Radio Dramatisations (Page 2)

6 Reviews (2 New)

A Dark and Scary Place

Ghostly Terror!


Read by: Andrew Sachs, Laurel Lefkow and Stephen Pacey

Authors: M.R. James, Charlotte Perkins Gilman and W.F. Harvey

AudioGO (2011)

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.

Verdict: 6 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2011)   


Vampire Horror!


Read by: Bill Wallis, Anthony Head, John Telfer and Cornelius Garrett

Authors: John Polidori, M.R. James and F. Marion Crawford

AudioGO (2011)

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.

Verdict: 5 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2011)   


The Amazing Spider-Man



Starring: William Dufris, Lorelei King, William Roberts, Peter Marinker, Gary Martin, Michael Roberts, Garrick Hagon, Eric Meyers, Buffy Davis, Anita Dobson

BBC Audio (1995)

Audio Adaptation Written & Directed by Dirk Maggs

Having previously tackled the DC Comics characters Superman and Batman, it was no surprise when Dirk Maggs turned his attention to Marvel Comics' most popular costumed hero. In bringing this one to the airwaves for another action-packed BBC Radio 1 serial, Dirk opted to return to the webhead's earliest, teen-angst-ridden origins.

The action kicks off with that other Marvel Comics team, The Fantastic Four, rescuing a prison warden who is held hostage during a prison break. Between the above events we learn through character narration about teenage science major Peter Parker and the bite from an irradiated spider that changes his life. The Fantastic Four (Reed Richards - Mr Fantastic, who can stretch his body; Sue Storm - The Invisible Girl; Johnny Storm  - The Human Torch, who can set himself ablaze and fly; and Ben Grimm  - The Thing, a talking crazy-paving version of the Hulk) return to their headquarters to find an answerphone message from a terrified youth who believes he is turning into a spider.

Peter Parker has always been treated as a weakling and a nerd by Flash Thompson and the others at school. Now, with the proportional strength of a spider, he decides to earn himself and his unknowing guardians some money by going the distance with an unbeaten heavyweight wrestler. Accused of throwing his punch after the bell, he earns no money but soon becomes a TV sensation as the Amazing Spider-Man ("That's with a hyphen!"). When a thief makes off with the takings the fledgling Spider-Man refuses to intervene; however, fate deals a cruel blow when the thief later kills his Uncle Ben. Tracking and cornering the man in a warehouse Spider-Man gives him the beating of his life, thankfully interrupted by the arrival of the police.

These events teach Peter Parker valuable lessons in life, including "that with great power comes great responsibility." He also learns that he is destined to work alone, when his offer to join the Fantastic Four is met with his attempted incarceration by Mr Fantastic.

His baptism of fire comes via a clash with Doctor Octopus, a former great scientist whose engineered and mentally-controlled flexible arms become fused to his body in an accident. Now a power-crazed maniac, Doc Ock has taken over an atomic plant and is threatening to release a radioactive cloud over New York unless his demands for all the gold in Fort Knox and his inauguration as president of the US are met. Spider-Man slingshots himself beyond the police cordon and, more by luck than judgement, saves the city, becoming a superhero for the first time.

However, all is not well. Our hero's life becomes increasingly complicated when Peter Parker uses his 'closeness' to Spider-Man to sell pictures of him to the Daily Bugle's perpetually bad-tempered chief editor J. Jonah Jameson, only to have the man use them to brand the webhead a public menace. Next, whilst being ridiculed at school as Peter Parker, his alter ego goes up against the Sandman, who can harden, soften and reshape his body at will. Then, during a Flash Thompson organised Spider-Man Appreciation Society party at which the web-slinger feels obliged to make an appearance, the Green Goblin crashes in and steals the limelight on his jet-glider.

Prince Namor, the submariner until now thought to be dead, arrives in New York to declare war on mankind in retribution for the Atlantean Wars. But he is offered an alliance by Doctor Doom, arch-nemesis of the Fantastic Four. Doom uses a submarine to return Namor to his people so he can organise an attack on the city using nuclear warheads left  over from the Atlantean Wars.

Meanwhile, Flash Thompson, determined to win back Spider-Man's good name, fashions a costume but is soon captured by Doom who believes him to be the genuine article. He tries to blackmail the Fantastic Four into standing down and handing themselves over to him, but then the real Spider-Man arrives. With the help of Flash Thompson's faith in him as a hero, Spider-Man defeats Doctor Doom and saves the day on national TV. When Namor returns to New York harbour with his Atlantean people, the army is on full alert although they are greatly outnumbered. But Namor surprises everyone by announcing a peace treaty.

Whilst working on his Batman and Superman adaptations, Dirk had struck-up a good working relationship with the people at DC Comics, but negotiating with Marvel proved slightly more tricky. It isn't surprising that a huge comics company would be very protective of, arguably it's most famous character, so it was never going to be easy. However, Marvel were ultimately receptive when they realised Dirk and his team intended to do the best job possible, and were pleased with the enthusiasm displayed.

Contrary to the dark, hard-hitting events of Batman - Knightfall, Dirk this time opted for the generally light-hearted origins of Spider-Man. Although the artwork from later years was impressive (Todd McFarlane in particular made quite a name for himself with a very different style and twisted webbing which is still used today) the early writing by creator Stan Lee struck an original but familiar note with youngsters. Before Spider-Man superheroes had used their powers to solve all of their normal problems, whereas now suddenly they were causing as many problems as they solved. No superhero had ever suffered from zits, a geeky demeanor and an ill elderly aunt. All of this comes across strongly in a fun tapestry of mini audio adventures. 

Character-wise, Spider-Man is his normal wise-cracking self, but it is the interaction between the member of the Fantastic Four which proves rather more interesting. Reed Richards and Sue Storm are engaged to be married, Johnny Storm is her brother, but it is the love/hate banter between Johnny and Ben Grimm (aka the Thing) which reveals the most natural warmth. In fact, Gary Martin, with surely the lowest voice in showbiz, makes the Thing sound so different to everyone else that it simply demands you take notice. William Dufris supplies the voice of the webbed wonder, with versatile mainstay Lorelei King playing both Sue Storm and J. Jonah Jameson's downtrodden secretary Betty Brant. Worth a special mention is Buffy Davis who is wonderful as Aunt May. Ex-East Enders actress Anita Dobson plays unreachable high-school girl Liz Allen.

With the two being long-time partners, this leaves a more than convenient link to Queen guitarist and producer Brian May, who was brought on board to handle the main music themes, complemented once again by Mark Russell's orchestral score. The driving guitar riffs and melodies enrich the action sequences, producing a greater filmic atmosphere. Using his music and a collection of edited audio snippets from the series a single was recorded and released, called The Amazing Spider-Man Mastermix by MC Spy-D and Friends. Hmm... 

The multi-layered sound effects are excellent, most being created by mixing and cutting stock effects. The web-shooter is a particularly nice sound, created by triggering a servo twice, followed by a bull-whip lash digitally looped several times, with a 'sqidgy' noise over the top.

The Amazing Spider-Man was produced for BBC light entertainment and broadcast on daytime BBC Radio 1 in 50 three-minute segments. It was subsequently released in 1995 on tape and CD by the BBC Radio Collection (ZBBC 1717), edited together to its full duration of two hours and thirty minutes. It was well-received, being nominated by the American Booksellers Association for the 1995 Writers Guild Award for Best Dramatisation, and winning the Talking Business Award 1995 over here for Best Production. If you prefer the family-orientated taste of old style radio but with a modern feel and cutting edge sound effects, then this is the one for you. I found this a highly entertaining romp aimed at perhaps a slightly younger audience than Batman - Knightfall. Although I preferred the later stories and artwork (Venom, Carnage, and the Spider-Slayers, etc.), this version pays great homage to the original comics of the sixties. It will put a smile on your face, and that's something that money can't buy!

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review by Ty Power. A shorter version of this review originally appeared on my previous website 2004).  


Superman - Doomsday and Beyond



Starring: William Hootkins, Lorelei King, Stuart Milligan, Burt Kwouk, Kerry Shale, Vincent Marzello, Garrick Hagon, Eric Meyers

BBC Audio (1993)

Audio Adaptation Written & Directed by Dirk Maggs

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.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review by Ty Power. A shorter version of this review originally appeared on my previous website 2004).  


Superman - Doomsday and Beyond


Starring: William Hootkins, Lorelei King, Stuart Milligan, Burt Kwouk, Kerry Shale, Vincent Marzello, Garrick Hagon, Eric Meyers

BBC Audio (Remastered 3 x CD Release) May 2006

Audio Adaptation Written & Directed by Dirk Maggs

Based on the Stories by Dan Jurgens, Karl Kesel, Jerry Ordway, Louise Simonson and Roger Stern

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.

Verdict: 8 out of 10

(Review originally written by Ty Power for reviewgraveyard 2006)   





Starring: Laurel Lefkow, Vincent Marzello, Russell Bentley, William Dufris, Michael Roberts, William Roberts, Frank Lazarus, Rolf Sazon, Mel Taylor

BBC Audio (1999)

Adaptated & Directed by Dirk Maggs (from a novel by Stephen Baxter)

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. 

Verdict: 6 out of 10

(Review by Ty Power. A shorter version of this review originally appeared on my previous website 2005).