Review: Counter-Measures Series 1

Editor’s Rating
Rating

Way back in October 1988, the BBC gave me the coolest 18th birthday present: a four-part Doctor Who serial from Sylvester McCoy’s era that was really rather good. Remembrance of the Daleks kicked off the TV series’ 25th anniversary celebrations with a story that brought the Doctor back to Earth in November 1963, and the area around Coal Hill School – the setting for the very first episode. It also featured Daleks, Michael Sheard (at the time most famous for playing villainous deputy head Mr Bronson in Grange Hill) as a very different type of teacher – and a group of scientists who were working with the armed forces in the Intelligence Counter-Measures Group.

Now that same group has been revived on audio. Big Finish, who make the Doctor Who audio adventures and a number of spin-off series, have reunited Remembrance’s team of actors Simon Williams, Pamela Salem and Karen Gledhill, thrown in a smattering of new regulars and created four dramas involving strange happenings in 1960s London.

The result? Imagine a radio version of Quatermass, if it had been made by 1960s cult purveyors ITC Entertainment

Continue reading Review: Counter-Measures Series 1

Review: Counter-Measures Series 14Scott Matthewman2012-07-15 22:51:36Big Finish, who make the Doctor Who audio adventures and a number of spin-off series, have reunited Remembrance of the Daleks’s team of actors Simon Williams, Pamela Salem and Karen Gledhill, thrown in a smattering of new regulars and created four dramas involving strange happenings in 1960s London.

Big Finish Drama Showcase: Pulling Faces

The second drama in audio company Big Finish’s Drama Showcase series (after last month’s Not a Well Woman) is a more conventional affair than Katy Manning’s solo tour de force. While Not a Well Woman took the concept of a one-woman show to its extreme, with Manning playing every single role, Pulling Faces brings in several other actors to allow the main performer, Louise Jameson, to concentrate on the central performance of Joanne Taylor, a former TV presenter who, in her mid-fifties, is finding it harder to get new work without going under the knife.

Written by Helen Goldwyn and performed on stage by Jameson as a one-woman play, the production has a history before this CD production. But following presenter Miriam O’Reilly’s high profile discrimination case against the BBC, which threw a spotlight on ageism and sexism within the television industry, it gains an extra level of relevance.

The issues of women’s beauty – or, at least, TV executives’ impression of it – is handled deftly. Goldwyn plays Joanne’s daughter, who acts as the voice of reason, saying that her mum looks great and ageing, being a natural process, is something that should be celebrated rather than avoided. It helps sell Joanne’s ongoing temptation with cosmetic enhancements, from the gateway drug of Botox to a full-scale facelift.

Also featuring a cameo role from Colin Baker as a small and slight surgeon (yes, yes, I know – but it’s audio, and it does really work), Pulling Faces easily stands on a par with much of BBC Radio 4’s output – I could easily see it being serialised as the daily Woman’s Hour Drama, for example. And in many ways that’s also its main problem – there is so much drama of this type on Radio 4 (both in the WHD slot and the daily Afternoon Play) that the purchase price of this one-off drama seems high by comparison.

Big Finish Drama Showcase: Not a Well Woman

Audio production company Big Finish is deservedly best known for its science fiction and fantasy releases, most notably its range of original Doctor Who dramas and associated spin-offs, as well as audiobook dramas with TV tie-ins from Stargate to Robin Hood.

Recently it has been spreading its wings a little further. From the beautiful translation and full cast dramatisation of Phantom of the Opera (one of the best audio dramas of recent years, easily on a par with the top flight of the BBC’s output) to short story compilations by Robert Shearman, there’s a clear desire for the company to expand its dramatic horizons.

The latest venture is a series of original plays being released under the company’s new Drama Showcase brand, the first of which, Not a Well Woman, has just been released.

And while there has undoubtedly been a lot of involvement from others in the production of this play – Toby Hrycek-Robinson’s sound design alone is far deeper and richer than most radio dramas, capitalising on the experience Big Finish has acquired on its sci-fi ranges – this is a tour de force by one woman, Katy Manning.

Continue reading Big Finish Drama Showcase: Not a Well Woman

How to list your audiobooks in iTunes’ Audiobooks pseudo-category

Update: With iTunes 8, moving tracks into the Audiobooks category is now trivial: Go into the track’s file information (Ctrl-I or Apple-I) and change the dropdown item on the Options tab. However, if you want to rip audiobook CDs and convert tracks to chapters, the following may still be use.

One of the reasons I distrust the new version of iTunes (see _[Why I hate iTunes 7](http://matthewman.net/2006/09/22/why-i-hate-itunes-7)_) is the utter uselessness of its new Library structure. In particular, its new Audiobooks category seems to be locked off from any books you’ve ripped yourself. Setting the Genre type of each file to “Audiobooks” isn’t enough.

Nudged by a comment from Rob, I did some digging around, and it appears that audio files will show up in the Audiobooks section if they’re bookmarkable MPEG Layer 4 files — or, in iTunes parlance, “Protected AAC files”.

On a Windows PC, it **may** be possible to get your AAC files — which should end in the extension **`.m4a`** — simply by renaming them so that the extension is **`.m4b`** (I can’t vouch for this, though, as I’m working on a Mac).

Macs are slightly trickier to deal with, anyway, as files have an internally-held file type, which must also be altered. However, I did find a couple of scripts on [Doug’s Scripts](http://www.dougscripts.com) which help.

* **[Make Bookmarkable](http://www.dougscripts.com/itunes/scripts/ss.php?sp=makebookmarkable)** converts your AAC-encoded files to their bookmarkable version, then updates their iTunes entry so that they move to the Audiobooks section.
* **[Join Together](http://www.dougscripts.com/itunes/scripts/ss.php?sp=jointogether)** allows you to combine multiple files from the iTunes Library, optionally placing chapter marks and track artwork at the appropriate sections. However, this script requires **QuickTime Pro** and Apple’s **ChapterTool** command-line utility. It can also be very slow if you don’t check the “Passthrough” option in the QuickTime settings part of the dialog.

A bonus of both scripts is that your recordings will also show up under the iPod’s own `Audiobooks` category. Bear in mind though that, unlike the standard Music folders, it doesn’t group tracks by album. So if you decide to use Make Bookmarkable, or don’t have Quicktime Pro, you could end up with lots of individual files showing up. In that case, you could consider re-importing the original audio from CD, grouping data tracks to encode as a single file.