10 Reviews (1 New)
A Dark and Scary Place
"Take that, you top-hatted villain!"
Super sleuth Sexton Blake and his plucky assistant, Tinker are visited by an exotic American lady, Miss Elizabeth Mary-Louise Tarabelle Beauchamp who has fled across the pond to London and pursued by a dastardly villain who is after a piece of her jewellery which she refused to sell. No sooner has she arrived than a bomb turns up. A pretty poor bomb, luckily. They spot the foul devil watching the house, and the chase is on. They follow the dastardly chap’s car in the Grey Panther, but lose him in an alley. However, they get a lead and trace him to a hotel, only to find they have been used by Beauchamp and her husband to find the man they want to kill. And they jolly well nearly succeed, thwarted only by Blake thinking one step ahead.
The until recently thought villain gives them a pocket watch before expiring – and the real reprobates make their escape. Blake is examining the watch when an adventurous young woman swings in through the window. She tells them she can’t remember who she is, but that he has been set up as the villain in a string of robberies and they should flee now. So, Blake, Tinker and “Miss Terry” (Mystery - Geddit?) do precisely that, only to be pursued in the Grey Panther by practically every policeman on the force – including commoners Cecil and Terrance.
They give the police the slip, before Miss Terry remembers three patches of grass and a cow. From this Sexton Blake deduces that Miss Terry had been a roving rural reporter who had uncovered a knowledge that someone wanted kept quiet at all cost. A graze from a bullet had caused her to lose her memory. They trace the real cunning perpetrator, Count Ivor Carlac to his den of traps – after a tip-off from a mysterious waiter (William Franklyn the 1960s Sexton Blake). Carlac wants the fob watch.
Blake, Tinker and Miss Terry are trapped in a room filling with water, at which point Carlac announces that Miss Terry is an assassin who had been sent by him to kill Blake and obtain the watch. Still protesting her innocence, the former Miss Terry, Blake and Tinker escape, where they follow the trail to the three clumps of grass and a large, dilapidated barn which turns out to be housing a zeppelin. Blake climbs the trailing rope, and realises the lens of the fob watch is required to align with others, so that Carlac can train his solar canon on parliament.
He ends up on top of the zeppelin where he bests Carlac in a sword fight. However, our villain isn’t beaten yet and produces a crossbow. Blake is injured by the first release but manages to deflect the second arrow into the engine. The zeppelin falters before righting itself. It turns out it has two engines.
Meanwhile, Tinker and the former Miss Terry have pressured mad inventor and old villain, Professor X into flying them in his gyrocopter up to the zeppelin. Miss Terry manages to climb onto the zeppelin and, as it arrives over its target in London, deflects the solar canon so that it fires through the other engine. Our heroes have won – except that Professor X manages to get free of his bonds and tries to shoot Blake. But our hero has had a bad day and gives short thrift to the eulogising inventor. X attempts to make his escape but accidently falls to the ground.
Blake and Tinker are back at their apartments, attended by their ever-present housekeeper, Mrs Bardell. They have secured the doors and our heroes are about to relax and tuck into enough succulent food to feed an army. But there’s no rest for a clever dick, as a new and exciting adventure comes a-knocking at their door.
The character of Sexton Blake has endured for around a century in formats including comic books, radio, TV and film - but 41 years passed between Blakes last radio broadcast and Dirk Maggs's re-invention. Audio maestro Dirk's previous projects include The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Judge Dredd, Independence Day: UK, Superman: Doomsday & Beyond, Voyage, An American Werewolf in London, the faultless Batman: Knightfall, and many others.
With the relevant permission, Dirk planned to plunder the classic British comic books Valiant and Lion, so he approached IPC Media's publishing director, Andrew Sumner, who suggested The Adventures of Sexton Blake. The original idea was to secure the 1960s Blake, William Franklyn, and have him narrate the tale in retrospect. However, while they were working on the pilot Franklyn sadly died. It is a nice tribute that Dirk managed to incorporate some of Franklyn's dialogue into Episode Four, as the Mysterious Waiter.
Instead, Dirk secured the services of Simon Jones, best known as Arthur Dent in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, on radio, TV and on stage. It proved to be an inspired decision, as I can't imagine anyone else playing the character here. In fact, I would even go so far as to vent the controversial decision that Blake is a better fit for him than Arthur Dent. The accompanying sterling cast included Susan Sheridan, June Whitfield, Simon Treves and Wayne Forester (who plays Tinker, Blake's commoner plucky assistant).
The format for this one is very much formal but over-the-top fun and antics. There's the stiff upper lip of a bygone age. The underdog pluck that the British will win through against "I shall rule the world"-type dastardly villains who deserve a gold old-fashioned bunch-of-fives. The action drives along at break-neck speed, fed by clever and tongue-in-cheek dialogue. The humour emerges from one-liners, the ridiculousness of certain situations, and purposefully cringeworthy clichés.
It's a frenetic but enjoyable romp, with several stand-out moments. Amidst the mayhem of a police chase, Housekeeper Mrs Bardell (June Whitfield) has a nice chat with Mrs Hudson (Susan Sheridan), Housekeeper to a Neighbouring Detective -hinting at Sherlock Holmes. The exchanges between Cecil and Terrance, the policemen are priceless, too, and the pair would make a great double-act. In truth, this escapade has a lot going for it, and I would very much like to hear more Audio Movies from the very talented Dirk Maggs based on characters and situations from the late 1800s and early 1900s. H.P. Lovecraft would be nice.
The Adventures of Sexton Blake aired over six episodes on BBC Radio 2 between 31 July 2009 and 4 September 2009. It was a Perfectly Normal Production, recorded by Wilfredo Acosta at The Soundhouse Ltd. The Sound Design and Music was composed by Paul Weir. The CD version contains 40 minutes of 'previously unbroadcast peril.'
(Original Review Ty Power 2020.
Brand new from AudioGo, on limited CD release or available to download, comes Ghostly Terror! - consisting of three classic supernatural tales split across two discs, with a total running time of 135 minutes.
Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook (read by experienced narrator and beloved Fawlty Towers actor, Andrew Sachs) tells the story of a researcher and collector of religious antiquities working late taking stone rubbings in an ancient church. A very nervous man refuses to leave him alone in the building, and is later relieved to escort him out. Through what seems like idle conversation, the nervous little man tells the researcher about a book he might want to see. The artwork and scripture is incredibly old, and the researcher is amazed to be sold the book for a ridiculously low sum of money. He is later to discover why, as the book incorporates an ancient evil.
M.R. James wrote the best literary ghost stories, bar none. He was a master storyteller, and I urge anyone who hasn’t tasted the cold eeriness of his tales to invest in a collection. You won’t be sorry. Even the BBC constantly used his stories when it came time for their annual Christmas ghost story adaptation. In fact, of the three tales on this release, Canon Alberic’s Scrapbook is the most enduring simply because it’s less specific, cleverly allowing your imagination to set the atmosphere and build tension. The others, in comparison, are a little dated. Sachs quite rightly keeps his narrative on an even keel, allowing the story to raise the listener’s emotions, rather than becoming unnecessarily emotive in the telling.
The Yellow Wallpaper (read by stage and TV actress Laurel Lefkow) is the story of a sick woman confined to a rather decrepit bedroom in a rented house. There is peeling yellow wallpaper, and marks and patterns which over time seem to take on a life of their own. Eventually, she begins to fear that someone might be trying to get out. This story, written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, uses the premise that if we stare at inanimate objects long enough the mind can turn them into something else entirely. There is a part of the brain which recognises faces in objects, so the idea is definitely sound. However, although there is an attempt to build tension via the woman’s thoughts over a period of days, The Yellow Wallpaper is much too long in the telling, and has a disappointing reveal.
The Beast With Five Fingers (read by Radio, TV and stage actor Steven Pacey) is a truly classic story by W.F. Harvey, which many people will have heard of without actually knowing anything about. It tells the story - in chapter form - of a man with the talent of automatic writing who, upon his death, has the hand in question sent to a relative. But the hand has independent movement and objectives of its own, until it becomes a living nightmare. This takes up the entirety of the second disc. You could say it’s a little long, but there is much movement in the tale, and you can readily believe the near hysteria of one of the characters - convincingly portrayed by Pacey. The Beast With Five Fingers has been filmed, and since then there has been any number of similar notions which have made it to screen. The idea of a disembodied hand seems to be creepy enough to make people willingly suspend their disbelief.
More and more audio releases are being limited strictly to downloads these days. Call me old-fashioned, but I like to have an official, tangible product in a jewel case that I can place on a shelf or stack with other CDs - so I’m thankful that in this particular instance you are given the choice. As a casual purchase, this is probably not so important, but to a collector it might mean the difference between a sale and just not bothering.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2011)
During the events of Neverwhere, Richard Mayhew was awarded the Freedom of London Below after slaying the Beast. But after deciding the London Above held nothing for him anymore, the Marquis de Carabas opens a ‘door’ and allows him re-entrance. Richard wants to find Door and help her search for her sister. However, as always, the Marquis has his own agenda.
When his throat was cut and body thrown into the sewers by Croup and Vandemar, his coat was sold by the Sewer Folk. He had got his life back, now he had to get his coat back. What was so special about his coat? It was a thing of wonder and beauty. It had a number of pockets, a handful of hidden pockets and some which even he couldn’t find some of the time. It was sleek, stylish and the colour of a wet street at midnight.
His first port of call is to Old Bailey, to find out when the next Floating Market is being held. The birdman tells him it is at the Tate Gallery. Here, he finds the Sewer Folk who are less than forthcoming. A young lad from the Mushroom People tells the Marquis he has information about who purchased his coat, but he needs a favour in return. Sealed in a sandwich bag is the boy’s declaration of love to the Lady Drusilla of the Raven’s Court. An unlikely pairing. He is to deliver the letter in person and await her reply.
The information the lad has is that the purchaser of the coat was a man who carried a stick – a crook, in fact. De Carabas returns to Old Bailey, who confirms his own suspicions that only Bishops or Shepherds carry crooks. Bishops have no need for coats – having their own attire, so it can only be the Shepherd of Shepherd’s Bush.
He hires a guide called Knibbs, who sells him out to the gruff and powerful Elephant. When the Marquis was young and foolish, he stole the Elephant’s diaries for Victoria, and the Elephant has wanted him dead ever since. He is chained in a room filling with water. It would normally be a simple case of picking the lock, but the Marquis hasn’t got his coat. It looks like he is going to drown, when his brother Peregrine arrives from out of the blue to embarrassingly save his skin.
They escape with the water down a drain, but the Marquis hasn’t got far before he runs into the Elephant again… only this time he is behaving very strangely. Everyone is wandering around like sheep, saying they are “Glad to be here.” They are in the demesnes of the Shepherd. Even the Marquis falls into the pattern of doing the Shepherd’s bidding. He breaks free from the spell by remembering his coat and getting angry at its theft. When it is noticed they have broken free, the Marquis, Peregrine and the Elephant are taken to see the Shepherd.
The Marquis cleverly manipulates the Shepherd by saying he has to leave because he has an extremely important message to deliver. Of course, the Shepherd demands to see it. Handing over the letter sealed in the sandwich bag, he quietly warns Peregrine to hold his breath ‘in anticipation’. When the Shepherd opens the message, he is assailed by mushroom spores which take him over. All he is interested in now is travelling to the Mushroom People to become one of their own. This is what the young lad had intended to do to the Lady Drusilla.
The Marquis settles his score with the Elephant by giving him a special gift from one of the hidden pockets of his coat, which the Shepherd had been wearing. The looking glass given to him by Victoria has the ability to see through whatever object is studied via the lens. The Marquis feels complete now that he has his coat back. He visits the Lady Drusilla to warn her, but she already has wind of what took place. Something ‘nasty’ has happened to the lad, but the Lady Drusilla is now indebted to the Marquis. That’s how things work in London Below; people exist on trade, and the biggest trade is in favours.
Neil Gaiman began writing the short story of How the Marquis Got His Coat Back in 2002, but it was never finished. After Dirk Maggs's adaptation of Gaiman's Neverwhere was broadcast by BBC Radio in 2013, Gaiman enjoyed it so much that he began to wish that he could hear more. So he finally completed the short story, using all of the characters he had carried around in his head for so long.
The story was offered to Dirk Maggs for adaptation. Being shorter in length - at only one hour - if anything, it makes for a tighter, and thoroughly entertaining romp. It was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 on 4th November 2016. The characters in this are well-realised; particularly the Elephant (of Elephant & Castle), the main villain, played by Mitch Ben. Paterson Joseph is great as the Marquis de Carabas, and Tom Alexander's Shep, the Sheepdog Man is also worth a mention. However, my performance award for this one can only go to Bernard Cribbins for his portrayal of Old Bailey - who doesn't even make an appearance in the short story. So plaudits to not only Cribbins but to Dirk Maggs for creating such a compelling part, based on Neil Gaiman's stories.
(Original Review Ty Power 2019.
Richard Mayhew thinks he has it made. He has a beautiful but controlling fiancé, a fashionable job in which he is far from appreciated and a flat, which suits him fine but which his girlfriend hates. When traipsing along behind her to a posh restaurant to impress her boss, he stops to help a young woman who is hurt and exhausted. The woman pleads not to be taken to hospital (“They’ll find me.”) so, ignoring his girlfriend Jessica’s loud and blistering comments, he picks her up and takes her to his apartment to care for her.
Two strange men come to the door looking for her, but they haven’t got her best interests at heart. When they force their way in, she is nowhere to be found, but appears again when they are gone. It turns out she is the Lady Door, who is in fear of her life after her father and siblings were killed. Mr Croup and Mr Vandemar have been hired to kill her… but by whom? Richard agrees to help her find out, and in doing so inadvertently leaves his old world behind.
He finds himself in the London Down Below, an unknown environment of strange locations and even stranger people, somehow existing in a layout not unlike the London Underground Tube system. People who have “fallen through the cracks.” A large man seeming with his own agenda, known as the Marquis de Carabas accompanies them. After obtaining information at the mysterious floating market, they seek the wisdom of the Earl who holds Court on a tube train. The Marquis and the Earl have clashed before, and the former is put off of the train where he is captured and killed at the hands of Croup and Vandemar. But he has entrusted a special box to Old Bailey, a man who lives on the rooftops with the birds. Old Bailey has the thankless task of recovering the corpse and using the object inside to return de Carabas back to life.
Richard and Door’s journey turns to a quest as, pursued by the professional killers Croup and Vandemar, they seek out the real Angel at Islington. It tells them it can help Door with the information and closure she needs – as well as get Richard home – but it requires a key to open a door in its demesnes. The key is safeguarded by the Blackfriars. Three trials need to be successfully completed in order for them to give up the key: one by Door, one by their bodyguard Hunter, and one by Richard. Richard is reminded of all his woes when his only friend at work convinces him what a dropout he is, and persuades him the only way out is to throw himself under a train. But Richard recognises his current worth and passes the test.
They meet up with the Marquis again, alive but understandably sporting a sore throat after it had so recently been cut. The key is returned to the Angel Islington, who is revealed to be the employer of Croup and Vandemar. Door is forced to use the key which will actually open a doorway to heaven, from which the Angel had been outcast. However, Door has had a false copy of the key made, and utilises her door-opening powers to send the Angel ‘far away’. Mr Croup is sucked through too, and is joined voluntarily by Mr Vandemar.
Richard is helped to get back to his old life. Things are slightly better, but he discovers he isn’t any happier. The Marquis, who is missing his stolen voluminous coat, takes Richard back to the London Down Below, where he offers to help Door find her sister who might be still alive.
Neverwhere is a bestselling (and I must say, quite excellent) book by Neil Gaiman, whose impressive back catalogue includes Stardust, Anansi Boys, American Gods, Coraline, The Graveyard Book, Norse Mythology, Good Omens (with Terry Pratchett) and many more. In this case, the Neverwhere TV series predated the book when Gaiman scripted the original version for the BBC. However, he was less than happy with the outcome, as what was possible to put on screen fell well short of what he had envisioned. Consequently, he wrote the novel which became a best seller and a cult phenomenon.
Gaiman was approached my Dirk Maggs with the idea of dramatizing this tale for BBC Radio. Dirk Maggs, of course, is the prolific creator of such high quality Audio Movies as Batman: Knightfall, Superman: Doomsday & Beyond, Judge Dredd, Independence Day: UK, and of course Douglas Adams's The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, books three to five. Dirk not only adapted and co-directed this one (with the producer Heather Larmour), but also handled the sound design - which I must say is quite stunning.
The voice cast for Neverwhere incorporates a stellar cast, including (deep breath): Christopher Lee, Bernard Cribbins, Benedict Cumberbatch, David Harewood, Anthony Head, James McAvoy, Natalie Dormer, David Scofield, Andrew Sachs, and Johnny Vegas. Performances are strong; Anthony Head and Paul Schofield are suitably nasty, their calculated and creepily polite exchanges wry with black humour. Thankfully, their murder of the Marquis de Carabas happens partly off-screen, so-to-speak. The most delightful performance for me though is Bernard Cribbins's Old Bailey, who talks to the birds and has as little to do with everyone else as possible, but is the most useful person to go to in times of trouble - an unofficial oracle, if you like. Even Neil Gaiman himself gets a cameo role as Mr Figgis.
Neverwhere was broadcast between 16th and 22nd March 2013, the first part on BBC Radio 4 and the others on BBC Radio 4 Extra. Episode titles are: London Below, Earl's Court, The Angel Islington, The Black Friars, Market Afloat, and The Key. A 4-CD set of the serial was released by the BBC later the same year and included 25-minutes of unbroadcast material, including extended scenes, outtakes and bloopers. In 2015 Neil Gaiman won a Lifetime Achievement Award for his Contribution to Radio Drama. Dirk, of course, has won countless awards for his work.
I would recommend any fan of Neil Gaiman's books to check out this highly enjoyable and professional dramatisation. You won't be sorry. And if you haven't heard any of Dirk Maggs's Audio Movies this is an ideal jumping-on point. Dirk has proved with previous projects that he cares enough to produce quality material which attracts not only an-ever-increasing audience, but top actors, and music score artists.
(Original Review Ty Power 2019.
During the 250th Anniversary celebrations of Metropolis, an experimental passenger aircraft, the Constitution, collides with a light plane, the passenger of which has fallen unconscious. It is helped to land by a mysterious flying man wearing a brown leather jacket and corduroy trousers! Intrepid Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane is aboard, but the man leaves before she can properly speak to him. Unscrupulous businessman Lex Luthor of Lexcorp supplied many of the components used by the supersonic plane, and uses his influence to remove the video of the "flying man". Martha and Jonathan Kent, the 'flying man' Clark Kent's guardians, make him a costume that will make him incognito while helping people. He starts work as a reporter at the Daily Planet newsroom, and the hero (dubbed the 'Superman' by the media) is increasingly sighted across the city fighting crime.
Lex Luthor is determined to trap and make the new superhero his own. He has Dr Teng develop a tough battle armour. Meanwhile, Lois Lane stages an accident, driving her car into the river to be rescued by Superman, simply to get an interview. Luthor's new yacht, the Sea Queen, is the setting for a gala evening that comes under fire from South American terrorists. Lois and Clark are representatives from the press. Superman saves the day only to learn that Luthor knew it was going to happen and stepped-down security to see what would transpire. The mayor grants Superman deputy powers to arrest Luthor, and the boat is flown back to Metropolis.
As Lex Luthor is bailed and plots his revenge against Superman, Jonathan Kent takes Clark to the snow-buried capsule he had arrived in as a baby, but it is no longer there. Clark has no time to ponder this as he hears multiple screams of distress coming from Metropolis. Dr Teng's battle armour, financed by Lex Corp, is rampaging through part of the city. Lois and Daily Planet photographer Jimmy Olsen are cornered as Superman arrives. However, Superman soon discovers he is the intended target. A fight ensues, culminating in Superman burning-out the battle armour's circuitry with his heat vision. He personally delivers the wreckage to Lex Luthor's office in Hong Kong, but the businessman has covered his tracks well. There is a war of words and Luthor threatens to best the costumed hero.
Luthor's plans are foiled once more after he tries to end the president's term by demonstrating a missile guidance system to the press which goes wrong. Again, Superman is obliged to intervene. The extra-terrestrial capsule, which had gone missing from near the Kent farm, is in the hands of a man called Schwarz, who is studying intensely the data found within. Dr Teng has obtained cell structure samples from Superman, taken by the battle armour, and using the information has discovered that the flying man is not native to Earth. He has also produced a clone, but the process partly rejects the alien cell structure which crystalises and affects the brain, creating a Bizarro Superman. Superman finds it in a dark corner of the Daily Planet lobby, wearing a suit and glasses over a makeshift representation of the Superman uniform. Fearing his secret identity is about to be blown, the real Superman drags Bizarro out on to the street where it retaliates with heat vision, and a fight is on.
As Clark Kent endures countless dreams about his origins, Schwarz uncovers crystals from Superman's (Kal-El's) home planet in the power source he has stolen from the capsule. The infant had been heavily shielded from them which tells him they will be a useful weapon against the alien. He creates an android called Metallo and dispatches it to infiltrate the reactor plant at Two Mile Island to attract Superman. When the hero arrives there is a battle. But Metallo has been fitted with the crystals to which Superman is susceptible. The severely weakened Superman appears defeated when Lex Luthor arrives and rips the Kryptonite heart from Metallo's chest cavity.
Superman makes his escape but revisits Luthor in rage after the Kents are drugged and Clark's Smallville sweetheart, Lana Lang, is 'roughed-up' in an attempt to reveal Clark's connection with Superman. Luthor reveals a ring he has had fashioned from the crystal. Once again Superman is weakened, but Luthor is forced to let him go when the reactor at Two Mile Island goes critical. Superman rushes there, rips out the entire reactor and flies it to a height where the explosion will do no damage. As Lois berates Clark for going missing in all the excitement, Luthor's assistant, Amanda, explains that their computer has correlated countless data and come to the conclusion that Superman is Clark Kent. However, Luthor refuses to believe someone with such power would hide behind the identity of a hack reporter.
In 1988 Dirk Maggs moved from being a Studio Manager to a Producer in the BBC's Light Entertainment department. One of the first things he worked on was Superman On Trial. It was pitched by him as a documentary to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the enduring comic character, but he soon realised it would work much better as a dramatisation - a docudrama, as Dirk himself put it. It was well received by Radio 4 and kicked-off several successful comic book adaptations. Superman was a subject Dirk knew plenty about, so it was no surprise when he returned to it with The Adventures Of Superman. The recording story of this one spans the years 1990 to 1994. Although the Superman character and situations were initially created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, Dirk adapted updated versions of the original comic tales written by John Byrne, Dave Gibbons and Jerry Ordway. Successful adaptations of Superman On Trial and Batman - The Lazarus Syndrome paved the way for an improved relationship with the powers at DC Comics, but by Dirk's own admission obtaining the required rights is never straightforward.
To put things in perspective, a script for two hours thirty minutes of material can take three to four weeks to write. It is then necessary to send the script to DC Comics for approval, and then make changes to incorporate the received comments. It is obligatory to show the DC quality controllers the initial script, because they are often concerned about the possibility of 'rules' being broken. Then Dirk, as Producer, has to ensure the finished product is fit for broadcast in terms of language and violence censorship.
The Adventures Of Superman was originally split into two serials, the first culminating in the character's first major confrontation with Lex Luthor and their exchange of threats. Rehearsals took place at the BBC's Maida Vale studios, and Series One debuted on BBC Radio 4 on 18th September 1990, with Series Two following on in 1991. Each series aired as five fifteen-minute episodes. The Mail On Sunday said, "Sheer quickfire genius in the most sensationally produced comic strip..." and "technically brilliant." The Independent called the production "Gripping... a dense blend of dialogue, sound effects and music." In 1992, the same year that Dirk's production of the classic Marx Brothers radio show Flywheel, Shyster & Flywheel won the Gold Medal at the New York International Festival, the second series of The Adventures of Superman became a finalist in the Best Use Of Sound category. Both series were repeated on BBC Radio 5 in 1993, where they aired, together for the first time, on Saturdays as five 28-minute episodes between 3rd and 31st July.
When Dirk pioneered what he later termed the 'Audio Movie' process by introducing multi levelled effects at the BBC, and mixing the productions in Digital Dolby Surround, thereby revolutionising radio dramatisations over night, he went back and remixed the adaptations he had produced thus far. Although Superman - Doomsday And Beyond was the first to be tackled, The Adventures of Superman was included in this batch. The revitalised production was released in its two-hour thirty-minute entirety on a double cassette by the BBC Radio Collection (ZBBC 1633) on 5th September 1994 to tie-in with its new broadcast on the BBC Radio 1 Claire Sturgess Programme 3:45pm Monday to Friday, with an omnibus on Saturdays at 1:00pm. Again there is a solid orchestral score from Mark Russell.
The assembled cast of voice artists proves strong once again. Among the throng is established actor William Hootkins as Lex Luthor, with Stuart Milligan returning to the red, blue and yellow, and talented regular Lorelei King playing Lois Lane. Others include The Pink Pather's Burt Kwouk as Dr Teng and ex-Doctor Who and Worzel Gummidge Jon Pertwee as Schwarz.
Although these are generally lightweight tales told from the character's origin, the whole is curiously devoid of humour. Even Batman - Knightfall, which is intentionally dark and gloomy, contains more, emanating from the multitude of psychotic criminals of Arkham Asylum. It would perhaps have been a little more natural to incorporate a handful of funny or glib remarks.
The Adventures Of Superman is competently structured, fast-moving and on the whole enjoyable. The many locations visited in the story are easily differentiated between in the mind due to Dirk's attention to atmospherics. In other words, each setting has its own ambience. The only thing that lets this production down in my humble opinion is the comic character itself. I don't think Superman has nearly enough depth; he's all-powerful unless the relevant plot and a lump of Kryptonite dictates he isn't. Whereas Batman lives off his wits and gadgets and Spider-Man has powers but suffers from all the problems of everyday life. Indeed, although Dirk himself loves the character, he admits that Superman is strangely unappealing and has some of the lowest audience figures of all the things he has done. Having said that, the feedback can't have been that bad or the BBC wouldn't have sanctioned Dirk's proposals for three separate Superman serials for radio!
(Review by Ty Power. A shorter version of this review originally appeared on my previous website 2005).
During the 250th Anniversary celebrations of Metropolis, a plane has a mid-air collision and is helped to land by a mysterious flying man. While Daily Planet reporter Lois Lane stages an accident to get an interview with Superman, unscrupulous businessman Lex Luthor sets up a number of 'emergencies' to test the superhero in an attempt to make him his own. This includes terrorists aboard a yacht, and a battle suit rampaging through the city. The capsule he arrived in as a baby is stolen, and Lex has a scientist produce a clone from cell data found within. However, something goes wrong and Superman is obliged to protect his identity from a simpleton Bizarro double. Lex fashions a ring from Kryptonite against Superman, but is forced to let him go to save a nuclear reactor exploding...
The Adventures of Superman was originally broadcast as two separate serials in 1990 and 1991. They were repeated together in 1993, and released on cassette the following year. This is it's first outing on CD, and follows the recent remastered releases of Dirk Maggs's Nightfall and Superman - Doomsday and Beyond. The stories in this one are updated versions of the original comic tales, so give the impression of being lighter and more family-orientated, as opposed to the two aforementioned Audio Movies which are darker and harder-hitting.
As I explain in the review on my website, I'm not a fan of the Superman character because I feel he lacks depth. The story here is fast-moving, and the sound effects and atmospherics are great, but it is curiously lacking in humour. There are also no outtakes at the end.
In my opinion, this isn't one of maestro Dirk's better adaptations, but it's welcome all the same. The remastering is crisp and clean, and the eye-catching packaging contains notes from the man himself. Let's hope that this will pave the way for more remastered versions of Dirk's work, and maybe even a first release of Batman: The Lazarus Syndrome and The Gemini Apes.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2007)
As Clark Kent and Lois Lane announce their engagement to friends and colleagues at the Daily Planet, word reaches them that Lex Luthor's private jet has crashed. Superman is first on the scene, and DNA tests carried out at the site confirm the body found is that of Lex. But it is a massive subterfuge. Scientists at LexCorp created a clone which was placed in the pilot's seat. Lex himself escaped in a pod. However, years of wearing a ring of Kryptonite, with which he had hoped to kill Superman, has made him seriously ill with radiation poisoning. The scientists save his brain and grow a new body around him - with certain genetic modifications. Now he is taller, stronger, has a good head of hair and speaks with an Australian accent. He is reintroduced into Metropolis society as Lex Luthor II, his sole heir.
Meanwhile, Superman visits a scientist friend of his own and learns that it is Earth's yellow sun which gives him his powers. Furthermore, although his body builds up great reserves of strength, they are not inexhaustible. Sustained use of them will weaken his aura of invulnerability. While Clark Kent finally tells Lois the truth about himself, Lex Luthor II takes over the reigns at LexCorp and reveals to the world his new associate, Supergirl. Clark, watching on TV, is stunned. Supergirl, a shape-shifter, was created in a parallel dimension as a homage to Superman, but he has no idea what she is doing here. Worse still, she knows his secret identity. In a brief meeting Superman tries to warn her about the new Luthor, but she won't listen. She assures him she won't reveal his identity. On his way back to the Daily Planet Superman saves a falling construction worker, who vows to pay back the favour.
A massive creature with bones emerging from its hardened skin escapes incarceration from below ground and causes devastation across Ohio. The Justice League organisation of superheroes intercept it as Superman is being interviewed live on TV. As soon as Superman hears the breaking news he flies out to help. The Blue Beetle from the League has already been critically injured, and their combined efforts have little impact on the behemoth. Superman engages the creature named Doomsday by the press, and becomes embroiled in a desperate fight to the death. They finally go head to head, the impact of which opens a huge crater and creates a shockwave which is felt throughout Metropolis. Doomsday is stopped but, as Lois arrives on the scene, Superman is pronounced dead. Several attempts to revive him prove unsuccessful.
Double X and Guardian turn up stating they have government approval to claim any extraterrestrial bodies for study. However, the police refuse to release the body, because Superman was an American citizen and therefore deserves a hero's burial. Martha and Jonathan Kent, Clark's foster parents, decide not to attend the media circus that is Superman's funeral. Instead, they opt to hold their own private ceremony on their farm in Smallville. While Superman is laid to rest in a special LexCorp-funded tomb in a security protected area beneath Metropolis, Lois commiserates with the Kents by phone and they promise to visit her.
Lois absorbs herself in her work, taking on an assignment involving the underground flooding of the city caused by Superman's battle with Doomsday. She discovers that Superman's body has been stolen by Double X. Guardian was unaware of the theft and demands he return it. Double X plans to duplicate Superman's body using collected DNA from earlier encounters, but with no active brain to accompany it, it will not be the same man. When the Kents learn Superman's body has been stolen, Jonathan suffers a heart attack and, as Lois arrives frm Metropolis, he flatlines. But Supergirl returns the body and it's sealed in, much to the amusement of Lex Luthor who sees this as his ultimate victory. Jonathan regains consciousness, saying that he has brought Clark back with him. Lois returns to Metropolis to learn there are now four Supermen, and no-one knows if any of them are the genuine article.
The one known as The Man of Steel is the construction worker who was saved by Superman. He wears an armoured suit, thruster-powered boots, and carries a weapon that fires rivets. He is taking on the street gangs. The second Superman is the Cyborg, part machine, who claims he is the real thing, flies and uses heat vision. The third is the Last Son of Krypton, who looks identical to Superman but wears a black uniform and a visor which shields his eyes from a strange aversion to sunlight, which was the real Superman's energy source. He has different powers and no compassion. The fourth is Superboy, who wears shades and a leather jacket over his uniform, and claims he is a clone of Superman. In the Fortress of Solitude in the Antarctic the essence of the real Superman has been preserved, as all things Kryptonian are, but he wants his body back. As Lex Luthor schemes to get all of the Supermen on his payroll, news is reported that Superman's body has gone again.
The Cyborg Superman breaks through the security of the scientists who tried to take Superman's body. He takes the body of Doomsday into space and secures it to a rock in an asteroid field, with a warning signal should anyone try to claim it. As the Cyborg and Superboy go after the loose cannon that is The Last Son of Krypton a huge cloud moves in to Coast City. But Superboy (the clone) has been lured into a trap. The Cyborg is not what it seems; he is in fact Mongul, an old enemy of the genuine Superman, who has arrived from space with plans to destroy Metropolis with a carnage missile - his first step in turning the Earth into the new War World.
The Last Son of Krypton is The Eradicator, but he is losing his energy. The real Superman, equipped with the Fortress of Solitude Battlesuit, arrives at Coast City. He is intercepted by Superboy, Supergirl and The Man of Steel, as Lois arrives on the scene. When they discover the battlesuit contains the real but weak Superman, they all team-up to go up against Mongul and the Eradicator. However, Mongul manages to launch the missile, and Superboy is obliged to ride it all the way to Metropolis before he can manage to ditch it into the bay. Mongul reveals an asteroid chunk of green Kryptonite to kill Superman, but the energy has been reversed so that Superman receives blue energy which restores his reserves of power. Supergirl removes the threat of the Eradicator, while the revitalised Superman returns to his role of guardian of Metropolis and the Earth.
Superman - Doomsday And Beyond was the last of three visits to the enduring DC Comics character, following Superman on Trial and The Adventures of Superman. Dirk was planning to do Star Trek with the original TV cast, but it fell through, as did his original attempt to dramatise Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - The Tertiary Phase. Dirk was forced to find something very quickly to fill the gap. 'The Death of Superman' stories were still running in the comics at that time, so Dirk realised it would be quite a coup to be doing something as the comics were coming out. Contacting DC, with whom he had developed a good relationship, with his idea found the company reluctant because they were worried he would give all their secrets away, but when he signed a guarantee they agreed.
The main cast for the previous Superman productions was reassembled. Stuart Milligan, who was also in Dirk's production of Armistead Maupin's The Night Listener, played the title roll, with mainstay Lorelei King as Lois Lane and William Hootkins as Lex Luthor also reprising their roles.
Prior to production Dirk had talked to the BBC Radio group who agreed it would be a real move forward if they could make the radio serials sound like a movie soundtrack with crisp sound effects. It proved a little more difficult persuading certain parties that fifty years of established radio effects were no longer acceptable for these kinds of productions. The powers that be were reluctant to adopt digital technology.
Superman - Doomsday And Beyond was first broadcast on the old BBC Radio 5 in five 28 minute episodes between 11th September and 19th October 1993. It was the first of Dirk's productions recorded in Dolby Surround sound, after he had recently teamed-up with sound man Paul Deeley. Dirk proved that there was/is an audience for it for this high quality sound.
I have to confess that I'm not a fan of the Superman character (he's a lot less accessible than Batman and Spider-Man), and find it rather restrictive in its potential. However, this is by far the most interesting story for the icon that I've come across, and it's certainly the best of Dirk's trio of productions. Whilst not reaching the heights of Batman - Knightfall, the timing, sound effects and atmospherics are very good, and the story refuses to rely on the tedious subject matter of Kryptonite; although the plot resolution does involve it in an almost accidental sense. Reversing the energy? This idea takes me back to Jon Pertwee's Doctor Who days of Reversing the Polarity.
Superman - Doomsday And Beyond, based on stories and situations created by Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson and Roger Stern, was released on BBC twin cassette in 1993 (and under the title Superman Lives! on Time Warner in the US). It was repeated the following year in a 3-minute episodic form to a much wider listening audience on BBC Radio 1. The US edition of the release won the Spoken Word Audio of the Year from US Publisher's Weekly, and the 1994 'Audie' Award for Best Dramatisation from the American Booksellers Association. Perhaps the nicest reward for this work came from Superman editor Mike Carlin, who sent Dirk an autographed 'Death of Superman' comic with "Thanks for keeping his cape clean!" written on it.
(Review by Ty Power. A shorter version of this review originally appeared on my previous website 2004).
As Clark Kent and Lois Lane reveal their engagement plans to colleagues, Lex Luthor fakes his own death. A creature of rock is freed from deep beneath the ground, and begins to beat a path of destruction between cities. After revealing the truth about himself to Lois, Clark flies away to intercept the beast as Superman. He finds the Justice League of superheroes already fighting the creature the media has dubbed Doomsday. They have sustained heavy casualties and one of them is dead. Soon a spectacular one-on-one battle is underway. Doomsday is finally stopped, but the unthinkable happens and Superman is pronounced dead, dying in the arms of Lois. After a city-wide funeral cortege, the body is laid to rest in a secure tomb deep beneath the streets of Metropolis, funded by LexCorp. When Superman's body is stolen foster father Jonathan Kent suffers a heart attack. However, the shape-changing Supergirl, under the current guidance of Lex Luthor, locates and returns it - only for it to go missing once more. Jonathan recovers, revealing to wife Martha that he has brought Clark back with him. Suddenly Metropolis has four quite different Supermen: The Man of Steel, The Last Son of Krypton, the Cyborg Superman, and Superboy. But which one, if any, is the real Superman...?
Doomsday And Beyond was one of three Superman radio serials created by script writer/director Dirk Maggs, and to my mind the best. Doomsday attempts something different with the established situations, and reveals a vulnerability which doesn't rely on the all too convenient presence of Kryptonite (although it does make a minor appearance at the end).
Maggs's script adaptation was from stories by Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson and Roger Stern, which were still running in the comics at the time of the first broadcast on BBC Radio 5 in 1993. Quite a coup. The entire production was mixed in digital Dolby surround sound, the first time this had been achieved for a radio dramatisation, and dragging the BBC reluctantly into a world of new technology - a far cry from a box of gravel and clinking tea cups.
All of the voice performances are good, with the mainplayers reprising their roles from the aforementioned previous Supes serials. Stuart Milligan is Superman, William Hootkins Lex Luthor, and the ever-reliable and often-utilised Lorelei King as Lois Lane. Burt Kwouk (from the Peter Sellers Pink Panther films) even has a guest role as Doctor Teng.
Superman: Doomsday And Beyond was first released on twin cassette in 1993, and in America under the title Superman Lives! The story was last heard on the BBC when Radio 1 repeated the serial in 1994 to a much larger listening public. Now for the first time, and well overdue, we have Doomsday on a 3-CD set, and finally get to hear the quality layered sound as it was originally intended (warts and all, as Maggs is fond of saying - doing himself an injustice, I think). As I only received copy discs for review purposes I can't comment on the packaging, but I would hope for some nice liner notes, giving first time listeners a little background information. That aside, this audio movie is well worth a listen, even if you don't like Superman (which I don't particularly).
Doomsday has no doubt been released to coincide with this summer's Hollywood Superman movie, but Dirk Maggs won't mind that and neither should you. Enjoy, and wait enthusiastically for Dirk's even better Batman: Knightfall, also released on CD for the first time next year.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2006)
Hot on the heels of Ghostly Terror!, from AudioGo, on limited CD release or available to download, comes Vampire Horror! - this time consisting of three classic Nosferatu tales split across three discs, with a total running time of 180 minutes.
In Vampyre, by John Polidori, a young Englishman, intrigued by an enigmatic stranger, accompanies him on a trip across Europe, only to discover there is more to the ‘man’ than meets the eye. Many moons ago I tried my hardest to read this story which is supposed to originate from Lord Byron at the same time that Mary Shelley wrote the ageless milestone, Frankenstein. It is extremely slow and monotonous, and so doesn’t translate well to an audio reading either. Bill Wallis sounds not so much bored as resigned to the whole enterprise.
In The Wailing Well, by the great ghost story writer M.R. James, a group of students are warned away from an eerie location in an off-bounds field by a local shepherd, who tells them a chilling story. One student is sceptical and, against strict instructions approaches the well, with devastating consequences. Anthony Head, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Merlin, and Little Britain fame, has a smooth and comfortable voice to listen to - although his over-emoting at one point is unnecessary. This is a story of two halves; the story told by the shepherd is haunting and entertaining, although the conclusion fails to deliver on its promise.
For the Blood is the Life, by F. Marion Crawford, tells the story of a mound haunted by a murdered young woman. Told in retrospect, as most of these old tales are, it paints a chilling picture of a figure which can be seen on the mound from a distance, but appears to be a trick of the light when approached - that is until it reaches out for its love and source of blood. This is a good story, well told by John Telfer. Along with the final tale, it is the best of the bunch, being recognisably a vampire story, but with a difference.
The final reading is A Tale of Cathedral History, another offering by master supernatural storyteller, M.R. James. This is read by Cornelius Garrett, and tells of plans to open and renovate an unknown stone tomb which dates back centuries. Again, the majority of the plot is told in hindsight by the son of a builder who had, along with church representatives, attempted to remove the tombstone and inadvertently released an evil darkness.
Aside, from The Vampyre, this collection proves to be unexpectedly interesting listening. It comes as a pleasant surprise, particularly as, like zombies, vampires can prove tiresome unless something different is attempted from the legend. Buffy was a great series, but it has a lot to answer for, as Twilight and The Vampire Diaries are, to my mind, tedious monotony. But I’m sure this release will sell to some of that market.
(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2011)
In this alternative history tale which takes place over two decades, President John F. Kennedy survives the assassination attempt in Dallas, Texas, 1963 - and continues with his vision to see a man walk on the moon by 1969. At this time our heroine Natalie York is a young geology student with an unhealthy fascination for Mars (a "Mars Nut", as she is often called). After the success of the Apollo 11 moon landing, Kennedy (now ex-president) throws down a new challenge to the world. He proposes that America will be the first nation to send a manned mission to Mars. Natalie is excited and somewhat desperate to obtain some Mars rock for her thesis.
When work begins on the Ares Project, an argument rages over the preferred propulsion system. Professor Dana advises a Venus swing-by using proven chemical fuel, but he is ridiculed and shouted down in favour of nuclear power and all its dangers. After the disasters involving Apollo 13, there is a danger of the space program being cut back to the space shuttle only. Eventually, a compromise is reached between NASA and the White House to abandon the Apollos in favour of the Mars Ares Project. Meanwhile, Natalie York is invited to apply for entry into the Astronaut Corps. She attempts to teach rudimentary geology to the established astronauts, with very little enthusiasm from the men.
There is a major rethink when the nuclear reactor powering the Apollo-N blows, exposing the core and killing the three-man crew, including Professor Dana's son Jim and Ben Priest, a close friend of Natalie - before Houston can guide the craft back home. Mike Conlig, with whom Natalie had recently had a relationship, goes to pieces and Natalie is forced to take over the talk-down. Professor Dana is persuaded to help with a revised version of the chemical rocket he had proposed ten years earlier. New president Ronald Reagan confirms the continuation of the Mars Project, but with only five preparatory flights to get it right. Natalie is announced as being on one of the flights, but as a geologist all she yearns to do is be on the Mars lander. When the news comes through, Natalie is devastated to learn that she will not be on the Mars landing team, particularly when she is ordered to teach the confirmed astronauts more rudimentary geology, so that they can bring her back specimens.
As Natalie loses her temper over the decision, she is advised to continue carrying out her duties to the best of her ability, and reminded that anything can happen in the time leading up to the launch. When one of the three-man crew is diagnosed by the doctor as having accumulated too much radiation poisoning, it is decided that the project cannot risk the man falling ill en-route to Mars. It's 1986 and quite suddenly Natalie finds herself the replacement. It is both a dream realised and a frightening prospect. She experiences sickness in zero gravity, backache, and the forgotten problems of using the toilet facilities. However, the advantages greatly outweigh the relatively minor inconveniences. The trio are the first human beings to travel such vast distances, and there is an all too brief highlight of witnessing the last moments of the Venus module before it disintegrates in the inhospitable atmosphere ("Okay, folks, it's official: Venus is a shithole!"). 371 days into the journey the Ares is cleared for Mars orbit insertion. After several nail-biting critical manoeuvres, and the very real possibility of aborting the mission, the craft finally sets down on the surface of the Red Planet - after passing over a "radio dark area." We leave the story as Natalie is allowed to be the first to set foot on Mars and lay a diamond marker.
Voyage began when Dirk Maggs was approached by the agent of Stephen Baxter, one of England's most respected writers of science fiction. A mathematics degree from Cambridge University and a Ph.D from Southampton means Baxter is one of the foremost novelists of realistic technological - or 'hard' science. Negotiations went well, and left Dirk with the daunting task of turning a 600 page epic into ly five exciting half-hour episodes for radio. The book covers several years and is packed with information based on Baxter's research carried out at NASA, which included the original plans for a proposed Mars landing, passed-over in favour of a shuttle program.
In an admirable effort to create another unique Audio Movie experience Dirk had his voice actors crawling around the cramped confines of mock Apollo capsules and Martian Excursion Modules, which were specially created in the studio to capture specific acoustic environments. Dirk himself explains in the sleeve notes that he tried to create a three-dimensional experience which places the listener at the centre of the action. In this respect he has more than succeeded.
Voyage was recorded at The Soundhouse studios, London, and as we've come to expect from Dirk now, mixed in high-quality Dolby Surround Sound, with complete attention to fake location ambience. The music was composed and performed by Wilfredo Acosta, who had previously turned-out some sterling work for the Judge Dredd serials. The five 30-minute episodes were first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 11:00pm between 12th April and 10th May 1999.
Personally, I prefer my science less fact and more fiction. I'm fascinated by the idea of forward-thinking, speculation on how we will do things in the future; what will become mundane and what cutting edge. How will we travel, eat, think and relate to others? I enjoy 'hard' science fiction, but I found Voyage to be too close to where we are now. The atmosphere is also extremely dark and gloomy, with very little humour (which should creep into all situations - even if it's gallows humour). There are a couple of light comments. When a space capsule returns to the ground there is a rap on the hull and a voice which asks, "Did somebody order a pizza?", and later on the Ares flight there is the comment, "Okay, folks, it's official: Venus is a shithole!" However, these moments are few and far between.
I'm not a big fan of alternative history space program stories, such as they are, and feel that the stories of Brian Aldiss or Peter F. Hamilton (both also English SF writers) would have provided far more suitable tales for public consumption on radio. But what we have to remember here is that Dirk was approached by Stephen Baxter, which must have directly removed half of the heartache and stress with clearing rights, etc. Also, Dirk managed to get this very American concept past the BBC - a gargantuan task at the best of times - a feat which deserves a lot of credit. Stephen Baxter's sequel to the H.G. Wells novel The Time Machine: The Time Ships would have been an intriguing prospect. Maybe in the future!
I'm certain my mixed feelings about this well-scripted and performed production will not concern Dirk, who won a 2000 Sony Bronze Award for Best Drama, and the 1999 Talkie Award for Best Use of Music.
(Review by Ty Power. A shorter version of this review originally appeared on my previous website 2005).
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