Category: Audio Drama Review

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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Audio Drama Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Voice of Treason

Sherlock Holmes: The Voice of Treason is an Audible original Audio Drama written by George Mann and Cavan Scott and starring Nicholas Boulton as Sherlock Holmes and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith as Doctor Watson.

Holmes is called in when Queen Victoria disappears from her rooms, threatening the stability of the British Empire. Can Holmes unravel the mysteries surrounding the royal household, and find the Queen and save her?

This is a very involved piece. Both Holmes and Watson are solidly cast. Holdbrook-Smith does seem a little a bit too into the buffoonish takes on Watson at times, though I think that’s more an issue of the script than anything else. The supporting cast is solid from the top to bottom, which is saying something, because this has such a huge cast of characters, with not many cases of doubling up. The sound design is also well put together and does a great job of recreating the feel of the late Victorian era.

What made me nervous about the release was the time of it – eight hours. That’s very long for an audio drama. I wondered if we’d get a GraphicAudio-style story with a lot of narration in-scenes, as if a novel is re-enacted word-for-word.

It wasn’t that. Mann and Scott are both talented writers and their core story is actually a compelling mystery with some very good twists included. It’s a story where you’d best be patient, because it can seem like they’re not being true to the characters, but it does come out mostly right in the end. Yet, eight hours is a long time. It’s enough for around three Big Finish Sherlock Holmes box sets or sixteen episodes of the Jim French Productions Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and not all that time is well spent. The plot can be a bit over-complicated at times, and include such diversions as a card game featuring radical labor leaders, an estranged relative, etc. The story starts out really slow, with events that are only tangential to the main plot. While all these are not bad, they feel very much like padding. The story could have lost two to three hours of runtime while still maintaining its core story and being better-paced.

Still, if you’re a Sherlock Holmes fan out for a long car ride, or who has a series of long commutes, this is not a bad listen. There’s a really compelling story at the heart of it and if you’re in for a more relaxed and leisurely pace to your adventure, this could be a worthwhile listen.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: The Avengers: The Comic Strip Adaptations Volume 06: Steed & Mrs Peel

Big Finish’s latest release of the Avengers features three different comic strips from the Steed and Peel era of the 1960s television series starring Julian Wadham as Steed and Olivia Poulet as Emma Peel.

In “Seven Deadly…Assassins”, Steed and Peel are sent on a ship where they are charged with guarding a valuable jewel. However, they find themselves amidst a group of assassins themed around the seven deadly sins and with a grudge against them.

This is very much a typical Avengers story with themed villains, a fun location, the quips, etc. It does lack some of the punch other comic adaptations. As writer Roland Moore points out, this was from a holiday special without cliffhangers. Still, it’s a fun story, and it’s written with a good understanding of what to expect. The performances are good even with the archest and most on-the-nose characters. It’s a fun time, and hits the right marks, but doesn’t quite have the pizazz of the better stories.

In “Stand and Deliver,” Steed and Peel are invited to a Highwayman’s Ball at the house of a nobleman/scientist. It turns out the ball is a set up to find out who is a spy within the British Secret Service, and Steed is a suspect.

In the case of many stories with this sort of plot, it might be fair to complain about how convoluted the story is, but this is the Avengers, and no villain ever cares about doing anything in a simple, direct way. This story is a fun listen that has a lot of twists and turns, and combines elements of a few different genres to make for a good romp.

“You Won’t Believe Your Eyes” is a hard one to evaluate, owing mainly to the comic strip used, which writer John Dorney admits goes in some directions that are atypical for the Avengers. The beginning of the story is quite strong with the sudden appearance of polar bears and T-Rexes. Then, after we find out the source of these apparitions, the story loses some momentum. We’re given two very stereotypical Soviet spy villains that are far from the typical over-the-top Avengers villains we’re used to. The story picks up in the last few minutes when we get the final plot twist and the denouement. It’s helped by a good acting performance from Dorney.

It’s not a bad script but doesn’t quite deliver the level of fun you expect from an Avengers script, particularly with an opening like this one had.

I couldn’t help but wonder whether Big Finish is running out of good source material, particularly for the Steed and Peel era.
The stories in the six volumes have all been based on storylines from comic strips in TV and TV Action magazine, with Big Finish writers adapting the scripts and expanding on their ideas and concepts. In addition to the atypical finale, the opening story wasn’t a serialized story like all the others, but a self-contained story from an annual.
Overall, this box set was still a fun time. The production team at Big Finish does a great job making these as good as possible. I just sensed that due to the quality of the source material, there was more work needed to put out higher-quality episodes than on previous sets.If you love the TV Avengers or the previous box sets, it’s still worth checking out.
Rating: 3.75 out of 5
The Avengers: The Comic Strip Adaptations, Volume 6 is available on the Big Finish website.

Audio Drama Review: George Edwards’ Les Miserables, Volumes 1 and 2

Radio Archives often comes up with unique offerings that separate it from other old time radio sellers. Such is the case with its two-volume release of the Australian serial adaptation of Les Miserables by Australian actor/producer George Edwards.

Transcription disks of the fifty-two episode 1949 serial are not in general circulation, so this has been a treat that has not been heard in decades.

The sound quality is immaculate and I expect nothing less from this company. Radio Archives has consistently shown a talent for bringing these golden age treasures to listeners in sound quality that exceeds what most original listeners heard over the radio.

The classic story follows Jean Valjean, an ex-convict who spent nineteen years in prison for stealing a loaf of bread and for subsequent escape attempts. On his release, Valjean is forced to carry a yellow passport that causes would-be employers and landlords to repel him, but his life is changed forever by the kindness of a bishop.

Les Miserables is a massive work with a giant cast of characters and no adaptation can capture everything. Still, the story seemed to get most of the essential and best-known elements of the novel and makes it fit into the serial format. Episodes five and six are missing from the collection, but I didn’t really feel I missed much by their absence. Episode four ends just after Valjean’s encounter with the Bishop and episode seven starts just after Valjean has become mayor of a small town under an assumed name. Even basic familiarity with the story kind of allows you to fill in the blanks and Valjean himself summarizes important details.

The story does take a few twists noticeably different from the book, and ends in a very different way, which may offend literary purists, but is nevertheless is still a reasonably satisfying ending to the story.

There were a couple moments I questioned in this. Given the limited time for the adaptation, it was odd that the story includes both Valjean as a prisoner showing a feat of strength and Inspect Javert having a flashback to that exact same scene a few episodes later. A little bit of exposition or a shorter flashback would have provided economy and more time to expand the story. Or they could not have shown the scene at all the first time, since we were going to have Javert remember.

The sound design and music on the production is, for the most part, standard and competent in a way that you’d expect from a production of the era. It uses similar themes and musical bridges over and over again. But there are also some high points in the series that really are brought home by some really outstanding musical arrangements.

The unnamed cast is solid. There’s not a weak performance in the entire company. The actor who plays Inspector Javert delivers the best performance. He brings out Javert’s manic madness in a way that’s captivating. He makes every ridiculous, mad step Javert takes in the story completely believable. In another context, the performance might be over the top, but this actor nailed the performance and captured the character of Javert in a way that really elevates the entire production.

Radio Archives released the set in two volumes. The first collected episodes one through four and seven through twenty-seven. The second volume collected volumes twenty-eight through fifty-two.

If you’ve listened to and enjoyed other George Edwards serials such as The Adventures of Marco Polo or if you’d just like to hear a fresh serialized take on Les Miserables, this is a collection worth listening to.

Radio: 4.5 out of 5

Volumes 1 and 2 of Les Miserables are available to purchase as downloads on the Radio Archives websites.

Audio Drama Review: The Hound of the Baskervilles

The Hound of the Baskervilles is like the Christmas Carol. You don’t watch or listen to an adaptation to find out what happens but to see how well the creators have captured the story. Big Finish does a superb job of capturing the spirit of the Hound of the Baskervilles in a very traditionalist adaptation. Amazingly, the entire program was recorded and rehearsed in a single day.

The cast is wonderful. Richard Earl has got the part of Watson nailed and that’s vital since most of the story centers around him. John Banks and Charlie Norfolk did Yeoman’s work, playing five parts and three parts respectively. They did it so seamlessly, I didn’t know they didn’t have separate actors for each part until I listened to the Extra’s CD. Samuel Clemens is very compelling as Sir Henry Baskerville. And of course, Nicholas Briggs is great as Holmes.Of course, what makes the piece so atmospheric over audio is the sound design and music, coupled with Earl’s narration and they did an incredibly good job in post-production. It captured the spookiness and suspense of the story. Overall, Big Finish does Doyle’s most legendary story justice in a superb adaptation.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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A version of this review was posted in 2015

Audio Drama Review: Death on the Nile

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this review was posted in 2014.

The plot of Death on the Nile is familiar to me. In the past,  I’ve reviewed the Ustinov big-screen version and the David Suchet version.   Recently, I was pleased to enjoy the BBC Radio 4 version.

It can seem odd to listen to, watch, and experience a mystery multiple times because to the viewer or listener, it’s no longer a mystery. We know whodunit and we know why. Yet, there are some stories that are so compelling that the stories never get old. And that’s definitely the case with Death on the Nile. 

The plot has Poirot (John Moffat) on vacation in Egypt and stepping smack into the middle of a huge drama.  Simon and Linnet Doyle are on their honeymoon being staked by Jacqueline, Simon’s former fiancee who he jilted in order to marry Linnet, who was Jacqueline’s far richer best friend. Poirot sees trouble coming and tries to head it off, warning Jacqueline not to let evil into her.  However, the tragedy occurs when Linnet is murdered with Jacqueline’s gun. However, Jacqueline didn’t do it as she had just attempted to kill Simon and had panicked and was staying with a nurse at the time Linnet died.

The good news for Poirot is that the boat is full of potential suspects or at the very least, people who have their own secrets to hide.  Thus Poirot has to sift through an amazing array of lies to find what really happened.

While you listening to the radio adaptation, you may miss the stunning visuals that defined the television and film adaptations, I think that the radio version may have been the best at capturing the emotional conflicts at the heart of Death on the Nile. The pacing is very deliberate. It was aired as a five-part drama, and the first murder didn’t occur until the end of part three. They really did a great job setting up the situation and the characters. The interactions between Poirot and Jacqueline are priceless, and the resolution to the secondary storylines add a more positive counterbalance that makes this enjoyable.

Death on the Nile is a great story that brings home the brilliance of the murder and the tragedy of the perpetrators in a way that captures the imagination and makes this a must-listen-to Poirot adaptation.

Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

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Audio Drama Review: The Red Panda Adventures, Season Eleven

With the end of Season Ten of The Red Panda Adventures, The Red Panda and the Flying Squirrel retired and are thought dead by the general public. Toronto has a new protector, so what exactly is left for Season Eleven? Six lost stories occurred between the Adventures of the Red Panda that we heard on audio.

Each episode has a framing device that sets up a look back at a never-before-told story. It’s a fun format that doesn’t carry the weight of trying to fit into the ongoing arcs of the previous seasons. The adventures are fun and imaginative and most tended toward the pre-war era for the Terrific Twosome of Toronto which had a nostalgic effect. My favorite episode was Twas the Night Before in which the young son of the Red Panda and the Flying Squirrel tells a story of the Red Panda and how he encountered Santa Claus. It’s easily the best Christmas episode Decoder Ring Theater ever produced and fun.

If I had one complaint, it was that a few framing stories seemed to be related and that they were all going to tie together with our heroes taking some (out of costume?) action but alas they weren’t going anywhere. Still, I’m not certain how much of that’s Taylor’s fault and how much it’s mine for having the expectation.

Overall, this is a nice little encore for the Red Panda and Flying Squirrel whose past adventures continue to be explored in comics and audiobooks.

Rating for the Series: 4.25 out of 5

Overall Thoughts on the Series:

The Red Panda Adventures was a cleverly structured series. The series has ongoing plot arcs throughout its run. Gregg Taylor was clever in the show’s early run with the way each series would seemingly be episodic but would also be setting up future events, such as the Red Pandas encounter with the Nazis before World War II, hints of magic influences that would culminate in the Occult War, and the mysterious disappearance of former Red Panda operative during the latter part of the War, which would be a big concern for the Flying Squirrel during Season Nine and paid off in Season Ten.

As a pastiche to mystery men and shows like the Green Lantern and the Shadow, it’s unparalleled. In one way, Taylor improved on these old radio programs and pulps. In the original stories from the golden age, these characters never aged, but did change to meet the needs and demands of wartime. Taylor gave his characters life. They changed and evolved. The Red Panda had an era of dominance and an apex of power that waned, giving way to the age of costumed and caped superheroes that succeeded him. It’s a good solid character journey through an exciting era.

Taylor’s stories used pulp-style stories of monsters, crime, and horror, but also was clearly influenced by later works as well, as Marvel and DC stories, along with Science Fiction franchises clearly were an influence that Taylor managed to translate back to his golden age setting.

The acting was good. Often over the top, but that’s  what the series called for and it did a good job delivering it. The series had a recurring ensemble cast that made it possible to bring Taylor’s vision of the Toronto of the 1930s and 1940s to life.

The show’s biggest consistent problem was its weak sound effects. These weren’t “cheesy like the old days.” In the old days on radio, they had sound effects men who could have produced much higher quality effects when the Shadow was on the air then were included in The Red Panda. The best thing that could be done to improve the series is remastering it with better effects. The series mostly avoids moments that call for big effects, but I can’t recall a single time a big effect landed.

Some ideas developed during the series weren’t fully explored. Taylor introduced characters featured only once, such as a new butler whose memory wasn’t wiped and the Flying Squirrel’s mother moving in to take care of the baby or different new superheroes or villains. The limits of the series left a lot of interesting ground unexplored.

The series also could try a bit too hard with modern-thinking characters existing in the 1930s and 1940s. But it never took itself too seriously, which makes such efforts clumsy but inoffensive.

Overall, The Red Panda Adventures is not only a pioneering series in the new world of original podcast audio dramas, but it also manages to capture the spirit of programs like The Shadow and the old pulp magazines and find new ways to make them fun for a modern audience. It overcomes its weak sound effects through well-plotted and interesting series and continues its legacy in books, audiobooks, and comics.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

 

Audio Drama Review: Black Jack Justice, Season Eleven

Black Jack Justice ended its run as an audio drama with a six-episode eleventh season, once again featuring Christopher Mott as Black Jack Justice and Andrea Lyons as Trixie Dixon, Girl Detective.

The Eleventh Season was much the same as the first ten. The series has a very established beat at this point in the run. You get a typical mix of mystery, comedy, and glorious witty banter.

Big moments were rare. Perhaps, the biggest was the appearance of a federal agent leading to an explanation of the disappearance of a long-time supporting cast member. They did their best to manage it, but the fact that was the cast member left off-stage and they tried to give it as much weight as they could. The series finale featured Jack and his wife Dot going on a double date with Lieutenant Sabian (Gregg Taylor) and Dot’s supervisor in hopes of them getting together while Trixie is undercover as a waitress at the restaurant trying to get to the bottom of a client’s allegation that a mob is starting a protection racket. It’s a fun story.

It’s not what you expect from a series finale these days, though. However, writer Gregg Taylor argued that Black Jack Justice was one of those series that had no need for a big series finale and he’s right.

Serialized storytelling has become all the rage and with good reason. There’s something satisfying about watching characters not only have adventures, but grow and change, and having their world and life change as a result of the decisions made by them and those around them. To not have a big finale for these type of programs that ties up all the plotlines and character arcs would be a shame.

Black Jack Justice is an old-school episodic series. You can listen to any of its seventy-two episodes in any order without any real confusion. So there’s no need for closure, no requirements for the characters to come to a dramatic end.

Season Eleven does a fine job and is entertaining as always. At this point, it’s a comfortable blanket and a cup of cocoa. It delivers everything you would expect. I don’t think any episode would stand out as the series best, although I feel the finale was the best of the season with some great humor and some good moments for some supporting characters.

Season rating: 4 out of 5

Thoughts on the Series:

Typically, most hard boiled private eyes are solo acts. The Justice and Dixon combo where both narrate at different times, both have hard-boiled banter is, as far as I know, unique. The origins of this was a stage comedy act, and having dueling noirish narrators sounds like a Whose Line is it Anyway sketch, not a blueprint for a seventy-two episode series. So credit to Taylor, Lyons, and Mott for making it all come together.

The series came up with consistently good mysteries. The solutions rarely could be guessed from the beginning. Usually they were surprising and often added to the humor of the episode. The character of Lieutenant Sabian wasn’t incompetent, but was a smart cop who asked smart questions and even solved the case a couple of times. While Jack tended to solve more mysteries than anyone, really the solution could come from Trixie or Sabian as well.

While there was little character development, the characters were more complex than their typical jobs would allow. While Tracy and Jack act like they’re complete cynics, they both have shown moments of compassion and a desire for justice.

The series also breaks a key dramatic trope. From the first season, Jack and Trixie irritated each other, got on each other’s nerves, and were often nice to each other. Contrary to dramatic expectations, this didn’t mean they were destined to fall in love. This means they found each other mildly irritating and didn’t like each other. Bold move.

Justice and Dixon’s talents compliment each other well, but they’re not friends or buddies. Tolerance and a joy of annoying each other is probably the closest they’re going to get.

The series is a model of episodic fiction. There are changes that happen for our leads: Clearly establish Trixie as an equal partner in Season Two, the adoption of the office dog King, Jack getting married, and two other characters leaving the series stand out. But none of these really change the essential: Justice and Dixon sitting around the office, waiting for cases, chatting with clients, and going out and solving them.

At times, this series set in the 1950s does a stretch a bit too much to be modern but not too often. It’s a delightful throwback that has a real staying power. It’s fun and well-written. These 72 episodes stand up as a fun homage to the hard boiled detective drama and it’s been a delight to listen to them.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

Audio Drama Review: The Junebug Mystery Plus Six More


Retired Police Captain Waverly Underhill (Dave Ellsworth) was the lead character in the Captain Underhill mysteries which were presented sporadically over radio from 1982-2010 as part of the Cape Cod Radio Mystery Theatre. He was joined by Wally O’Hara as Doctor Alexander Scofield, his friend and physician. This set collects seven total mysteries, with most ranging between 50 minutes and an hour and a half in length.

Most of the mysteries are set in the contemporary era of the program, although two episodes feature tales from the 1960s when Underhill was still an active policeman and encountered cases involving JFK and the Beetles.

This set was my first time encountering Captain Underhill and I enjoyed both Underhill and Doctor Scofield. The two have al New England “Holmes and Watson” vibe that works for them without seeming too derivative. They work well together and they’re fun to listen to.

Underhill makes a great lead detective character. He’s sharp and insightful but his methods have just the right amount of eccentricity to make the story interesting. You never quite know what he’s going to do next but he always has a reason for it in the end.

The lead performances are consistently good and as are most of the secondary performances. There were a couple of guest performances that were weaker, which could be irritating but not enough to ruin the story.

The mysteries are all intriguing with a great mix of real clues and red herrings and it’s always great to hear how Underhill works the solution out. For the most part, the length of the episodes gives the story more space to breathe and allows for more complex plots than half-hour radio programs. However, there are a couple of instances where it did feel padded. One key example was one story that featured eleven minutes of a radio report that wasn’t particularly relevant to the plot.

More than anything else, I love the atmosphere of the series. The series was recorded  in New England and there’s some  solid research into places and people that give it a real stamp of authenticity like you’ve traveled to Cape Cod. I really wish there were more programs like it: Entertaining, locally made radio drama that captures the sound and feel of a place.

I was somewhat disappointed to learn the first episode in the collection wasn’t the first episode of the series. Apparently, the early episodes are available on Audible as individual downloads. Still, it would be nice for all of the mysteries to be available as a collection.

My favorite story on this set was “The Case of the Shooting Star” where Captain Underhill is at a party on the night that someone is apparently is killed in bed by a falling meteor. The way he finds out what’s going on and delivers his deductions are just brilliant. My least favorite, “The Case of the Four Little Beatles.” The mystery is probably the weakest and feels more like a contrived bit of baby boomer nostalgia. Maybe if you’re more into the Beetles, you’d enjoy the story more, but it fell a bit flat for me.

Overall, though, these are still good enjoyable modern radio drama mysteries that I can recommend to fans of radio detective programs, particularly of the cozy sort.

Rating: 4 out of 5

 

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My Top 10 Big Finish Stories of 2021, Part One

Big Finish puts out a lot of Audio Dramas and I’m a huge fan. I listen primarily to their officially licensed Doctor Who audio dramas and multitudinous spin-off but also a few of their non-Doctor Who offerings. In this column, and the next one, I’m going to list the top ten best stories I heard from them that were released last year. Now, as usual, I don’t listen to everything they put out, so this list is not definitive, and of course, the opinions are my own:

10) “The Laughing Policeman” by Jonathan Barnes, Adapted as an Audiobook by Justin Richards, and read by Duncan Wisbey from Jago & Litefoot Series 14:

With the passing of co-star Trevor Baxter (who played Professor George Litefoot), the Doctor Who spin-off Jago & Litefoot came to an abrupt end after thirteen series. They tried to cap off the series with the release of Jago & Litefoot Forever, a Jago-heavy adventure where Christopher Benjamin carried the bulk of lines and Litefoot appeared briefly using lines pasted in from past adventures. (see: My review here.)

However, Big Finishhad scripts paid for and completed for a fourteenth series. After waiting an appropriate time, they set about adapting Series 14 into an audiobook. Each story had its own individual reader with some link to the past seasons. The series focused on a sinister new secret regime using mind control and having established itself in Victorian London. “The Laughing Policeman” is the second of four stories adapted:

This story is told in first person by a policeman trailing Jago and Litefoot, believing them to be seditionists against the new regime. But who is following who?

This is a remarkable piece and works great as an audiobook. Inspector Gilhooey provides a combination of atmosphere, humanity, and humor, as our two heroes take a slightly less prominent role in a corker of a mystery. There are some great twist and turns and so many superb surprises. I also love how his view of Jago and Litefoot evolves throughout the story and how he changes as well.

The fine story is given a great reading by Duncan Wisbey as the set continued its momentum from the opener.

9) The Gulf by Tim Foley starring Tim Treloar and Sadie Miller from The Third Doctor Adventures, Volumes 7

The Third Doctor Adventures began by recasting the role of the Third Doctor, originally played by Jon Pertwee (1919-96) so that surviving Third Doctor cast members like Katy Manning, who played the Third Doctor’s companion, could appear in full-cast Doctor Who stories. This box set brings back the daughters of the late actresses Caroline John and Elisabeth Sladen to play the roles their mothers played as the other Third Doctor Companions.

“The Gulf” finds the Doctor and Sarah Jane Smith landing at a mysterious disused sea-based mining rig that’s become a retreat for artists.

There’s a spooky/disturbing atmosphere about the place and the sound design. Sadie Miller fits right into the role of Sarah Jane Smith and gives a solid performance. The all-female guest cast is well-written with British Acting legend Wendy Craig (who I had no prior familiarity with) turning in an incredibly engaging performance as Marta, the leader of the group.

The story is clever and thoughtful and misses some frightening scenes with some spot-on character work.

8) The Trojan Dalek by John Dorney and starring David Tennant and Jane Slavin from the Box Set Dalek Universe 2

This story sees Mark, Anya, and the Doctor going in the front door of a base where an old friend of Mark’s is being treated for severe battlefield wounds and where they hope to find a lead on the scientist who possesses the time travel tech the Doctor needs to return to the TARDIS. When they fail to get cooperation on the latter issue, the Doctor suspects something far more sinister is going on.

The most remarkable aspect of this story may be that this wasn’t originally John Dorney’s story but he filled in for another writer. This is a superb script. It has elements that could easily be discordant. In the first half of this script, the Tenth Doctor has some of his most hilarious lines for Big Finish, but as the story goes on, we discover serious elements of body horror involving some experiments to fight the Daleks and an ending that hits like a punch to the gut.

However, rather than discordant elements, the humor at the start of the piece serves to make what happens later all the more horrible. It’s a mix of comedy and tragedy that makes for one of the strongest Big Finish stories of the year so far.

7) Unfinished Business by James Goss

6) The Sincerest Form of Flattery by James Goss

5) A Quiet Night In by Lou Morgan

All three stories comes from the War Master: Killing Time set starring Sir Derek Jacobi.

The plot of the box set features the Master (Jacobi) during the Time War trying to gain control of a system known as the Stagnant Protocol, a place whose inhabitants do not die but also are incapable of reproduction. He sees a way to exploit them for his own long plan, however finds a rival on-world in Calanthia (Alexandra Riley).

Unfinished Business and The Sincerest Form of Flattery are first and last stories of the set and heavily focused on the rivalry between the Master and Calanthia, as well as the complex relationship the two develop. To see the Master forced to deal with someone who is his equal in cunning and ruthlessness works well. Jacobi, an acting legend, is great, but so is Riley, who does rise to the occasion with an incredibly solid performance.

A Quiet Night In is the second story of the box and has the Master returning to Earth and pretending to be the Uncle of Jo Jones Manning.) She takes a trip out to the country to meet her uncle and finds herself as his mysterious house. The atmosphere of the story is heavy and brilliantly done. The story takes many unpredictable twists and turns. Both Jacobi and Manning turn in spellbinding performance in a solid bit of psychological terror.

Continued next week.

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Audio Drama Review: Mutual Radio Theater, Volume 1, Week Four

This is the final part of our review of Radio Archives’ Mutual Radio Theater, Volume 1 covering the third week of the series. For a look at an overview of the set, see the first week review.  Also see week two and week three

The Blind Gun:  The town bully murders the father of a nineteen year old blind man right in front of him. The local law refuses to do anything reasoning that it’s the boy’s word vs. the murderer’s and a blind man’s word isn’t worth as much as that of a man who can see. The young man asks an elderly alcoholic former gunslinger to teach him to shoot so he can get vengeance for his father’s death. Golden Age Stars: Vic Perrin, Marvin Miller, Parley Baer, Howard Culver 

Review: The story is about what you’d expect from this genre and hits all the right plot notes. Not only that, but the murdered father, the gunslinger, and the young blind man are written well and are quite likable characters. There’s no real shock in the outcome, although it does take a turn I wouldn’t have predicted in order to get there. It’s a good listen and delivers everything you could ask of a story like this. Grade: B 

Fontaine Harris, Hollywood Producer: It’s 1928 and a con man has bought a stake in a movie studio. However, the company’s head honcho has some odd ideas about films and our protagonist begins to suspect something’s off. Golden Age stars: Harold Peary, Barney Phillips, Shepard Menkin, Sandra Gould, Jack Kruchen, and Shirley Mitchell 

It was great to hear Harold Peary acting on radio as his performance as the Great Gildersleeve were so iconic. This one had funny moments, but didn’t reach a definitive conclusion. Doing some research, I found this story was a continuation of two prior stories that had appeared on Sears Radio Theater.  In the Sears Radio Theater, Pat Buttram (famous for playing Mister Haney on Green Acres.) plays the lead character. Here, Jesse White takes the role and he’s passable at best. 

The ending is unsatisfying and more than anything else, it just seems to stop.  It sets up a bit for the final sequel story (which would air six months later.) That’s a dubious decision that makes this hard to judge. Grade: C 

An International Sport: A young Soviet Ice Skater is planning to defect at the International Championships in London over the objections of her loyal Soviet patriot father. The KBG is aware of this and has plans to use this to their own advantage. Golden Age Stars: Shepard Menken,  Ben Wright, June Whitley-Taylor

This is fairly standard Cold War fare. Shepherd Menken does as good a job as the father as he possibly can, giving some warmth that lends believability for where his character goes in this story. It also does have a good mystery around why the Soviets are letting her go, knowing she intends to defect and what their agenda is. 

The biggest problem is that the Soviets are played in acartoonish way. When production treats them as bad guys who are figures of menace, it can work. When a production portrays them in silly stereotypical ways, it’s hard to take them as a serious threat, which undermines the story. Grade: B- 

Those Who Can…: An acting instructor and two of his students help coach a temperamental singer who is set to star in a big movie but has no movie experience. Golden Age Star: Byron Kane 

Review: This is an intriguing and engaging story. The acting instructor is an interesting character. He’s dedicated to his profession and got a lot of ideas but doesn’t always practice what he preaches. I like how the singer was played. She was stuck up, entitled, used to getting her own way, and full of herself, yet still in a way that wasn’t over-the-top and you could believe she could get by in most places by the strength of her celebrity. And of course, there’s Sandra, the acting student, who comes off a bit timid at first but really comes into her own at the conclusion of the story.  

This was just a nice piece of writing and acting. Grade: A- 

The Whale Savers: An aspiring photojournalist lands a berth on a whale saving ship bound for Antarctica. Golden Age Stars: Parley Baer 

“The Whale Savers” definitely has a viewpoint on the very hot 1980s issue of saving the whales and has a few educational moments about whaling and what whale-saving ships do as they try to stop a pirate whaler from killing a blue whale. However, this story never forgets it’s an adventure tale and it delivers. It mixes its thrilling sea and whale plot with a believable relationship that develops and resolves sensibly with the ship’s only female crew member and our glory-seeking photographer protagonist. It’s story that’s well-researched, not afraid to show it, but also never gets bogged down in unnecessary details.  

Having Leonard Nimoy narrate is fun given his most famous character, Mr. Spock, would go on a Whale-Saving mission of his own in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, a film that Nimoy also directed and wrote the story for a few years later. 

Whether this story had any indirect influence over Mr. Nimoy in writing Star Trek IV, I don’t know. However, whether you agree with its message or not, this story was one whale of a tale and a fine conclusion to the set. Grade: A 

Overall Thoughts

By nature of being an anthology program, there’s a wide variant in quality with the series. I’m so glad I got to hear certain episodes while other episodes were awful. The Western Night provided the most consistent quality. The Love Night was surprisingly strong, with some good dramas, and only one effort that was slightly subpart in week three. The mystery night was consistently passable, with no stories that stood out for either being good or bad. The adventure night was a mixed bag. After a so-so first week and a dreadful second, the third and fourth week featured some of my favorite stories of the set. Alas, the Comedy in this series is really a weak point, as so often it just wasn’t funny or wasn’t that funny.

On the other hand, the sound quality of the set really does shine through. The sound is superb from start to finish. However, at its price point, it’s a dubious value for a set where the stories vary in quality so much.

If you’re nostalgic for the show or remember the 1980s and want to go back, this could be a good set to purchase. If you love great sounding audio and have the cash, this is also a really superb listen. In addition, if your library has the Hoopla app, you can check this out and enjoy the stories that sounded like they interest you at no charge.

Rating: 3.5 out 5.0

Audio Drama Review: Mutual Radio Theater, Volume 1, Week Three

This is the third part of our review of Radio Archives’ Mutual Radio Theater, Volume 1 covering the third week of the series. For a look at an overview of the set, see the first week review.  Also see week two.

Oh Really, No O’ReillyIn a Western town that’s dying out since the railroad came through Denver, a crooked saloonkeeper and a dishonest undertaker engage a corrupt insurance salesman to take out a policy on a drunk drifter named O’Reilly when plans to poison him and collect the insurance money. That becomes a lot harder than they think. Golden Age Stars: Tyler McVey, Daws Butler, Marvin Miller, Don Diamond, Barney Phillips, and Howard Culver 

Review: This was based on a true story that was the basis of many stories including the 1955 Johnny Dollar serial “The Indestructible Mike Matter.” The story is hit and miss as a dark comedy but really does turn in a few very good plot twists at the end. Grade: B- 

The First National Radio Aptitude Test. An on-air radio aptitude quiz is conducted with some interesting answers.  Golden Age Stars: Alan Young, Marvin Miller, Daws Butler, Lillian Buyeff, Mary Jane Croft, Shepard Menken, Don Diamond, and Jerry Hausner 

This is a bit different. Andy Griffith gives a monologue about radio, its history, and the golden age of radio. I did have to chuckle when Griffin said he wouldn’t say anything about those headsets being worn by joggers and young people and wondered what he’d say to our modern world’s ubiquitous all-ages use of earbuds. He then sends the show over to a radio quiz master (Young) who provides a wacky quiz while receiving constant interruptions. 

There’s a lot to like. There are some funny jokes and if you’re a fan of the golden age of radio, there’s a boatload of talent from the era represented in this little production. 

On the other hand, this is a production that tries to overwhelm you with jokes, a lot of which don’t hit. There’s a Groucho Marx/You Bet Your Life parody that goes on too long. In addition, there’s a lack of logic. It was decided they wanted to include parodies of old time radio shows and poke fun at collectors, so without explanation they stop the quiz and do that. 

Still, this was entertaining. It plays well to nostalgia, has some funny bits, but could have been better. Grade: B 

The Mask: A businessman/art collector steals an old, sinister-looking mask from Africa with a bad reputation. He gets home and finds that reputation is deserved. Golden Age Star: Ben Wright 

This is an odd one, honestly. The businessman and a corrupt local official steal the mask and then the official is hospitalized with serious burns when his stove blows up and the businessman’s family start having minor fire-related injuries. Than the story has a twist…that’s almost absurd, but I think gives it a Twilight Zone feel to it. It does have some interesting turns, but there are also some flaws in the story logic. Still, it wasn’t a bad listen. Grade: B- 

For the Love of Laura: An actress and party girl frequently proposes marriage but never follows through until she asks herself who she’d really like to marry. Golden Age Stars: Janet Waldo, Shepard Menken,  Barney Phillips, and Vic Perrin.   

Janet Waldo does as good a job with the material as anyone could and the same can be said of all the actors. That said, Laura is just not a likeable character. The whole of the story is a combination of Laura leading men on, and imagining how good/how bad it might be to be married to each one.  She remains self-absorbed and shallow and strings each of these men along while she made up her mind. I will say she does show some character growth. She’s still shallow by the end, but not nearly as shallow as when she started. She’s self-absorbed but without being as foolish about it. 

I also think there are too many guys in the story. She has five beaus: a smart guy, a weightlifter, a golfer, her agent, and a guy who looks good but whose chief personality trait is breaking out a racist joke whenever there’s a lull in the conversion. Each time she remembers or fantasizes about one of them, she has to do it with each of them in turn. With so many male characters, they end up as shallow as her. If people wanted that much shallowness, they could just watch TV. Grade: C- 

Yes, Sir, That’s My Baby: More than a thousand years in the future, a couple are permitted by their government to get married and when they get a family-sized housing unit, they think the government is going to let them have a baby. They hope to be given a pink or blue card for their new baby. Instead, they’re horrified to draw a yellow card and find the extra room is designated for a seventy-five-year-old man who was cryogenically frozen in 1975 after having a near-fatal heart attack. Golden Age Stars: Herb Vigran, Marvin Miller 

This story deals with the idea of over-population, which was a huge environmental concern of the 1970s and 1980s. But I have to give writer Elliott Lewis credit for taking a different tact than many writers of the era. He doesn’t imagine some environmental cataclysm that wipes out the human race or humans going into space. He imagines humans continuing to find ways to survive until every inch of the planet is claimed and filled, the human population is in the trillions and has a powerful computer-led government running everyone’s lives, approving decisions to get married, where they can live, and how much food they’re given.  

The government that runs the plan does horrible things but is assured of it own beneficence, even stating so after having made a mistake that ruins this young couple’s life.  Whether you agree with or like Lewis’ setup, it was strikingly different. Of course, the radio program does dance around some of the ethical implications of this society.  

And it manages to get away with it because it acknowledges some broader human themes it chooses to explore through this world that manage to work. Herb Vigran is great as the man who finds himself more than a millennium out of time, awakened by Earth’s government because they need him for some purpose they don’t tell him. The character’s humanity pushes against a bureaucratic world. The character is very likable even as he makes questionable choices. 

The story also raises questions about the wisdom of cryogenic freezing, as it shows serious downsides with a little bit of upside at the end.

I do question its inclusion for a Friday program. Given its focus on having a baby, love, and relationships, this doesn’t fit with much with the “Adventure” theme Fridays were supposed to offer. Given a Sci-fi Comedy was played by comedy day, this might been a better fit on Thursday’s love day. 

Still, this merits a grade: B+ 

Our series will conclude on January 1st

Audio Drama Review: Mutual Radio Theater, Volume 1, Week Two

This is the second part of our review of Radio Archives’ Mutual Radio Theater, Volume 1 covering the second week of the series. For a look at an overview of the set, see the first week review.

The Mutiny Against George Washington: In the closing days of the Revolutionary War , there’s a mutiny at works led by Washington’s officers to overthrow the Continental Congress. 

Review:  A really strong piece. It doesn’t fit in the “Western” slot of Mutual Radio Theater, but it fits here better than anywhere else. The story has two parts. In 1775, as a member of the Continental Congress, the story shows how he’s chosen and takes command of an undisciplined continental rabble. In the second act, the war is effectively over, but the Treaty hasn’t been signed and the troops are waiting for pay after many false assurances from Congress.  

When I think of Fletcher Markle, I think of his behind the mike work on programs like Studio One during the Golden Age of Radio and he also was a producer and director on this seriesHowever, he does a magnificent job as Washington. The script takes a really interesting and nuanced view. It does inject some modern cynicism that certainly resonated with listeners a few years after Watergate and will still today. However, there’s also real respect for Washington even if he wasn’t the type of man who’d fit in 1980s society. It’s an intriguing story and my biggest problem is that it left me wishing this had been a multi-part story, because it was so interesting to listen to. Grade: A 

Let’s Play House: A couple plan to build a new house on a mountain but run into many obstacles. Golden Age stars: Frank Nelson, Vic Perrin, and Peggy Weber.  

Review: On the positive side, Andy Griffith does do a fair bit of narrating and I’m always up for hearing him tell a story. Also, Frank Nelson plays the typical sort of character he played with great success on the Jack Benny program. There were some funny moments in the story.  

But its big problem was that it doesn’t feel like a thirty-eight-minute radio play. The plot is essentially something like the movie The Money Pit but with new construction on a mountain instead of renovating a mansion. The story takes place over two years and jumps from comedic event to comedic event using exposition to fill the gaps. It also has really goofy incidental music that indicates that the story thinks its funnier than it is. This begins to grate after a while.   Grade: C- 

Double Exposure: A mob informant gets placed into the custody of an agency closely related to the government and is then given cosmetic surgery that he’s not told about until afterwards. The story opens with him disheveled in a fleabag hotel. The question is how did he get there? Golden Age Stars; Vic Perrin, Mary Jane Croft, Marvin Miller, Bill Zuckert 

Review: This was a really good crime/suspense story takes a lot of turns. The acting is generally solid, with strong performances from Croft and Perin. There’s a little bit of audio engineering issues when one character sounds like he’s not in the same room when he should. While this is distracting, this is still a fine story. Grade: B+ 

One Dollar Dream House: A young married couple move out of the Suburbs and become urban homesteaders, buying a large home in the middle of the city for $1 and beginning the process of rehabilitating. They also have a zeal to help make the world better, but can that withstand reality? Golden Age Stars: Ilene Tedrow, June Foray 

Review: This story becomes a bit of a counterpoint to the hapless yuppies building their dreamhouse on a mountain in the play two days before. I quite enjoyed this. The idea of “urban homesteaders” particularly in the context of buying, improving, and living in distressed property in urban zones with a minimal payment wasn’t anything I’d heard of, so I appreciated it from an educational level. I also liked the couple. They’re very sincere but run smack into reality. The story walks a fine line, it’s got great heart, but it doesn’t lose touch with the challenges of the real world.  

While like “Let’s Play House,” this play covered a long time period. It didn’t rely as much on narrator exposition but found less intrusive ways to let us know what happened. This type of thing could have the potential to be a really good radio or television series, as a heartfelt family drama in an unusual place. This was solid listening and I enjoyed it. Grade: B+ 

North to Marakesh:  A female reporter goes to Morocco to interview a warlord with grand ambitions. Fearing for her safety, her boyfriend (and competing male reporter) follows her. Golden Age Stars: Hans Conreid and Peggy Webber 

This story sets out promisingly enough with Leonard Nimoy giving great narration, setting the stage for an adventurous tale of danger involving this reporter going into harms way. Unfortunately, that’s the best part of the play.  It is horribly paced with a lot of humor added as padding. You can have a good adventure story with humor, but this uses it in the wrong way. It leaves you wondering how serious is the danger our heroes are going into? Through way too many conversations between characters, it takes more than half the play to get to the villain who’s not that interesting to start with. 

We’re told the female reporter is no fool, but she certainly talks like one in concluding the warlord isn’t a threat because he was educated in English schools. This despite the recent deaths of two reporters who went to interview them. The only remotely interesting character was a corrupt policeman turned guide. But that’s not enough to save this from being a big lowlight for the series so far. If not  for Nimoy’s opening narration, I would have graded this worse. Grade: D 

To be continued next week.