Radio Dramatisations

12 Reviews (2 New)

A Dark and Scary Place

Batman - Knightfall

image66

"IT'S GOING TO BE A HOT TIME IN OL' GOTHAM TONIGHT!"

Starring: Bob Sessions, Michael Gough, Peter Marinker, Kerry Shale, William Roberts and Lorelei King

BBC Audio (1994)

Audio Adaptation Written & Directed by Dirk Maggs

Unlike Superman, Batman is an exciting character with a broad canvas to work with. There's plenty of depth to this dark hero who is by day millionaire businessman Bruce Wayne and by night a costumed vigilante. It is important, however, to portray the Batman as it was originally intended, as a sinister, single-minded semi-psychotic. This is what happens in the two Tim Burton films, it's the arrangement for the award-winning animated series and, thankfully, it's very much the format here for radio.


John Paul Valley inherits the identity of Azreal the Avenging Angel from his father, a member of a secret society called the Order of St. Dumas. As the mental conditioning threatens to overwhelm his own personality, Bruce Wayne helps him to maintain a semblance of normality.


Meanwhile, there's a new player in Gotham City. Born in prison to a drug-addicted mother, Bane has been raised on Venom, a super-steroid which, when injected, boosts muscle strength a hundredfold. Bane wants to take over as crime lord and sees the Batman as his only real obstacle. Attacking Arkham Asylum, he creates a massive breakout of all the sociopaths Batman has spent years putting away. Standing back and watching with satisfaction, Bane sees our hero become steadily more run-down as he sets to the obligatory task of rounding-up the criminals, starting with the low-key hoods. When the Batman is merely a shadow of his former self, Bane steps from the shadows and, in front of a terrified populace breaks the Dark Knight's back and drops him from a rooftop.


Awnings break his fall, and Tim Drake and faithful manservant Alfred Pennyworth are quick on the scene as bogus paramedics to spirit him away. Tim Drake has been in training as the new Robin, since Dick Grayson left to become Nightwing. Bruce Wayne, now in a wheelchair as the result of a supposed car accident, refuses Alfred's pleas to rest. Seeing Gotham dissolve into chaos, Bruce has no choice but to hand over the mantle of the Bat to Jean Paul Valley, and send him out in his costume with the new Robin.


Jean Paul defeats Bane by depriving him of the Strength-inducing Venom, but the mental conditioning of Azreal the Avenging Angel takes a firm hold. Adapting the Bat costume into a tough body armour, he uses the gauntlets to fire bat-shaped razor blades. In battles he becomes steadily more ruthless and cruel, and eventually allows a man to die. Robin is shunned and blocked from entering the Batcave, and the neglected Wayne Manor is falling to ruin. 


Meanwhile, Bruce and Alfred are in England following up a lead on the kidnapped Doctor Kinsolving, his recent back injury expert physiotherapist. Under aristocratic aliases they invite themselves to the Hunley Ball, where a demonstration of psi-energy is taking place involving the kidnapped Kinsolving. Bruce is accidentally caught in a backlash whilst attempting a rescue, and his back is miraculously healed, but at the cost of mental regression to childhood for Doctor Kinsolving.


Arriving back in Gotham, Bruce is told by Tim Drake that Jean Paul is out of control. Bruce decides to return to his former identity, but he is not yet ready to challenge the new Bat-pretender. Although physically fit, he is out of condition. He asks the Lady Shiva to train him; she asks him to wear the Mask of Tengu, appropriately a bat deity. However, she has told the masters of her order to kill whoever wears the mask. The restored Batman is obliged to satisfy honour in a fight to the death, before taking out the Bat-pretender in a manner which reconfirms his passion for human life.


Bob Sessions plays the title role, with Kerry Shale as Jean Paul Valley (also excellent as The Joker), Peter Marinker as Bane and Michael Gough reprising his role from the films as Alfred the butler. All performances are convincing, although the character of Shondra Kinsolving appears to have been included simply to throw a little psi-energy at the disabled Bruce Wayne at the appropriate moment. However, that lies at the hands of DC Comics and writers Chuck Dixon, Alan Grant, Doug Moench and Dennis O'Neil, who otherwise have created a fantastic tale.


There are villains aplenty: The Joker, The Riddler, Scarface, The Mad Hatter, The Ventriloquist and Film Freak; they're all here except The Penquin and Catwoman, it seems. All of the criminals are totally psychotic, but there are no hammed performances, which was my main fear. Even The Ventriloquist, who wears a sock on his hand and speaks in a squeaky voice, proves chilling rather than humorous. In this script it is not only the hoodlums who are psychotic, the entire city seems deranged, which is at least in keeping with the key character who faithfully adopts the traditional Dark Knight portrayal from the comics, lending the piece a mainly gothic horror feel.


To my untrained ears the quality of sound is nothing short of stupendous, although Dirk has gone on record as saying Knightfall was the first real effort to get to grips with Dolby Surround, and that mixing and panning can be much more focussed using Dolby 5.1. Nevertheless, the sound is best appreciated with multiple speakers or ideally through headphones. I first experienced this veritable assault on the senses in the early hours of a Saturday morning in 1994. In the dead of night the multitude of layered sound effects, followed by total silence at the right moment, left me at times shell-shocked, particularly at the conclusion of tape 1 when the Batman is 'broken' by Bane. The sound effects are plentiful, as they should be, and are ably assisted by Mark Russell's orchestral score, which is very reminiscent of the movies.


In 1993, when Matthew Bannister took over BBC Radio 1, he approached Dirk Maggs for a daytime serial. Dirk decided to revisit the popular Batman character (after previously adapting The Lazarus Syndrome) and Knightfall was born. There were sixty-five three-minute episodes separated into three volumes, "A Knight's Fall", "A hero's Quest", and "A Batman Reborn", adapted from the DC Comics arcs, "Knightfall", "Knightquest", and "Knight's End". The idea was to create the very first daily drama broadcast on BBC Radio 1. Although initially rather daunting for Dirk Maggs, the writing and recording ran pretty smoothly. It first aired in 1994 to instant success, the segments being slotted in easily between the chart records.


Batman - Knightfall was produced for BBC light entertainment and released in 1994 by the BBC Radio Collection (ZBBC 1612). All episodes were edited together to make one uninterrupted three-hour storyline with a relentless pace. Upon commercial release Knightfall reached No.1 in the Spoken Word charts in the UK.


I would strongly recommend anyone to beg, borrow or even buy a copy of Knightfall (the original tapes are out of circulation, but it finds itself on CD for the first time in 2007). You won't be sorry; this is a staggering achievement which immerses you in scenes of chaos and allows you to hang on to Batman's cape as he attempts to restore order. It kind of makes you wish for a film version, whilst realising it could never live up to the special effects inside your head. 

Verdict: 10 out of 10

(Review by Ty Power. A shorter version of this review originally appeared in Dreamwatch Magazine 1994) 

back

Batman - Knightfall

image67

Starring: Bob Sessions, Michael Gough, Peter Marinker, Kerry Shale, William Roberts and Lorelei King

BBC Audio (Remastered 3 x CD Release)

Audio Adaptation Written & Directed by Dirk Maggs

Based on the Bestselling DC Comic Book Series A Knight's Fall, A Hero's Quest, and A Batman Reborn

March 2007

There's a new player in Gotham City. Bane, who was raised on a super-steroid called Venom, is not only immensely strong, but intelligent. He realises that if he wants to take over as the new crime lord, the only person he needs to defeat is the Batman. He watches as the Dark Knight works himself into a physical and mental stupor cleaning-up the city of criminals, before hatching a plan to attack Arkham Asylum to release all the psychos the Batman has worked for years putting away. A shadow of his former self, the masked vigilante struggles against lower-league thugs, until Bane steps in and defeats him. Reduced to a wheelchair, Bruce Wayne sees the city he has always protected go to hell, and is reluctantly obliged to send out the untested new Robin with Azrael as the new Batman. But mental conditioning is taking over, causing Azrael to become increasingly violent and unstable. Bruce Wayne has to find a way of returning to the mantle of the Bat, and that leads to the investigation of Doctor Kinsolving's kidnapping, and ultimately to his retraining...


I have had the distinct pleasure of keeping in touch with and speaking to Dirk Maggs [this audio drama's adaptor/director] on several occasions about his numerous projects over the years. He therefore knows that I consider Batman: Knightfall to be his very best achievement. It's fast-moving, emotional, violent and funny, with superb performances (Bob Sessions, sadly no longer with us, is particularly strong in the title role) and extremely realistic sound effects, used to shocking purpose. I reviewed the original twin-tape version in-depth on my own old website, alongside many other Maggs audio dramatisations (or "audio movies", as he likes to call them). So, I know it's good... and now you do too, but how is this release any different from that one?


Well, this is Knightfall's first release on CD, and it hasn't simply been copied over to a new medium from the 1994 tapes, but instead has been completely remastered in the studio, with reedited scenes and added effects sequences that further enhance the best Batman story ever told. Also, there is an excellent outtakes track (with the naughty bits removed), and the pre-restoration opening sequence comparison. All of this is beautifully presented in a 3-CD set, with eye-catching artwork and a booklet incorporating notes on the Batman character, as well as Dirk's own notes on this production.


One minor quibble is that on the original version the Broken Bat sequence came at the end of one side. Intense, shocking drama followed by stunning silence. Here it is followed directly by another scene, thereby diminishing some of its impact. However, this is one single nit-pick from an otherwise monumental release. Forget rattling tea cups, this is one of the best action adventures you'll ever hear.


I didn't think it was possible to improve upon perfection. I'm glad to be proved wrong.

Verdict: 10 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2007)  

back

Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency

image68

Starring: Harry Enfield, Olivia Colman, Billy Boyd and Andrew Sachs

BBC Audio

Adapted, Produced & Directed by Dirk Maggs

From the Book by Douglas Adams

November 2007

Gordon Way has been murdered and the innocent Richard MacDuff stands accused. Of course, Gordon knows that Richard is not to blame; at least his invisible spirit does. However, communicating with anyone living proves more than tricky. Without being officially asked, private detective Dirk Gently (who is more used to dealing with missing cats) takes on the case. Dirk believes in the holistic interconnectedness of all things, and it's a good job he does, because before long he finds himself having to piece together the bizarre events of a seemingly impossible conjuring trick, a Cambridge professor who has been around for far too long, an electric monk searching for its horse (which turns up in a bathroom), a vindictive spirit and a spaceship. And to make matters worse, the fate of the universe is in his hands. Not bad for someone dragged out of Cambridge University by the police, and who can't even pay his long-suffering secretary...

The various media of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy have made Douglas Adams a big name in literature, and particularly readers of science fiction and fantasy. Dirk Maggs, adapter, producer and director of this first Dirk Gently adventure, himself is no stranger to these genres. Having already adapted books three to five of the Hitchhiker trilogy in five parts, he now turns his experienced hand to the even more arduous task of dramatising Dirk Gently for BBC Radio 4. To my mind this would have been difficult because the novel contains many descriptive passages which needed to be made into character dialogue to avoid the obvious inclusion of a narrator. Therefore, we now have a speaking electric monk (which at times seems to pay homage to Marvin the paranoid android), and we have some verbal interaction from the ghost of Gordon Way.

The voice acting is considerably better than expected, bearing in mind certain fan base gripes about the choices. Andrew Sachs's Professor Chronotis I particularly enjoyed, along with Billy Boyd's Richard MacDuff and Toby Longworth's Electric Monk. Harry Enfield appears to play himself in the role of Dirk Gently, which is fine. The sound design and effects are top-notch, as we have come to expect from a Maggs production, but the music should be singled out for hitting all the right moods for each scene. The title music is fabulous, inspiring mystery and melancholia (at least in this reviewer).

So what do we have when we collect together an electric monk, a professor of chronology, a wandering spirit, and much more? Well, even after listening to it I'm not entirely sure. It's not a comfortable experience, as you're made to work for your payoff. This is not so much the fault of this audio piece as it is the mind of Douglas Adams himself. Being such a visionary, Adams' novel is teeming with a multitude of unrelated ideas, thoughts and opinions. Therefore, the utmost concentration is required to follow the plot.

Much as the liner notes say differently, I do think
Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency works better in book form; you can read certain passages slowly as required, whereas an audio dramatisation of this nature has to motor along, making it difficult to absorb everything at once. Playing in the car or wandering around at home simply doesn't work; you need to lie-down, close your eyes and be transported. Even then you are rewarded when listening to the whole again. Dirk Maggs deserves much credit for turning a veritable cornucopia of events into a cohesive piece.

This first
Dirk Gently adventure might fail to grab a casual mainstream listening audience, but it will most definitely appeal to Hitchhiker fans, readers of surreal fantasy and of course followers of Douglas Adams. I do remember enjoying the second Gently book, The Long, Dark Teatime of the Soul, rather more than the first, so I look forward to the broadcast of that adaptation.

Verdict: 7 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2007) 

back

Dirk Gently: The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul

image69

Starring: Harry Enfield, Olivia Colman, Billy Boyd

BBC Audio

Adapted, Produced & Directed by Dirk Maggs

From the Book by Douglas Adams

November 2008

Holistic private detective Dirk Gently is down on his luck... again. Work is slack, his long-suffering secretary Janice has left to work for British Airways, and her Spanish replacement has gone missing after a disagreement about cleaning the fridge. Even the approach of a man claiming to be hounded by a goblin waving a contract and a green furry creature with a scythe doesn't spark his curiosity. However, when he finds himself investigating the decapitation of a man (apparently a suicide) he soon discovers there is a certain interconnectedness to events. A Norwegian man called Thor who tries to check on to a flight with only a large hammer and no passport, an old man called Odin, who cares for nothing but clean sheets and peace and quiet, and an advertising agency with a definite Nordic theme are inextricably linked. Dirk Gently brings those things together using the technique of randomly following a car which will take him, not where he wants to go, but where he needs to be...

This audio adaptation of The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, like the original book, is considerably more linear and coherent as a whole than its predecessor, Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. We still have the abundance of crazy, seemingly random and irrelevant ideas, but this time we get an inkling of the plot and are privy to certain reveals long before Dirk is (Gently, that is!). We then hitch a lift on Gently's hat as he (accidentally in most cases) moves the chaos into a semblance of... well, more chaos really. This step-by-step unravelling of a mad tale is considerably preferable to the first story's device of only coming together right at the very end.

I like the exploration of Norse gods and their limited interaction in the modern world. Thor is in effect flying the flag for the old ways; he is by far the best character and you can't help but get carried along by his enthusiasm. He is the Jack Regan of Valhalla, shouting a lot and forcing his way through situations. Some of the exchanges between Thor and Kate are very amusing.

There are decided references here to
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and particularly the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, mainly through the character of Richard Macduff. We hear the distinctive sound of the Book when a search is keyed-in and even hear a snippet of Marvin, who is obviously about to tell us about the diodes down his left side.

So there's plenty to enjoy here (the sound quality is as good as we've come to expect from
Dirk Maggs), although the whole does improve with repeated listenings. As with the first Gently audio we are treated to extra material not broadcast on radio and a couple of ideas from Douglas Adams's unfinished novel, The Salmon of Doubt. Unfortunately, Salmon will not now be adapted for a third audio experience, as stalwart writer/producer/director Dirk Maggs has parted company with Above the Title Productions.

Verdict: 9 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2008) 

back

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Primary Phase

image70

Peter Jones, Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Mark Wing-Davey, Susan Sheridan and Stephen Moore

BBC Audio

By Douglas Adams (Special Edition Remastered by Dirk Maggs)

November 2008

Just in case you’re from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse and you’ve been spending your time stranded on prehistoric Earth with an ape-descended life-form - The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy tells the story of Arthur Dent, whose planet is destroyed to make way for an interstellar bypass. Along with mysterious friend Ford Prefect, the two-headed, three-armed ex-galactic president Zaphod Beeblebrox, and the trusty (or is that rusty?) Marvin the Paranoid Android, they visit the planet-manufacturing Magrathea, dine at the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and learn the answer to Life, the Universe and Everything...

HHGG
is quite simply an enduring (not to mention endearing) masterpiece. Since its original 1978 radio broadcast it's hardly aged at all, and its subsequent success has spawned books, records, a TV series, a feature film, four more radio serials, and no doubt a towel or two somewhere along the line. The first book was voted high in the nation's 100 favourite reads, and the audio book has won numerous awards.

Listening to this 4-CD set, newly remastered by audio movie maestro
Dirk Maggs (who adapted books 3 to 5 of the series) is a good example of memory cheats. I was mildly disappointed by the main plot points (not because they're not fantastic - which they are - but because I know them too well) and pleasantly surprised by the myriad little asides, most of which I'd forgotten - such as the alien attack fleet which is swallowed by a small dog.

To say that
HHGG is mad would be a monumental understatement. It's jam-packed with philosophical ideas and off-kilter but often true observations on life... an existentialist's dream. Personally speaking, the highlight of the original HHGG is the character of Marvin the Paranoid Android - the ultimate 'Grumpy Old Man'. The idea of a manic depressive robot in inspired. I've modelled myself on Marvin ("Life, don't talk to me about life." / "Do you want me to sit in the corner and rust, or just fall apart where I'm standing?").

Disc 4 of this set contains the 55-minute
Douglas Adams' Guide to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. The comments from Adams are always worth listening to, but the long-winded linking pieces spoken by The Book begin to grate after a while. If you want to hear the quotes listen to the audio - this is just labouring a point. However, this is just a minor quibble for an otherwise outstanding release.

Verdict: 9 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2008) 

back

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Secondary Phase

image71

Peter Jones, Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Mark Wing-Davey, Susan Sheridan and Stephen Moore

BBC Audio

By Douglas Adams (Special Edition Remastered by Dirk Maggs)

November 2008

To accompany the re-release of Douglas Adams’ original HHGG radio series from 1978 on a 4-CD set, comes the follow-up series in the same format, now known as the Secondary Phase. This one continues from where the first one finished, with Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect stranded on prehistoric Earth. Through a series of events more mad than a box of frogs they soon find themselves reunited with Zaphod Beeblebrox, who has survived the Total Perspective Vortex, and the real hero of these stories, Marvin the Paranoid Android (“I’ve discovered that if I stick my left arm in my right ear I can electrocute myself.”). Escaping the Vogons using the Improbability Drive, they arrive on the planet Brontitall and come into contact with the intelligent but deeply troubled bird-like inhabitants, before meeting the mysterious Man in the Shack.

Due to the phenomenal and somewhat unexpected success of the first serial, Douglas Adams became highly pressurised, time-wise, to come-up with a sequel script - to the point that he was in a room next to the recording studio feverishly completing the scripts as the voice artists were performing. With this in mind you might assume it has no structure; certainly, it is a little less cohesive than its predecessor (meandering about and ending with no proper finale), but still full of crazy, seemingly irrelevant ideas, many of which will make you smile at the very least. I particularly like the silly throw-away lines of dialogue, such as when Zaphod says something to the effect of: “I don’t know why I’ve got to see Zarniwoop, but he’d better have a darn good reason for me wanting to see him.”

Disc 4 contains a 50-minute bonus interview with Douglas Adams, and it’s good to note that this time there’s no tedious Book voiceover to pad it out. In addition, as in the new
Primary Phase, we have Philip Pope’s version of the theme tune to accompany the episodes.

It would be a crime to finish this review without mentioning
Dirk Maggs, the talent behind the audio adaptations of books three to five, plus Dirk Gently and many others. As expected, he has done a sterling job remastering the Primary and Secondary Phases of this celebrated work. It certainly knocks spots off my old twin cassette versions!

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2008) 

back

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Tertiary Phase

image72

Starring: Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Susan Sheridan and Mark Wing-Davey

BBC Audio

Adapted, Directed & Co-Produced by Dirk Maggs (based on the book by Douglas Adams).

October 2004

Arthur Dent is stranded on prehistoric Earth with one-time researcher for the guide Ford Prefect, except Ford has gone walkabout leaving Arthur with no-one to talk to but the trees. Just as he's making an executive decision to go mad, Ford returns blabbering about sub-ether waves and the space/time continuum. A Chesterfield sofa appears and starts swirling around. When Ford has them chase it and jump on, it deposits them through time to the middle of Lords cricket field, during an Ashes match between England and Australia. It turns out that it's the day before the Earth is due to be demolished to make way for an interstellar by-pass. Slartibartfast shows up in a strange new spacecraft, but so does a team of cricket-clad homicidal robots called Krikkits. As Arthur and Ford make their escape, Slartibartfast appears overly desperate to obtain the Ashes. Very soon Arthur finds himself dragged along on a reluctant journey to save the universe, and he doesn't even have time for a nice cup of tea and a cucumber sandwich...

For anyone who's spent the last 25 years somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse this is the third in the series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy BBC radio dramatisations based on characters and situations created by Douglas Adams. It follows on from the two highly successful serials of the late seventies and eighties. In fact, The Tertiary Phase is the first to be adapted from the book version. I have to say I dislike the latter day renaming of these to The Primary, Secondary, and in this case Tertiary Phase; why can't the BBC just stick with The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and Life, the Universe and Everything?

Some people, I'm certain, will complain about the apparent lack of continuity between the last series and this, but the truth is adapter, director and co-producer Dirk Maggs faced a difficult problem. The second radio series didn't follow the precise plotlines of the second book, and they have completely different endings. Although Dirk undoubtedly possesses the writing experience and ability to manipulate the story around to bridge the gap, Douglas Adams is said to have had no worries about continuity. Therefore, with a limited running time it was probably the right decision to crack on with this story. So we have Zaphod Beeblebrox suffering a double-psychotic episode, running off to Ursa Minor to prove some conspiracy theory, only to be found days later wandering the corridors of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy building looking for Zarniwoop, a free lunch and a stiff drink.

I tend to see all of these since the original to be further (not necessarily linear) adventures for these imaginative but easily identifiable characters. Although the main plot is quirky and fun, it is also a clever manner in which to link together countless crazy but somewhat logical observations on... well, life, the universe and everything, really. We get to hear about planets, diverse races, spaceships, wars and time travel. In the case of
The Tertiary Phase: the Campaign For Real Time, the Somebody Else's Problem Field, the Principles of Non-absoluteness, and the Bistromatic Drive. I tend to prefer the surreal conversations between Arthur Dent and his alien friend Ford Prefect. My favourite kind of humour is play on words, so you can perhaps understand why I so enjoyed the following exchange.

Arthur: "Why is there a sofa in that field?"

Ford: "I told you, eddies in the space/time continuum."
Arthur: "Then tell him to come and collect his sofa."

A character which is never represented enough for my liking is Marvin the Paranoid Android. Like a grumpy old man, Marvin is a perfectly perpetually pessimistic manic-depressive (try saying that when you've downed a few Pan-Galactic Gargleblasters!).

Returning to reprise their roles is Simon Jones as Arthur Dent, Geoffrey McGivern as Ford Prefect, Mark Wing-Davey as Zaphod Beeblebrox, Susan Sheridan as Trillian and Stephen Moore as the marvellous Marvin the Paranoid Android. Joining the cast is William Franklyn as The Book and, among others, Richard Griffiths as Slartibartfast, Joanna Lumley as the Sydney Opera House Woman, and Leslie Phillips as Hactar.

As everyone with two heads knows, Douglas Adams was a mad genius, and Dirk Maggs has done a fine job of adapting the chaos for radio and bringing it to life. My first impression when hearing this on radio was how the concept sounds modern and yet not out of place with the first two serials. Further demonstrating this fact Dirk has managed to incorporate Douglas Adams' own book-reading portrayal of Agrajag. The sound effects and atmospherics are well utilised and come across much better on this 3-CD set than on radio. There's also an extra 20 minutes of material not originally broadcast.

A great return for the gang, but I have a feeling the best is yet to come.

Verdict: 9 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2004) 

back

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Tertiary Phase 5.1 DVD

image73

Starring: Simon Jones, Geoffrey McGivern, Susan Sheridan and Mark Wing-Davey

BBC Audio

Adapted, Directed & Co-Produced by Dirk Maggs (based on the book by Douglas Adams).

October 2006

Arthur Dent is stranded on prehistoric Earth with one-time researcher for the guide Ford Prefect, except Ford has gone walkabout leaving Arthur with no-one to talk to but the trees. Just as he's making an executive decision to go mad, Ford returns blabbering about sub-ether waves and the space/time continuum. A Chesterfield sofa appears and starts swirling around. When Ford has them chase it and jump on it deposits them through time to the middle of Lords cricket field, during an Ashes match between England and Australia. It turns out that it's the day before the Earth is due to be demolished to make way for an interstellar by-pass. Slartibartfast shows up in a strange new spacecraft, but so does a team of cricket-clad homicidal robots called Krikkits. As Arthur and Ford make their escape, Slartibartfast appears overly desperate to obtain the Ashes. Very soon Arthur finds himself dragged along on a reluctant journey to save the universe, and he doesn't even have time for a nice cup of tea and a cucumber sandwich...

For anyone who is related to Zem the mattress and can only remember events for the length of one day, the Tertiary Phase is the third of five radio adaptations of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books written by everyone's mad uncle - Douglas Adams. The first two were broadcast to great acclaim in 1978 and, 25 years later, we welcomed the first of three Hitchhiker serials (adapted and directed by Dirk Maggs) covering books three to five. For those of you like me who prefer proper titles, the Tertiary Phase is Life, The Universe And Everything.

When I first received this disc, along with other review material, I only had time to notice the 5.1 Surround plastered on the cover. As if crystal clear Surround Sound isn't exciting enough for a radio serial, when I came to check out the contents I discovered there was significantly more on offer. Having already reviewed the
Tertiary Phase back in 2004, my interest this time was not so much in the story and performances but in the sound quality and extras.

Yes, extras! This is a DVD video with both audio and video content. What that means in practical terms is you can put this in your TV's or computer's DVD player (which, let's face it, are the more likely location's you'll have a 5.1 speaker system) and relax to sounds which comes at you from around the room. The switching isn't constant, so you don't get too used to it; instead it's used to great effect in the most significant places. This isn't the same old thing again, it's something completely new and the result is truly amazing. While you listen, on-screen information reminds you of the episode and indeed the chapter you're up to.

Audio extras consist of the
Pick of the Week radio intro, seven other trailers, Bits & Bloopers (entertaining outtakes), and The Krikkit Song in its entirety (including on-screen lyrics). Video extras include the Online Trailer and four other featurettes: Together Again (Arthur & Ford), Marvin and Zem, The New Voice of the Guide, and Stereo Heads (Zaphod & the use of sound). All of these segments are entertaining but are far too short. Every one of them leaves you wanting more. There is also a small photo gallery.

As far as I'm concerned this should become the standard format for audio henceforth, as you can listen to it in the comfort of your own "Chesterfield" sofa. However, there is still room for the CD releases (or at least MP3) which will suit listeners on the move. 8 for the episodes, and an additional point for the extras and in particular the forward thinking.

Verdict: 9 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2006) 

back

Judge Dredd: The Day the Law Died

image74

"COMPLETE EXTINCTION WILL BE COMPLETED BY FRIDAY... WEATHER PERMITTING!"

Starring: Gary Martin, Lorelei King, William Dufris, William Roberts, Michael Roberts

Polygram Records - BBC (1995)

Produced & Directed by Dirk Maggs

Story Adaptation by Paul Powell

It's 2099 in Mega-City One, populated by 800 million people. Roving Judges keep the peace; toughest of them all is Judge Dredd, cloned from the DNA of Fargo, the first Chief Judge. Judge Caligula becomes the new Chief Judge, after having Judge Goodman killed. He is a power-mad megalomaniac who names his fish as the Deputy Chief Judge, and sees Dredd as his most dangerous obstacle to glory, especially after Dredd returns from the Cursed Earth a hero. Using a lookalike robot, Cal has Dredd framed for the murder of two newsmen. He is sent to the Titan Penal Colonies for twenty years, but escapes en route and turns the shuttle back to Earth. He tracks down the robot and destroys it, taking the wreckage back to the Great Hall of Justice. Armed with a single button Goodman ripped from his assailant, Dredd seeks the proof that Cal is involved. When Dredd accuses Cal to his face the madman sentences him to death. Judge Hershey helps Dredd escape and the two go on the run, aided by the respected Judge Griffin.


Dredd recruits a bunch of injured ex-Judges who have been deemed unfit and assigned to teach at the academy. They stir-up the populace against Cal by tapping into the public address system, and the people revolt. In retaliation, Cal condemns the whole city to death. As Dredd announces an ultimatum to Cal, preparing to break into the Great Hall of Justice and drag the madman out, a hoard of Kleggs falls upon the city. Aligator-like mercenary aliens with a taste for flesh, they have been enlisted by Cal. Understandably, the people are panicked, forcing Dredd, Hershey and their band of rebels to reluctantly retreat. Grampus, the leader of the Kleggs is promised the entire population in payment for what becomes known as Judgement Day.


When his goldfish, Deputy Chief Judge Fish, dies Cal slips deeper into madness. He declares a time of mourning, but when no-one comes out on to the streets to see the funeral procession he announces bans on talking and running (backdated to 2089), and a new tax on fresh air. Meanwhile, there is a mass exodus of the people to the barren mutant lands and many suffer from radiation sickness. More are killed by the Kleggs when they refuse to return. Cal has a huge wall built around Mega-City One so that no-one can escape. He and Grampus dispatch the Hounds of Klegg to seek out and kill Judge Dredd. Although Dredd's band of rebels survive the attack, they are caught in an explosion, orchestrated by Cal, when the road falls in. The by now completely insane Chief Judge declares Dredd dead and announces a law-free day. However, again no-one emerges on to the streets, preferring to remain inside and mourn the passing of their last hope.


Dredd and his associates survive a fall through the foundations of the City to the subterranean levels below, where they are immediately attacked by mutants, led by a character called Fergie. Dredd earns Fergie's respect when he wins the resulting fist fight and throws the misfit into the old polluted Ohio River. As Cal plans a movie about his life, and showing Dredd in a dehabilitating light, Dredd himself and Fergie make their way through the old sewers of New York to Mega-City One. Rescuing Walter, his servatoid robot, from the Kleggs, he uses him to pretend he is betraying his master. It is a ploy to get Walter into Justice Central so that he can steal a briefing tape Cal uses to brainwash the other Judges into following his orders (subliminal messages between the briefings).


Cal announces his intention to release nerve gas throughout the City "to show future citizens their ultimate sacrifice in the name of law and order." Dredd and the others produce their own tape which they sneak into Justice Central before the next Judges' briefings. It has the desired effect of reversing Cal's brainwashing commands. The Kleggs try to leave and are destroyed. However, Cal has barricaded himself at the top of the Statue of Judgement, where he has set the release control for the nerve gas. Dredd penetrates the defences with no time left on the clock, but in Cal's presence the mind control over some of the Judges is still in place. It is the mutant Fergie who saves them all by carrying himself and Chief Judge Caligula over the edge of the mile-high observation deck.


The Statue of Judgement is renamed the Statue of Fergie. Judge Dredd turns down the offer to become the new Chief Judge. His place is on the streets of Mega-City One. Instead, he puts forward Griffin in his place. It's time to pick up the pieces.


If the mood of Batman - Knightfall was dark and oppressive and The Amazing Spider-Man generally lighthearted, this release sits comfortably in-between. Dirk Maggs was on record at the time as saying this was the most violent of the comic book adaptations so far. Granted, the violence is on a grander scale, but it is mostly inferred rather than depicted in the story. In other words, if this were a film the nastiest stuff would happen off-screen.


BBC Radio 1 expressed a keen interest in doing something at the time the Hollywood movie starring Sylvester Stallone was being released, to be topical and no doubt ride on some free publicity ... and who can blame them? Attaining copyright permission for Judge Dredd from Fleetway, who publish the British 2000 AD comics, proved tricky, mainly because of the then impending movie. Rights are often a big issue when a film is involved. Dredd proved to be the hardest up to then to clear, taking approximately a year. Less than a week after clearance was confirmed Dirk and his team were in the studio already up against the clock, with only ten days remaining before airing. It was quite a tight deadline, especially as, unlike Knightfall where he had the luxury of fourteen voice artists, budgetary restrictions meant that Dirk was allowed only five actors (the most versatile he knew).


Because of the small cast it was sometimes necessary for the actors to have conversations with themselves, playing different character voices. Michael Roberts played both Walter the Robot (with a Jonathan Woss speech impediment) and Fergee the mutant, and William Roberts played Judge Griffin, Grampus and the Kleggs. Regular favourite Lorelei King played Judge Hershey. William Dufris, who played Chief Judge Caligula, has since said it was a lot of work but fun and that he had never sweated so much. It was constant movement. He was obliged to wear a chain-mail suit to convey the chink and rattle of realistic movement, and Dirk had him bobbing and weaving in front of the microphone. The tactic appears to have worked. Dufris' Cal comes across as a frantic madman. Although a very dangerous man for the sake of the story, his psychotic disorder manifests itself as a series of genuinely humorous lines.


In fact, Cal proves to be a refreshing opposite to the rather serious and predictable Dredd. Most of the humour comes via his increasing descent into madness: "Quincy, you'll be late for your own funeral. Hmm. According to the schedule that should be Wednesday." When someone pleads for their sentence for littering to be shortened, Cal reduces it to Death ("You can't get much shorter than that"). The title line to this review also comes from Cal, as does his reply to "Judge Cal, the people are revolting." "So, tell me something I don't know." The scene where he is splashing in the bath with his rubber duck is hilarious and played with suitably insane gusto. A certain amount of adlibbing was allowed here by Dirk. Cal enacts numerous ludicrous situations without quite descending into silly slapstick; it is to the considerable credit of William Dufris that he pulls it off with aplomb.


Again the sound effects are excellent, although they're not quite used to the same shocking effect as in Batman - Knightfall. There are, however, a lot of mixed effects which successfully create original sounds. Judge Dredd's bike is a combination of a depth charge cartridge firing, a Harley Davison revving, a ricochet, an explosion, Concorde taking off, a shell passing overhead and a rocket disappearing into the stratosphere - all cross-faded over each other. The bike is even given a voice, so that it verbally repeats spoken commands. The music composed by Wilfredo Acosta is worthy of a film score but, no doubt through necessity, is disappointingly restricted to the background. I've heard the entire piece, and it's certainly impressive enough to introduce or close the recording.


Judge Dredd - The Day The Law Died was dramatised by Paul Powell from the original story 'Judge Caligula' by John Wagner. All characters and situations were based on the Judge Dredd stories published in 2000 AD by Fleetway Comics. Dirk Maggs and his team recorded the sessions in Studio 6A at BBC Broadcasting House during early July 1995. It was mixed in Dolby Surround by Paul Deeley at The Soundhouse. The full-cast dramatisation aired on BBC Radio 1 Drive Time in 40 3-minute daily episodes which stretched between Monday 17th July and Friday 8th September 1995. Shortly afterwards it was released for sale on tape and CD by PolyGram Record's Speaking Volumes (528 661 4).


Judge Dredd - The Day The Law Died was generally well-received, both by the listening public and the industry itself. It won the 1995 Talking Business Award for Best Production. Prior to listening to these tapes back in 1995, I must confess to having very little knowledge regarding the past exploits of Judge Dredd, but found it didn't detract from my enjoyment, because there's nothing you need to know to understand what's happening. A more recent listening has not changed this view. Worth two hours of anyone's time.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review by Ty Power. A shorter version of this review originally appeared in Dreamwatch Magazine 1995) 

BACK

Judge Dredd: Apocalypse War

image75

Starring: Gary Martin, Lorelei King, William Dufris, William Roberts, Michael Roberts

Polygram Records - BBC (1995)

Produced & Directed by Dirk Maggs

Story Adaptation by Paul Powell

Story two of the Radio One Judge Dredd adventures, Apocalypse War, recorded back to back with The Day the Law Died, brings together the same characters and voice actors as before, with some new additions.


Mega-City One falls victim to increasing outbreaks of Block Mania, citizen violence. However, the disruption caused is the first stage of a plan initiated by Supreme Judge Bulgarin of East-Meg One's Diktatorat to rule and enslave the people. The invasion force is led by War Marshall 'Mad Dog' Kazan, utterly ruthless and ambitious beyond the orders of Bulgarin. As the city erupts in turmoil and Chief Judge Griffin is brainwashed for the purposes of a propaganda stunt, only one man can ... Well, you get the picture.


This story, adapted from the original 2,000 AD comic version by John Wagner and Alan Grant, is significantly harder-hitting than its predecessor, though again the shock tactics so successful in Batman are missing; I've been a heart-pounding nervous wreck by the conclusion of certain prior releases. The 'To Be Continued' dialogue, along with the accompanying slamming sound, is a prime example of the impact of such moves.


Having now become accustomed to the portrayal of the central players, I fully expected a change of direction to complement the first tale. Frankly, this is not nearly so enjoyable. The plot lines are too similar: a power-crazed megalomaniac threatening, practically destroying, Mega-City One, and even many of the same locations were revisited. Perhaps it might have been better to attempt a different subject completely, rather than continue with Judge Dredd. Having said that, I hope to see - or rather, hear - more professional comic book stories in the near future.


Don't get me wrong, as far as radio plays are concerned the Dirk Maggs productions are way ahead of the field, and that includes this release. All performances are near faultless (I wasn't quite sure about Dredd's housekeeper Maria's dodgy Italian accent), although I prefer the Judge Hershey portrayal over that of Dredd which is rather clichéd.


Unfortunately, this release doesn't contain the entire musical score, but the Dolby Surround sound is superb. The major drawback I believe is that the majority of the time there is too much going on at once. It's difficult to absorb it all in its original three-minute segments, but it comes across significantly more comprehensible in a single sitting.


Extremely listenable, particularly side four of the tape version, wherein East-Meg One and Mega-City One launch missile attacks against each other. Dredd wins the war by subterfuge, which begins when he uncharacteristically surrenders after a successful silo assault.

Verdict: 6 out of 10

(Review by Ty Power. This review originally appeared in Dreamwatch Magazine 1995)  

BACK

Victor Pemberton's Dark

image76

Starring: Tracey Childs, Judith Parks and James McNicholas

Fantom Films

Written & Scripted by Victor Pemberton

May 2010

Dark is a psychological paranormal thriller or modern ghost story. Virginia Preston believes she is being haunted by the spirit of her late husband. No longer willing to be continually tormented, she turns in desperation to Simon Elliott, who is a journalist in the field and, as it turns out, a powerful medium. Years before, Virginia had indulged in an affair. Her husband had returned unexpectedly early from a conference trip and caught them. His temper was such that he killed the young man, and for his crime was sentenced by the law to death. But is that really what happened? Simon forcibly quizzes Virginia but then agrees to stay in the room where the original events took place. The room where Virginia's dead husband's spirit still roams...


Victor Pemberton is perhaps best known for his work on Doctor Who, scripting the excellent second doctor story, Fury From the Deep. However, he has written for TV shows such as Timeslip and Ace of Wands, and scripted a number of pieces for radio. The Slide proved so successful that it was optioned for a film. A recently released book, The Slide and Other Radio Dramas, contains The Gold Watch, Kill the Pharaoh, The Fall of Mr Humpty, and this drama, The Dark.


Released by Fantom Films, Dark is very much a traditional ghost story, albeit one which would fit into any contemporary setting. Tracey Childs plays Virginia Preston a little too dramatically for my liking; this emotional over-indulgence is closer to what you would expect in the 1930s and 1940s. Her mother, played by Judith Paris, is suitably sinister and unapproving, but it is James McNicholas's Simon Elliott character which steals the show. Sounding for all the world like popular film critic Mark Kermode, he is practical and questioning, keeping the production grounded.

It's difficult listening to a traditional audio play these days, when we are now so used to the hi-tech audio movie experience pioneered by the maestro Dirk Maggs. So anyone expecting whizzes and bangs should look elsewhere. Fortunately, I'm a firm believer that there is room for all formats in the medium. The sound of chinking teacups is not dead.

Verdict: 6 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2010) 

Back

Victor Pemberton's Night of the Wolf

image77

Starring: Neil Summerville, Fenella Fielding, Ian Brooker and Daniel King

Fantom Films

Written & Scripted by Victor Pemberton

May 2010

It's the late 1880s. After hearing the shocking news of his son Robert's death, Judge Matthew Deacon makes the journey from America to Cambridge University here in England in order to get to the bottom of the circumstances. He soon discovers a suicide note was left but that his body has not been found. Now convinced Robert might still be alive, he is approached by his son's best friend, Griffin, who informs Matthew of Robert's relationship with a beautiful young woman called Dorothy Northcott. The Northcott mansion is set amidst miles of desolate moorland. People seen reticent to venture on to the land after dark, and the name carries a fearful dread. However, Matthew is no shrinking violet. He visits the house looking for his son, and meets the cold head of the family, Mrs Northcott. Here he slowly uncovers a chilling family secret which extends back generations to when the house was built...


If Dark was a traditional ghost story in a (then) contemporary setting, then Night of the Wolf is similarly a traditional werewolf story in a more formal past setting. Victor Pemberton appears to be a very meticulous script writer, in this instance assuming that many listeners will possess no knowledge of previous tales of lycanthropy. In this sense it does cover every minute step of the mythos, but to those brought up on the tasty morsels that were the Universal monster movies and Hammer Horror this audio will come across as painfully slow. As many period pieces are, it's also over-dramatic in places. Matthew doesn't always react in the manner in which you would expect. Both as an educated man (a judge in America) and a scholar (his referenced researches in the supernatural field), it's simply inconceivable that Matthew would not previously have heard stories or fables about the manwolf, the full moon and silver bullets.


The pacing may be awfully slow, but the acting and characterisation is spot on. Fenella Fielding is outstanding as Mrs Northcott. When there are only inflections in the voice to base a reaction upon, rather than revealing expressions, it becomes all the more important to convey meaning - and this comes across succinctly, as it should. Another nicely understated performance is Ian Brooker's Professor Forrester (a sort of James Bond's Q).


So, very competently handled, and compelling in small doses, but rather tedious for a single-sitting.

Verdict: 6 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2010) 

Back