For once, I am (almost) on top of my reviews. Three weeks ago completed the first quarter of 2017, so we can look at the radio highlights for that period. Oddly enough, there’s a lot of Christmas-themed drama because I caught most of late December’s radio drama in mid-January!
002 Historical Drama – Old
Melford’s Axe by Roderick Graham represented a serious and thought-provoking (and long) drama about the English Civil War. It showed clearly how the American Revolution could be seen to be the end to what the English Civil War started, with much of the same ambiguity. Also, it naturally serves as a political warning for all times, with a very cynical rather than idealistic view of the consequences of believing in the rhetoric of politicians. I don’t think anyone has ever identified the axe-man who actually killed Charles I, so this play successfully extrapolates historical fact with a convincing story. Jack Melford (Struan Rodger) is a farrier who is proud to carry out his duty to the army which he loves. This extends to killing a king, a king Melford believes with his army has become a tyrant and an enemy of the people. He agrees to be discharged out of the army, marry his mistress, and in return is given land and a smithy and space to disappear. He gets to keep his axe and a letter to get him out of a tight spot should such an occasion arise. In a sleepy, mostly Royalist community, he soon becomes resented for becoming a wealthy landowner. He works himself up to the level of landed gentry, joining forces with a former Royalist/nobleman who makes him a justice of the peace. Despite all this outward success, Melford is slowly unravelling, unable to tell his secret to anyone including his wife (Sara Kestelman) for six years. He loses one son who emigrates to Virginia, and his other son becomes avaricious. When Charles II pays a visit, Melford begs for his forgiveness, but due to his wandering mind is not heeded by the King. Melford hangs himself, disillusioned with the reasoning that led him to unquestionably do his duty. The performances were all excellent, and the sound design was strong. The play, directed by Jane Morgan, was originally from 1988.
And now, for something completely different . . . I was listening to some OTR Westerns for a project, and two of them were excellent. These included “Indian White” from Gunsmoke (1955). I’ve listened to several episodes of Gunsmoke; it’s generally agreed that Gunsmoke was one of the best radio Westerns, and I do rate it highly. The title refers to the smell of “gunsmoke” which proclaims US Marshall Matt Dillon’s mastery of Western justice in 1870s Dodge City. I was surprised at the real ambiguity expressed in this episode. Naturally, it started with a very funny scene between Matt and his deputy Chester. In Dodge, a young “Indian white,” Dennis, is causing trouble due to the way he dresses and acts (like an Indian). The truth is that he was recovered from the Cheyenne and returned to a woman who lost a son his age to raids previously. She knows he’s not her son, but she wants to raise him properly and just doesn’t understand why he wants to persist in his Cheyenne identity. Matt continually advises the boy that he needs to act like a white boy (more, I think, from the standpoint of getting ahead in life than propriety). The boy gets a chance to help the Army and is given the chance then to go away with his Cheyenne family. He does so, without much editorial comment, though in the end Matt and Chester find out he is actually the son the woman lost, but they decline to tell her that. It wasn’t the strongest episode of Gunsmoke that I’d heard, but the ambiguity was intriguing in what could have been a very cut-and-dry episode.
Much less well-known is Dr Sixgun, a much more short-lived venture than Gunsmoke. I’d heard one episode of Dr Sixgun previously, its one Christmas episode (1954), and found it very moving, and I enjoyed it very much. The debut episode of the run, “Chief Tall Horse’s Son is Poisoned,” didn’t let me down either; I loved it for its quirkiness and its gutsy adherence to plain ol’ liberal American values as personified in its titular hero, the doughty doctor who settles situations peacefully and with diplomatic aplomb while being always armed, and the narrator, the frankly bizarre “Gypsy” Pablo with his pet raven, Midnight. What more do you need in a series?! Seriously, though, I thought this story was quite good, in which a wagon train of settlers is stuck at Frenchman’s Creek, wanting to move on but not having the money or wherewithal, until their leader schemes to take away the land from the Mescalero Apache. To that end, the leader of that Mescalero’s son is poisoned by the leader of the dastardly settlers (to be fair, one kind-hearted, fair American soul does speak up for the Apache), and Dr Sixgun has to save the boy and prevent bloodshed. He manages it. I look forward to hearing the whole run. It’s my kind of Western.