Category: Audio Drama Review

Audio Drama Review: The Diary of River Song, Series 7

River Song (Alex Kington) was married to the Doctor in Doctor Who, making her last appearance opposite Peter Capaldi. This spin-off series continues her adventures.

One thing that was established in the TV series was that River Song was a detective, operating in New York under the name Melody Malone. For the Seventh Series of her spin-off, Big Finished did an anthology release featuring River encountering mysteries in a series of different genres from Scandinavian Noir to Legal Dramas.

“Colony of Strangers” finds River Song in a Nordic Noir story on an Earth Colony world that just happens to feature a Fjord and a perpetually frozen landscape. Bodies of creatures begin washing up on the shore where River Song is renting her house and the local police begin to suspect her.

The mystery, its solution, and the sci-fi element are all well thought out, but ultimately what makes this story so compelling is how it goes all in on its concept. This is River Song doing Nordic Noir and they hold to that pattern, unlike the 2018 Doctor Who audio story Hunting Grounds which borrowed some elements but was essentially a Doctor Who story. It maintains clipped stylized dialogue, sparse soundscape, and a downbeat feel. This could easily come off as pretentious, but it’s done well and the result is something that’s very different from any other River Song story we’ve heard.

In “Abbey of Heretic,” River arrives at a 12th Century convent disguised as a nun. When she arrives she discovers a strange disease spreading with the blame being cast throughout the nunnery.

“Abbey of Heretics” is inspired by the Brother Caedfel Mysteries and the TV adaptions starring Derek Jacobi which are set during the same time period. This is a fairly good story, though it felt longer than it needs to be. There’s a great sense of atmosphere and each of the characters is well-drawn. I also thought it showed a sufficient amount of respect for faith.

In “Barrister to the Stars”, River’s accused of murder at a bizarre space station. River appoints an English attorney from the 20th Century as her barrister. This is a remarkable story, particularly for the writer’s first Big Finish. While the writer cited a number of sources in the extras, Rumpole of the Bailey’s influences are clear from the barrister’s asides during Counsel/judge statements, and he refers to himself as an old Bailey hack. This is nearly a perfect Rumpole pastiche but set…in space. David Rintoul is fantastic as the barrister.

There’s quite a bit of imagination and world building that goes into creating this situation and the weird and amazing creatures that inhabit it. It’s a wonderful, hilarious, and practically flawless mix of genres.

“Carnival of Angels” is the only story in the set that doesn’t standalone. It’s a prequel to the Doctor Who TV episode, “The Angels Take Manhattan” and also sees the return of what seemed to be a one-off assistant character from the fifth River Song box set, though its not required to have listened to that story as its explained with some blatantly expositional dialogue.

The story finds River Song operating as a private detective in New York City as Melody Malone when a hard-boiled musician comes into her office to report he saw someone murdered…himself.

Like all the stories, this one aims for a sense of atmosphere…this time the feeling of 1930s and 40s Film Noir. It hits somewhat, but at times it tries too hard and at others gaps in knowledge show up. For example, the writer has American characters use British idioms like, “What are you playing at…”

Still, there are are some spooky moments as well as a great hook for the start of the episode. Despite the flaws, most American production companies couldn’t have done better in creating the feel of film noir. So this story was still a worthwhile hour of listening.

Overall, if you liked River Song on Doctor Who, or if you just like mysteries with a Science Fiction twist, this is a pretty good box set with Barrister of the Stars easily the highlight of the set.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

Radio Show Review: The Danny Kaye Show

The Danny Kaye show starred singer/comedian Danny Kaye and premiered in January 1945. It remained on the air until 1946 and was sponsored by Past Blue Ribbon Beer.

Kaye was a talented performer, and the show was good whenever he was given an opportunity to sing, to do zany skits, or do things that suited Danny Kaye’s talents. Yet, the show didn’t often let Kaye do that in its first season.

The first seventeen episode January-May season had the series as half a good musical/variety show and half a lame sitcom about making the show.

The series featured Eve Arden and Lionel Stander as Kaye’s sidekicks. Arden was a few years away from stardom with Our Miss Brooks, and Stander could be fun in the right role. However, they’re not  given much to work with.

The first season has some groan-inducing and tedious moments, but it’s more than made up for by the hilarious moments and Kaye’s crazy singing.

The second season that began in the fall of 1945 saw some big production changes that made the show better with a focus on Kaye interacting with guest stars, and with Butterfly McQueen becoming the show’s main comedic regular for about one scene a week.

Unfortunately, while most of the first season is in circulation, the second season is scarce. Two of the available episodes are shows for which Kaye was absent during a USO tour and had Frank Sinatra and Jack Benny filling in.  While they both did fine, they were essentially doing their own thing.

However, those episodes we do have with Kaye show a much-improved series. There’s one episode from January 25, 1946 where Kaye is his own guest star.  The episode for March 1, 1946 with Orson Welles as the guest star is my favorite as Welles critiques and analyzes the song Kaye sings at the start of each episode. The Carmen Miranda episode (February 15, 1946) is also really fun as well.  The Arthur Treacher episode (May 24, 1946) is kind of ho-hum, but still these four episodes suggest that Kaye’s second season was a good improvement on the first one.

Overall, these episodes are worth listening if you’re a Kaye fan. If you do start at the beginning and are disappointed by the weaker parts of the first season, check out what survives of Season 2 for a better experience.

 

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

The Danny Kaye show is available for free download here

Audio Drama Review: The Prisoner, Volume 3

Big Finish concluded its reimagining of the Prisoner in the third volume of four audio episodes.

The series kicks off with a take on the TV episode, “Free for All” with there being an election for the new Number 2 with Number 6 finding a surprising groundswell for his candidacy.

The episode works well. It plays with the ideas in the TV show about Democracy but goes deeper in many aspects. Whereas, Number 6’s end is kind of sudden in the TV episode, we do get a build-up, a great final confrontation, and a memorable conclusion to the episode.

There are a couple of issues. I did find the village rifle association absurd. No prison is going to hand prisoners guns, not even the mad system of the Village. In addition, Lorelai King’s Texas accent didn’t ring true.

Other than that, this episode did a good job of setting the stage with a surprising conclusion.

In the next episode, “The Girl Who Was Death,” Number 6 is back in London with foggy memories of how he got there. He encounters Kate Butterworth (Lucy Briggs-Owen) again who tells him it’s been six years since his last return to London.

This story is intriguing. It revisits the smashing Series 2 opener, “I Met a Man Today” and challenges what we thought we knew about that story and how the aftermath played out over Series 2. There’s some real question as to what’s going on and who number 6 can trust. The answers aren’t obvious.

The flashback to tie in “Free for All” was a bit dull, and I miss the surrealistic majesty of the TV version. However, this does work a treat in continuing on this box set as a more inter-linked story.

The “Seltzman Connection” is an original story that’s a bit of a nod to the TV story, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling,” Number Six teams up with another escapee to travel overseas and find out what happened to his girlfriend Janet before Number Six tendered his resignation. This is a story that has some intrigue and turns trippy towards the end to set the stage for the finale.

The series concludes with “No One Will Know” as Number Six now finds himself in Kate Butterworth’s body and questioned by Control. This a talky episode that deals with body-swapping and the ethical and practical merits of a world where no one would know who anyone was. It also ends up as a finale for the series so far and the result isn’t what I’d want, nor was it in line with the original, or something you can see being built up to from the beginning. Nevertheless, it’s one way to go and its handled pretty well.

Overall, I found the third series of The Prisoner to be a worthy updating of the original series. It evocative of the original series but goes deeper on some points than the classic television series did while developing its own themes. The acting and sound design is marvelous throughout, managing to evoke the 1960s while also having a very modern feel. Overall, a well-done final volume for what’s been a solid range at Big Finish.

Rating: 4.0 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: Slick Bracer, P.I.

Slick Bracer, P.I. was a 2011 Summer series for Decoder Ring Theatre. Unlike the ongoing Red Panda Adventures and Black Jack Justice, the series was written by Eric Decker.

It starts Peter Nichols as Private Eye Slick Bracer and features a soundtrack and feel that places it in the late 1970s or early 1980s as opposed to the more golden age setting of the two regular series. It featured Christopher Mott as the extremely stereotypical Detective McGillicuddy.

In many ways, the series does feel a lot like the Sid Guy, Private Eye series with its comedic send-up of detective tropes. It’s not quite as adept. While it does sound like the actors were having fun, this doesn’t work quite as well.

Each episode tends to rely on running gags, most of which weren’t that funny the first time. Every episode, Slick’s secretary tells a caller that’s “Slick’s not there” however her words slur together into “Slick snot.” And Slick gets furious about it. Every single episode.

I did enjoy the last episode, “Slick Bracer and the Perils of Public Radio.” It did seem to be written with a lot of knowledge of the subject, which led to some funny jokes and even a nice running gag about a coffee mug.

Overall, this was not good, but it did have its moments.
Rating: 2.25 out of 5

You can listen to Slick Bracer, Private Eye on the Decoder Ring Theatre website.

Audio Drama Review: The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 4


The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas, Volume 4 brings together six more Twilight Zone radio episodes:

“Steel” stars Lou Gossett, Jr. as a fight manager and former fighter in a world that’s outlawed humans boxing and now leaves it to robots. Gossett’s character has an assistant who doubts the efficacy of everything Gossett’s character does which begs the question of why the question of why the guy is training an outdated robot boxer. Despite that, this one still works for its overall thrust about the triumph of the human spirit in a world that seems to try to move human beings towards obsolescence.

“Four o’Clock” stars Stan Freberg as a crank who persecutes everyone as guilty of some kind of evildoing and sets out a plan to shrink every evil person to two feet tall. This episode is mostly Freberg ranting as an over the top character. It seems like a commentary on the McCarthy era using the most cartoonish caricature possible.

“Uncle Simon” features a woman named Barbara (Beverly Garland) who has spent her life caring for her disabled, brilliant, and cruel uncle (Mark Richman) in hopes of inheriting his estate. He has a secret experiment he carries on but won’t tell her about. This is an all-time classic Twilight Zone story with a great twist. Garland was a true professional and turns in the best performance of the entire set.

“The Parallel” is about an astronaut (Lou Diamond Phillips) who returns to Earth from space but everything in his life seems to be slightly different. This one may be a story that doesn’t hold up well in modern times. Genre savvy fans will easily guess what’s going on and the title may give the game away for modern fans. The solution to the problem is well-executed but  simple with relatively little consequence. The story’s strength is supposed to be its concept but the concept’s been done so often and so much better that this is the most forgettable story in the collection.

“A Hundred Yards Over the Rim” begins with a wagon train traveling from Ohio to Arizona. A man (Jim Caviezel) goes to see if he can find help for his sick son and stumbles into the then-present day. While in some ways, this feels like the Time Travel version of “Parallel,” there’s a bit more to the story emotionally with our hero trying to save the son, plus there’s a powerful idea of pioneers seeing the West that was founded on their efforts and the society that emerged. It’s a solid tale.

“One for the Angels” is about a kindly salesman (Ed Begley, Jr.) who has just gotten by in life. He’s kind to the kids in the neighborhood but is otherwise unremarkable. That’s when Death arrives to tell him to give him time to prepare to die. However, the Salesman objects he never had a  successful big pitch and asks time to achieve this pitch “for the angels.” Death agrees, but the salesman resolves to one-up Death by never making the pitch. However, Death is hard to cheat. Over television, the part of the salesman was played by comedy Ed Wynn. While Begley’s not the same sort of actor, he does do a good job and this is an enjoyable take on the story.

Overall, this is a pretty good collection. While there were a couple of stories that didn’t work as well as I’d like, these six trips into the Twilight Zone make for nice listening.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: The Red Panda Adventures, Season 6

The Red Panda Adventures’ sixth season brings the Red Panda (Gregg Taylor) and the Flying Squirrel (Clarissa Der Nederlanden Taylor) into the World War II properly after several episodes in the previous five seasons laid the groundwork and included several pre-war clashes with the Axis powers and their agents.

As the series opens, the Red Panda is restless and eager to go to war. However, Kit has taken a job as a writer for the Chronicle, a paper August Fenwick owns. She thinks the Red Panda’s work on the homefront is vital and writes glowing pieces highlighting that importance hoping to keep him home. However at the end of the premiere, Fenwick enlists.

To his disappointment, the Red Panda doesn’t go to war. Instead he is assigned to the Home Team, a group of super humans under the command of Colonel Fitzroy who he met in the previous season and doesn’t trust.

There’s a really good dynamic as the Red Panda and Flying Squirrel have to adjust to a new reality. The Red Panda previously ran his own organization and kept all other mystery men out of Toronto. In this season, most of his operatives are gone, and he has to team up with other heroes and even a few villains in his effort to stop the Axis.

I liked how real history was blended with fiction, and as an American I picked up some things I’d never heard about because they occurred before the U.S. entered the war. The season finale is also one of the best so far ending the season on a massive cliffhanger.

The two heroes spend most of the season on the trail of Archangel, a Nazi agent performing sabotage and instructing his underlings to pretend to be him. It got tiresome after a while and the pay off was unimpressive.

Kit’s newspaper career was another issue because nothing in the previous five seasons hinted this was a talent or even an interest in journalism. In addition, the character of editor Pearly comes off as a poor man’s Perry White and can be a bit grating at times.

The episode, “Girls Night Out” featured Kit heading west and encountering and a new female superhero. It was a bit contrived.

Still, despite the flaws, it was an enjoyable season. It does build to a big finale and manages to offer a nice mix of superhero action, science fiction, and war time drama.

Rating: 4.00 out of 5

The Red Panda Adventures Season 6 is available on the Decoder Ring Theatre Website for free download.

The Top Ten Big Finish Stories of 2019, Part Two

Continued from Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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