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