audio dramas

updated jan 18 2020 - created a new page: Big Finish recommendations

I am a huge fan of audio storytelling. every medium has its strengths—audio dramas have the one-two punch of intimacy and imagination, which lead to the final "I," immersion.

Modern dramas, at least. To oversimplify, popular radio fiction of the 1930s through the 1960s drew its inspiration from theatre, while the audio fiction revival ushered in by the internet leans closer to "movies for your ears."

And now...on to some of my favourites.

short form

individual episodes, one-shots, and other self-contained stories. avg. 30min.

the truth

the truth is an audio fiction anthology podcast, featuring mostly speculative fiction stories.

doctor who - big finish

I have completely gone down the rabbit hole of Big Finish audio dramas and have made a separate page about my favourites. but I've included a couple short, free audio stories below.

side note: if you're casually interested in getting into Doctor Who audio dramas, there are dozens of early Big Finish titles available for free streaming on Spotify. This handy guide from VHS Whovian will help you get started. Just enough description to tell you who, what, and whether its worth a listen. For the record, so far I tend to agree with her ratings. Check out the bolded stories.

if you're seriously interested, Avery Lychee has a comprehensive guide on her site. she's also got a guide to the series currently in progress, which may be helpful if you're getting into the Classic series like I am!

long form

full-cast audio dramas and multi-hour serials. shows with a predetermined number of episodes. avg. 3+ hours.

the hitchhiker's guide to the galaxy

Just like Rent got me into musicals, Hitchhiker's got me into audio dramas. Thank god. There are five "phases" in the series. The first two, Primary and Secondary, were written by Douglas Adams and transmitted in 1978 & 1980. He adapted those series into books, then wrote three more books, which were eventually adapted for radio after his death by Dirk Maggs (a pioneer in the world of modern audio dramas). These make up the teriary, quantary, and quintessential phases.

You can find the series on Audible, or iTunes, or wherever you get your audiobooks.

neverwhere

Essentially, every single Gaiman story that Dirk Maggs has produced can go on this list. But...okay. I'll pick favourites. Neverwhere was the first of the bunch and is my personal favourite.

Richard Mayhew, an ordinary Scotsman, helps a mysterious girl named Door, and his world is turned upside down. When he falls out of our reality, he must travel through the dangerous, fantastical world of London Below to help Door and get his life back. I love the characters in this story, brilliantly brought to life by a cast which includes James McAvoy as Richard, Natalie Dormer as Door, David Harewood as the Marquis de Carabas, Anthony Head as Mr. Croup, and the lovely Bernard Cribbins as Old Bailey, just to name a few.

The world of London Below has never been so vivid as it is in my imagination. And some scenes as realized in audio, like Richard's "ordeal," are more compelling than their equivalent in the book or original TV series (both of which I love dearly). If you want adventure, danger, friendship, mystery...Neverwhere has it all.

Audible | iTunes | wherever you get your audiobooks.

good omens

Mark Heap and Peter Serafinowicz play the angel Aziraphale and the demon Crowley in Good Omens, Gaiman & Pratchett's comedy about averting the apocalypse. Nice and Accurate Prophecies come courtesy of Josie Lawrence as Agnes Nutter (a role she would later reprise of the TV series).

If you are coming to this version after seeing the Amazon series, I think you're in for a treat. The angel and demon are the heart of that show (Michael Sheen and David Tennant are simply perfection in the roles), but its all the other characters who shine in the audio drama: Adam and the Them, Anathema and Newton Pulsifer, Sergeant Shadwell and Madame Tracey, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, and the Other Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Audible | iTunes | wherever you get your audiobooks

star wars (npr playhouse)

Frankly, I'm just so stoked that these exist. George Lucas, bless him, licensed the rights to Star Wars to his alma mater's campus radio station. The NPR-affiliated station partnered with the BBC to produce a Star Wars radio serial. The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi later also received the radio treatment. Anthony Daniels, bless him, was the one actor from the films to also feature in all three radio dramas.

Listening to these is a trip, especially the first in the trilogy. You've got music by John Williams and sound by Ben Burt and Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill, leading the thing, and yet there's a lot more backstory here than you get in the film. Of course there is—the serial is more than double the length. The thing that struck me most was how much Luke and Leia feel like honest-to-god teenagers. 19 years old! Plus, you spend time with Leia and her father before Alderaan is destroyed. Like, damn, I know someone down there!

The music and sound effects are doing a lot of the heavy-lifting when it comes to world-building and emotional stakes. If we're talking movies for you ears, it doesn't get much better than this. The first drama is probably my favourite, but I genuinely enjoyed all three. The only thing I will not vouch for is John Lithgow as Yoda. (Sorry, John. Just...no.)

The episodes used to be available on Audible, but they've since disappeared. You, uh, didn't hear it from me, but the easiest way to listen is to check out the unofficial fan edits which compile the serialized episodes into single audiobooks. Nobody tell Disney.

article: "That Time NPR Turned 'Star Wars' Into a Radio Drama—And It Actually Worked"

ongoing & series

to keep things from getting too unwieldy, I'm separating serial podcasts/radio shows from the audio dramas above. these shows don't have a predetermined number of episodes and may be ongoing or may have completed their run.

welcome to night vale (ongoing)

Unlike a lot of the "audio movies" on this list, Welcome to Night Vale isn't a show concerned with building a rich soundscape. And yet, those two key factors—intimacy and imagination—are the hallmark of the show. For imagination, we have the community of Night Vale itself, a small desert community where mysterious lights pass overhead, bloodstone rituals are commonplace, and an almighty Glow Cloud (all hail) sits on the school board. A rich setting, to be sure. For intimacy, we have Cecil Palmer, voice of Night Vale at the community radio station. Cecil's familiarity with this town, its inhabitants, and its happenings brings us as listeners into the fold of ordinary life in an extraordinary place.

The favourites I can recall are mostly from the first couple years of the show. (It is still good, I just listen less regularly and often lose the plot.) Year Two really hit a stride for me; those are the episodes I revisit most often.

wolf 359 (finished)

Life on the U.S.S. Hephaestus should probably be boring. Orbiting the star Wolf 359 on a deep space survey mission doesn't make for interesting logs, especially if you're a communications officer scanning for alien life. But for Doug Eiffel, finding creative ways to avoid work makes life more interesting. For everyone.

Wolf 359 evolved over its four seaons. What began as a lighthearted comedy with interesting character dynamics and some touchingly earnest moments evolved into a thrilling science fiction adventure. Though I prefer the first two seasons and their small cast, the adventure is a satisfying one. High points for me: Alan Rodi's music elevates this already excellent show, Zach Valenti as Eiffel solidly anchors the show, and Hera is maybe my favourite A.I./computer character ever. Michaela Swee is always bringing it, and so is the writing.

favourite episodes:

the bright sessions (finished)

Therapy sessions with superpowered "atypicals"? I'm with you so far. Time-travellers, telepaths, master manipulators and shadowy organizations? Oh, heck yeah. And—oh, there's romance? Sign me up.

Lauren Shippen's The Bright Sessions delivers the juicy, juicy character development that I want in a series. The show is initially focused on Dr. Joan Bright's sessions with various atypicals. As we get to know them, and they get to know one another, those relationships form the show's core. Getting the gang together is a slow process but oh so worth it. Where Wolf 359 strayed from what initially attracted me, The Bright Sessions grew into exactly the show I wanted.

Both Wolf 359 and The Bright Sessions start out with some kind of audio conceit—Eiffel's communications logs and Dr. Bright's patient notes. As the shows expanded, they moved away from that format and communicated more of the story through different character interactions.

For an ongoing show, especially low-budget podcasts, producing episodes that rely heavily on building an immersive soundscape is too resource-intensive. You can't make a Dirk Maggs drama week after week. Just as a webseries might embrace and then break free of the vlog format, so too will audio fiction shows embrace narration. Night Vale Presents has embraced shows that tell stories, like Alice Isn't Dead, and they work beautifully.

alice isn't dead (finished)