As a writer, I've always been fond of radio plays. You don't have to worry about the director
cutting your dialogue so he can insert a logically stupid but viscerally stunning visual
effect in its place. (Has anyone else noticed how truly awful the writing is in most special
effects movies?) If anything, for a radio play, even more words are needed. Since I usually
get paid by the word (except for labours of love, of course, like this review), I'm all in
favour of that.
One thing is certain: the FX in your head cost the producers considerably less than they do in a
visual medium. For this reason, radio drama is a particularly effective solution to dramatising
fantasy and science fiction. Long before The Lord of the Rings was produced successfully
on celluloid, it had been well presented on radio. So what could be more natural than adapting
the Brian Clemens-era Avengers episodes?
In a sense, of course, it's problematic, because everybody already knows what the episodes are
supposed to look like. On the other hand, I can't claim I see Patrick Macnee when I listen to
Donald Monat, although Steed's bowler and brolly are still in evidence.
Which brings me (at last) to From Venus With Love. As science fiction, the story is a complete
disaster. Real lasers are silent. Real lasers do not dramatically increase ambient heat. Real
lasers do not cover everything in their vicinity with white ash. Real lasers do not require the
use of a parabolic dish antenna (as in the TV version). Despite all that, From Venus With Love
has long been one of my favourite Avengers episodes because of all of the typical Avengerian
quirks in the plot.
How can you not love Bertram Fortescue Winthrop-Smythe, the blue-blooded chimney sweep? (Note: Bert
in the radio version is considerably less Bertie Wooster-like than in the TV version, but still
an upstanding exemplar of the eccentric gentry.) How can you not adore Brigadier Whitehead
fearlessly galloping between gramophones in performing his own radio play adaptation of his
memoirs? How can you fail to be delighted with Primble's eye chart, portraying, as it does,
images of different hats in place of the far more prosaic alphabet (or those boring 'E's pointed
in different cardinal directions from my long ago youth)? And of course, there is the arch humour
of the title itself, a gentle nudge in James Bond's ribs.
One wishes to report that in this episode, in which the sonic has an importance far beyond that in
any other Avengers episode, the radio play has triumphed. One wishes to report that comparison
with the TV original is superfluous. Alas, one cannot honestly report these things. The radio version
is not without its disappointments. Venus Brown was an attractive (if somewhat distracted) wide-eyed
and youngish brunette in the TV version. On the radio, she is a twenty-something blonde bombshell,
whose exaggerated come-hither vocalisations sound like they are being uttered by a forty-something
torch singer. The slapstick climax of the TV version, which was filled with visual gags, could not
be adapted successfully for the radio, making for a too-abrupt denouement.
But what of the all-important sound effects? Such effects are produced in radically different
ways in the two media. Filmed television adds sound effects in post production, i.e., after the
film is 'in the can', as we say in Hollyweird. This is done by 'Foley men' (presumably named after
the originator of the technique). When you see a cinematic burglar step on broken glass and hear the
crunch of his boot further fracturing the fallen fragments, the odds are overwhelming that it was
added by a Foley man long after the actors had moved on to their next projects. Radio plays, on the
other hand, stick much closer to their live broadcast roots. Sound effects are performed by various
means, frequently by the actors themselves, as the scripts are being read into the microphones.
In the case of From Venus With Love, the critical sound effect is that of the high-powered
laser. On TV, this effect was produced by combining several sounds, including a recording of a bullet
ricochet being played backwards and an electrical discharge against a charged plate. In the radio
version, the sound was obviously mostly electronically generated - coming off like some gizmo on the
bridge of the Sixties-vintage incarnation of the Starship Enterprise. It has far less impact. (To
hear the television effect, click this
But all is not lost. There is a charming new scene at the beginning, where Emma and Steed are dining
in a rooftop garden, and Appleby's and Monat's performances throughout are completely engaging. The
droll humour of the narrator is on a par with other episodes.
And the tag sequence suggests an amusing alternative to Cold Water Omo.
Reviewed by James Lincoln Warren