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Sci-Fi Fans: Listen Up!

by on October 20, 2011

Britain has a much richer history of radio drama than we have here in the US. Basically, once TV came along, listening to scripted shows on the radio in America became less and less prevalent. But over in the UK, it’s still a thriving medium, so much so that independent companies are making really excellent audio plays.

Already a fan of Big Finish and their Doctor Who range (no surprise), I recently was turned onto an independent production, the science fiction serial The Minister of Chance. This is a full cast audio adventure starring some big names in the genre, including Paul Darrow (Blake’s 7), Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run, An American Werewolf in London), and even Sylvester McCoy and Paul McGann (the Seventh and Eighth Doctors, respectively).

The story concerns a world wherein the peaceful “backwater” country Tanto is suddenly invaded and taken over by the larger, more powerful country, Sezuan, the machinations of Ambassador Durian (McGann). Sezuan’s ruler, The Witch Prime (McCoy), is furious that Durian has taken matters into his own hands, but Lord Rathen (Darrow) convinces him that Durian is still of use. Elsewhere, a mysterious man, the titular Minister of Chance (Julian Wadham), travels to an Inn in search of a famous scientist (Jenny Agutter), now missing thanks to the Sezuan occupiers’ outlawing of all science. The Minister is far more than he appears, and his search for the scientist takes him and his new defacto companion, the mouthy barmaid Kitty (Lauren Crace), between dimensions, where they meet beasts of all sort.

The cast is all fantastic and lend a great deal of gravitas to the production. The story is compelling and interesting, if a bit hard to understand at first. It does drop you into things without much build-up, so at times it’s hard to know what exactly is going on, but that doesn’t last too long, and soon you’re caught up in the world of the play. The Minister is a great central character; Originally played by Stephen Fry in a Doctor Who spinoff webcast, “Death Comes to Time,” the Minister always knows more than he’s letting on, which keeps everyone around him guessing. Kitty never stops talking, which is made light of in the episodes, but it does come off as pretty annoying for the listener.

The world they’ve created is quite rich and, just as their doctrine suggests, the images are immediately conjured in the listener’s head through hearing only the audio. There are only two episodes so far, and because the production is independent, it takes some time to raise the funds and schedule recording, but they’re both very compelling and enjoyable to listen to. And at about a half hour each, they can easily be enjoyed on a walk or a car ride to or from work. Each episode is about $2 American, but there is a nine-minute prologue starring McGann which is included below. If you like this type of thing, you’ll have a really nice time listening to The Minister of Chance.

-Kanderson likes to talk Sci-Fi. Follow him on TWITTER