The Radio Adventures of Doc Savage

Doc Savage is an enduring character from the pulp fiction area that continues to boast a legion of fans to this day. However, unlike fellow pulp hero, The Shadow, Doc has not done so well in other media.

Doc Savage came to the big screen in 1975 in a widely panned movie. Doc did have two separate radio series from 1934-35 and in 1943, but neither amounted too much and no transcription from those shows survives in circulation.

However, in 1985, Doc Savage finally got a just treatment when he was brought to life by the Creative Arts Theater in a series of radio dramas that were eventually broadcast nationally over NPR.

The Man of Bronze

Doc Savage was raised to become the height of human perfection.  He had bronze skin and bronze hair. To say Doc was a jack of all trades would be a drastic understatement:

He was a physician, surgeon, scientist, adventurer, inventor, explorer, researcher, and, as revealed in The Polar Treasure, a musician.

In Savage, you can see shadows of other heroes who would become dominant forces in the comic books in years to come.  Such mixing of talents and abilities would be seen a few years later in Batman.

Of course, someone with Doc’s abilities could work mischief, but Savage was defined by an oath:

Let me strive every moment of my life to make myself better and better, to the best of my ability, that all may profit by it. Let me think of the right and lend all my assistance to those who need it, with no regard for anything but justice. Let me take what comes with a smile, without loss of courage. Let me be considerate of my country, of my fellow citizens and my associates in everything I say and do. Let me do right to all, and wrong no man.

With these ideals, Doc was joined by five well-accomplished and worthy assistants: chemist Monk Mayfair, sword-wielding attorney Ham Brooks, engineer Renny Renwick, electrical engineer Long Tom Roberts, and archaeologist Long Tom Roberts.  Doc had as fine a team as any hero had.

There were 13 radio episodes made. Originally, the creators thought of remaking the 1930s radio scripts, but found them unsatisfactory and decided to adapt the books. They chose to adapt Fear Cay and The Thousand Headed Man.

Fear Cay starts off a little slow as two villains plotting to capture Doc Savage discuss his many unique powers which only serves as informational dialog.  But once they have Doc the story takes off.  As Doc fools the kidnappers and finds that they were hired by a company called Fountain of Youth, Incorporated to stop him from meeting with Kel Avery who was due in from a flight to Florida.

Doc and his assistants seek  to unravel the secrets of Fountain of Youth Inc.  in an adventure that included lots of action, a couple explosions, and plenty of mystery.  My only criticism other than the beginning was that parts 4-6 of the 7 part series could have been a little tighter. But that’s a small issue with such an exciting adventure.

In The Thousand Headed Man, Doc is in London and while at the airport, a young British man tosses him a black stick.  This seemingly innocuous event draws Doc and the gang into a dangerous adventure that will take them into the jungles of Indochina and puts the men against a mysterious force that with sound can knock people unconscious.  This startling six part adventure is well-told and a lot of fun.

Overall, the Creative Arts Theater did a fantastic job bringing these characters to the 1930s.  Their goal was to create a faithful adaptation that wasn’t campy and they certainly succeeded.  With some of the most talented voice actors in Los Angeles, each character was brought to life in a unique and memorable way. They were particularly skilled with Doc’s assistants and the main villains of each series.

The set from Radio Archives is up to their usual high standards of audio quality. In addition to the complete 13 episodes of the Doc Savage Series, Radio Archives sweetened the deal with two extras.

First was a making of CD which provides a 40 minute story of how the series was produced and interviews with much of the original cast and crew as they discuss some of the decisions made including the most disappointing part of the series: Doc Savage signature “trill” from the books sounded like a tea kettle.

The only thing I took issue with on the extras is one star’s opinion that they had revived the golden age of radio. The Statement was a little silly as in the late 70s and early 80s, radio drama experienced a resurgence with The CBS Mystery Theater, The Mutual Radio Theater, The Sears Radio Theater, NPR’s Ear Play, and The General Mills Adventure Theater. Still, many of these productions remained lesser known to the extent that anyone starting a similar revival would think they were doing something unique.

The final extra is a sample disk from Radio Archives including two of their high quality masters of radio detective shows with one episode of Philip Marlowe and one episode of Michael Shayne, both of which were fairly enjoyable and added value to the set.

Overall, the Adventures of Doc Savage was a radio treasure and Radio Archives did a fine job with this beautiful set.

Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5.

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