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Radio Reviews

Monday, February 2, 2015 - 20:41 by David

So in the end did it all...END?

Did all of of the attempts to avert Armageddon ultimately prove fruitless?

I'm not telling.

Someone who IS telling is Agnes Nutter. Her ancient predictions may be badly spelled, and a bit obscure, but they're bang on (a suitable phrase for Anathema and Newton). Her predictions have now directed several characters to Lower Tadfield for the final confrontation. 

There are others whose directions are a little more Infernal.

Now back down to the four original Horse-biker-men-woman of the Apocalypse, Death,War,Famine and Pollution are trying to trigger World War Three. 

This involves getting access to a US airbase to start the Nuclear countdown. Everyone else is not looking forward to becoming charcoal briquettes, which sharpens peoples cognitive skills and intuition immensely.All of the pursuers work out where the END is going to start.

Mind you it can't be a great leap of logic can it? Want to start WWIII, you're going to need weapons of mass destruction or some way of getting to the people who can provide them...hmmm, I wonder where that could be? 

The security at the airbase proves to have more holes in it than a donut shop. This ends up in a standoff with yet another set of Horse-persons of the Apocalypse.  

The moral of which is :-

Never underestimate a girl with a stick. 

Unfortunately, standing up to Satanic plans does tend to attract the attention from Above and Below, and regardless of the intentions or actions of the Earthbound characters, this is the BIG showdown, it's LITERALLY a conflict of BIBLICAL proportions. Both Heaven and Hell send representatives to cajole things along. You know...if we're not careful things could escalate!

So is the last episode worth the build up?

It certainly feels dramatic, and it has some parallels with another Epic tale (more of that in a moment).

The extended episode time is necessary to contain the climactic nature of the showdown, by splitting this up it would have caused some issues with pacing in the latter half.

Again there are some elements that struggle on radio. When the top Hellish player appears, there are some fairly expansive sound effects, but they can't properly convey what's going on, things get a bit confusing, and having read the book helps immensely. Without that book knowledge it is no large stretch of the imagination to hear many listeners uttering a bemused "Eh?"...

And back to the comment about comparisons about another EPIC tale? Which one? One of the biggest ! 

The Return Of The King.

Wow, you're thinking, praise indeed. No. I'm comparing the endings. Not comparing emotional depth or tragic consequences. The comparison is the length. The ending seems to go on and on. It's definitely in line with the book, so what it does do is show that you're prepared to put up with a completely different pace on the page than in the ear.

So. 

Now the series is over what did i think? 

Despite flaws (slightly clunky start, a few dodgy accents, some elements didn't work in a purely aural setting and a central performance that doesn't fit with my vision from the book), it grew on me and the last half of the series was an improvement on the first. 

There is a BBC version being released as CD and download which includes around 50 minutes of extra performance, this might improve matters further. 

With all predictions now over i can only venture an opinion. A choice if you will. 

And if I must make a choice, my decision is to,listen again. 

After I've re-read the book.

Rating:
8
Topics:
Monday, February 2, 2015 - 20:33 by David

You know it's getting bad when the Forces of Darkness have taken over Radio 4. I mean Radio 1 being Infernal is pretty much a given, but Radio 4!

Crowley can go nowhere now, his masters are now onto him, but he knows where to go. 

Tadfield.

And as for Aziraphale, he's been banished by the smiting finger of Sergeant Shadwell, so  Crowley must rush to his destination alone.

Well, not alone.

Armaggedon requires certain things. Four things. Horsemen. Well not horses, and not all men.

Things have changed a bit and horses are now horsepower, War is a woman, and although there are definitely four, their fame preceeds them and they acquire some hangers on.

They are all headed for Tadfield, which is now cut off by road due to rains of fish and piled up vehicles. Try riding your motorbike through that and see what you get. 

Aziraphale may be gone from the world of men but he isn't entirely helpless, he still has a voice in all of this, now all he needs is someone who can hear it. There are some natural candidates for this who you think would be pleased to get a little conversation from usually silent partners, well they would be if they actually wanted to be spoken to, and the subject matter wasn't so grim.

In the centre of all this travelling we have Adam Young and his gang. Adam has had this idea. Why doesn't he destroy everything and start again. That would be brilliant, everything would be just as he wants it...

This episode is a bit of a mixed bag to be fair.

The urgency of the main characters to try and combat the coming destruction is coming to the fore . To my mind, there are a few flashes of the Crowley from my head coming out through the speakers as the radio version starts to get stressed. Adam is now starting to change as he nears his destiny.

Some of the less successful bits...

The pacing seems a bit off, the scene in the roadside cafe seems overly long. The bikers' accents are also questionable, especially the comedy Birmingham, everyone goes over the top with Birmingham, this is no exception. 

The Radio 4 stuff as well, it just feels awkward.

Oh well. 

When it refocuses on moving the plot along the pace picks up and by the end of the episode we're back on course for the final act.

You know.

The end of all life on Earth and final showdown between God and Satan. 

Sounds exciting. 

A British Judgement Day.

I'll put the kettle on.

Rating:
6
Topics:
Wednesday, January 21, 2015 - 09:33 by David

The preamble is coming to an end.

Along with everything else.

We're now only a few hours away from the big supernatural punch up. 

The characters are on a collision course for Lower Tadfield. Newton Pulsifer, Witchfinder Private has arrived in a very wrecked car and is taken to Anathema Device by Adam and pals, a not entirely unexpected event. 

Deprived of the actual book of predictions, Anathema has a handy card index of summaries, annotated and cross referenced, a sort of cardboard Wikipedia (Wikipredictia?). 

Newton's arrival is anticipated, and it transpires that the cards reveal the connections of the modern day witch and witchfinder and their respective ancestors. It also reveals what they are supposed to do next. 

In the past Agnes Nutter smirks...

As things start to get weird in Lower Tadfield because of Adam's world-warping, Sergeant Shadwell decides its time to send in the reserves, i.e. Himself. Unfortunately the Witchfinder Defence Budget is rather slender, so Shadwell decides to tap up his clients for some expenses.

The clients themselves are both having trouble with their OWN employers. 

Aziraphale makes a call to his boss to try and avert Armageddon, Crowley gets a visit from his master's enforcement arm who want to know how Crowley has mislaid the son of Satan.

Aziraphale's call doesn't go as planned, by quite a long way.

Crowley's actions are not going to be guaranteeing him a demonic bonus and promotion.

The pace is definitely hotting up. 

There was lots of action in this episode, and this is where the strengths and weaknesses of radio come to the fore. For strengths, being able to fill in the blanks in your head where only a massive overblown budget would do on screen (Aziraphale's call) would do it proper jusice, and for weaknesses, Crowley's showdown with one of his pursuers which is great on the written page but is messy and difficult to follow audibly (to be fair it would probably be difficult to do well on screen also). 

That said, this one is definitely an improvement, less exposition, no recap (hurrah), and the frenetic energy I have been waiting for is starting to surface.

I can accurately predict that Episode 5 is next..

Rating:
8
Topics:
Monday, January 19, 2015 - 18:46 by David

Secondary characters to the fore for this episode.

Sergeant Shadwell's Witchfinder Army (both of them) are commissioned by both Mr A and Mr C to hunt suspicious characters in Tadfield, home of Adam Young and his gang.  While kitting out Newton with his Witchfinding kit we get a reminisce back to the Witchfinder Army's only failure...

Agnes Nutter. Actual witch. Actually able to predict the future . Not a good idea to try and surprise her then....oh no...

Speaking of Agnes Nutter, Josie Lawrence's accent seems to be moving up North. She started in Birmingham in week one and is now in Yorkshire. By the end of this series I hope you've all passed your advanced Norwegian language courses or this could get confusing...

Agnes' book of predictions has fallen into Aziraphale's hands, who makes the reasonable assumption that he can use it to predict the lead up to the Apocalypse to be able to try and put a stop to it. 

We also get a recap for radio listeners who are coming into this now almost half way through ... At least it isn't two characters who know exactly what's going on regurgitating their shared experience at each other. This time it's in the form of Aziraphale ruminating on how to find the Antichrist. This is much less intrusive - take note Mr Maggs - if you HAVE to recap for people who couldn't be bothered to listen to the previous episodes or are too lazy to use iPlayer then use some imagination please! 

Meanwhile, Adam Young's demonic powers are beginning to manifest. Conversations with his buddies generate real world versions. Good job he doesn't discuss Aliens landing on Earth or secret underground Tibetan tunnellers eh ? 

And, in the background, three of the Horseman receive messages that it's time to saddle up (Famine got the call in the last episode). These guys, and girl, are suitably impressive. War is able to start fights with a few well placed words, Pestilence/Pollution is suitably creepy, and, of course, Death conforming to the Pratchett standard.

The things are hotting up, threads are drawing together, and Satan is conversing with his minions via the Radio 1 breakfast show.

This one feels much more like the book. 

If we now give up on the re-covering old ground and limit the disappointing Crowley (thankfully at a minimum in this ep.) then we can all sit back and enjoy the world ending....

Rating:
7
Topics:
Monday, January 19, 2015 - 18:42 by David

So you've lost your Antichrist, what do you do ?

Go looking I suppose.

And that's exactly what Crowley and Aziraphale do. But where to start...?

Well to ACTUALLY start this episode we have recruitment into the Witchfinder Army, and (Peter Serafinowicz please take note), a MORE than pitch perfect introduction of the Witchfinder recruiter in Clive Russell. The word BONKERS looms up, trips you over and performs a jig in your chest. 

Then something that I hate everytime I hear it on a radio program, the recap speech added into the dialogue. There must be a better way of doing this , how about a "Previously on ..." pre-credits, or a small narration at the start . I know its for those that haven't heard it before, but you don't get it in books just in case someone starts in the middle.....

Ok - rant over...

What we get then is the narrative picking up with the 2 leads heading back to the baby-switching nuns to try and find out what's actually happened to Satan's little one (and his cute toesies), with an 11 year old trail to follow. 

In the meantime we meet up with Adam, the actual Antichrist, who has been raised as a middle class English kid in a middle class English village to average parents, and as such thinks that just because a witch/pagan happens to have moved into the village doesn't mean that it gives you the right to start assembling the kindling....

Adam seems like a bright, friendly and above all MORAL kid, with a few close friends and a hellhound. A hellhound designed to be defined by its name, that ends up being called ....DOG, a perfect name for a small mongrelly terrier like beast with an inside-out ear.

So nothing to worry about then...

Apart from the fact that regardless of the intentions of the actual Antichrist, Armageddon is still  on the cards and supernatural forces are gathering.  

A better episode than the opener (despite the introductory recap). We get a lot of introductions.The Witchfinder Army, Anathema the local witch, Adam and pals (one of whom is really irritating after only a few words. If his speech impediment is real then he has my sympathy, if not then stop it , it's horrible). We also get a proper introduction to Agnes Nutter's book of prophecy (not to give it it's real title), and a hint of a couple of sinister characters..

We see some magical activities performed by the two leads, and the whole episode felt a lot better for having less Peter Serafinowicz in it. 

Prophecy for episode 3...

Winter is comi...

Sorry...

Armageddon is coming...

Rating:
7
Topics:
Monday, January 19, 2015 - 17:37 by David

It's been a while since I read this book from Messrs Pratchett and Gaiman.

Years in fact, so the details are hazy. That should help me treat this as a nice surprise for the Xmas season (as you can see I started this episode review ages ago but didn't get around to finishing it until the New Year).

So, in the beginning we have 'In the BEGINNING', Garden Of Eden, Angels, Demons and the Fall.All that malarkey.

The two main protagonists are introduced as Crawley and Aziraphale, Demon and Angel buddies, who are embroiled in mankinds' exit into the big bad world. They spend the next few thousand years going native and getting comfortable. It's a fine life being supernatural in the world of men.Living and LIVING (although within the bounds set by their respective bosses), the Angel is now a bookstore owner, the demon a corporate shark. 

Then the inevitable happens and Judgement Day preparations begin. The Antichrist arrives in the form of a baby to be planted with an American Ambassador so the countdown to destruction 11 years later can begin...

Suffice to say, since this is a comedy , it doesn't pan out that way. Babies are tricky things, especially when you're trying to switch them around with only chatterbox satanist nuns (you don't get to type that very often!) for help, and a third unexpected infant in the mix.

Having read the book (which is great by the way. Two aspiring young authors, they may be ones to watch), I know there's a lot to cover, and in the main, one of the book's strengths is that there isn't a lot of padding, there are a lot of plot threads, and the production team should be applauded for trying to be so faithful. 

There's a problem though.

Crawley, or Cowley as he wants to be called. Or rather Peter Serafinowicz's characterization.  

His performance as Crowley is not what I was expecting. Speaking in a deep voice is all very well, but most of the time he comes across as slightly detached, almost narrating, very little apparent emotion. It deadens the comedy and comes across flat. 

The picture I have of Crowley from my interpretation of the book (and I admit that everyone will have different visions in their head) , is one of a confident but ultimately very nervous figure, riding the ragged edge of destruction, one wrong move away from condemning everything to the Armageddon and desperate to prevent it, always trying worm his way out of his demonic obligations, and thoroughly horrified by the machinations of his 'Management' . 

Like a condemned convict , frantically trying to convince the guy holding onto the electric chair switch that "It's a wonderful day for golfing, why don't you pop off for a quick 18 holes eh? I'll strap myself in and pull the lever myself , don't you worry about it. You can trust me .Right?"

This radio version of Crowley is too confident, too suave, it's being played a bit too much like a demonic James Bond - the George Lazenby one...

There is some counterpoint to this, Mark Heap is perfectly cast as Aziraphale, overly fussy, slightly bemused but not wet and ineffectual. 

On a story level ,this episode is all just set up, the supernatural buddies try to influence the budding Antichrist to be a bit less keen on mass extinction, but both are having their respective divine (and not so) orders. 

Things come to head when they realise that the demonic hell-hound despatched to be the child’s companion and guardian hasn't arrived, despite assurances from BELOW that it's been despatched and well on its way to its master.

Logical conclusion? 

Hound with master, Hound not here. Bugger! 

Since we concentrate on this pair for the majority of episode 1 there's not really that much else to talk about. 

It's an ok start, but not as entertaining as I was expecting, it seemed flat , stiff, which is odd given the depth of experience of the production team.

There are loads more eccentric characters and situations in this book, so I'm hoping that the future episodes perk up a bit. I hope things become a bit more engaging,as I found myself drifting a few times.

So on to Episode 2….

Rating:
6
Topics:
Monday, November 24, 2014 - 21:27 by David

And so to the end of the series.

As with Series 1, we end with a review for Uljabaan. 

Unlike last year however, this time he's not looking to impress. Quite the reverse. He's had enough of his lousy posting and he wants out. Lucy has finally put a spanner in his works, or rather chewing gum in his matter manipulator, it apparently amounts to the same thing. 

So after being forced to clean his equipment himself to avoid only being able to replicate 1980's rom-coms, he decides that this invasion is beneath his dignity and decides to con his superiors into believing that Earth is more militarily advanced than the Geonin believed, so it would be better to call the whole thing off. 

Lucy and Katrina, happy at last, finally get to dial up the resistance thing with alien weaponry, supplied to fool the assessor,(including a working replica of a very famous weapon. One that absolutely shot first).

They'll show this Alien reviewer who's boss. 'Nuff said!

Conversely, the Lyon parents realise with horror that the end of the Invasion means that their village will once again resume normal life, several years after they stopped paying the mortgage...They do the only thing they can do in this situation, toady up to Uljabaan to see ithey can get cash out of him. 

None of the above goes to plan.

The assessor is perceptive, efficient, and unfortunately Uljabaan's Ex...

Back to a decent level of episode this week after last week's dismal effort. Lucy particularly is great this week, showing a lovely vicious streak and wonderful joy at getting a really cool gun. Katrina is consistent with the self-centred character who wants to take credit for everything, and her parents are nicely sycophantic and oily.

The Computer is definitely top of the pile of characterisations as far as I'm concerned, and I'm going to miss his dry reproaches of his underachieving master. 

 Would I want to listen to another series?

Hmmm...

Yes, I think so, but I think that it needs a few changes to make that an instant affirmative.

The Sci-Fi elements. The writer and producers shouldn't be too coy about a few more fantasy elements. The audience they have will be made up of a lot of people like me who listen to it precisely for those elements, and the show is at its weakest when it's just pitching for the mundane.

The Villagers. There must be more oddball characters in this village. We've seen a couple over the last 6 weeks, but they've been kept at a minimum. Surely enforced isolation is going to bring out the loons!

Uljabaan. Bring back Julian Rhind-Tutt. 

The Main Human characters. Lucy is a much stronger character this time , with a greater presence to counterpoint Katrina,who I'm beginning to not like very much. Richard is ok, but a bit underdeveloped. Margaret gets on my nerves even more than Katrina, BUT,the difference is she's supposed to. Even so, keep her in small doses.

So. 

As we leave Cresden Green much as we found it at the start of the series, Uljabaan's memory wipe starts to kick in and the mental fog descends, we say goodbye to.....

Erm..

What was I saying. 

Why am I in this field...

And what am I standing in ?

Urgh!!!

Rating:
7
Topics:
Saturday, November 15, 2014 - 08:45 by David

This one was a test . Literally.

It’s a given that this series is not trying to amp up the Sci-Fi elements, which is a shame because that’s where some of its best strengths lie. Oh, and it’s also the reason that I’m listening to it. 

This week,the geekiness is scaled down and use only as a framer for what is essentially a rather dull plot around Lucy passing her “A” levels. 

After being warned by the Alexander parents that Lucy is wasting too much time on the Resistance, Katrina resolves to get Lucy through her exams.Since formal education is impossible through the usual channels, it’s off to Uljabaan to beg for resources. He’s contemptuous of this, A challenge ensues,and the rest of the episode is really thrown away as a series of clearly unsuitable teachers are produced, including the Lyons, who are not going to forward anyone’s education.

What’s frustrating here is the throwaway concepts that look more interesting , and more importantly for a comedy - FUNNIER.

Lucy drunkenly agreeing to having her brain removed for experimentation, the computer being able to determine the post-invasion role for the villagers (being menial or humiliating). I can’t help feeling that we kept it too grounded this week by not exploring these.

We’ve heard better than this in previous weeks, so the talent is there, there have been some good concepts and subversions of comedy staples. Not this episode, I found it a chore to get through, and Katrina is beginning to get on my nerves.

The only redeeming feature really is the consistently good Computer. Here’s a thought, get rid of the live Alien characters,some of the more annoying villagers (Katrina and Margaret), get a few more of the village eccentrics in and stop worrying about being bizarre. That would be a winning show….for the 2 episodes it would get before Radio 4 got cold feet and cancelled it.

Disappointing.

Mark  -  D Minus 

Rating:
3
Topics:
Friday, November 14, 2014 - 07:32 by David

Captain Kirk had it easy.

Every other week, a newly found ancient civilisation being run by a God-like mysterious force that turned out to be an advanced computer. 

One quick mind-meld later and a bit of gobbledygook from Kirk (broken gobbledygook, delivered to. The Computer..with. Punctua...tion. In.Lots of.Strange. Places), and the machine would have a silicon meltdown, and it would be back to the Enterprise for the Captain in time for a tribble sandwich and a quick round of sexually harassing the female members of the crew.

But that was a simpler time, and we all know with experience that feeding garbage into a computer won't make it blow up, but it will probably get you into a fight on an a website comments section.

But what if your computer is a hyper-intelligent all knowing Advanced Intelligence.  A computer that happens to be the nerve centre of your whole operation. And what if the garbage fed into it isn't a random stream of illogic, but an equally sophisticated virus.

That's this weeks dilemma, and it's a really interesting concept. What sort of virus would you need, how would it be able to trash a self aware machine, and how would it manage not to get itself erased.

Flattery and Seduction that's how.

The virus is genderized in the show as a female counterpart. This gives us a love story, WITHIN THE MIND OF THE COMPUTER. And as with all new loves, the Computer starts to behave outside the norm, it rebels against its master and decides it can no longer complete its invasion function.

Truth be told, Uljabaan isn't really much of a threat on his own, it's the Computer and the Minions that give him the edge, so when the computer starts to contract the force field as a prelude to aborting the mission which it now can't complete, he's just as much in danger of becoming part of a huge squished people preserve as everyone else.

This time everyone is on the same side. save the computer, save the village, save the invasion.

You also have to feel for the Computer, he knows it's a virus, he suspects he's being manipulated, but he can't quite bring himself to reset himself and kill off his new friend. The virus fills the emotional needs of the Computer, which is usually treated disdainfully by its uncaring master. It's nicely played out. 

The human elements are a mixed bag this week. Margaret Lyons is outaged to find that the alien has started a rumour (just to see how they work) that he and Margaret are having an affair . She wants the computer back on-line to mind wipe the villagers of this scandal. This plot line was completely unnecessary and I found it grating. 

On the other hand Katrina's belief that she's somehow saved the planet but they're now all going to die is a nice touch. 

This series is a bit of fluff usually, it's slightly wacky , middle-class, Radio 4 staple. 

This week I think it retained that, but it rose up to be a superior product. 

Gotta give this one an 8 out of 10.

Rating:
8
Topics:
Thursday, November 13, 2014 - 20:19 by David

This one might make you have a little doubt next time you ask or get asked to get a loyalty card stamped.

In this case the loyalty card in question is to the alien invaders, with a stamp on the card for collaborating obtained by ratting on the resistance who have kidnapped one of the minions and are holding it in a shed on the park.

That's going to make a few people think twice when they ask for a stamp after ordering their , Skinny-Decaf-Grande-Frappachino.

To be fair though, it's not as if regularly ordering a coffee from a specific organization is pledging your allegiance to an evil globe-spanning institution hell-bent on controlling us all...

In this case the collaborator in question had built up enough stamps to be able to ask for whatever they want from Field Commander Uljabaan. And the choice is to undertake one of the most insidious plots that could ever occur....

Borrowing the Invasion Computer to ...

(and I am struggling to type this here)... 

CHEAT IN THE PUB QUIZ...

The quiz has become a real prize, as with communications to the outside world cut off, the usual internet cheating that is the bane of many is now impossible. 

The computer wipes the floor with the usual winners, and as a result, the village goes collaboration crazy, which is a big problem for the Lyons and Lucy who are now the only source of information worthy of handing over to the aliens, since everyone now wants to get their hands on the computer to win the quiz.

With the villagers now hanging on every word, Lucy becomes the chief suspect in a mysterious plot regarding a contentious tree. She is arrested and interrogated and threatened to make her reveal the truth about why she is so keen to save it from being cut down.

Actually , I must admit that this was the best episode of this season so far. The jokes and central themes are stronger in this episode. The petty nature of the villagers is brought to the fore all over the place and makes a nice change from invasion schemes.

Uljabaan (although as easily manipulated as usual) takes on a slightly meaner edge with his treatment of Lucy, and the ultimate solution to the computer situation is completely in keeping with the tone of the series and characters motivations.

So much  better this week. Keep it up and stay Loyal ....

Or it's the MIND PROBE for you...

Rating:
6
Topics:

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