most programs didn’t take continuity seriously. And given how long Gildersleeve would be on the air, a year or so here or there is not a big deal.

I think all of the episodes in this set are solid, without any weak ones in the bunch. However, my favorite episode had to be the one where Gildersleeve is appointed Water Commissioner. While any OTR fan knew Gildersleeve was going to get the appointment, it really does take an interesting journey to get there. Judge Hooker tells him he’s a shoo-in for a job and Gildersleeve takes it seriously. But Hooker had only been joking. Gildersleeve and family go into overdrive to play up the big event. Hooker realizes too late that they’ve taken it seriously, and Marjorie has to figure a way to save her uncle from further embarrassment while a dejected Gildersleeve stays at home.

The episode gives a brief exploration of the feelings of an over-the-hill man who wants to be of service at a time when younger man are going off to war and has had that chance seemingly snatched away. At the same time, for once, Marjorie is given a pivotal role in the story. Lurene Tuttle was one of Hollywood’s most talent radio actresses, yet rarely got a chance to show it.  Her going to bat for her uncle is one of the best moments of the series so far, with Tuttle really showing how great an actress she was. And with this little bit of drama, the story is still a lot of fun, with even the happy ending coming about in a humorously ironic way.

At this point, The Great Gildersleeve was a series on the rise. After a solid first season, The Great Gildersleeve chose to build on it successes rather than resting on them.That bold direction pays off as each Gildersleeve box set continues to be stronger than the last one.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: Space 1999: Dragon’s Domain

Dragon’s Domain is the Third Box set in British Audio Drama producer Big Finish’s re-imagining of the Gerry Anderson classic series, Space 1999. It stars Mark Bonnar as Commander John Koening, Maria Teresa Creasey as Doctor Helena Russell, Timothy Bentinck as Space Commissioner Simmons, and Glen McCready as Alan Carter.

The series follows the adventures of the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha after the Moon was blown from its orbit and sent into deep space in the events of the two hour adventure Breakaway. Like the previous two box sets, there are three episodes in this set.

First up is “Skull in the Sky.”

After the opening theme, we find ourselves on a very different Alpha than we’re used to. It’s Planet Alpha and Commissioner Simmons is Governor, ruling a semi-Police State after exiling Commander Koenig after the apparent death of Alan Carter. He delivers an oration on the anniversary of his sacrifice that allowed the discovery of water that allowed life to come to the moon.

Things get complicated when an Eagle is spotted…Alan Carter’s Eagle.

This has a nice mystery plot while also allowing the regulars a chance to play slightly different versions of their typical characters. More than that, the series builds to a satisfying, mind-blowing conclusion that leaves listeners and a few of the leads with a lot of questions.

The second story is, “The Godhead Interrogative:”

Dhashka Kano is trying to decode the relic left by the alientZantar at the end of the previous box set. While some think she’s become obsessed, the situation becomes a top priority when a hundred engines attach themselves to the moon and begin pulling off on a course with a strange world.

This is a very solid story with a great sense of mystery with a bit of the vibe of the movie, Arrival.  There are some great, realistic and grounded twists and surprises along the way. It’s emotionally and intellectually engaging. If I had any complaint, it was that Alan Carter got a bit annoying in this episode with his focus on Dhashka’s work habits.

The conclude episode is the titular story, “Dragon’s Domain”

Dragon’s Domain sees Alpha building a ship that could allow them to abandon the moon and return to the wormhole that brought them into deep space. Alan Carter teams up with a French scientist and falls in love as they work the ship and plan a test flight. The test flight leaves…and then everything goes wrong.

This is a solidly packed Sci-Fi story that manages to make a relationship between a main character and a one-off really have an impact while also creating an atmosphere of mystery and terror in deep space. It manages to be suspenseful, and scary without being gory or gratuitous.  It has a realistic time scale which means this story actually takes place over the course of several years.

This time scale does present a few slight problems. Mainly, it seems like for some issues, time has moved forward, while for others, like the relationship between Captain Koenig and Doctor Russell, things seem to have remained at a standstill. Then again, being stuck in deep space. may limit options to force a resolution. One of them can’t exactly request a transfer. Hopefully, the effects of the passage of time are visited in a future box set.
All in all, Dragon’s Domain offer more than a nostalgia high for fans of the original TV series. It’s adult sci-fi at its finest, mixing high concepts, realistic characters, and practical touches that make give this far-fetched premise seem far more realistic, sometimes frighteningly so.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0
Dragon’s Domain is available exclusively at Big Finish.

Audio Drama Review: The Great Gildersleeve, Volume 5

Volume 5 of the Radio Archives Great Gildersleeve (the third featuring Harold Peary) collection brings us near to the conclusion of the first season of The Great Gildersleeve. While it might have been nice for the set to conclude that season, The Great Gildersleeve produced 44 episodes. Even with the few missing episodes, that’s a lot of material to get through, and even three twelve-episode sets hasn’t been enough. There are two more season 1 episodes in Volume 6.

The series was initially conceived and launched prior to Pearl Harbor, but at this point, it was firmly on a war footing, and reflects many elements that became part of everyone’s lives for the duration. There is an episode on a Victory Garden that Gildersleeve, Judge Hooker, and Leroy plant together. There is also a Victory Ship christening that Gildersleeve and his family have to find some way to get to. Gildersleeve’s niece Marjorie volunteers to write to soldiers overseas and gets so overwhelmed with requests that it gets outsourced to the rest of the family, writing in her name. The shortage of rubber and the need to carpool with gasoline rationing comes into play more than once. These little glimpses at life during the War adds a good deal of historic insight to the comedy.

However, it’s not all war for Gildersleeve and family. There’s an attempt made to introduce recurring characters in the form of new next-door neighbors. While I think the episode where the neighbors are introduced is pretty funny, as Leroy ends up getting Gildersleeve committed to a fistfight, the only recurring character is the hyper daughter of the house, which is hardly a unique character idea.

Gildersleeve’s frenemy relationship with Judge Hooker takes a couple of interesting turns. First, to counterprogram Hooker’s well-received radio lectures, Gildersleeve creates an alternate persona as a mystery radio singer who gets a timeslot opposite Hooker on another station and steals Hooker’s audience. This serves to introduce the element of Harold Perry lending his solid singing voice to the program, which would become a more prominent part of the program and lead to his departure in 1950. Later in the series, Hooker gives Gildersleeve a spare tire inner tube, leading Gildersleeve to organize a tribute dinner. Given that Gildersleeve is organizing it,  it proves the adage that no good deed goes unpunished, as Gildersleeve nearly wrecks Hooker’s reputation in the process.

Probably the best episode in this set is “Gildersleeve’s Goat, Horace.” A stray goat adopts Gildersleeve and his family and turns their world upside down, as the goat becomes a menace to the community. I have to give high marks to the production team for the great job they did in this season creating stories around animals using some solid sound effects skills.

If the series has one thing that got repetitive, it is the number of stories that involved con men. Three different episodes in this set feature con men trying to fleece Summerfield’s residents. It’s particularly noticeable that the first two episodes in the set (which were separated when they aired by another, lost, episode) were both about con-men-related stories. Of course, coming up with fresh ideas every week is a challenge when you have to turn out forty-four straight weeks of programs.

Overall, this set is a lot of fun while also being insightful. Listeners who don’t mind too much about flaws related to the the era or the challenge of putting out 44 weeks of programming will enjoy it even more.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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