AUDIO REVIEW: The Adventures of Doc Savage

REVIEW SUMMARY: Radio theater meets the Man of Bronze in this remastered edition of NPR’s 1985 broadcast of two classic Doc Savage Stories.

MY RATING:

BRIEF SYNOPSIS: Variety Arts Radio Theater perform Fear Cay and The Thousand Headed Man, two Doc Savage stories by Lester Dent, adapted for radio by Will Murray and Roger Rittner.

MY REVIEW:

PROS:Two great stories; dead-on voices (that matched the voices in my head) for Monk, Renny and Johnny; enjoyable behind-the-scenes CD.

CONS: slight variations from the books; Doc’s trilling sounded like a tea kettle!

BOTTOM LINE: My first pick would always be to read a Doc Savage story, but this enthusiastic radio theater production (which sounds excellent in this remastered 8 CD edition from Radio Archives) is a great alternative. It might just hold us until Mr. Murray is able to get the new Docs published!

[For newbies: A Doc Savage Primer]


I am not a fan of audiobooks. Besides reading out loud with my kids, I do not enjoy being read to, except for listening to authors reading short segments. I understand the convenience factor for commuters, but the voice of one person reading is just not for me.

But I do like the theater, and plays with multiple actors. And Radio Theater combines the best of both: mobility with a variety of voices.

Add in a couple of Doc Savage stories, and you have a good alternative to reading a Doc Savage book. Especially when it gets my son to mimic Johnny saying “I’ll be super-amalgamated!” These stories are done true to the originals, and are not campy like the forgettable George Pal Doc Savage movie. These recordings capture Doc Savage and his five adventurous companions against the backdrop of the 1930s when they were written, when much of the world was still unknown.

THE HISTORY

Variety Arts Radio Theater (based in LA) performed live radio theater for a decade. Looking for a new story, he teamed with Will Murray in 1983 to write adaptations (how they managed to get licensing from Conde Nast is undoubtedly a story unto itself!). In 1985, they performed 13 episodes which made up the adapted Doc Savage novels Fear Cay (adapted by Roger Rittner) and The Thousand Headed Man (adapted by Doc Savage author and expert Will Murray), for broadcast on NPR. Radio Archives remastered the recordings, and released them in 2010.

THE ACTORS

According to the “Making of” CD (cleverly titled “The Sound of Bronze”), many of the actors were local LA voice actors, and/or members of the Variety Arts Radio Theater company. The voices of Monk Mayfair, played by Robert Towers, Renny Renwick, played by Bill Ratner, and Johnny Littlejohn, played by Kimit Muston, were close to the way I had imagined them: Monk is described as a short but huge chemical genius, with an out of character high-pitched voice, and Towers plays him with a bit of a gangster edge; Renny is big and tall, with a slow way of talking, and his “holy cow” exclamation worked perfectly; and Johnny, he of the big words, actually did have my twenty year-old son whom I forced to listen with me in the car exclaiming “I’ll be super amalgamated!” I had imagined Doc’s voice as a bit deeper, but enjoyed Chodos rendition of him. He supposedly tried to do Doc’s trill, but the sound effect used was a “warbling theramin”…in a word, ouch!

The entire cast:

  • Doc Savage (Daniel Chodos)
  • Monk (Robert Towers)
  • Ham (Art Dutch)
  • Renny (Bill Ratner)
  • Johnny (Kimit Muston)
  • Long Tom (Scott McKenna)
  • Pat Savage (Robin Riker)
STORY ONE: FEAR CAY

Seven separate episodes, each about 25 minutes long on three CDs.

What could be better than chasing a supposed 160+ year old man through New York City and down to a mysterious, hard-to-find island in the Caribbean, while pursuing Doc’s kidnapped cousin, the beautiful and resourceful Pat Savage? All of the bad guys want what old Dan Thundin has, enough so that they try to kidnap Doc just to keep him out of the way. Led by the evil Santini (with a great voice!), the crooks (the Fountain of Youth gang, which is a hint, of course) chase Thunden and his granddaughter (and Pat, in a case of mistaken identity) through the streets of New York and down to the island of Fear Cay. There, Thunden plays a cat and mouse game with a mysterious substance, while Santini’s gang and Doc’s men try to avoid creatures that quickly strip a man of his flesh.

Lots of action, exotic locations, Monk and Ham fighting and women who swoon over Doc (who never reciprocates)…plus a scene where Doc unties the ropes that bind him with his toes.

Originally published: September 1934; Bantam #11, May 1966 (sortable Doc Savage table here)

Episodes:

  1. Kidnapped
  2. The Hanging Man
  3. The Disappointing Parcel
  4. Island of Death
  5. Terror Underground
  6. The Mysterious Weeds
  7. The Crawling Terror
STORY TWO: THE THOUSAND-HEADED MAN

Six separate episodes, each about 25 minutes long on three CDs.

As I’ve been re-reading the Doc stories in the order they were originally published, I was surprised when this one starts out in London. It is the first in the series that does not have Doc and the team in New York City, where they all live and work. As Doc arrives at the London airport, a man throws him a “black stick”. Seems like every bad guy in London wants a “black stick”, as they apparently will protect you from the frightening thousand-headed man, a creature who inhabits the deep jungles of Indo China, protecting treasure. The creature somehow puts all who come near him into a sleep, including the normally invincible Doc, preceded by a strange hypnotic sound.

This one features a well done aerial battle (Doc and his men are crack pilots, of course, learning in WWI) and some slight but necessary changes from the written story (radio wouldn’t work very well on scenes where Doc goes off on his own).

Originally published: July, 1934; Bantam #2, October 1964 (sortable Doc Savage table here)

Episodes:

  1. The Black Stick
  2. Three Black Sticks
  3. Flight into Fear
  4. Pagoda of the Hands
  5. The Accursed City
  6. The Deadly Treasure
EXTRAS

The set includes two additional CDs:

  • The Sound of Bronze: Making The Adventures of Doc Savage
  • Two Classic Detective Stories
    • The Adventures of Philip Marlowe: The August Lion
    • The New Adventures of Michael Shane: A Problem in Murder

The “Making of” CD features extensive interviews with Will Murray, Roger Rittner and the entire cast.

One thought on “AUDIO REVIEW: The Adventures of Doc Savage”

  1. Love LOVE LOVE the pulps! Any story with a Moon Shot ruined by a thrown rod is cool with me. My habit nowadays has been to download an Mp3 player full of audio sf from the middle of last century. Each day on the commute the voluteer readers at Librivox fill my head with more pulpy goodness. The good people at Escape Pod and Clarkeworld are SUPER but no one does seventy- or eighty- year-old sf like Greg Margeuritte. 

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