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Avengers on the Radio designed, maintained and Copyright by Alan and Alys Hayes.

The Avengers is Copyright CANAL+IMAGE UK Ltd. No attempt to infringe this copyright is intended. 

REVIEW "DIAL A DEADLY NUMBER"

It is somewhat unfortunate that I chose Dial A Deadly Number to review, for it is one of my favourites in film form, and so I was perhaps harder on it than I might have been on one of the Tara-to-Emma conversions such as Not To Be Sneezed At (a.k.a. You'll Catch Your Death). 

And while I did find much to criticise, to my pleasant surprise I found much more to commend.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first, shall we? While I fully realise that creating all-new stories would have been impractical for multiple reasons, I still found it disappointing that the radio series only rehashed pre-existing material rather than build on the legacy in some unique way. Of course, I say this as a twenty-first-century listener with the unfair advantage of having had the entire series at my fingertips since its premiere (initially as audio recordings, then off-air videos from the 80s through to the recent A&E releases), not to mention having many episodes virtually committed to memory. Contrast this with the period audience (70s South Africa) for whom no such archive was available; indeed, some listeners may not have even known of the TV series. Thus my argument is likely moot.

The same "unnatural" listening conditions of this present-day, AV-equipped fan gave rise to two peculiarities. Listening to an entire episode's worth of installments in one sitting makes for an overly-long program (an admittedly feeble complaint, as I surely could have stopped the playback at any time!). Also, hearing the last scene of one installment back-to-back with the teaser of the next emphasised how the same scene was rendered in two often wildly different versions, which was rather disconcerting. While a twenty-three and three quarter hour separation might lessen the effect, some of the differences were so acute that I suspect it would still be noticeable.

To be honest, I was not especially fond of Diane Appleby's Emma - her excessive inflections quickly grew annoying, and the only blessing was that she didn't have that much dialogue. It took a while to get used to Steed, not because it wasn't Patrick Macnee, but because Donald Monat's soft, round, veddy British voice was often lost amidst a sea of other soft, round, veddy British voices. Some of the characterisations were quite odd - Ruth Boardman, for instance, was reminiscent of Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle. And some of the music cues were downright baffling - to wit: someone has just been murdered; cue the happy, trippy guitar music!

End of carping. Time to praise. Hearing it for the first time I was initially struck by a warm rush of nostalgia. It seemed as if I was listening to a troupe of pilgrims reading a form of scripture to the people of an alien world; I found myself mentally reciting along with the actors those lines that survived the radio adaptation intact. I might have been tempted to remark that the sound effects were laughably lame, but even if this wasn't deliberate, it instead added to the charm. In all, it was a genuine treat slipping back to the days of good radio entertainment - something of a lost art in both the performing and the appreciating.

Although some radio serial aficionados might rate the show as average, if it is true that there were no rehearsals and that everything was read "cold," then this program stands as a testament to the startlingly fine talent of the performers involved. With precious few exceptions, the delivery and timing were spot on - I dare say it seemed generally more polished than some of the Cathy Gale TV episodes. While my overall attitude is almost certainly skewed to some degree by my being a fan of The Avengers, and further skewed by the delightful privilege of just being able to hear such incredibly rare material, I do believe that lesser programs have been granted more respect.

I cannot close this critique without giving thanks. Alan and Alys Hayes have, through an act of pure love, rescued and restored a true treasure. The world is indebted to them, and I am grateful for having the opportunity to share their adventure in some small way.

Reviewed by David K. Smith