Look! It Moves! by Adi Tantimedh: Epic Fantasies On The Radio

 Adi Tantimedh writes;

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It’s been a good month for the fantasy on the radio. We’ve had the fourth series of Sebastian Baczkiewicz’ brilliant PILGRIM and the start of the radio adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s NEVERWHERE.

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As I’ve said before, PILGRIM is like HELLBLAZER with the serial numbers shaved off, but that’s damning with faint praise. It’s a riff on the same archetype: the supernatural investigator. Where John Constantine was a working class wizard with the air of a con man and gambler, William Pilgrim is immortal, cursed to live forever by the Faerie king back in the 11th Century and condemned to do the bidding of the grey folk and supernatural creatures who lurk in the British Isles and tries to protect humans from their mischief and meddling. It’s won awards and the fact that it’s had four series over four years already without any great fanfare or publicity is remarkable.

NEVERWHERE has a bit of a chequered history before it ended up in its current incarnation as a Radio 4 drama with a British A-List cast. Its idea of the Secret London has always been a great idea. It was originally a novel and a BBC TV miniseries. Unfortunately, the TV version was not as well-directed as it should have been – it had the golden opportunity of filming in the real locations in London, but they looked like cheap 70s DOCTOR WHO sets due to, well, ineptitude. I complained at the time that my film school classmates could have done a better job directing it and they hadn’t even graduated yet. The new radio version might be the best adaptation of the story. Outside of the purity of the author’s voice in the prose version, the radio version is pacier and faster, the main character come across as more dynamic and less passive than the TV version. Overall, the radio version is everything the TV version should have been but failed to be.

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Both PILGRIM and NEVERWHERE show off what radio drama does best, create the best movie versions of stories in your head. And with far smaller budgets than movies or TV, just the use of sound, music and audio trickery from an engineer’s mixing board.

We’ve been pimping both PILGRIM and NEVERWHERE for a while now mainly because we like them. We’re trying to get an interview with Sebastian Baczkiewicz. I wouldn’t say it’s been exactly a bumper year for fantasy and Science Fiction on the radio, but when you have two major series going on at once, that’s a good thing. The truth is, the BBC has always been very good at producing Fantasy and Science Fiction on the radio, be it readings or full cast dramas, even during the fallow 1990s when there was a massive and depressing drought of decent genre material on British television, the Decade Without Doctor Who. The BBC has produced, over the decades, radio versions of Bulgarkov’s THE MASTER AND MARGARITA, Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS, the original radio version of Douglas Adams’ THE HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE TO THE GALAXY, Isaac Asimov’s FOUNDATION, Arthur C. Clarke’s CHILDHOOD’S END (while the movie version has languished for at least 20 years in Development Hell), William Gibson’s NEUROMANCER. This is on top of original material like PILGRIM and the sitcom ELVENQUEST, which spoofs the fantasy, Dungeons & Dragon, Sword & Sorcery genre. Then there are the radio drama spinoffs of DOCTOR WHO and TORCHWOOD.

For those of us who grew up in Britain, radio drama is something we’re so use to that we take it completely for granted. Even now, as I live in the US, I stream BBC radio plays and comedies everyday. I realised quite early on that the radio drama tradition died out in America by the1960s when television began to take over as the primary source of scripted entertainment, and that’s a shame. It costs far less to produce than TV or movies and much less time. The medium offers almost endless possibilities for stories in any genre.

I know a lot of writers, artists and creators read Bleeding Cool, so I’m putting out this idea: MAKE RADIO DRAMA. You already have the tools available to you on your computers, your smartphones. Sound recording and mixing programs, music programs, and it doesn’t cost very much to buy a decent microphone these days. With so many people making podcasts these days, it’s a wonder so few are writing and producing their own radio dramas. Writing a script is great practice and training for dialogue and characterization, for learning to tell a story through dialogue that sounds natural and believable rather than dry and robotic. You are only limited by your imagination. You can make stories of any length, whether one-offs or serialised. You can test characters you create. You can test your own acting ability. You can get your friends to act. It could be comedy, horror, thrillers, anything you want. For all the frustrations I hear from people who want to create and get their stories out there, creating your own radio dramas and posting them online as podcasts should be one of the many outlets you should be considering.

Go on.

Surprise us.

The finale of PILGRIM Series 4 is available for streaming for another couple of days.

NEVERWHERE is streaming all this week on BBC Radio 4.

Listening out at lookitmoves@gmail.com

Follow the official LOOK! IT MOVES! twitter feed at http://twitter.com/lookitmoves for thoughts and snark on media and pop culture,
stuff for future columns and stuff I may never spend a whole column writing about.

Look! It Moves! © Adisakdi Tantimedh

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