The Adventures of Doc Savage
Adapted from novels by Lester Dent
Starring Daniel Chodos as Doc Savage
8 Hours – [AUDIO DRAMA]
Themes: / Science Fiction / Hero / Adventure / Pulp / Audio Drama / Skeletons / Chemistry /
Doc Savage is the strongest, smartest, most resourceful, best-looking guy you’ll ever meet. And he fights crime. Born in pulp magazines in the 1930’s, he’s also the subject of 181 novels, and a movie.
The Adventures of Doc Savage contains 13 half-hour episodes of audio drama that were originally broadcast on NPR in 1985. These episodes tell two complete stories that were adapted from novels written by Lester Dent. “Fear Cay” was published in September 1934 and “The Thousand Headed Man” in July 1934. The scripts were written by Will Murray and Roger Rittner.
Having never read a Doc Savage story, I was interested for historical reasons. I’ve run across these novels regularly over the years, but the pulp hero never caught my reading eye. I’m very happy, though, to have heard these audio dramas. They are very well done. They’re action packed, thoroughly entertaining, and as full of camp as you’d hope.
With the opening of “Fear Cay”, I learned that Doc Savage doesn’t work alone. He’s got a team around him that reminds me of Buckaroo Banzai’s crew. (Now, why was Jeff Goldblum wearing that ridiculous cowboy outfit again?) I now realize that Buckaroo had to have been influenced by Doc Savage. Savage also has a diverse team around him – from physical strength to electronic genius – and there’s nothing they can’t handle.
Still, Doc Savage is the best of them all. He’s not among equals. He can overpower multiple men at once, but he’s just as apt to talk himself out of a situation. And he’s got gadgets and/or chemical formulations for everything else that occurs.
In short, I had a great time listening to these dramas. They’re fun.
Now this is strange, I recommend you read this audiobook despite it having some pretty awful writing. I’ve never found myself rooting the the villain as much as with this book, a book in which the mostly off-screen antagonist outshines the on-screen protagonists. First published in 1913 the titular character of The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu (aka The Mystery of Dr. Fu-Manchu) has come to epitomize a the embodiment of a socio-cultural meme known as THE YELLOW PERIL. The purported protagonists, Dr. Petrie and Sir Denis Nayland Smith, are a pair of casually racist assholes. They carry their ignorant colonial bully-boy tactics with them into every scene like a foul and infecting stench. Their agenda, to protect white supremacy at all costs, makes their foe’s vaguely villainous goals all the more palatable. But what is it that their enemy, Dr. Fu-Manchu, wants to do exactly? He is clearly ruthless. Is it simply world domination? Maybe. But even if that’s true, I can’t imagine he’d be as offensive as these two English assholes. When Fu Manchu does finally show up he seems more of a curious zoologist than an arch-fiend. It sounds bad, and it is, with bad writing for the most part, but it’s also very something iconic, and in that sense it is both important and worthwhile.
I think what Sax Rohmer did was write the novel, in earnest, from the heroes’ perspective – what time has done has has turned the heroes into villains and the villain into the hero.
We did couple of podcasts on this book and this subject earlier this year: The SFFaudio Podcast #051 and #052, and I’ve been thinking about the yellow peril again recently. After watching the glossily re-imagined Hawaii Five-O pilot (if you value your vaunted opinion of humanity’s as the paragon of animals stay far clear) I was reminded of the yellow peril’s turn in the original Hawaii Five-O TV series. It had a 13 episode arc that spanned from the first episode in 1968 to the final episode in 1980. That was good stuff. The racism that infects The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu had been replaced in the original Hawaii Five-O by a RED MENACE (guised as YELLOW PERIL). Since that last episode aired the USA has come a long way in the racism department, but bad writing, in books and television, will always be with us.
The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu
By Sax Rohmer; Read by FNH 30 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 7 Hours 20 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Published: October 9, 2010 The first of the Fu-Manchu novels this story follows the two characters who are set against the machinations of the insidious doctor.
I’ve just started listening to Ian Fleming: The Man Behind James Bond, a biography by Andrew Lycett, (available from Blackstone Audio). Here’s an interesting bit from early on:
“On Sunday evenings all the boys would gather in the hall of Durnford‘s [preparatory school] main building, a shabby 18th century manor house. Then, while her feet were tickled by some unfortunate child, Nell [the headmaster’s wife] would read them an adventure story. The general favourites were The Prisoner Of Zenda, Moonfleet and, towards the end of Ian’s time, Bulldog Drummond. Lawrence Irving, a pupil shortly before the Flemings, found that he ‘Never read those books again without hearing Nell’s tone and inflection.’ The same went for Ian, though he preferred the populist works of Sax Rohmer who opened up a more fantastic world with his yellow devil villain Doctor Fu Manchu.”
See that? There’s a nice direct connection between Dr. Fu Manchu and Doctor No. And, as I’m discovering by listening to Andy Minter’s reading of The Prisoner Of Zenda, you get a nice resonance between James Bond, playboy adventurer, and Rudolf Rassendyll, English gentleman.
In fact, as I’m writing this I’m very much enjoying The Prisoner Of Zenda, and am considering delving more deeply into the sub-genre it helped create: Ruritanian romance (a story set in a fictional country)
The Prisoner Of Zenda
By Anthony Hope; Read by Andy Minter
1 |M4B|, 22 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 5 Hours 42 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Published: December 16, 2006 The Prisoner of Zenda tells the story of Rudolf Rassendyll, an English gentleman on holiday in Ruritania, a country not a thousand miles from Bavaria. There, by reason of his resemblance to the King of Ruritania he becomes involved in saving the King’s Life and his Throne from the King’s dastardly brother and his allies. Woods, moated castles, pomp, swordplay, gallantry, villainy and a beautiful princess. What story could ask for more?
By J. Meade Falkner; Read by various readers 24 Zipped MP3 Files or Podcast – Approx. 7 Hours 58 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Published: July 17, 2008 The novel is set in a fishing village in Dorset during the mid 18th century. The story concerns a 15 year old orphan boy, John Trenchard, who becomes friends with an older man who turns out to be the leader of a gang of smugglers. One night John chances on the smugglers’ store in the crypt beneath the church. He explores but hides behind a coffin when he hears voices. He finds a locket which contains a parchment, in the coffin belonging to Colonel Mohune. Unfortunately after the visitors leave, he finds himself trapped inside, and is only rescued two days later when two of the smugglers, Ratsey, the sexton and Elzevir Block, the innkeeper of the Why Not?, the local pub, investigate his disappearance. His aunt insists he leaves her house and Elzevir Block takes him in to live at the pub.
ca·lyp·so – /kəˈlɪpsoʊ/ – a musical style of West Indian origin, influenced by jazz, usually having topical, often improvised, lyrics.
I’ve only been the Caribbean once. But I still greatly feel its tropical magnetism. Ian Fleming did too. The first James Bond film, Doctor No was set in Jamaica. It’s where Ian Fleming lived and where he wrote Doctor No. I think he really brought the flavour of the Caribbean to the story. Throw in a mysterious Chinese, a yellow peril type, complete with fire-breathing dragon – and that’s entertainment folks!
When you think about it, Doctor No has just about everything a James Bond movie would later come to epitomize. First, there’s the exotic locale, Jamaica! Then there’s the titular villain with a body quirk, Doctor No has functional metal hands. And finally there’s the beautiful and headstrong woman, Honey Rider. Her first appearance, on screen, is perhaps the best known scene in any James Bond movie. As we first meet this enterprising shell collector she’s singing a song to herself on the beach. It’s a calypso tune that goes … “Underneath the mango tree me honey and me…” |MP3|
Now while that’s a great scene, the original novel ain’t no slouch either. Check out the unabridged reading by Simon Vance…
By Ian Fleming; Read by Simon Vance
7 CDs or 1 MP3-CD – Approx. 7 Hours 13 Minutes [UNABRIDGED]
Publisher: Blackstone Audio
ISBN: 9781433258572 (cd), 9780786190720 (mp3-cd)
Sample |MP3| M called this case a soft option. Bond can’t quite agree. The tropical island is luxurious, the seductive Honey Rider is beautiful and willing. But they are both part of the empire of Dr. No. The doctor is a worthy adversary, with a mind as hard and cold as his solid steel hands. Dr. No’s obsession is power. His only gifts are strictly pain-shaped.
In the novel, “Honeychile Rider” is described as “Botticelli’s Venus as seen from behind.” The movie has her in a bikini, in the novel she’s nude, except for a belt. In the movie she’s singing “Underneath The Mango Tree,” in the novel she’s whistling “Marianne.” Fleming describes “Marianne” as “a plaintive little Calypso that has now been cleaned up and made famous outside Jamaica.”
And it’s “Marianne” that’s used in the most recent incarnation of the Doctor No story, the BBC audio dramatization! And, in case you were wondering, it returns Honeychile to the nude.
I really like the movie, and the novel is definitely up there, but for me, now that I’ve heard it, the 2008 BBC audio dramatization of Doctor No is now my preferred version. It has that, sense of place, that a film gives, it plays up the mystery element, (which the movie downplays) and compresses the narrative with a “show, don’t tell” way that good audio drama really excels at.
I got a copy from RadioArchive.cc. The uploader there describes the audio dramatization like this:
Ian Fleming was never satisfied by the movie world’s take on James Bond. This dramatisation by Hugh Whitemore would meet with his approval as it is so faithful to the original novel. Bond, played here by Toby Stephens, is a wistful, vulnerable man as much as he is a fabulously fit and sexy hero. We hear him throwing up with fear after being crawled upon by a giant killer centipede, for example, which would never have done for Sean Connery. But both script and performances are true to Fleming’s vision of Bond.
And of course once you start looking into the actors biographies you start seeing all sorts of fascinating connections. Lucy Fleming, Ian Fleming’s neice plays a role. Toby Stephens has been in a Bond film and John Standing, who plays “M”, came from the family that owned Bletchley Park (the ultimate in espionage HQs if there ever was one)!
Now read a couple more of the listener reviews:
“Were this a movie, David Suchet [playing Dr. No] could have seriously expected an Oscar nomination, best Bond villain in any medium ever. Fantastic production all in all.”
“A splendid, sharp, slick adaptation, very faithful to Fleming’s writing. Makes you wonder why BBC hasn’t tackled more of these. And Toby Stephens is terrific as Bond.”
Based on the novel by Ian Fleming; Adapted by Hugh Whitemore; Performed by a full cast
Broadcast – Approx. 90 Minutes [RADIO DRAMA]
Broadcaster: BBC Radio 4 – The Saturday Play
Broadcast: May 24, 2008
Provider: RadioArchive.cc Bond is sent to investigate a strange disappearance on the island of Jamaica, and discovers that the heart of the mystery lies with a sinister recluse known as ‘Dr No’.
‘M’ …… John Standing
Moneypenny …… Janie Dee
James Bond ……Toby Stephens
The Armourer …… Peter Capaldi
Chief of Staff …… Nicky Henson
Airport Announcer/Receptionist/Inika …… Leigh Wright
Airport Official/Pus-Feller/Henchman …… Kobna Holdbrook-Smith
Quarrel …… Clarke Peters
Miss Chung/ Sister Lily …… Kosha Engler
Pleydell Smith …… Samuel West
Miss Taro/Telephonist/ Sister May/Tennis girl …… Jordanna Tin
Librarian …… Lucy Fleming
Honey Rider …… Lisa Dillon
Guard/Henchman/Crane Driver …… Jon David Yu
Dr No …… David Suchet
Acting Governor of Jamaica …… Simon Williams
Voice of Ian Fleming …… Martin Jarvis
Music by Mark Holden and Samuel Barbour
Producer Rosalind Ayres
Director Martin Jarvis