How to murder a press review

As regular readers of this blog (both of you) may know, I’ve been regularly reviewing Big Finish Productions’ series of audio plays being released under the Drama Showcase marque:

The third in the series, In Conversation with an Acid Bath Murderer by Nigel Fairs, arrived on my desk this morning (if I’d been more attentive, I would have noticed that the MP3 download had been available for a few days. Oops).

I haven’t finished listening to it yet, so a full review won’t be forthcoming until some point over the next few days. But my eye was caught by a quote on the publicity material, and the back of the CD case:

“Darkly played… Nasty, creepy and disturbing” — The Stage

Wow, I thought. That sounds amazing. And in an effort to find out more, I turned to The Stage Archive. After a bit of searching, I found the full review from which the words above had been taken, which referred to a 1999 theatrical version of Fairs’ play.

However, while the words above did appear in Douglas McPherson’s review, they’re not exactly indicative of the tone of the piece.

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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.

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The Ghosts of Christmas

The Ghosts of Christmas cover As I said back in October, my short story, Tell Me You Love Me is going to be included in the forthcoming anthology, Doctor Who Short Trips: The Ghosts of Christmas.

The Big Finish page for the book now includes an image, as well as a free PDF of one story from the collection – Faithful Friends, Part 1, by the book’s editors, Cavan Scott and Mark Wright.

It’s sad, though: my story features William Hartnell’s Doctor and the original TARDIS crew. Characters that were created at least in part by, and wouldn’t be remembered today without the inimitable talents of, the late Verity Lambert, who died on Thursday.

Thank you, Verity, for creating such a remarkable series, and for letting the likes of me play in the sandbox from time to time.

Seventh heaven: BBC7 and Doctor Who

An interview with producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Gary Russell of Big Finish, makers of audio dramas revolving around cult sci-fi shows such as Doctor Who, Sapphire and Steel and the Tomorrow People. Written for The Stage, September 2005, this version (which originally appeared on The Stage website, from where it is still available) is an extended version of the one which appeared in print the same week.

While one can hardly have failed to notice the return to Saturday nights of TV series Doctor Who, what few may realise is that – TV programmes aside – the Doctor has been far from inactive. Since 1999 audio drama production company Big Finish has been selling full-scale dramas starring several of the original series Doctors, from Peter Davison onwards, to legions of fans.

“We tried to recapture the essence of Doctor Who 1981–1989, because those were our three Doctors,” says the dramas’ co-producer, Gary Russell. “What makes Doctor Who work on audio is that it’s a programme that’s always pushed the imagination, but within that it still had the confines of BBC television budgets, which let’s face it in the Eighties were ridiculously tight. You had a BBC that generally flooded everything with light – the idea of mood and atmosphere wasn’t a prerequisite for any drama, let alone Doctor Who. On audio, you have the ability to tell the good stories – and I’ve always thought the series has those – but without the same constraint. So many people say, ‘On audio you can have ten thousand Daleks swarming over the hill,’ but it’s not about that. If anything, on audio it’s about two people in a dark room being scared. There’s no visual stimulus at all, so everything has got to come out in the story and the acting. That’s far more challenging and far more exciting.”

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