A Dark and Scary Place
When an attendant checks on a new patient at the lunatic asylum, he witnesses the man, Talbot, undergo a horrifying transformation. The attendant is brutally torn apart and Talbot escapes. On the Yorkshire Moors two young American men are backpacking. Hitching a ride to East Proctor, they call at a small pub called The Slaughtered Lamb where a frosty reception awaits them, especially when they question the pentagram and candles on the wall. Unwelcome, they are dispatched back out on to the Moors with only a single warning to stay on the path. Faced with a seven mile walk to the next town in torrential rain, matters deteriorate further when they hear the sounds of a predatory animal circling them. Jack is attacked by a wolf and David is injured before the special constable, George Hackett, one of the unsociables at the pub, kills the beast with a shotgun. Before falling unconscious David sees that what was a wolf is now a naked man.
David wakes up in a hospital in London to be told by Doctor Hirsch and Nurse Alex Price that his friend Jack is dead. He is sedated after becoming hysterical, but later contradicts the police report that the attacker was an escaped madman. As far as David is concerned it was definitely a wolf. The police learn that Talbot's real name was Hackett, the same as East Proctor's special constable. Meanwhile, David's parents are on board an aircraft approaching Heathrow Airport when it is taken over by the people's Liberation Front. When his father tries to protest, he is shot. This scene within a scene turns out to be another in a series of nightmares surrounding death which David experiences in the hospital. To make matters worse his dead friend Jack appears to him in a state of decomposition and tells him they were attacked on the Moors by a lycanthrope, a werewolf. Jack explains that he is cursed to walk the Earth in limbo until the bloodline is broken and the last werewolf is destroyed. David is told he is that last werewolf; he must kill himself.
When David is discharged from hospital, the attractive and sympathetic Nurse Alex gives him a place to stay, and very soon they are a couple. From limbo Jack watches them make love in the shower. He is urged by Larry, one of many undead from the werewolf line, to persuade David to kill himself quickly so that they can pass on. Larry, he discovers, is the werewolf that killed him on the Moors ("I'm really pissed off at you for killing me, Larry!" "I've said I'm sorry, haven't I?"). This time when Jack appears to David, he tells his disturbed friend that the next day at the full moon he will become a werewolf. Needless to say, David thinks he is losing his mind. Intrigued by his ex-patient's werewolf delusions, Dr Hirsch pays a visit to The Slaughtered Lamb pub in East Proctor, where he receives a very cool reception from George Hackett and the other patrons. The urgent warnings of a young villager are abruptly cut off by the special constable.
Meanwhile, David is left alone while Alex goes to work the nightshift at the hospital. He eventually undergoes a hideous transformation and disappears into the night. Dr Hirsch and Alex, concerned about David's mental state, attempt to contact him without success. That night a series of gristly murders are reported in and around Central London. In East Proctor the patrons of The Slaughtered Lamb press George Hackett into taking action, as the dark secret has now extended beyond their community. David wakes up the next morning naked and in the wolf enclosure at London Zoo. After persuading a little boy to lift a woman's fur coat from a park bench, he makes his way back to Alex's flat. He feels fit and invigorated, like a new man.
When Dr Hirsch learns that David has returned he instructs Alex to bring him straight to the hospital, but when the taxi driver starts to talk about the brutal killings of the night before David realises he was responsible. He separates himself from Alex, telling her he's not safe to be with. Jack makes a final appearance, beckoning David into a seedy Leicester Square porno cinema. David is introduced to his victims from the night before. One more time they try to persuade him to commit suicide, but the full moon rises causing David to undergo his metamorphosis. Although the police arrive on the scene, the werewolf David breaks through the barriers created at the cinema and causes havoc through the streets around Piccadilly Circus.
Dr Hirsch and Alex arrive at the scene half-believing the werewolf story. Apparently, Hirsch's ancestors from Eastern Europe were very big on legend and superstition. It turns out that 200 years before, the people of East Proctor migrated from Eastern Romania. The werewolf David enters a theatre, but is then cornered in an alley by the police. Alex manages to slip through unseen into the alley, where she attempts to protect the beast. However, George Hackett turns up with a shotgun and puts an end to the curse. With Alex at his side, the werewolf turns back into David. He is dead... and free.
Eric Meyers (Sargeant Bullock in Batman: Knightfall, The Human Torch in The Amazing Spider-Man, and David here) went to college in the US with the brother of John Landis (the director of the original 1981 film). He thought it might be a good idea for Dirk Maggs to do the story for radio. Dirk met with John Landis to talk about the project; he was emerging from the Abbey Road studios after recording music and a voice-over for his film The Stupids. With him was veteran actor Christopher Lee, and Dirk got to meet them both for the first time. Initially, Dirk was reluctant to take on what was essentially a recycled movie; it wasn't what he considered his Audio Movies to be all about (people still approach him and say, "You do radio versions of films." which is not the case. There has only been one: this one.). A successful meeting changed Dirk's mind, however. Landis was keen for this to go ahead and gave Dirk permission to flesh-out and extend the story with original material, which eventually ran to more than fifteen percent of the running time. Landis also did everything he could to push through clearances.
The acting talents of Jenny Agutter, Brian Glover and John Woodvine (Woodvine's rich voice would be perfect for audio book narratives, if he hasn't already added that to his repertoire) were secured to reprise their film roles and bring continuity to the project. Also turning in sterling performances as David and Jack, the American backpackers, are Eric Meyers and William Dufris (Judge Caligula in Judge Dredd - The Day The Law Died, and the title character in The Amazing Spider-Man) respectively. William Dufris has made it known that this project is one of his career works he's most proud of.
As in the film, the best humour comes courtesy of conversations between David and his dead friend Jack. For example: "It looks like I'll have to get used to entertaining corpses. Take a seat." "I'd better stand. I seem to leave bits of myself behind when I sit." Another example is: "I came to see you." "You've seen me, now go away and decompose somewhere else. I will not be threatened by a walking meatloaf!" In the brand new opening sequence there is a clever exchange between a Inspector Villiers and his subordinates: "There's enough blood. Where's the body?" "Over here. And over there." "Another bit over here, sir." Another powerful moment, particularly because there are no other actors to play off of, is the scene when David is left alone in Alex's flat on the night of his first transformation. He tries out the TV: "ITV - soccer match, BBC1 - insipid documentary, BBC 2 - insipid documentary, Channel 4 - insipid documentary presented by midget transvestites..." And he checks his appearance: "Everything looks the same in the mirror. No incipient werewolf characteristics. Snarl! Growl! Grr!"
Due to the horror content and some bad language, An American Werewolf in London was first broadcast in three-minute segments in a late night BBC Radio 1 slot, again mixed by Paul Deeley in superb Dolby Surround Sound. To create the guttural wolf sounds a pig and English badger noises were used in the mix. Eric Meyers was recorded using a stereo capsule on a boom so that there would be the feeling of frantic movement.
The dramatisation was released in its 110 minute entirety on cassette and CD later in 1997 (ZBBC 1994). Sales were respectable, but feedback was surprisingly quiet. However, the industry obviously appreciated the piece as Dirk's script was nominated for the Writers' Guild Award for Best Dramatisation, and the production won the 1997 Talkie Award for Best TV or Film Adaptation. A slightly truncated version of the complete Audio Movie aired on 13th September 2003 on the BBC World Service as its Play of the Week, during the themed Monster Season. The BBC World Service has a global audience of 150 million.
(Review by Ty Power. A shorter version of this review originally appeared on my previous website 2004).
In 1996 Dirk formed the company Audio Movies Limited at The Soundhouse, along with partners Paul Deeley and Phil Horne. Their purpose was to further hone the audio cinematic skills displayed on previous projects, and to move into other subject areas as well as the comic books which had proved so successful. The target audience would be primarily the BBC Radio 1 daytime serial slot, but also other radio networks. The name of the company was also a way of spreading the word that Dirk's releases were not old-style radio drama with clinking cups, but rather full-blown movies in all but sight. Ironically, their first job under this banner was an evangelical production of The Gospel of St. Luke, for America. However, after an adaptation of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan for Radio 4, Dirk set to work on Independence Day: UK, his first foray into film-related material.
The narrated introduction to this piece pays homage to the 1930s radio production of The War of The Worlds, in which Orson Welles apparently terrified millions of US listeners into uncertainty over whether they were hearing fact or fiction (although the reported hysteria was vastly exaggerated). Independence Day: UK is an updated version of a similar stance, which also ties-in loosely with the Hollywood production of the Independence Day feature film.
A BBC Radio 1 UFO Watch is being conducted by DJ Nicky Campbell (playing himself) on board an RAF Sentry Early Warning Aircraft. Also present are Group Captain Phil Johnson (Colin Baker) and world renowned astronomer Patrick Moore (as himself). They are monitoring tracking stations around the world after a signal was sent into space and something came back, detected by Jodrell Bank. As the GLR traffic helicopter is commandeered to collect some V.I.P.s from Buckingham palace, and London is gridlocked with vehicles and drivers desperate to reach safety, a huge mass blocks out the light, one of many fragments from a single object which hover over the major cities of the world. A destructive energy weapon erupts from the craft, laying waste vast areas of London in seconds.
Wing Cmdr. John Reginald ('Reg') and Flt. Lt. Becky Johnson (wife of Phil Johnson) are just two of a wave of Tornado pilots who have already been scrambled to rendezvous with a squadron of Jaguars. But all the Jaguars are annihilated in one foul swoop when they come into contact with an invisible force field which protects the craft. UFO fighters emerge and engage the Tornados in a series of dogfights. Becky saves the GLR helicopter, causing a damaged UFO fighter to crash. The Sentry aircraft is low on fuel and makes for Rutland Water reservoir. Nicky and Patrick drive in a jeep to the water in time to save Reg and Max, two downed pilots, from assault by an alien creature.
Word has it that the RAF base at Coningsby has evacuated its remaining Tornados to the Middle-East, the old NATO rendezvous. The Air Chief Marshal has managed to get through to his counterparts in Europe and the US; the idea is to assemble an allied airforce there. Here there are only two Tornados remaining and three pilots. Reg pilots an EFA, the prototype European Fighter Aircraft, not due to go into service until 2000. It's computer navigates through a speech program; it is powerful and has a long range, which might prove useful against the alien aggressors.
While Reg wrestles with the Eurofighter's reluctant computer controls, the UFO fighters are still on their tails. Going with a theory of Patrick's that the aliens may see differently to humans and are targeting the heat signatures of our planes, they climb to a very high altitude and throttle back to nothing. Leaving no heat signature, they manage to evade their pursuers. Splitting with the Tornados Reg heads for the NATO rendezvous. However, his fuel tank has been hit and he has insufficient remaining to reach his goal. Two fighter aircraft intercept him and demand that he identify himself via IFF squawk, otherwise he will be shot down. But the Eurofighter's computer has a negative transponder and cannot do as asked. Identification 'Friend or Foe' is eventually turned on by the slow and annoying voice computer. Reg is instructed to land on an aircraft carrier. There is intelligence that quite a few airforces have collected together at the rendezvous point. There they will regroup and organise an offensive to take back the planet.
In 1996 when the 20th Century Fox feature film Independence Day was being made, producer and co-scriptwriter Dean Devlin was looking for ways to promote the film in the UK. After a set visit in Los Angeles Dirk came home with the rights to proceed with a completely original UK version of events, based on situations created by Devlin and Fox. Independence Day: UK was born, a sixty-minute production created for broadcast on BBC Radio 1 in Dolby Surround.
It centres on the last vestiges of the RAF, with dogfights, plenty of action and intrigue. Although he only plays a small part, and is certainly superfluous to requirements, Mark Goodier is used as a link to the listening public, much like the Orson Welles The War of the Worlds radio broadcast. The idea works well, with the first twenty minutes having a 'live' sound as it would be in the studio. The Dolby surround encoding is introduced once the radio station is destroyed, along with the rest of London, leaving the majority of the action taking place in the skies over Britain. A Battle of Britain for the new age. To create a fully authentic feel to the proceedings Dirk recorded the appropriate aircraft noise with the cooperation of the Ministry of Defence, and even had a pilot recorded from inside a cockpit to obtain the correct atmospherics and ambience, with the sounds of control switches also picked up.
Again, all acting performances are very good, this time encapsulating the class and
spirit of the Royal Airforce with calmness under fire, attention to duty and that
quirkiness which is undoubtedly required to get the job done. Colin Baker, Nicky Campbell and Toyah Wilcox, fresh from her radio performance of Peter Pan for Dirk, come across particularly strong. Patrick Moore is obviously suited to this format (he is after all playing himself), but fist-fighting an alien is perhaps pushing credulity a little too far, especially considering his age and shape. This was added as a humorous late change after Dirk was forbidden by Devlin from revealing that the aliens can possess people, a fact they were saving for the feature film. Patrick Moore could have been a little more sceptical early on (he scoffs at the idea of artificially generated gravity, only to accept a large grey cloud as a UFO before it has been confirmed. However, his quote from 'The War Of The Worlds' book by H.G. Wells is an excellent touch.
Although this is essentially a serious piece and comes across as such, there are some notable humorous one-liners. After receiving information that the approaching object is potato-shaped, Nicky Campbell quips, "An extraterrestrial root vegetable is heading for Earth!" When being told "The wing is flapping!" Baker's character Phil Johnson replies, "Well, it works for the birds." There is the quote used at the head of this review, and probably the best one, "When this is all over and we've defeated these monsters, the Yanks will take the credit for it. You wait and see." This last is an intentional tongue-in-cheek dig at the tough guys of Hollywood movies by Dirk, and the fact that he was forbidden (again by Devlin and Fox) to have the RAF beat the aliens. In my opinion, all this is typical humour in the face of adversity; it's what the English are so good at and makes their resolve that much stronger.
Independence Day: UK aired on BBC Radio 1 as a sixty-minute Audio Movie on Sunday 4th August 1996. It was subsequently released by Polygram's Speaking Volumes (5329634). Feedback was very good on this one; it won the Talking Business award for Best Production for the second year running, was the number one Spoken Word cassette in the Bookseller Chart, and most notably reached number sixty-six in the normal album charts - an excellent achievement.
During the original broadcast a few worried phone calls were made to the BBC Duty Office, although not enough to cause a widespread panic! Society as a whole has changed a great deal since the fifties; people are less gullible or are more open-minded, even though the threat of terrorism has replaced the Cold War.
To cap then, this is a thoroughly entertaining Audio Movie production, with realistic and intelligent dialogue, and a lot less of a gung-ho attitude than the film. Find a copy of Independence Day: UK, or miss it at your peril.
(Review by Ty Power. A shorter version of this review originally appeared on my previous website 2004).
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.
(Review by Ty Power. A shorter version of this review originally appeared in Dreamwatch Magazine 1994).
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.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2007)
This is the first of two audio CD releases from Fantom Films. There are five short stories, all read by Phil Reynolds, on three discs, with a total running time of 190 minutes. These are some of the more fantastical or macabre tales written by Sherlock Holmes creator and author of The Lost World, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Phil Reynolds is an experienced actor, writer and voice artist; he narrates these tales with a resoluteness of purpose, neither offering too much annoying inflection, or sleep-inducing low tones. Read on and be transported.
Most people will have heard of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and those who haven’t will surely be aware of Sherlock Holmes, one of the best-loved and most enduring literary characters of all time. Conan Doyle was an astute and intelligent man. His many accomplishments included, serving as a ship’s doctor, building up his own successful medical practice, studying the eye in Vienna, operating as a front line war correspondent, being knighted by Queen Victoria, and being appointed Deputy-lieutenant. He was an all-round sportsman, and extensively well-travelled, as well as being a life-long campaigner for the underdog. His written output is more than prolific. In his later years Conan Doyle expressed a deep interest in spiritualism and the supernatural, and conducted lecture tours on the subject.
The five tales incorporated here cover this period in his life. The Horror of the Heights tells of the rumour of something unearthly seen at an extreme altitude by a pilot who has since been discredited and gone mad. A curious pilot seeks to uncover the truth for himself, and so takes his bi-plane higher than anyone has previously risen. Although an interesting enough idea, it is far too long in the telling, and in a subsequent age of space travel holds little intrigue. Suspend your disbelief big time for this one. Oh, and one more comment: the cover artwork rather gives away what the pilot encounters.
In The Lord of Chateau Noir, certain wartime atrocities are traced back to the Count of a relatively nearby manor house by a sergeant and a handful of soldiers. The potential prisoner doesn’t appear to be at home, but he will materialise and gain the upper hand with motives of his own. This one requires intent concentration; I listened to the story when distracted by other household matters, and found myself having to revisit the plot - a tale of active revenge.
The Nightmare Room, tells the story of an American aristocrat who falls in love with and marries a well-known dancer. She has given up her previous life touring Europe to be with him, and he treats her well. That is until he discovers that she intends to poison him, and has a lover. When the other man arrives at the house an unusual exchange of words takes place, culminating in a most unexpected conclusion. This one is an enjoyable listening experience, grounded in reality. It has the feel of a Tales of the Unexpected episode, but the ending is somewhat mundane - a bit of a disappointment.
The Ring of Thoth, has a scholar studying Egyptian antiquities at an exhibition when he falls asleep, and awakes to find a strange man performing a ritual in the middle of the night. This has the structure of a Sherlock Holmes story, in that a character is discovered and is compelled to tell his back story. It’s an interesting listen, but would have been greatly aided by having been played out rather than told in exposition.
The Brazilian Cat is probably the best of the bunch on offer here. It follows the exploits of a destitute young nobleman who visits his rich cousin in order to ask him for a loan. The cousin is most cordial, unlike his plainly rude wife who wants nothing more than for him to leave as soon as possible. The cousin enthusiastically shows him his prize possession, a Brazilian big cat - and I don’t think it’s giving too much away to reveal that the cat has a distinct bearing in our hero’s peril. There is palpable tension inherent in this story, and a believable motive for the jovial man’s nastiness.
These are a curiosity, if nothing else. Their effect is greatly blunted by the years, so that what would have been astounding literary pieces in their time, are now, at best, average fair. Unlike Sherlock Holmes, these are not timeless classics.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2010)
This is not a ‘singular’ retail release, as it’s the second of two audio CD releases from Fantom Films (that’s an in-joke for followers of the writings of SACD). This time there are six short stories, again all read by Phil Reynolds, on three discs, with a total running time of 190 minutes. This collection of some of the more fantastical or macabre tales written by Sherlock Holmes creator and author of The Lost World, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is described as gothic. Phil Reynolds is an experienced actor, writer and voice artist.
In The New Catacomb, an expert in Roman antiquities - a man of German and Italian extraction - befriends an English scholar of similar repute. Although not working together, they discuss their discoveries over a period of time. When the German makes a major find, the Englishman begs to be in on it. However, he is asked about his own secret as an example of his trustworthiness. He is forced to tell the inside story of a relationship scandal he was involved in, and the woman he stole from an unknown man and then scorned. The German is satisfied and leads him to the catacomb. This is a very enjoyable audio tale, and the accents of the characters sound understated rather than comical. You don’t need to be Captain Mensa, though, to quickly comprehend how the story will end.
In Playing With Fire, a group of spiritualists perform a séance with a medium. Here they meet with a Frenchman, who explains to them the power of thought; how thinking about something can manifest it. Through the medium a presence makes itself known, and the group get to question the deceased person... to a point. However, they are soon terrified by a shocking new sight. Although told in a mature and formal manner, this is a pretty mundane story of mysticism, similar to that which we have seen played out in many a film and TV anthology.
The Terror of Blue John Gap tells the story of a man who stays at a country house and comes across a chasm, the site of an old Roman mine. It is the subject of local myths and legends, wherein a terrible creature lurks and emerges to kill sheep. The man investigates the deep caverns, but loses his candle in a rushing stream. In the utter darkness he has an encounter with the monster. Eventually, he finds his bearings and escapes, vowing to return and seek out the creature, when better equipped. This is an immensely enjoyable tale. The idea of something unknown lurking just out of sight continues to intrigue and send shivers even to this day. Retold as a diary entry, as many of Conan Doyle’s stories are, the chronicle peels back layers to the mystery without ever revealing exactly what the beast is.
In The Case of Lady Sannox, a well-to-do surgeon is requested by a stranger to attend a fatally ill lady who has been poisoned by an ancient dagger. The situation is perilous, but the surgeon is renowned for the success of his daring procedures. But is everything as it seems? This story revolves around an act of revenge, as many of these audio stories from SACD do, and in terms of both format and content is very similar to The Ring of Thoth, from Volume One.
In The Brown Hand, a celebrated Indian surgeon invites relatives individually to his house in order to decide who will receive his inheritance and so head the family. He connects with one particular gentleman who has expressed an interest in spiritualism, and urges him to stay in a room in which the spirit of an Indian man appears every night searching for his lost hand. This tale is a little different, and all the stronger for it. On the surface a regular ghost story, it manages to be both simple and compelling.
In The Los Amigos Fiasco, a small Mexican town adopts the recent but not wholly successful method of capital punishment, electrocution. The experts agree that a higher voltage should be employed to ensure the procedure works. However, a German expert disagrees, and is proved correct when the guilty man, rather than dying, has his life span increased. This is a relatively short tale, based on the idea that the human body acts as a chemical battery. I think that Reynolds’ adopted accent is superfluous, but he just about gets away with it.
The content of this collection is significantly more enjoyable and varied than Volume One. I treat these examples as a piece of literary history; no where near as powerful and momentous as his Sherlock Holmes novels and short stories, but nevertheless enjoyable and worthy of preservation.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2010)
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.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2007)
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.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2008)
It's difficult to accept that nearly 35 years have passed since Slipback, which was first broadcast on Radio 4 25 July 1985. It was DOCTOR WHO's first foray on to radio after a few aborted attempts. The first project was a schools piece, in which the TARDIS was implemented to dramatically educate the younger masses regarding the progress of evolution on Earth.
In the Seventies when Tom Baker was in the TV role, Victor Pemberton, writer of Fury from the Deep, penned an original story called The Pescatons. It featured the acting voices of Tom Baker and Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith. Although it contained dramatic scenes, a heavy dose of explanatory narration stole much of the tension away. The Pescatons was released on to LP by Argus records, and was the first professional attempt to produce DOCTOR WHO in radio format.
Another project which suffered from similar narration drawbacks was Genesis of the Daleks, a BBC Enterprises venture, adapted using the original audios from the TV story. Andrew Sewell and David Dupont of BBC Radio later rescripted it into a better edited version which made more sense to the listener and was aided by significantly less interruptions. It received a favourable reaction within BBC Radio, but never aired because they felt, with DOCTOR WHO still riding high on a wave of popularity, there was no room for a radio adaptation, particularly from a story which had already aired on BBC 1.
That view was to change. When the Controller of BBC 1, Michael Grade, "rested" DOCTOR WHO for eighteen months, it was the perfect opportunity for a radio serial to fill the hiatus - or at least a small part of it. Understandably in the circumstances, the announcement of Slipback induced general derision from the tabloids. The BBC was accused of a huge cost-cutting exercise in making the established viewing audience simply listen and use the imagination. The countless necessary "Save the Doctor" campaigns were standing for no nonsense; no one wanted the radio to replace the longest running Science Fiction TV series in the world, and this view was not without some justification.
However, Slipback producer, Paul Spencer, was quick to point out the huge exaggeration involved in what amounted to a coincidence. In comparison with a TV version, there was no denying the low production costs of radio - of course, no costumes, sets or visual effects were necessary; Slipback was not created as a replacement though, but as an extra medium for the Doctor. Radio 4 Controller, David Hatch, created a programme for young teenagers called Stereo Pirate Radio 4. Ideas were raised to fill the three hour live slots, one of which was DOCTOR WHO.
The script was written by Eric Saward, the then TV Script Editor, and split into six ten-minute episodes, each with the standard cliffhanger. The finished product was aired over three weeks, two per show on Thursdays. The current Doctor of the time, Colin Baker, was joined by TV companion Nicola Bryant as Peri. Guest Stars included Jane Carr as the Computer, John Glover as Grant, Nick Revell as Bates and Snatch, and Valentine Dyall as Slarn.
The TARDIS materialises in the future aboard a huge spacecraft, immediately after the Sixth Doctor has experienced a dream in which a voice tries to tell him about the "Eclipse of Time." A man-eating alien creature is rampaging through the walkways. The Doctor identifies it as a Maston, a species thought to be extinct. The captain has spores growing in his body at such a rate that an explosion could infect and ultimately kill the entire crew. Peri is accosted by unscrupulous policemen seeking art treasures stolen by Grant, one of the crew. The ship's computer has a foolish female voice, which is used for the explanatory dialogue. The heart of the computer emerges as a separate, more ruthless character, who it seems is behind the Doctor's dream. It intrudes into the Doctor's mind, stealing required information on time travel, and sends the ship back in time in an attempt to genetically alter the envolvement of life forms throughout history to extinguish anger and warlike tendencies. But it has miscalculated; the ship returns to the beginning of creation. The original identity of the computer dislikes what it has become and activates the ship's self-destruct mechanism. The Doctor tries to prevent this, but is stopped by the voice of a Time Lord, who informs him that this is meant to happen. It will be the Big Bang which creates the universe.
It was neither the best nor the worst script written for DOCTOR WHO, but it was suitably simplistic, fitting the requirements of six ten-minute parts. Saward did his best to make the relatively short serial as action-packed as possible, and in this he achieved much: the origins of the Big Bang, a disease-ridden captain, an art theft investigation, a twin personality computer, and a man-eating monster. There was also a conversation on the run between the Doctor and Peri - an action perhaps more suited to Peter Davison's Doctor - which could only have been attempted on radio. It was obviously intended to keep events moving apace, but sounds more than a little contrived.
For me, Slipback failed to convince. It contained many of the elements present in the Colin Baker tenure, but was let down by a number of technicalities. The plot was a straightforward one, with the Peri and police sub-plot an unnecessary diversion. Incidentally, the police sounded more like millitant union representatives. The foolish computer voice began to grate early on; even its own admission of possessing a silly voice could not lessen the burden. At least two of the characters were clichéd: Snatch was a brainless 'shoot em up' thug who pointed a gun at everything that moved; and the Service Maintenance Drone acted like a manically depressed butler, similar in many ways to Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams' The Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy. The cliffhangers were also disappointing. Rather than allowing the progression of events to reach a crescendo before abruptly cutting off, there was a few seconds of explanation before the Doctor shouted, 'No!' or 'Peri!' Hardly inspiring.
It's interesting to note that no other radio serials were produced between 1985 and 1989, while the TV series still ran. However, with new DOCTOR WHO missing from our screens since 1989, radio serials were once again acceptable. So what Slipback did achieve was to set a precedent. Barry Letts' The Paradise of Death, reuniting Jon Pertwee with Lis Sladen and Nicholas Courtney, enjoyed improved success and later inspired another offering, The Ghosts of N-Space, with the same winning team.
(Review by Ty Power. This piece originally appeared in Dreamwatch Magazine 1995).
It's 1964, after the problematic Mercury launches. The new Gemini rocket sends a live payload of two bonobos apes into space. However, a free-floating pen lodges itself in a mechanism and directional control of the craft is lost. A form of cryogenics keeps the apes sedated, and automated systems feed them, carry away waste, and exercise their muscles. It is NASA's intention to work out a solution to the problem, but the excitement of the event is forgotten and interest lost. Nearly forty years later the capsule falls to Earth. The first heavy impact with the upper atmosphere dislodges the pen. Old mechanisms are reactivated, correcting the trajectory and angle of descent, waking the apes from their forced hibernation and slowing the fall of the craft with half-rotten parachutes. It falls on a large auto-dump in America.
Ricky lives with his uncle Rusty (the owner of the scrapyard) and his Aunt Mollie (an animal activist). Whilst training to be a vetinary surgeon, Ricky takes a summer job at Drake Industries, who are working with apes in the fight for interspecies bio-immunity. He is asked to care for a primate called Brewster, with whom he becomes quite attached. However, when he next goes to work it is to discover that his entry key-card no longer works. He is allowed in using the card of Nadia (the foremost research scientist at the institute), only to be told that his sevices are no longer required. Brewster has proved inaffective in their studies, so he is to be reintroduced into the wilds of Africa. When Ricky later relays these events to his guardians, Mollie is sceptical, hinting at diabolical experiments conducted on the animals in the laboratories. She is stunned when she sees a photograph taken in Africa showing Drake releasing Brewster. Later, Ricky studies the picture more closely, noticing something in the background which leads him to suspect the snapshot was taken more locally. He discovers he still has Nadia's entry card and uses it to see if Brewster is still at the facility. Instead, he is confronted by two intelligent bonobos apes who speak to him.
Like Ricky, the two apes have broken in. All three escape in a makeshift buggy assembled from scrap metal. Ricky wakes up the next morning believing the whole thing to be a dream, but when he and Rusty discover cleverly assembled devices hidden deep within the scrapyard he is forced to think again. Finally, they come across the two bonobos who are called Jojo and Masie.
Nadia is angry with Drake for the way her research is being misused, and the fact that the twin bonobos sent up in the capsule were sold to NASA by Drake. He placates her by announcing he wants her to head his new research facility in New York. He tells her about Linda, a little girl of six, diagnosed with a new tubercular strain two months before. He hopes to use Brewster to develop cross-species antibodies. Later, Nadia is told by the fired security guard, Dufris, that her card was used in the break-in. An old NASA patch was also discovered.
Travelling to the auto- dump, Nadia takes Ricky back to the Drake Industries lab, now almost deserted after the move to New York. She explains that her grandfather had created the Gemini apes in the sixties, and that Ricky had found those same apes. It was a genetic experiment lost with his death, and the closest they have come to recreating it is with Brewster. Nadia shows Ricky Boris, another ape which Professor Drake had ordered to be destroyed - supposedly because it was dangerous - but she had hidden away. Boris has painted many pictures depicting apes and humans, but the apes are prone to violent episodes; she had been told by Drake that Boris killed her grandfather. In truth, Boris had attacked Drake because of his treatment. Her grandfather had tried to intervene, but slipped and hit his head. Fearing for the safety of Rusty and Mollie, Ricky returns home. The sheriff arrives explaining that they have been placed in the protective custody of the authorities in New York. Later, he finds Jojo who had hidden away when they had come to take Masie and the others away.
In New York, the sick girl, Linda, is brought to the labs amidst a wave of publicity - the first accredited victim of anti-biotic resistant tuberculosis. Drake needs this to work because a share issue is at stake, but Brewster's results are below target. Ricky travels to New York with Jojo in his rucksack and gains access to the Drake building. Drake and Nadia decide to abandon Brewster and use Masie in their research instead. Ricky is captured in the building, but Jojo escapes and finds Masie. Rusty and Mollie are released, but use a lawyer to try to stop Drake using primates in experiments. A corrupt judge,
however, ensures the hearing finds in favour of Drake.
Treatment has already started on the child. A serum taken from Masie begins to improve the girl, but Nadia discovers that Brewster has been sold to the US Airforce for weapons research. Rusty and Mollie intend to infiltrate the airforce base, and are fortunate enough to find a truck outside with Brewster caged in the back. They steal the space capsule and take it to New York. Boris is presented at the public shareholders' meeting by Ricky. The Ape's intelligence is proved with the paintings which record certain corrupt events. Nadia resigns, supporting the cause of the primates. Brewster is brought in to further disrupt Drake's moment of glory, and the professor is told that because the apes are sentient, if he kills any one of them he could be brought up on charges of murder. The ruling is made preventing the buying or selling of primates.
Ricky and Nadia try to escape the building with the Gemini apes, but the Drake operatives are after them. Jojo and Masie exit a window on to scaffolding and slide down a dust chute. Rusty and Mollie are below with the capsule. The apes escape in the airborne capsule. However, Masie is seriously injured and the capsule nose-dives. Orders are issued to shoot it down to prevent it crashing and killing civilians. The apes minds are receptive to knowledge; Nadia theorises that they picked it up from the Earth below while they were in space. Panic is making the capsule crash, but Ricky calms the apes via radio and they manage to regain control, heading out into space - you might say back home. The media speculates on Masie dying of her injuries, and the craft running out of fuel and food, but the truth is the apes have been recovered.
The germ of the idea for The Gemini Apes dates back to 1988. Whilst Dirk Maggs was working on the Superman serials he was reminded of a scene in which the Kents discover the infant Kryptonian and speculate on the incredible possibility of NASA sending a baby into space, because they have already sent animals. In 1991 he wrote a basic treatment, which he fleshed-out and extended four years later. The idea was to eventually sell The Gemini Apes as a film script. In 1996 he sent the treatment to Dean Devlin, writer/producer of Independence Day (with whom Dirk had met prior to writing Independence Day: UK for BBC Radio 1), but the following year disaster struck, as a very similar idea called "The Mercury Effect" turned up. Dirk was shocked, angry and somewhat deflated. Much later, he was assured by a reliable source that it was a genuine coincidence. Nevertheless, Dirk pressed on, between other projects, and by
early 1998 had produced a movie script.
Not long afterwards, BBC Radio 4 controller James Boyle approached Dirk at short notice, asking if he had anything to fill a slot on Christmas Day. Keen to be the first with a finished product featuring the chimps in space idea, he pitched The Gemini Apes. Boyle was initially hesitant that it was too American in content, but had faith in Dirk to produce something suitable, his only request being to include an English actor or two. Dirk asked veteran film actor Christopher Lee (whom he had met briefly whilst consulting with Jon Landis on An American Werewolf in London), who came on board as Professor Drake.
Contacting bonobo expect Dr.Amy Parish, Dirk was surprised at just how relevant his story was. It turned out that not only were bonobos the closest to man in terms of intelligence, but also more peaceful than any of their primate counterparts. The timing was also exceptional, because a temporary injunction had just been awarded against the US Airforce selling 115 space program chimpanzees to a biomedical research firm with a terrible record in animal care. Later, in post-production, an Horizon documentary was shown highlighting the number of chimps used for research purposes (October 1st 1998, at 9:25pm on BBC 2).
The film script was re-written for radio, and recorded at the Soundhouse Studios, London. The Gemini Apes - an Audio Movies production - was broadcast at 2:15pm Christmas Day 1998, on BBC Radio 4, in one continuous ninety minute session. Audio design was by The Soundhouse Ltd., and the gorgeous Dolby Surround mix (somewhat lost to a normal stereo radio broadcast) was by Paul Deeley. As always a true professional, Christopher Lee turns in a solid performance as Drake, but the star of the show here is Gary Martin, who handles the voices for three primate characters - Jojo, Boris and Brewster - with surely the lowest voice in showbusiness (check out his performance as The Thing, in The Amazing Spider-Man). The security guard called Dufris is a complimentary reference to William Dufris, who couldn't make the recordings.
Although some serious issues are covered in the script, Dirk has plainly been careful to keep this essentially a family-oriented action adventure. The Gemini Apes is a good, original story, well-told. All performances are strong, and it rattles along at a cracking pace. The audio movie has yet to be released on CD; the BBC apparently reasoned at the time that it was not a popular enough subject. Granted, everyone's heard of Batman, Superman and Spider-Man, but it still seems a short-sighted point of view considering a product as professional as this, and featuring no less than Christopher Lee! Dirk has said he would like to extend this concept, if he ever gets the chance. Let's hope he does... a film, anybody?
The Gemini Apes is affectionately dedicated by Dirk and his team to the memory of Bob Sessions, who played Batman in the excellent Knightfall, and The Lazurus Syndrome.
(Review by Ty Power. A shorter version of this review originally appeared on my previous website 2004).
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.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 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!
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2008)
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.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 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 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.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2006)
Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun. Orbiting this at a distance of roughly ninety-eight million miles is an utterly insignificant little blue green planet whose ape-descended life forms are so amazingly primitive that they still think audio movies are a pretty neat idea...
And so they are. This is the second of three radio serials adapted, co-produced and directed by Dirk Maggs, based on the late Douglas Adams' best-selling Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy trilogy of books in five parts. This time we concentrate on book four: So Long and Thanks for all The Fish, here named (against somebody's better judgement) the Quandary Phase.
Arthur Dent returns home on a Teaser spacecraft when he learns that the Earth has inexplicably popped back into existence, after the Vogon Constructor Fleet had destroyed it to make way for a hyperspatial express route. On the way to his cottage Arthur is given a lift and instantly falls in love with a seemingly demented young woman called Fenchurch, the same person who (just before the supposed mass hallucination of spacecraft appearing over the Earth and threatening to destroy it, before disappearing) had risen-up with a revelation of what had gone wrong with the world, and how people could finally live together in peace, only to promptly forget it again. Just before this hallucination all the dolphins had apparently left the Earth, leaving certain individuals crystal bowls inscribed with the words "So long and thanks for all the fish". Ford Prefect turns up looking for Arthur, and helps them to leave on a Xaxisian Robot Ship. Why is the Earth the same and yet so different? Arthur and Fenchurch have their suspicions and leave on a quest to learn God's Last Words to His creation. En route they meet an old friend in Marvin the Paranoid Android, who these days is on his last legs and mostly armless (geddit?).
It's been said, not least by Dirk himself, that So Long... doesn't lend itself so well to the audio medium. Or was it Mostly Harmless? Anyway, judging by the content of this one I strongly disagree. Okay, so this is Arthur's love story. Normally the idea of that alone would send me to exile on the planet Boredom. And those people hoping for lots of whizzing around the universe with Zaphod, Trillian, Marvin and Slartibartfast will be severely disappointed. But this is a Douglas Adams story and it's all about humour. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy has never been about jokes, but rather observations on life. In that respect it reminds me of the classic Smith & Jones Head to Head sketches.
It has a much more linear structure than the Tertiary Phase, which was very good but crammed in so much that it was in fear of becoming disjointed if you didn't listen to an episode in one sitting. The plot probably isn't so strong as Life, the Universe and Everything, but it's a lot easier to follow. In fact, I personally enjoy the dialogue exchanges in set scenes much more than the main revelations of plot points. It's a very English humour, which probably explains why the film version of the first book doesn't work.
Rob McKenna, the lorry-driving rain god is great, and the way that Arthur punctuates his boring conversation with "Are we there yet?" is priceless. The constant interruptions to Arthur and Fenchurch's conversation at the station by June Whitfield's Raffle Woman is also very well handled. "Are you two in love?" she finally asks. "It's a little hard to tell," says Arthur, "we haven't had a chance to talk yet!"
There's plenty of crazy situations in this professionally recorded two-disc set. I liked the idea of Wonko the Sane sitting on a beach waiting for the end of the world, not realising it's already been and gone. Being a drummer himself Dirk Maggs even finds time to make fun of drummers and bass players too.
I was enjoying the first disc so much that I felt I would have to top the mark I gave the Tertiary Phase. However, I have to reluctantly say that there were a few scenes which seemed to stem the flow of that enjoyment. The flying scene and that of the old woman on the plane didn't work, and the only Ford Prefect scene, before his meeting with Arthur, which was fun to listen to was when he talks his way out of a gargantuan bar bill.
Perhaps the whole production could have been tightened-up a little by losing one episode, but what do I know?! There's a lot here to be enjoyed. Even the "...pretty neat idea" has been updated from digital watches to novelty ring tones! Roll on the next one.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2005)
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.
(Review by Ty Power. A shorter version of this review originally appeared in Dreamwatch Magazine 1995)
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.
(Review by Ty Power. This review originally appeared in Dreamwatch Magazine 1995)
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.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 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.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2010)
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