Tag: Sherlock Holmes

My Top 10 Big Finish Stories of 2021, Part Two

Having counted down to number five in the previous post, in this post, I’m going to reveal the top four best Big Finish releases of 2021 that I listened to.

4) “The Curse of Lady Macbeth”  by Lizzie Hopply starring Christopher Eccleston from The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Lost Warriors

The story finds the Ninth Doctor (Eccleston) going back to Scotland and meeting the real lady Macbeth, trying to figure out who she is and also solving a mysterious affliction affecting children in the kingdom.

This is a great pseudo-historical. The era and the people have left enough of a mark on history to verify their existence, but also have left a lot of room to speculate. Writer Lizzie Hopley lets her imagination run free, particularly when working in elements of Gaelic myths. There’s also some really good character moments as the story works itself out, and of course a few nice nods to the Scottish play. I also liked how fleshed out and interesting Hopley wrote the real Lady Macbeth (played by Neve McIntosh)

3) The Doomsday Contract by Nev Fountain (based on a script outline by John Lloyd) starring Tom Baker and Lalla Ward:

The Doctor (Tom Baker) receives a summons to a galactic court where the preservation status of a certain planet is at risk and it turns out the planet has been targeted for development. But how much can the Doctor trust his friend who summoned him and runs a nature preserve?

Based on the script outline by John Lloyd for Season 17 of Doctor Who when Douglas Adams was the script editor. This is very much in the same style and tone of Adams’ scripts of Pirate Planet and City of Death. Nev Fountain turns in a script that captures that quality with imaginative high concept ideas, hilarious characters, and some well-done satire of the legal system. It manages to be very funny and offers witty social commentary without ever becoming flippant. If you love Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Adams’ other work, this is truly a worthwhile story to listen to and easily the best lost story release in many a year.

2) The Seamstress of Peckham Rye starring Nicholas Briggs and Richard Earl written by Jonathan Barnes

The only non-science fiction entry on this list, but what an entry. This 3 hour Holmes Adventure is a wonderful release. (See my full review here.) What can I say about it? Briggs and Earl are very comfortable in their roles and work beautifully together. The guest cast is on point. Jonathan Barnes is probably my favorite writer of Modern Day Holmes stories. He knows these characters inside out and he knows the type of stories that work for them. The Seamstress of Peckham Rye sounds like the type of story Doyle would write if he had to structure his plots for modern listeners. What results is a beautiful combination of accessibility and authenticity that rarely is seen in Holmes Pastiches

1) Monsters in Metropolis starring Christopher Eccleston, Written by John Dorney from The Ninth Doctor Adventures: Lost Warriors

The Doctor arrives on the set of the classic silent film Metropolis only to find that legendary director Fritz Lang has abandoned his previous plans and instead brought in a Cyberman to play the robot part.

This is a story that had mixed expectations for me as lone Cybermen out of time used by the unwary has been done before and quite effectively. Could this really blaze new ground? The answer was yes, most definitely.

The script is a John Dorney classic. It has a fair bit of humor at the beginning. It features well-developed three-dimensional characters who provide quite a few surprises throughout the story. The last ten minutes are absolutely gut-wrenching thanks to the writing and great performances by Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and Nicholas Briggs as an unusual Cyberman.

The sound design throughout is great and a perfect fit for a Cyberman story that pays tribute to the classic film. This was an unforgettable story and a highlight of Christopher Eccleston’s long-awaited return to the role.

Honorable mentions:

As I wrote in my full review, I thoroughly loved the Avenger’s Comic Strip Adaptation story, “Mother’s Day.” adapted by Sarah Grochala from a TV Action Comic strip. It was such a brilliant romp and featured the return of the original Tara King (Linda Thorson). Masterful by James Goss featured an astounding number of incarnations of the Doctor’s archvillain the Master all trying to play off of and outdo each other. It’s a bonkers story with a ridiculous amount of twists, but it features many great performances, and Goss deserves credit for making it a coherent story. “Planet at the End “by Timothy X Attack is a superb story from another Ninth Doctor Adventures box set, Responds to All Calls. It features the Doctor landing on a graveyard planet for thousands of extinct species where no one could have sent him a message. This is a story with a lot of great high-concept ideas and some fantastic plot twists.

 

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Audio Drama Review: The Seamstress of Peckham Rye

This story is set several months after Big Finish’s previous Holmes release, The Master of Blackstone Grange (review: here). Watson (Richard Earl) has moved into a gender-segregated rooming house to be near the American actress he met in the previous story while they continue the task of obtaining a divorce from the lady’s estranged husband. At the same time, Holmes (Nicholas Briggs) has sunk deeper into melancholy and drug use. The two are brought back together when a young Inspector Silas Fisher (played by James Joyce) enlists Watson’s help to get Holmes to investigate a baffling murder.

The Seamstress of Peckham Rye continues a couple of major threads from the Master of Blackstone Grange, but otherwise stands on its own. The previous work felt Doylesque in its overall plot and structure. This story is a different beast. It feels like a modern-day mystery in its structure, while still being true to its Victorian setting and characters. It does work. It’s an intriguing and engrossing three-hour story. The mystery has a lot of turns and the story is given a lot of space to breathe. However, it never feels padded. It’s engaging from the beginning of the story until the final rendition of the closing themes.

The casting and acting performances are impeccable. Mark Elstobb and Lucy Briggs-Owens turn in flawless performances as Americans. India Fisher offers one of her most vocally unique performances. Briggs and Earl know their characters well and turn in a superb performance that highlights the strength and the complexities of the relationship between Holmes and Watson. The characters are well-drawn and engaging from start to finish.

There’s at least one major mystery that’s left unresolved at the end of the set and a few plot points that remain open questions. All of which should be resolved in next year’s release. I can only help that story is as superb as this one.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

EP3542s: Mercury Theater of the Air: The Immortal Sherlock Holmes


Sherlock Holmes tries to recover blackmail letters leading to a confrontation with the Napoleon of Crime-Professor Moriarty.

Original Air Date: September 25, 1938

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Audio Drama Review: The Trial of Sherlock Holmes

The Trial of Sherlock Holmes finds Sherlock Holmes whisked away to a secret courtroom and forced to answer to charges of being a public menace and is forced to relive three little known cases.

This is a more comedic take on Holmes and Watson. Essentially in less than an hour, we’re given three remembered mysteries and the framing story about the trial which is itself a mystery and we’ve got a lot of comedy mixed in.

The acting is broad but decent. The five-member cast play their ensemble roles well and make all of their characters quite distinct. The writing is fine. While I knew from the start, there was something wrong with the judge, I didn’t figure out until 2/3 of the way through what he might be up to. The story explores the idea that Holmes’ rivals (aka detectives who sprang up soon after him) emerged during the time he was presumed dead after “The Final Problem.”

The story and its comedy veers towards the silly, and has its hits and misses. So the stories are mostly off-beat.

That said, doing a Sherlock Holmes comedy is hard. I’ve heard some awful attempts and by comparison, this isn’t half-bad. It’s unremarkable but it’s relatively short, occasionally funny, and a relatively pain-free listen. If you’d like to hear a silly Sherlock Holmes comedy that isn’t truly horrible, this might be worth trying.

Rating: 2.75 out of 5

The story can be downloaded for free from the Wireless Theatre Company

 

 

Audio Drama Review: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (BBC)

There have been multiple books as well as an American audio series from Jim French Productions released under the name, The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This BBC version was a little late to the party airing between 2002 and 2010 on BBC Radio 4, but is certainly a memorable take.

The sixteen episodes (eapproximately 45 minutes in length) eac tell a Holmes story based on some reference in an original Sir Arthur Conan Doyle story. The last story, released in 2010 was a two-episode story that harkened to a previous Further Adventure.

Each of the stories is written by Bert Coules, who does a great job capturing the spirit and feel of Victorian times. Given their release date, there’s very little revisionism to suit modern fancies and tastes.

The soundscape is minimal but sufficient for capturing the Victorian era. The supporting actors are really superb, boasting a very solid professional cast. I’m no expert on British Television but Mark Gatiss, Siobhan Redmond, Stuart Milligan, and Tom Baker (Doctor Who actor who also played Sherlock Holmes) were all names I recognized. Even those I didn’t know gave compelling performances.

I will admit it took me a while to settle in on Clive Merrison’s Holmes. While he had appeared in adaptions of all the classic stories, I’d not listened to them. Still, I think he does do a good job with his own take on the character, which is  true to tradition and I’ll have to seek out more of his work.

Most of these stories are quite solid although I have my favorites. “The Savior of Cripplegate Square” is a great listen due to Tom Baker’s superb guest performance and the way Holmes as a young detective finding his way. I also quite enjoyed “The Abergavenny Murder”  is an unusual case because it mostly is Holmes and Watson (played by radio legend Andrew Sachs) trying to solve the death of a man who died at 221B Baker Street before the police arrive. Other than “the client” being heard briefly, the play is just Holmes and Watson and is a great opportunity to examine how they work together as well as a bit of their personal relationships.

Overall, if you’re a fan of the original Doyle stories and want to hear stories in a similar style performed by a top flight cast and crew, this product is a much listen.

Rating; 4.5 out of 5

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Video Theater 183: Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Winthrop Legend

Sherlock Holmes is called in by a brother who fears his brother will die as a result of a family legend.

Season 1, Episode 7

Original Air Date: November 24, 1954

Video Theater 172: Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Pennsylvania Gun

Holmes sets out to solve the murder of a wealthy man killed in a castle. 

Season 1, Episode 3

Original Air Date: November 1, 1954

Video Theater 170: Sherlock Holmes: The Christmas Pudding

A serial killer threatens to get Holmes before he’s executed. Episode 23 of the 1954-55 Sherlock Holmes series.

Original Air Date: April 4, 1955

EP2955: Sherlock Holmes: The Speckled Band (Listener’s Choice Standard Division #2)

A woman turns to Holmes as she suspects her sister was murdered by her stepfather and she’s afraid that she’ll be next.

Original Air Date: November 12, 1945

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Book Review: Night Watch

Note: A version of this review originally appeared in 2009:

What would happen if the immortal detectives, Sherlock Holmes and Father Brown met with a brutal murder to solve?

This is the fascinating question posed by Rev. Stephen Kendrick’s 2001 Book, Night Watch. The plot of the story is that Sherlock’s Holmes’ brother, Mycroft, the British’s government’s most indispensable man as Sherlock Holmes described him, calls his younger brother in to investigate a murder. The rector of an Anglican Church is found dead in his church, with his body mutilated. The prime suspects: leaders of the world’s major religions who’d gathered in Britain for some inter-religious dialog. Father Brown is serving as an interpreter for a visiting Italian Cardinal.

The murder and its solution are fantastic. However, the story is dragged down because of some errors in Kendrick’s writing mechanics and also because Kendrick’s story was frequently derailed from the story to Kendrick’s religious agenda. In part, the book was written to back up Kendrick’s assertions in Holy Clues: The Gospel According to Sherlock Holmes which seems to suggest that in Holmes later days in became someone who could best be described as “spiritual and not religious.” Unfortunately, the author seemed to work too hard on this angle, which distracted from the main point that readers who weren’t enthusiasts of Universalism picked the book up the for: a murder mystery.

Kendrick’s treatment of Holmes, Watson, and Brown was good, but in places uneven. I found some of the conversations between Holmes and Watson not entirely believable and out of place in a mystery novel. Kendrick’s Holmes was a cut below Doyle’s in solving the case, and Kendrick tried a cheap out by simply saying that Doctor Watson’s accounts had been exaggerated or unrealistic. To be fair, Kendrick is hardly the first author of a Holmes pastiche to use that out. What Arthur Conan Doyle created in Holmes was a bit of a mental Superman, and like Superman, it’s very hard to come up with a worthy opponent for him. So, it’s far easier to move the character closer to reality.

His portrayal of Brown, while not having the flair of G.K. Chesterton, and leaving the character a little flat was still essentially the same orthodox Catholic priest that readers have come to know and love. Given that Kendrick, as a Unitarian Universalist, comes from a completely different theological perspective than Chesterton, he deserves to be commended for not trying to tamper with the character, as some interpretations have tried to change Brown into their vision of what a Christian should be rather than the character Chesterton created.

Of course, in a two-detective story, one detective usually draws the short straw, and Brown clearly has the back seat to Holmes. However, in Chesterton’s books, Brown off hung around in the background until coming forward to the solution to the crime.

Kendrick’s deserves credit for the audacity of it all. He’s the first author I know of to try and bring these giants of detecting onto the same stage. And he produces an interesting, albeit not completely satisfying tome. Here’s hoping that others will follow Kendrick, and this isn’t the last Holmes-Father Brown crossover we see.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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Video Theater 158: Sherlock Holmes: The Cunningham Heritage

Holmes and Watson meet and then Holmes has to solve the death of a wealthy man where the evidence points to the man’s ex-convict fiancée.

Season 1, Episode 1

Original Air Date: October 18, 1954

Book Review: The Sign of Four

A version of this review appeared in 2011.

The Sign of Four begins when a young woman comes to Sherlock Holmes with a problem. Her father disappeared from his hotel in London on returning on leave from India. She began receiving a pearl a year for the past six year from an anonymous benefactor. She wants Holmes and Watson to accompany her to the mysterious rendezvous. The benefactor informs the party of a fabulous treasure that the young woman is entitled to. However, the benefactor’s brother is found dead and Scotland Yard jumps to conclusions and charges the kindly gentleman as the murderer.

Holmes has to uncover what really happened, free the innocent man, and find the real killer.

The story is wonderfully paced with plenty of excitement, from chasing down the criminals through the use of a dog to another appearance by the Baker Street irregulars, and a thrilling boat chase for the climax of the story.

More than a century after it was first written, the novel shows little sign of its age.  The Sign of Four is well-paced, exciting, and even action-packed story.  It represents Doyle at his finest in many ways.

The puzzle has a touch of the bizarre with its use of exotic weapons and strange footprints, but not too bizarre as seemed to me to be the case in some later Holmes stories such as “The Creeping Man.”

While in Study in Scarlet, we learned about Holmes, in this book we begin to see Holmes’ personality: the genius driven to avoid a hum drum existence, who seeks out trouble to find some problem to keep his attention.

The novel is also noteworthy for its focus on Holmes’ use of cocaine.  Dr. Watson (and by extension Dr. Doyle) were concerned about the use of cocaine in the late 19th Century and its negative effects. However, Doyle wasn’t heavy handed in his approach, and so Watson’s concern sounds more like a modern doctor’s concern with eating too many trans fatty foods. And Holmes is blaise about it, leading to some interactions and statement that may seem surreal or humorous to the modern reader.

If you can get past that, Sign of Four is truly a classic that every fan of detective fiction should read.

Rating 5.0 stars out of 5.0

Note: You can download this book free for your Kindle here. It also should be available for free for other e-readers.

EP2799: Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot (Listener’s Choice Standard Division #19)


While recuperating, Holmes is asked to investigate a strange death in Cornish country where the locals suspect the Devil’s involvement

Original Air Date: January 13, 1946

Support the show monthly at patreon.greatdetectives.net

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Audio Drama Review: The Master of Blackstone Grange

Big Finish’s latest Sherlock Holmes release features a three-hour Sherlock Holmes adventure and a one-hour Christmas special.

In the titular Master of Blackstone Grange, Holmes is bored by the lack of a challenge now that Professor Moriarty is gone. However, Watson’s barber is distraught because of some strange problem he’s having with his wife. Watson sees this as a case that can get Holmes out of his doldrums. While Holmes is initially interested, that interest wanes when Moriarty’s henchman, Colonel Sebastian Moran is released from prison. This leaves Holmes unavailable when their client heads to the home of the country’s newest multi-millionaire, Honest Jim Sheedy. However, the barber has plenty of company as all the country’s great men are coming together at Blackstone Grange. But why?

The plot of this story borrows a lot from other Doyle work. The story pays homage to both The Valley of Fear and Hound of the Baskervilles. Yet, this doesn’t stop the story from having its own original plot and mystery but helps to set up the story and give it a sense of authenticity.

The performances are solid as usual. Nicholas Briggs is a very good audio Holmes, able to adjust his performance to capture different aspects and eras in Holmes life. Here, he manages to play mostly to Holmes’ melancholy and do so quite skillfully. Richard Earl is the consummate Watson, and in this story, we get to see a little of the widowed Watson. The rest of the cast is very competent, but Harry Peacock deserves special praise for his performance as one of the villains, Honest Jim Sheedy. Peacock is able to play Sheedy alternately as charming and menacing in ways that are equally convincing.

In The Fleet Street Transparency, Sherlock Holmes gets a mystery at Christmastime of a columnist who complains about his columns being edited before they appear in the paper. He doesn’t want to take the case at first but relents out of curiosity when a thug is hired to threaten him into doing it.

This is not a great Holmes story but it is pretty good. The solution doesn’t tax Holmes’ brainpower much, but it has a unique ending. What does make it worth listening to is the general authenticity of the script. There are moments that feel positively like it’s out of canon. A couple moments take you out of that, such as Holmes and Watson passing judgment on their client’s political views. However, it maintains authenticity far more often than not. Briggs and Earl turn in another solid performance. The story is sure to be a fun Christmas listen.

Both stories feature superb music by Jamie Robertson which captures both the feel of the era and the respective seasons.

Overall, this is another solid box set from Big Finish.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5

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Audio Drama Review: Sherlock Holmes: The Death and the Life

(Note: This Review was originally posted July 2015) but is being reposted. Big Finish is having a sale. The download version can be purchased for 0.99 (in your local currency). You can access the sale by clicking here and using the password “redballoons” before 5/1/2018.

The Death and the Life is another one-man play starring Roger Llewellyn and written by David Stuart Davies adapted by Big Finish Productions. The story is a mix of fact and fiction. It centers upon Arthur Conan Doyle’s efforts to rid himself of his most famous creation once and for all with the writing of “The Final Problem,” which failed.

The play imagines Holmes and his fellow characters reacting to Doyle’s actions and scheming. Doyle’s disinterest is reflected in a hilarious scene where Holmes describes a madcap adventure to a snoring Watson. The story is bolstered by the use of Doyle’s journals and letters. Another great scene is the one which Holmes learns he’s a fictional character from his arch-rival, who is none too pleased he was created by Doyle as a single-use plot device.

With its light comedy and heavy symbolism, The Life and the Death is a story about a literary creation whose popularity transcended the writer who created him. The play is helped by another strong performance from Roger Llewellyn who manages to perfectly portray all the characters and angles of this deep and well-written play. Overall, this is another story that is a wonderful listen for fans of Sherlock Holmes.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

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