Armchair Audies 2017: Audio Drama Category Pick!

Audio Drama

To determine my pick for the Audio Drama category, I ran a series of Head-to-Head contests between the five titles nominated. While the comments below each of the contest below are short, you can check out the full reviews I wrote for each of the titles by clicking on the clinks of the title in the #Head2Head subject lines.


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#Head2Head #1: Alien: Out of the Shadows vs In the Embers
In this first #Head2Head challenge, Alien: Out of the Shadows, An Audible Original Drama easily outclasses In the Embers in terms of script, sound effects and overall production values. Kudos to Robin Miles though, who is an amazing voice actor and singer in In the Embers.
Winner of Round #1: Alien: Out of the Shadows, An Audible Original Drama


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#Head2Head #2: Alien: Out of the Shadows vs The Mountaintop
Alien: Out of the Shadows
is sexy; but The Mountaintop has a better script, acting, and message. Substance wins out over style this round!
Winner of Round #2: The Mountaintop


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#Head2Head #3: The Mountaintop vs Doctor Who: The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Death and the Queen
It’s Doctor King versus Doctor Who! And in this round, it’s The Mountaintop for its straightforward, powerful message and understated production aesthetic over the razzmatazz BBC audio drama and David Tennant’s mumbling. Sometimes, less is more!
Winner of Round #3: The Mountaintop


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#Head2Head #4: The Mountaintop vs Doctor Who: The War Doctor: Only the Monstrous
In the final #Head2Head challenge, The Mountaintop with its understated production but powerful results wins over the sophisticated script and orchestration of The War Doctor: Only the Monstrous.
Winner of Round #4: The Mountaintop


My pick for the 2017 Armchair Audies in the Audio Drama category:

The Mountaintop


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OTHER: I receive no monies, goods, or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: The War Doctor Volume 01: Only the Monstrous

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Doctor Who: The War Doctor Volume 01: Only the Monstrous
Written and Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Performed by a Full Cast:
John Hurt as The War Doctor; Jacqueline Pearce as Cardinal Ollistra; Lucy Briggs-Owen as The Nursemaid; Carolyn Seymour as The Slave; Beth Chalmers as Veklin; Alex Wyndham as Seratrix; Kieran Hodgson as Bennus; Barnaby Edwards as Arverton; Mark McDonnell as Traanus; John Banks as Garv and; Nicholas Briggs as The Daleks
Ⓟ 2015, Big Finish Productions
Each of the three episodes runs approximately 80 minutes
SFF | TIME TRAVEL | DOCTOR WHO | THE WAR DOCTOR | AUDIO DRAMA

The Doctor and the other Time Lords are waging a Time War with the Daleks. In this trilogy, The War Doctor has detonated a time disruptor; and in the fallout, has landed on the peaceful planet of Kesca. However, Cardinal Ollistra is the manipulative head of the Time Lords who will stop at nothing to reclaim The Doctor, while he would rather forget who he is and recover at the hands of a Kescan woman. There is quite a bit of intrigue, betrayal, and even sadness in the stories. Compared to The Tenth Doctor Adventures which were fun and a bit campy, The War Doctor series seem to be much different: The scripts are sober and a bit more sophisticated with dreams and flashbacks inserted; and The Doctor is much more cynical and unlikable. There are sound effects (natch) and original music (a ten-minute track at the end presents a musical suite in full.) John Hurt as The War Doctor is en pointe as the crusty and abrasive old man; and Jacqueline Pierce is equally amazing as Cardinal Ollistra, and sounds remarkably like Judi Dench! Interestingly, if you were to scroll through the credits of the Doctor Who TV episodes from The Ninth Doctor onwards, you see some names reappear on the audio drama cast rolls. For example, Nicholas Briggs, who was the voice of the Daleks in the TV series, is the writer/editor/director of the audio dramas; and he reprises his role as the voice of the Daleks in this trilogy. The consistent use of talent across mediums reinforces the argument that the audio dramas are cannon material.

OTHER: I listened to the three-CD set, Doctor Who: The War Doctor Volume 01: Only the Monstrous (Written and Directed by Nicholas Briggs; Performed by a Full Cast) which I purchased through Amazon.com. They are also available as CDs and as downloads directly from Big Finish. I receive no monies, goods, or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

Doctor Who: The War Doctor Volume 01: Only the Monstrous (Written and Directed by Nicholas Briggs; Performed by a Full Cast) is a finalist in the 2017 APA Audie Awards in the Audio Drama category.

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Audiobook Review: The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Technophobia; Time Reaver; AND Death and the Queen

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1.1. THE TENTH DOCTOR ADVENTURES: TECHNOPHOBIA
By Matt Fitton
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Performed by a Full Cast:
David Tennant as The Doctor; Catherine Tate as Donna Noble; Niky Wardley as Bex; Rachael Stirling as Jill Meadows; Chook Sibtain as Brian; Rory Keenan as Kevin and; Jot Davies as Lukas
Ⓟ 2016, Big Finish Productions
SFF | TIME TRAVEL | DOCTOR WHO | AUDIO DRAMA

Doctor Who and his friend Donna land two years into the future in London. At the Technology Museum, it becomes clear that things are not what they should be: The head of an IT development company is there for an interview, but she becomes progressively more afraid of her own creation. Soon, fear, paranoia, and stupidity spread through the city; and The Doctor must race against time to figure things out…

The audio drama starts off fast and a bit disorienting. The script calls for an opening scene before the iconic theme music cuts in; and it takes a full quarter to a third of the audio to sort characters and plot out. While at first a little bewildering, it does place the listener in sympathy with the characters who likewise are slow to catch on to what’s happening to them and around them. Once in though, the script is original, fun, and at times humorous, though never losing the tension or drama of the events as they unfold.

David Tennant is The Tenth Doctor and delivers an expressive performance with his light Scottish lilt; but it must be noted that there are times his voice drops very low (whisper level) which makes some lines difficult to discern. Catherine Tate is also clear-voiced and brash as Donna Noble, the perfect counterpoint to the Doctor’s relatively nuanced and enigmatic demeanor. The head of the IT company, Brian, and the janitor are easily distinguishable; but the two females actresses at the beginning are so close in sounding alike, it contributes to the initial confusion as to who is who.

1.2. THE TENTH DOCTOR ADVENTURES: TIME REAVER
By Jenny T. Colgan
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Performed by a Full Cast:
David Tennant as The Doctor; Catherine Tate as Donna Noble; Alex Lowe as Soren;  Sabrina Bartlett as Cora; Terry Molloy as Rone; John Banks as Gully and; Dan Starkey as Dorn
Ⓟ 2016, Big Finish Productions
SFF | TECHNO THRILLER | SPACE OPERA | DOCTOR WHO | AUDIO DRAMA

On the planetary transit hub of Calibris, the head of the Lost & Found Department “finds” something interesting, and deadly in the wrong hands… or tentacles! The Doctor Who and Donna work with Vacintian agents to recover the found object…

The audio starts off fast, with an opening scene that makes clear that this adventure is not a continuation from “Technophobia;” and carries over none of the characters from the first audio drama in this series other than The Doctor and Donna Noble. The script is fast-paced with chase scenes and a sense of urgency, but making time for a little of The Doctor’s trademark combination of snark and compassion.  David Tennant as The Tenth Doctor and Catherine Tate as Donna Nobel return with performances consistent from “Technophobia”; and the cast of supporting actors are distinct (no confusion between any two characters as to whom is speaking.)

1.3. THE TENTH DOCTOR ADVENTURES: DEATH AND THE QUEEN
By James Goss
Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Performed by a Full Cast:
David Tennant as The Doctor; Catherine Tate as Donna Noble; Blake Ritson as Rudolph; Alice Krige as Queen Mum; Beth Chalmers as Hortense and; Alan Cox as Death
Ⓟ 2016, Big Finish Productions
SFF | DOCTOR WHO | AUDIO DRAMA

The Doctor and Donna land in Monte Carlo where Donna finds her Prince; but will she find her HEA?  The Prince hails from a kingdom that no one has heard of; and there is an ulterior motive to his marriage proposal. The Doctor crashes the wedding with some answers; but will the Doctor lose Donna? Will the Kingdom be saved?

This adventure is neither a time (“Technophobia”) or space (“Time Reaver”) tale; but one of place; and is not a continuation of either of the other two stories in this set. Back on Earth, The Doctor and Donna come to a fork in the metaphorical road when Donna meets a prince in Monte Carlo. The Doctor becomes suspicious when he hasn’t heard of the prince’s kingdom, Gauritania; and his skepticism interferes with Donna’s pursuit of happiness. The Doctor’s relationship with Donna becomes strained owing to his intrusions as much as Donna’s stubbornness in refusing to admit that The Doctor may be right… The overall tension relies not on a race against time or an exciting chase scene; but on the dynamic between The Doctor and Donna. That is not to discount the battle scene, the wedding, and the surprise groomsman; but they are events that force the connection between The Doctor and Donna to come under closer scrutiny. The Doctor is forced into some surprising admissions! Overall, the story feels more like a comedy than a thriller or soap opera. Doctor Who adventures have a unique sense of humor that tends toward the dry and clever; but this one tipped over into more obvious humor, a bit campy or even cheesy.

David Tennant and Catherine Tate return as The Tenth Doctor and Donna Noble respectively; and for better or worse, with the same consistency in performances as from “Technophobia” and “Time Reaver.”  The supporting cast was excellent, delivering lines with clarity; with distinction from other like characters (i.e. Rudolf and Death); and with the exaggerated affectations that the characters demand – all with aplomb .


This set of audio dramas are heavy on the sound effects, the overall aesthetic closer to radio drama with its Foley artists than the subtlety of a film score.

It’s all in good fun, and Doctor Who fans will enjoy the ride. Are they cannon though? This is debatable as the adventures do not fit into the TV franchises storylines per se; and are not actual BBC productions but that of a producing licensee. But they do have David Tennant and Catherine Tate; that instantly recognizable theme music; and most importantly, they add to, without taking anything away from The Doctor Who mystique. 


Trailer for the set:


OTHER:
I listened to CD copies of 1.1. The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Technophobia (By Matt Fitton; Directed by Nicholas Briggs; Performed by a Full Cast);  1.2. The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Time Reaver (By Jenny T. Colgan; Directed by Nicholas Briggs
Performed by a Full Cast) and; 1.3. The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Death and the Queen (By James Goss; Directed by Nicholas Briggs; Performed by a Full Cast) which I purchased through Amazon.com. They are also available as CDs and as downloads directly from Big Finish. I receive no monies, goods, or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

The Tenth Doctor Adventures: Death and the Queen (By James Goss; Directed by Nicholas Briggs; Performed by a Full Cast) is a finalist in the 2017 APA Audie Awards in the Audio Drama category.

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Audiobook Review: The Mountaintop

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The Mountaintop
By Katori Hall
Performed by Larry Powell and Aja Naomi King
Ⓟ 2016, L.A. Theatre Works
1 Hours, 4 Minutes
PLAY | HISTORICAL FICTION

This is a staged reading of Katori Hall’s 2011 play featuring Martin Luther King, Jr. and a maid sitting in a motel room talking and smoking. As mundane as that may seem, the import comes from the time in which the play is set, April 3, 1969 – the eve of Dr. King’s assassination.

The dialogue reveals the flaws and greatness of both characters; and the lines are delivered with all the best of actorly skills: credibility and passion.  Everything the listener needs is in the script, meaning the action does not require sound effects or music, and the performance is powerful for its understated production values. This is also a play that also stands up without any visuals, making it the perfect audio drama offering.

Below is a “video” (actually the audio posted with a still photo of the event) of Martin Luther King Jr.’s last speech in full, “I have been to the mountaintop” (posted by SeurJamzEnt on YouTube.com):

OTHER: I listened to a digital download copy of The Mountaintop (by Katori Hall; Performed byLarry Powell and Aja Naomi King) which I purchased from Audible.com. I receive no monies, goods, or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

The Mountaintop (by Katori Hall; Performed byLarry Powell and Aja Naomi King) is a finalist in the 2017 APA Audie Awards in the Audio Drama category.

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Audiobook Review: In the Embers: The Great Northern Audio Theatre

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In the Embers: The Great Northern Audio Theatre
By Brian Price and Jerry Stearns
Performed by a Full Cast:
Edwin Strout as Digger Morgan; Robin Miles as  Kit Jeffers; Olivia DuFord – Young Alice Jeffers; Dawn Krosnowski as Susan; as Gordon Smuder as Tom; Susanne Becker as Cindy; Tom Joyal as Berringer; Charlie Meitzner as Denny; Dean Johnson as Epstein; Jacquie Maddix as Old Alice; and E. G. Bailey as Reynolds
Original songs by Mike Wheaton and Brian Price, vocals by Robin Miles and Olivia DuFord
Ⓟ 2015, Waterlogg Productions
3 hours, 35 minutes
SCIENCE FICTION | TECHNO-THRILLER | GHOST IN THE MACHINE | TIME TRAVEL | RADIO | INTERVIEWS

PUBLISHER’S SUMMARY (SECTION COPIED FROM AUDIBLE.COM):
A song, a pressed flower, and the sound of two girls’ voices recovered from a burned wooden beam by using a brand-new laser technique to read a charred surface like the grooves of an old 78 rpm record. These are the clues that archaeologist Digger Morgan discovers while working on a routine dig at a Maryland plantation. Who were the girls? When was the fire? The answers all lead to 1920s jazz pioneer Kit Jeffers, whose voice mysteriously appears on Digger’s computer and whose existence remains haunted by a singular tragic event.


This is a science-fiction tale taking place in the here-and-now; but which involves audio archaeology (reading a fossilized sound wave,) a ghost in the machine (a digitized personality,) and time travel. The underlying concept behind the three ideas is that emotional intensity can have impact without carrying or accruing mass or energy, a challenge confronting physicists in regard to the laws of the conservation of energy when dealing with time travel in particular.

The actual story involves research into the life of a Jazz Age singer named Kit Jeffers who died in a fire as a young woman. The character of Kit Jeffers comes alive in this audio drama with the superb acting and singing skills of Robin Miles. There are three original songs, written in the Jazz/Rag Time style of the 1920s, expressively performed by Ms Miles, and at one point with her daughter Olivia DuFord (playing the role of Kit Jeffers’ little sister, Alice.)

There are sound effects and voice enhancements galore; but all the effects sometimes are confusing (Who exactly is speaking? Why does the voice sound like that?) or; superfluous (Is more than a couple of seconds of a bulldozer rattling around necessary to tip the listener off that a bulldozer was being used? Especially after being told that a bulldozer was being used?)

There is an extraordinary amount of enthusiasm and work that clearly went into this audio drama; but the overabundance of story ideas and sound effects in particular made the overall production a bit unwieldy.  The script is structurally unbalanced and a modicum of post-engineering restraint is lacking. It’s no wonder that the writers managed to make a glaring continuity error regarding time travel, a mistake they seem to have only realized after the production had wrapped and they were being interviewed. In the end, the talents of Robin Miles and the songwriters could not save In the Embers from sounding like community theater-grade writing and performance.

The audio runtime is three hours long; but it the play is only about an hour long. The second hour of the audio is an interview with the writers, composer, and actors of the audio drama; and the last hour is an interview with just the writers.


OTHER:
I purchased a digital download copy of In the Embers: The Great Northern Audio Theatre (By Brian Price and Jerry Stearns Performed by a Full Cast) from audible.com. I receive no monies, goods, or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

In the Embers: The Great Northern Audio Theatre (By Brian Price and Jerry Stearns Performed by a Full Cast) is a finalist in the 2017 APA Audie Awards in the Original Work category and in the Audio Drama category.

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Audiobook Review: Alien: Out of the Shadows: An Audible Original Drama

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Alien: Out of the Shadows: An Audible Original Drama
Based on the Novel by Tim Lebbon
Adapted and Directed by Dirk Mags
Performed by a Full Cast:
Corey Johnson as Hooper; Matthew Lewis as Baxter; Kathryn Drysdale as Sneddon; Mac McDonald as Lachance; Andrea Deck as Kasyanov; Nathan Osgood as Welford; Abdul Salis as Powell; Regina Brandolino as Garcia; Barbara Barnes as Jordan; Tim Alexander as Vic and the computers; Laurel Lefkow as Ellen Ripley and; Rutger Hauer as Ash
Music by James Hannigan
Ⓟ 2016, Audible Studios
4 hours, 31 minutes
SCIENCE FICTION | SPACE | HORROR

This is an audio adaptation of the first of three novels that take place between the time frames of the movie, Alien and the sequel, Aliens. Ripley’s escape shuttle has been adrift for thirty-seven years when it’s picked up by by Chris Hooper’s mining ship, DSMO Marion – which is held together with a wing and a prayer; and they all find themselves disabled on LV-178, a small planet with a seemingly abandoned mining colony on it…

The story uses a lot of the scene and plot devices created for the 1979 movie,  Alien   (directed by Ridley Scott); and in many respects listeners may feel that nothing new has been added to the cannon knowledge of the Alien universe; but Lebbon’s story does offer a possible explanation as to why the xenomorph aboard the escape shuttle at the end of the movie just lies there in the bulwarks; provides an interesting context for Ash’s semi-resurrection; and gives a nice “out” as to why this story wouldn’t be referenced in any of the movie sequels. However, the horrific aspects of the story are reduced to chase scenes, figuring out to deal with decompression chambers, and warning & reminding each other frequently of a variation of  “Acid burns! Watch out!” The story does offer an enticing peek at another civilization, but it does not look like it will be developed into future storylines.  Also, there was one scene in which the new crew is informing Ripley of all sorts of things about the xenomorph which they couldn’t possibly know, unless they saw the first movie!*

Laurel Leflow voices Ripley so well, it sounds like Audible has spliced in film dialogue; and Rutger Hauer voices the modified Ash character credibly as well. Most of the  other actors pass muster too, though the character of Lachance is, of all things, Cajun, and that’s just not one of those accents that really be played convincingly or not sounding comically bad.

The production has original music and sound effects. The music is gorgeous, adding atmosphere. The sound effects are a little heavy-handed at times; but always clearly indicating the action. Alien: Out of the Shadow: An Audible Original Drama doesn’t quite have the balance and finesse of a BBC production; but Alien fans will undoubtedly connect; and those for whom Rutger Hauer is a draw will not be disappointed.

 

* It is not clear if this a continuity error that exists in the original novel as I haven’t read it yet; or if it is one generated by adapting the novel into a play script; or if I’ve somehow completely missed the rationale… If you can explain, please let me know in comments!


OTHER:
I listened to a digital download copy of Alien: Out of the Shadows: An Audible Original Drama (By Tim Lebbon; Directed by Dirk Mags; Performed by a Full Cast) which was available free during the month of April, 2016 from Audible.com. I receive no monies, goods, or services in exchange for reviewing the product and/or mentioning any of the persons or companies that are or may be implied in this post.

Alien: Out of the Shadows: An Audible Original Drama (By Tim Lebbon; Directed by Dirk Mags; Performed by a Full Cast) is a finalist in the 2017 APA Audie Awards in the Original Work category and in the Audio Drama category.

 

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Audiobook Week: 2011-2012, My Audiobook Year

I’ve been listening to audiobooks for something like seventeen years now and have been working in the industry for nearly as long! Every year, there is something new that captures my attention in terms of book trends, narrating styles or changes in the industry itself; but to bring this closer to my own personal listening experience, I have to say that the thing that I’ve “discovered” this year is audio drama! Now I have listened to and worked on audio dramas in the past; but it has been only one of the many forms of audio that I listen to. This year as a part of the Armchair Audies (hosted by @lithousewife at literatehousewife.com) I decided to listen to a couple of audio dramas that were finalists in this year’s Audies Awards.  The Mark of Zorro (by Johnston McCully; dramatized by Yuri Rasovsky; full cast performance) was the first finalist I listened to and it was great: really well produced and a lot of fun! I was really hooked on the form and I ended up listening to all five of the final nominees! I’m now eager to claim the same category in next year’s Armchair Audies. What was really interesting to me about the audio drama finalists, was that it held a few sub-genres in an of itself: studio productions, live staged readings, podcasts, and radio broadcasts. The things I look for in the performances are how quickly the actors get the characters up on their feet, edge-to edge energy (does the performance slag off at any point?) and how the sound effects are used. This is addition to the normal considerations of any audiobook as to being well cast and well executed.

See Also:
2010-2011, My Audiobook Year (My response to Jennifer K.’s (@devourerofbooks at Devourerofbooks.com) Audiobook Week meme last year)

If you want to know more about me you can check out these two interviews:

If you want to know more about the Armchair Audies, you can check out the Armchair Audies (hosted by @lithousewife at literatehousewife.com) and the wrap-up I wrote for the audio drama category, which also contains links to the individual reviews 🙂

n.b. – Jennifer will be moving the Armchair Audies to it’s own site before the next Audies start up, so stay tuned!)