Terribly, terribly British, square-jawed hero Dan Dare starred in various 1950s comic-strip space adventures in a cynicism-free B-movie sci-fi setting. Dan Dare embodied all the perceived virtues of the British Airman in World War II, stiff upper lip and all, later evolving into an avatar of service, professionalism and all-out decency to which young Brits could aspire. Think Biggles – but with spaceships.
DAN DARE: THE AUDIO ADVENTURES – VOLUME ONE from B7 Productions features three brand new audio dramas that recreate those classic comic stories for a modern era. Despite updating ‘the future’, so there are now references to GPS and downloading onto mobile devices, the entire boxset is faithful and loving towards the original tales. Without ever straying into jingoism, they preserve that sense of what’s crucial to Dare, with no resorting to sly digs at the idea of such fly-boy heroism, or undercutting it with postmodernism.
A noticeable update is that Dare, played by Ed Stoppard, has now become a 21st century character with an emotionally-charged backstory – his father was a wrongfully-disgraced famous pilot and whom Dan feels he must vindicate by making the Dare name bright and shiny again. Importantly however, the core of the character is still good and true and morally upright. That said, it wouldn’t be a 21st century take on a hero if the line between ‘bold and fearless’ and ‘reckless and stupid’ wasn’t explored, and it is. The excellent writing of his ever-faithful bluff Lancastrian sidekick Digby, given peerless casting of Geoffrey McGivern, allows for subtle outside assessments of Dare’s heroic antics without ever losing the friendly, respectful tone or slowing down the belting pace.
The final member of the Anastasia crew is the brains of the outfit, Professor Peabody, played by Heida Reed. With a slightly stronger crank on the reimagining handle than with the other leads, Peabody is no longer the token eye-candy for the chaps: in this new version, she’s now a company woman with a motto of “no profit, no space exploration”. Although her position at the company which funds the trips into the solar system gives her an altogether less gung-ho approach to the job at hand than the boys, meaning she can appear a bit like the typical business bureaucrat always trying to curb the fun, she’s no slouch at getting the crew out of the trouble Dare’s unwavering conscience and runaway mouth frequently lands them in.
The mixture of these three allows a good mix of classes and interests – Dare doesn’t care about politics beyond his own personal ethics, and unlike Peabody has no interest in profit at all. Digby’s a longstanding military man, but a real one, who knows when to leg it and when to blow the ever-living daylights out of something. He’s the voice of reasoned self-interest in the dynamic, but that never turns into any form of cowardice, so you can still admire him.
Of course, any Dan Dare series wouldn’t really be a Dan Dare series without at least an appearance from Dare’s arch-nemesis the Mekon, and he’s here in two of the three stories, played with relish by Raad Rawi. A Venusian dictator with an enormous brain and a flying chair, think the twisted smarts of Nazi Scientist Dr Mengele, the political absolutism of Hitler, and the scientific brain of Stephen Hawking, all united in a giant green head that rules Venus – and its people, the generally docile Treen – with a rod of iron. A representative of repressive regimes everywhere, this release shows he’s still very much worth opposing in the 21st century.
The joy about Dan Dare: The Audio Adventures is that while there are references for comics readers to pick up on, these new adventures stand on their own merits as a breath of absolutely fresh air. The series assumes you know none of what’s come before and starts Dan Dare fresh from a 21st century perspective, determined to make new fans for the Pilot of the Future.
Dan Dare: The Audio Adventures is bright, optimistic, heroic and pacey, and it still manages to say that tyranny is worth opposing, wherever you find it. What’s more, it maintains a lack of modern day cynicism and presents it as something laudable, even in a year when cynicism would be the easier, arguably more audience-friendly route to take. In short, it’s a ripping adventure yarn updated for the 21st century, and there’s not a bally thing wrong with that!
DAN DARE: THE AUDIO ADVENTURES – VOLUME ONE is available to buy now exclusively from Big Finish until January 31st 2017, after which date it will be available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading audiobook retailers.