Doctor Who & Pulp Audio Dramas

(In the interests of full disclosure: I have no relationship with Big Finish Productions. I perform proofreading services for Radio Archives' pulp e-book line, and in exchange, purchase their products via gift certificate. My opinions are my own, and not those of any of the listed above, or of Comic Related. This may be a bit long-winded, but it means I'm in full compliance with federal law. End of prelude - and now, onto the column)

This month, I'm going to take a slightly different tactic with this column, and take you back to those thrilling days of yesteryear, done with a 21st Century Twist. This month, I'm going to turn away from visual media and discuss audio dramas.

"But Gordon," you may be thinking. "Nobody listens to audio dramas anymore - they've gone the way of Charlton Comics, Woolworth's and Farrell Publications. How can audio dramas be relevant in the 21st century? And why should they matter?"

Quite honestly, audio-based dramas based on current "franchises" may not be at the immediate forefront of popular culture, but are becoming a small, unique niche worth exploring. Granted, it is a hard sell - the writing, sound engineering, and production aspects of the piece result in the listener's imagination doing most of the "heavy lifting" when listening to audio dramas. With autumn and winter soon approaching (meaning greater time indoors), there is a great opportunity present to engage an explore an art form that might easily vanish...but is experiencing a slight renaissance.

One of the main practitioners of audio drama is Big Finish, a British company England that focuses on several franchise-based audio dramas, including Judge Dredd, Robin Hood, Blake's 7, Stargate, Highlander, Dark Shadows, Sherlock Holmes...and most notably, Doctor Who. In fact, I will humbly suggest that their early Who audios helped foster a shift in mindset that eventually led to the creation of a new series. (It doesn't hurt that their executive producer has also worked on the new series). After all, if people were willing to buy audio dramas featuring past Doctors, they might - just might - be willing to watch a new series.

Big Finish also has diverse ranges within some of its more popular series - for example, their Doctor Who-based spin-offs include the exquisite Jago & Litefoot series to the "What If?" style storytelling of the Unbound series. (Thankfully, the Unbound series - like many Who spinoffs - are now part of the affordable "Big Finish for a Fiver" collection) It's the Lost Stories series that I'm going to focus on this edition....and actually, more importantly, the Fourth Doctor boxed set

Yes, it was big news that Tom Baker - the only living classic Doctor who steadfastly refused to participate - finally agreed to work with Big Finish. Although his "new" series has some great moments, it's the Fourth Doctor Lost Stories boxed set - using unproduced scripts adapted into audio dramas - that really provide a great sense of the untapped potential of audio. The first story in the box is The Foe From the Future, an adaptation of Robert Banks Stewarts' unused script proposal. Although the central premise was used in a now classic story, The Foe From the Future takes a radically different approach to the material, and uses the audio format in a very unique and spine-chilling manner. The other story is an adaptation of Phillip Hinchcliffe's The Valley of Death, which begins as an Indiana Jones/Allan Quatermain-style science fiction romp, but suddenly shifts into a tale of alien invasion...or is it? It works perfectly as an audio adventure, and the cast's voice over work is superb. (I have to admit, however, that I wonder if Tom Baker's frequent Hartnell-isms are a deliberate affectation, or an indication of his increasing age...or possibly, both. It's almost as if he's picked up where he left off thirty years ago).

For those who are seeking a more traditional entry into audio dramas, audiobooks, and pulp literature, look no further than Radio Archives. Recently, the company announced that for its pulp e-book reissues, they were going for the "Total Pulp Experience", including many of the backing materials originally included in pulp magazines of the past. However, Radio Archives has been making waves in reissuing several classic pulp characters - and concepts - in audiobook form. (Comic fans can find classic radio shows featuring several long-standing characters available through the site as well).

But for good, old-fashioned pulpy audio pleasure, you definitely want to check out Radio Archives' diverse range, which includes:

Finally, if you're looking for public domain literature (especially reissues of such classics like The Curse of Capistrano or A Princess of Mars), you definitely want to check out Librivox. I've spoken and written about the service in the past: people volunteer to read and record public domain literature (so for some works, your mileage may vary), but the service has expanded to some pulp science fiction and fantasy literature as well. At the very least, it will help ease the strain on your pocketbook....and provide you hours of entertainment. These - like works from Big Finish and Radio Archives - are best enjoyed with a cup of hot tea, coffee, or cocoa on a brisk, chilly autumn day.

But that's it for October's column - please be sure to give Zone 4 a listen, and join us on Facebook so you can be shouted out on our show. In addition, I also blog about comics and popular culture, and tech and social good. (Please be sure to check out the latest adventures of Wonderman, which I'm currently scripting for Excelsior Webcomics) You can always drop me a line via my personal webpage as well.

Thanks for reading, and this month, keep listening!


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