Prisoners of Space by Colin Brake
Directed by Andrew Mark Sewell
Part of Dan Dare: The Audio Adventures Volume Two
Produced by B7 Media
Distributed by Big Finish
Featuring cover art by Brian Williamson
The third story of the second volume of the critically celebrated audio reinvention of the classic British SF hero Dan Dare, starring Ed Stoppard, Heida Reed, Geoff McGivern and Raad Rawi
The Story: After a sequence of near non-stop adventures Dare, Digby and Peabody find themselves in a strange limbo of paranoid calm. Whilst there’s been no sign of the Mekon anywhere in the solar system, Dare is certain Earth hasn’t seen the last of the evil alien. Mysterious spaceship disappearances near Venus, an Academy student accidentally launching a prototype new spacecraft, and a floating prison cell in space… reveal themselves as all part of the Mekon’s latest plan to defeat his arch-enemy Dan Dare once and for all. The first season of Dan Dare concludes with daring space action, fearless heroics and the revelation of devastating secrets concerning Space Fleet…
The Review: And so we come to the final Dan Dare audio story from B7 Media, for the time being at least. It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride and it’s time to bring current plot threads to a close and listen to our heroes go up against the Mekon once again in what may prove to be a decisive battle…
Our story starts as Dan is asked by his long-standing friend ‘Old Timer’ (Old Groupie in the original comics) to judge the efforts of young space cadets (the ‘Class of 46’) in an engineering competition. This nicely re-introduces us to Flamer Spry (another popular character in the comics and seen as a youngster in the first of these audio dramas) whose temperament is as fiery as his name suggests. Flamer is cheeky, self-confident and instantly likeable, and, despite an initial character clash with Digby, fits into the established team very well.
Some might groan that this adventure again begins with a mystery concerning missing spacecraft (robot-controlled supply ships in this instance) but it’s a legitimate lead-in to another strong story which further develops B7’s Dan Dare universe.
The regulars are good value as always. Dan doesn’t really do anything that we haven’t seen him do before (as always, he’s brave, resourceful and moralistic) but it’s the sort of stability we expect from the character and this is by no means a bad thing.
The character of Digby continues to be nicely developed (his description of the Mekon as ‘a slippery green git’ is another classic line) and the contrast between old-school Digby and the younger, slightly arrogant Spry is nicely played out. Digby comments at one point that positivity is not his style and states that “If you always look to the dark side you’re happy when you’re wrong”. I love the world-weariness that B7 have given the character.
Both Flamer and Digby record “personal logs” during the course of the story, a bit like the Captain’s log in Star Trek. It’s a nice device, like a Shakespearean aside, which allows us to hear what the characters are thinking when they are without someone else to converse with.
On the villain front, Raad Rawi continues to be wonderfully sinister as the Mekon. Lines such as “This space station is under my command” could easily have sounded cliched if performed by a lesser actor but he delivers them with such relish that you cannot fail to be chilled and impressed.
The Mekon and the Treens have sometimes been likened to the Nazis (a bit like the Daleks in Doctor Who) but here the Mekon’s actions are more like those of a terrorist which really makes the story seem relevant to modern events. His plan is to hold Digby and Flamer hostage and get Dan in return.
“You can’t negotiate with him,” warns Peabody, fully aware that the Mekon is an untrustworthy fanatic. But Sir Hubert is more pragmatic and seemingly willing to strike a deal with the evil green alien. As he says, “Politics isn’t always as black and white as science”. This is just the first of several disagreements between Peabody and Sir Hubert in this story which really allows Heida Reid to show us a more fiery side of the character.
There are also hints of a slightly darker side to Sir Hubert. I do feel though that it jars slightly when Sir Hubert lapses into currently-fashionable phrases such as talking about “being on the same page”, which seems to be at odds with his established character.
The last act of this adventure concerns a “brain duel” between the Mekon and Dan where they create a landscape in their minds to fight in and decide the ultimate winner. It’s nicely reminiscent of the Doctor and the Master’s fight in the Matrix in the Doctor Who classic The Deadly Assassin.
If you’re into alien conspiracy theories you should enjoy this story as we learn that first contact between Earth and aliens was far earlier than we’d previously been lead to believe. There’s also a really neat explanation as to why Earth’s space programme fizzled out somewhat after the Moon landings.
Overall, a good story and although I felt that previous instalments were about the right length (around an hour) it’s nice to end on a slightly longer adventure which is nearer to feature-length.
As we come to the end of this first season of Dan Dare stories, it’s tempting to speculate what the future may hold for the series. There are plenty more stories to adapt from the original Eagle and I also think that the 1980s Eagle could provide a good source of ideas as well. Given the age I suspect most Big Finish listeners are, I suspect they are more likely to remember the 80s version that was brought to such vivid life by Ian Kennedy and others, rather than the original, so this might be a sensible thing to do. Imagine how good Pat Mills’ Return of the Mekon would be on audio!
I also hope these stories turn up on BBC Radio at some point, as they deserve a wider audience and I think would go down a storm.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for a tasty slice of Digby’s aunt’s steak and ale pie…
• Seek out Dan Dare – Volume 2 – available on Download for £20 or CD for £25: these pre-release prices will be frozen until the set is on general release at the end of May when they go up to £25 and £30 respectively
• For the curious who’ve yet to Dare to experience Dan at large, Big Finish have a free download of the first chapter of this set’s Operation Saturn story, while the first chapter of Volume 1’s Voyage to Venus is similarly available.
• Special Dan Dare bundles have been set up offering both volumes together for £40 and £50. Any CD purchase unlocks a download version exclusive to Big Finish listeners – the perfect format for those with Android or Apple devices using the free Big Finish download/playback app
• Dan Dare: The Audio Adventures Volume One is also available from amazon.co.uk – using this link will help support downthetubes