Big Finish: CALLAN Vol 2 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: CALLAN Vol 2 Review

Matthew Kresal opens the file on a second volume of Callan.
Having thought I was pretty knowledgeable about British spy fiction, I was surprised a couple of years ago to discover Callan via my involvement with the Spybrary podcast. Indeed, it has been something of a find for me, with Edward Woodward playing a somewhat reluctant secret agent in the employ of a section of British intelligence known as the Section in the grim days of the Cold War. So hearing Big Finish, those purveyors of audio dramas based on Doctor Who and other cult TV properties, was tackling Callan piqued my interest. And this most recent set, long-anticipated by series fans, hit the proverbial spot just right.

The four episodes featured in the set all draw from the short stories written by Callan creator James Mitchell for the Sunday Express and adapted by his son Peter. Something that, as Peter notes, was a challenge as the stories could sometimes be closer to vignettes, running as little as 1500 words in length. To his credit, his expansions and adaptations feel perfectly in keeping with the television series. The two Mitchell's bring together thriller elements with the grimness of 1970s Britain and the moral ambiguity that were hallmarks of the original show. In particular, the second and fourth episodes, File on a Mourning Mother and File on an Angry American, are up there with the best episodes of the TV series.

The set is also given a boost with some first-rate casting. Edward Woodward and Russell Hunter were Callan and his loveable crook of a sidekick Lonely on-screen, so much so, it seemed hard to imagine anyone else in those roles. But, as Big Finish proved with the Avengers and Doctor Who, they know how to do a sympathetic recasting. Ben Miles and Frank Skinner prove to be fine choices for the roles of Callan and Lonely, respectively. They bring out elements of their predecessors, with Miles locking onto Woodward's sense of being a decent man caught in a troubled world, and Skinner bringing a perhaps more charming version of the oft-nicked burglar to life.

It also helps that Miles and Skinner are mostly given strong support by the rest of the cast and production. Nicholas Briggs is a suitably authoritative Hunter, Callan's boss, with the episodes giving him some range to play with, something that those unfamiliar with his non-Dalek work might be surprised to hear. Jane Slavin, who has become something of a Big Finish regular in recent times, likewise, is a solid bit of casting as Hunter's secretary Liz, with the final episode, in particular, giving the character a nice scene. The casting of each installment is solid from Tam Williams as Callan's fellow agent and sometimes nemesis Toby Meres, to Emily Raymond as the titular Mourning Mother in the second episode, and Big Finish regulars such as Mark Elstob and Beth Chalmers in various supporting roles. The set is rounded off by Steve Foxon's evocative 1970s soundscapes and sparse scoring (the latter another hallmark of the TV series), and Samuel Clemens bringing it all together as director. Hats off to Clemens for directing the set under the recent UK lockdown, something you'd never know if the extras hadn't made mention of the fact.

From scripts that perfectly evoke the parent series to first-rate casts and productions, this second Callan set serves as another reminder of why Big Finish has become as popular and successful as it is. A feat all the more remarkable given the conditions under which it saw production and proving to have been worth the wait. Whether you're a fan of the original Callan TV series or a spy fiction fan seeking an introduction to an iconic show, this set is a must-hear.

Callan: Volume 2 is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until October 31st 2020, and on general sale after this date.

Matthew lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.

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