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Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future audio book review

Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future
Voyage to Venus Part 1

Reviewed by Steve Winders

Orion’s new audio version of the first half of Dan Dare’s first ever adventure from Eagle sticks rigidly to Frank Hampson’s original script and this is a major strength of the production. Hampson’s story is well paced and his witty script, with strong character interplay, transfers well to audio. Without the pictures some listeners may find parts of the story hard to follow but this was not an issue for me, although this may be because I know it so well.

The production is presented by just three actors and a narrator but, thanks to the versatility of Rupert Degas, who plays most of the characters, it sounds like a full cast recording. Having said that, Degas’ accent for Digby occasionally slips across the Pennines, but this is a minor criticism as he captures Digby’s (and Hampson’s) dry Lancashire wit extremely well.

Less successful is Tom Goodman Hill’s rather pompous reading of Dan Dare and the exaggerated tone of the production, which reminds me of the B.B.C.’s 1972 remake of the first ‘Dick Barton: Special Agent’ radio serial from 1946. Of course, the original may also have been performed in exaggerated style but it was before my time. Whether it was or not, I thought that the unnatural enthusiasm and exaggeration by the actors to try to punctuate the ‘action’ scenes spoiled the production by making a parody of what could have been a tense and exciting story. This is partly true of Orion’s ‘Dan Dare’, although I think the story rises above misguided attempts to overact it.

As in the B.B.C. radio adaptation of the same story in 1990, the Treens have a distinctly metallic tone in their voices, which was probably achieved by using a ring modulator. Years ago some friends and I recorded our own plays on tape and one of them, a science fiction pastiche, featured the Mekon and Treens. We used our own voices without recourse to technological aids, creating a rasping reptilian sound from the back of our throats to convey Treen speech. It proved quite effective and was surely more in the spirit of Frank Hampson’s original concept of the Treens, who were neither robots nor cybernetic creatures. It was rather painful on our throats though, but nothing that a couple of strepsils couldn’t cure.

The Theron characters are also given their own accent, which sounds like a mild American accent. While a slightly more exotic accent might be more effective, the idea of giving them their own distinct accent is a good one, especially in the absence of visual images to distinguish them.

Peter Rinne’s music punctuates the action well and the sound effects are also successful. I look forward to Part Two …

Dan Dare: Pilot of the Future - Voyage to Venus Part 1. Orion (ISBN 978-0752898766), July 2008.


  1. Anyone remember Dan Dare on Radio Luxembourg? Around 6 or 7 pm daily, probably late '50s, early '60s?

  2. The Holy Grail to Dan Dare fans! Nobody has ever been able to track down any tapes of the originals and the best record (rather than audio recording) of them was produced by my friend Phil Harbottle, who, as a youngster, listened to the show and turned it into a comic strip as he was listening. I think some of his youthful efforts were published in Eagle Times some years ago.

    There was a rumour a few years back that somebody had located tapes, but it turned out to be false.

    But, like those lost Doctor Who tapes, everyone keeps looking and... well, you never know. One day...

  3. I don't know why the cover artwork features a Crypt spaceship in the background, but it's worth remembering that Dan and crew were able to intercept progressively outdated TV and radio signals when they used one to break the Light Barrier in 'The Man from Nowhere'. Who knows - perhaps the day will come when we'll also be able to travel the requisite 50 Light Years in order to record the original Radio Luxembourg transmissions in the same way...?

    - Phil Rushton