For their latest box set of adaptations, after two volumes drawn from Diana magazine, Big Finish have turned to the strips of TV Comic. Three volumes have been announced, the first expanding on tales from the Series 6 “Steed and Tara King” era of the television show.
On screen, Linda Thorson’s Tara King may have struggled to capture the imagination in the way her predecessors did. On audio, Emily Woodward gives a sprightly and entertaining performance. First cast for book adaptation Too Many Targets, her earnest, capable young agent is a great fit with Julian Wadham’s assured and charming John Steed.
Along for the ride here too is Christopher Benjamin, best known to Big Finish listeners as Doctor Who’s inimitable Henry Gordon Jago, and he is a delight as the bumptious and often exasperated Mother, the secret service bigwig who assigns Steed and King’s missions.
It’s A Wild, Wild, Wild, Wild West
After a robbery on the road, Steed and Tara saddle up for some cowboy action on the trail of stolen rocket plans. Soon knee deep in thick Southern accents, the pair find themselves at “Lazy J’s”, a themed Cowboy resort where the staff are all deeply in character – as low down, dirty varmits.
Writer John Dorney mixes in plenty of Western movie tropes, kept in check by the usual witty dry asides, and there is plenty of fun wrung from Steed’s reluctance to don cowboy garb. We did have a favourite moment early on – when Tara gives the audible equivalent of a double-take to the mention of “riding her steed”.
Under The Weather
Phil Mulryne adapts a tale which pits Steed and Tara up against the elements, on the trail of a stolen experimental bomber; from skiing to sailing, it is a quest which takes the pair from Biggin Hill all the way up to Scotland.
While weather control and The Avengers might have less than pleasing connotations for some, this is an enjoyable survival tale with some Eastern European baddies and a full on, scenery chewing performance from David Sibley.
In the third tale, Steed and Tara come up against their opposite numbers from the African post-colonial state of Equtoria – struggling to foil a military coup when its young President, a schoolmate of Steed’s, comes under threat.
Robert Kahn and Tom Salinsky’s script has some great touches as Charlie, President Okonjo, reveals that Steed’s schoolboy name was Johnny – and it seems to show Steed much more concerned about loss of membership to his club than the mission. There’s also a terrific gag regarding the English predilection for cucumber sandwiches!
With a superb guest cast, there is a terrific animosity played between Tara and her opposite number Ruby (Natalie Simpson), while Ewart James Walters gives a towering performance as the villainous gourmand General Babatunde.
…Now You Don’t
Finally, a second John Dorney script spins the tale of a dodgy mesmerist who puts Tara under his spell and has an axe to grind with Mother and Steed, though neither of them remembers him.
With a gathering of witches and wizards, plus an assassination attempt, the story has plenty of fun with magical notions as well as a passing reference to disgraced politician Jeremy Thorpe – which would make sense given the timeframe. Amusingly, the story also manages to be a sequel to an unseen tale, one for Steed and Mrs Peel that Big Finish have yet to adapt.
Camp, crazy and tremendous fun, the Big Finish team have taken some pretty simplistic comic strip stories and developed them into highly entertaining audio dramas; incredibly appropriate to the era they aim to evoke, these are high concept, surreal stories with strong performances and memorable villains. Of course, they rely heavily on the chemistry between the two leads, and thankfully it is there in spades between Julian Wadham’s Steed and Emily Woodward’s Tara.
In addition to the four stories, the box set comes with just under sixteen minutes of downloadable extras, featuring interviews with the principal cast and crew. Next up, in March 2020, we can look forward to another set of adventures for Emma Peel, with a further Tara King box set scheduled for 2021.