Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Quarter 4 Reviews - 13/13

018 Mystery – Old 

I wasn’t sure into which category I should put Nightmares by Dave Simpson, as I didn’t have a “thriller” category (and I scarcely listen to thrillers).  Nevertheless, the drama made a strong impression on me.  It was very well-written and directed and genuinely heart-pounding, especially as the edgy score made use of frantic piano music.  Jilly (Gillian Kearney) is a nurse who’s been suffering from nightmares that she’s being stalked by a masked psychopath who approaches her in deserted car parks, in lifts, etc., and cuts her throat.  The nightmares are straining her relationship with her husband, Nick (Chris Gascoyne), who is often away at conferences.  One of the doctors at work, James (David Harewood), recommends Jilly see a psychiatrist, Ben Carson (Jonathan Keeble), despite the fact that Jilly finds him “weird.”  Jilly complies but is a difficult patient.  Dr Carson manages to dredge out of her that Nick perpetrated a short affair with someone from his work some years previously, and Dr Carson believes the nightmares are a result of a continuing fear that Nick is not being true to Jilly.  Meanwhile, James and Jilly are falling for each other.  No one believes Jilly’s fears that she is being stalked, not her friend Penny, nor any of the men in her life.  Finally, Jilly is awakened one night by a break-in.  The play was particularly effective because the nature of the medium made it impossible to know when Jilly was dreaming or when she was awake, so that her constantly changing nightmares shifted the identity of the stalker each time.  Both Harewood and Keeble put in wonderful performances that kept you guessing as to whether they were trustworthy or not.  Nightmares was directed by Pauline Harris in 2004.

Quarter 4 Reviews - 12/13

015 Speculative Fiction – Old 

I found Aliens of the Mind from 1977 immensely enjoyable.  Vincent Price was more or less playing himself, as he did in The Price of Fear, but he made an excellent double act with Peter Cushing (whom I’m not sure I’d ever heard on radio before).  The writing could be at times extremely witty, making the most of Price’s American-ness.  Dr John Cornelius, the eminent brain surgeon, and Professor Curtis Lark (whose line is more into telepathy, etc.) meet in the remote isle of Luig in Scotland to investigate the death of their friend who died mysteriously.  They meet the sinister Reverend Scholar (pronounced Schooler; like many things Scottish in this play, a bit suspect!), the equally sinister housekeeper Molly Kyle, and the mentally ill Flora Kerrie.  After escaping a murder attempt, they realize, based on their deceased friend’s notes, that the island is full of mutants.  They are controlled mentally by a Controller, who can make them do anything.  There are two Controllers on the island, they realize, Flora and Molly; Flora lets Molly die in a fire that was intended for Curtis because Molly killed Flora’s mother.  Lark and Cornelius decide to take Flora to London for further tests.  This had some excellent effects, sounding very ‘70s Doctor Who, and while the Scottish accents were, as I indicated, a bit all over the place, overall it could not have been said to lack ambition!  Perhaps it moved a bit slow by today’s standards—and the way Flora was bullied by the two investigators verged on abuse—but overall it was a worthy entry in the annals of radio sci fi. I wonder if the Lark and Cornelius double act was ever repeated?  If not, it should have been.  By the way, it had nothing to do with aliens.  It was written by Robert Holmes and Rene Basilico and directed by John Dyas.

Black Queen to King’s Castle was a delicious story of Anne Boleyn’s ghost returning unknowingly to her childhood home of Blickling Hall when she thinks she has woken up the night of her execution in the Tower.  She recalls her life, her return from court in France where she is immediately sent to Henry Tudor’s court to fill in where her sister Mary has failed, after having already slept around at the French court (due mainly to her extremely ambitious father, determined to sacrifice his children on ambition’s altar).  Henry does eventually take notice of Anne, as she has been placed as Catherine of Aragon’s lady-in-waiting, but Anne is insistent that she will not yield her favors until Henry divorces.  Naturally, Anne’s triumph is short-lived after the birth of Elizabeth and a miscarried baby.  Her former allies, such as Thomas Cromwell, desert her.  She is heartened, however, upon returning to the twentieth century as a ghost, that her daughter Elizabeth was queen.  Well-written, this hinged on the tremendous performance by Katherine Pogson as Anne.  David Troughton was also quite convincing as the self-important Henry.  It was also rather spooky!  Written by Peter Wolf, it also starred Christopher Godwin, David Timson, Stephen Critchlow, Suzanne Heathcote, Peter Darnley, and Marlene Sidaway.  It was directed by Cherry Cookson in 2002.

Returning to the quarter’s theme of Australia, I adored The Voice of God by Simon Bovey.  The crusading Col. Walker (played with appropriate fanaticism by Geoffrey Beevers) has secretly been testing sonic warfare in remote Western Australia, sonic warfare that destroys all organic life in its wake—with the result being seismic disruptions, earthquakes all over Australia.  Unbeknownst to him, seismologist Sam Rideout (Claire Corbett), based in Australia, is teamed up with half-Aboriginal Joshua Pattamarrie (Matthew Ditinsky), who discover the secret base in the Australian desert and are forced to help with the testing—until the magnitude of the situation becomes apparent.  Written tautly and with some superb cliffhangers, the drama allows a lot of debate to flourish on whether Weapons of Mass Destruction, even if they’re only sonic, are ever justified—if the ends ever justify the means.  Furthermore, Joshua’s beliefs make it opaque as to whether the results are related to the ending of the Dreamtime or not.  I found it extremely enjoyable to listen to. Originally from 2006, it also starred David Thorpe, Beth Chalmers, John Cummins, Nick Sase, and Sophie Roberts.  It was directed by Marc Beeby.

Quarter 4 Reviews - 11/13

014 Adaptation – New
I had an outrageous amount of fun listening to Hammer Horror’s The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula based on an unmade film script by Anthony Hinds, adapted by the ubiquitous Mark Gatiss and Laurence Bowen.   The narration could be a bit heavy-handed at times (though Michael Sheen went for it, by golly!), but it was a wonderfully visual story, which apparently was almost made in the 1970s.  What I want to know is whether Steven Spielberg knew about this script, as it bears a striking resemblance to Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.  Penny (Anna Madeley) is an independent woman in the 1930s who gets aboard a train in rural India where she meets the young (and presumably good-looking) Prem (Nikesh Patel) and his sister Lakshmi (Ayesha Dharker), who is a dancer.  Prem is a sitar player.  Also on the train is Babu (Kulvinder Ghir), a jolly Bengali who takes Penny under his wing.  Penny at first seems quite dozy, but she is interested in the caves nearby—which are a tourist destination for their erotic carvings.  Prem and Lakshmi have been summoned by the Maharajah and Rani to the palace, but find to their surprise once they get there that they have not arrived to dance for them, but for a mysterious stranger (Dracula, naturally!).  While the story is authentically Hammer in that Dracula (Lewis MacLeod) lusts after women for more than their blood, and the celluloid version would have naked women running around, this works okay within the story itself.  Things really get going once Prem is drugged and Lakshmi is first seduced/drained dry by Dracula and then impaled by the Rani and her cult of blood-worshipping acolytes (Kali is never mentioned, nor are the Thuggees, but it’s very similar to Temple of Doom).  I think Meera Syal was having the time of her life playing the Rani.  Eventually, we get a chase scene with cars, coffins, Hindu festivals, acolytes chasing after Dracula with stakes, all the way to the Tower of Silence, a Jainist (I think) tower where the dead are left to be picked clean by vultures (as Babu says, very sanitary).  The drama created some wonderful images and exciting scenes, and its depiction of India seemed far more respectful than Temple of Doom, for example.  Penny could also be considered the most feminist Hammer horror heroine ever.  I’d love to hear more in this, uh, vein.  

And now for something completely different . . .  I read Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev more than ten years ago, and although I remember it being good, I couldn’t really remember anything of the plot.  It made for an excellent radio drama.  James Fleet played Nikolai Kirsanov, and, true to typecasting, Nikolai is a rather bumbling owner of a Russian estate; he has recently had a baby with Fenichka, who shows her true colors as a power-hungry, security-obsessed Philistine once Nikolai marries her.  Who has, arguably, truly loved her, is Nikolai’s older brother Pavel, very much an old style Russian aristocrat who speaks French and adores the novels of Ann Radcliffe.  His unkind nickname is the tailor’s dummy.  Nikolai’s son Arkady (George Blagden) comes to stay, along with his abrasive friend Yvegeny Bazarov (Edward Bennett).  Bazarov falls in love with Anna Sergeyvna, an older woman with a good eye for farm management who has behaved in a mercenary manner in the past.  She spurns him and lives to regret it. While Julia McKenzie was simply bonkers as mad old Princess Olga, and Nigel Anthony was enjoyable as creaky old servant Timofeich, I was blown away by Martin Jarvis as Pavel.  That was an amazing performance.  In a taut adaptation by Brian Friel, Martin Jarvis and Rosemary Ayres directed. It also starred Charles Dance, Lisa Dillon, Gabrielle Lloyd, Lucy Phelps, Joanna Cassidy, Matilda Wickham, Keiran Hodgeson, and Darren Richardson.