What the heck have I been listening to? First off, I enjoyed it. BBC Radio 4 Extra served up a nice slice of ripping space flight adventure in the first episode of the B7/Big Finish Dan Dare. Ed Stoppard plays a cocky test pilot with an axe to grind conscripted for a mission of interplanetary exploration.
But rather like a Marvel movie they throw a lot out with the bath water. Or is that me being crusty and precious? This new audio adventure has its own dynamic and throws in a couple of game changers.
When the Eagle launched in April 1950, its cover feature Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future introduced a future world in crisis due to global famine. As a consequence Space Fleet looked to neighbouring worlds to alleviate the problem.
Except missions to Venus end in destruction. Dare theorizes that the problem lies with the impulse engines used by the ships. They don’t carry fuel, power is beamed to the ship in radio bursts. Skylon inventor Alan Bond once told me he believes this is the first time such engines appeared in a work of fiction. He had worked on projects to develop microwave impulse engines. Dare decides to use old-fashioned rockets to travel to Venus. There is a flaw in his plan but that’s a device for more adventure when his crew get there.
Over a year and a half of comic installments, Dan encounters the militaristic Treens, indolent Therons and Atlanteans, descended from people who had been harvested as slave labour in Earth’s distant past. Almost all that is gone (so far).
The radio version starts with Dare test flying the Kingfisher, a name check for the doomed spaceship in the early episodes of the comic. He is anxious to get back into space although officially such expeditions have been mothballed.
This Dare is also kind of touchy that his dad has been blamed for a spaceship crashing on Birmingham. His what? This is something of a turnaround. Not that it was revealed for eight years but the comic Dare Snr had vanished into interstellar space under mysterious circumstances. Guess we won’t be doing that story in the future? The radio version is in a coma.
Dare is called in to fly the Anastasia, a spacecraft made to alien specification, on a mission to Venus. It’s being financed by the Eagle Corporation (geddit) and their representative Jocelyn Peabody will join Dare and Lt Digby on the flight. “So we’ve got three people who each think they are in charge,” says Dare. “I can’t speak for Peabody, Sir,” says Digby (Geoff McGivern).
Dare and Digby are not yet the double act of the comics. The Lancastrian still seems to be the guy who gets things done, he now has a loyalty to Dare Snr, visiting him in hospital once a week, but his relationship with Dan is a touch caustic. This Dan doesn’t know when to keep his trap shut.
There is something cynical and dubious about this version of Peabody (Heida Reed). It’s not clear if she is on the side of the angels. On the plus side they’ve avoided the stewardess chic that afflicted the recent Titan comic. Now Peabody is talking corporate mergers which will be great help if they ever adapt the Virgin Garth Ennis version where she became Prime Minister.
I’m not sure about the introduction of Anastasia so early. There is a reason the ship gets that name in the comic, so presumably those events are on the cutting room floor? But before you know it the radio trio have flown to Venus where they are quickly arrested and brought to a flying city where they encounter the autocratic Mekon (Raad Rawi). Not exactly pleasant, but not necessarily bent on universal domination, although he is rather sensitive about mention of Sondar and that might provoke his actions in the next episode. In a possible nod to modern day knowledge of Venus, it is suggested that the Treens are not native to Earth’s demon sister.
Part two due on Sunday.