Dan Dare, Pilot of the Future first appeared in the Eagle comic from 1950 to 1967 and was dramatised on Radio Luxembourg in 1951 up to 1956. It’s been relaunched at various times in comic strip form and from December 2016 is available once more on audio thanks to B7 Media and Big Finish. The first release is three one-disc stories featuring test pilot Dan Dare (Ed Stoppard), Digby (Geoff McGivern), and Professor Peabody (Heida Reed) as they explore the solar system and fight the evil Mekon (Raad Rawi). Big Finish’s own Nick Briggs has a part as well as an alien named Garlok.
STARBURST caught up with those involved to find out why now is the time for Dan Dare to return. Producer/director Andrew Mark Sewell was the first port of call:
“I was introduced to Eagle by my late father; it first appeared in a time of austerity when the nation needed a new type of hero. Amidst today’s global turmoil we are once more in need of a heroic figure. The beliefs, values, and hope Dan Dare represents are just as relevant today.”
These sentiments were echoed by all those involved in pre-production, including script editor Colin Brake and lead writers Richard Kurti and Bev Doyle.
The stories have been modernised to avoid the new series just being a museum piece. At hand was comics historian John Freeman, whose job was to make sure they didn’t throw the Mekon out with the bath water. They’ve updated the terminology while keeping the spirit and energy of the original. The stories are also presented as fifteen-minute episodes; Andrew conceived this to match the fifteen -minute BBC Radio Drama slot and Colin Brake confirmed this helps keep the pace and rhythm of the originals, and should be a nice size for commuters to listen to on their way to work.
Once the cast was assembled, it was time to move to the studio. Unusually, this cast had gelled before the end of the first day. In the case of Geoff McGivern, he had the experience of playing Ford Prefect in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy to draw upon, whereas Heida Reed did find it more of a challenge, and a contrast to her recent work in BBC’s Poldark:
“ Terrifying! I haven't done that much voice work and it is a completely different genre than being on stage or in front of a camera. I came to relax into it though and enjoyed how everything is reliant on the tone of your voice. It's a great acting exercise.”
Ed Stoppard liked the immediacy of the recording process, and Geoff McGivern sums it up:
“…12 days virtually all day in front of the mike… We do a lot of running on the spot and ducking as we dodge hideous enemies and nuclear bombs. And shouting, 'Look out!' 356 times a day takes it out of you. We had a ball.”
Geoff is also the only member of the cast to have read the comic strips, and Ed admires the character of Dan, though feels he is more courageous and determined than him. He does feel they share a dry wit, whereas Heida feels Dan is the James Bond or Indiana Jones of space. Heida had a lot of fun playing Peabody as she is everything Heida isn’t. Geoff admires Digby for his resourcefulness but will admit to sharing a black humour.
Nick Briggs is no stranger to the recording process, gave his perspective:
“Since I spend a lot of my time running studio sessions, it was in some ways refreshing just to turn up and do some acting. It was very thrilling for me to be part of Dan Dare.”
Nick went on to reveal he had previously (the 1990s) spoken to radio legend Dirk Maggs about bringing Dan to audio alongside Colin Baker and John Ainsworth. Nothing happened then but Nick is clearly thrilled to be part of this project. The BBC had aired a four-part adaptation of Dan Dare: Voyage to Venus in 1990, so perhaps the timing was against them.
Nick also gave some detail on one of his characters, Garlok:
“…thoroughly unpleasant. Not only does he care for nothing but himself and his own ambitions, his main ambition is to take the Mekon’s place. If your ambition is to be a ruthless, conquering dictator, then you’re pretty beyond the pale. But that made him delicious to play.”
One thing the whole cast agreed upon was the irredeemably evil nature of the Mekon, an essential element of Dan Dare since the very beginning. With characteristic dryness, Geoff expanded:
“…at heart, he's a narcissist with an inferiority complex, bent on absolute power. Thank God we don't elect that type of leader on Earth!”
From all accounts, Dan Dare should be a great series, and we are already promised a second set of stories in February. Dan Dare previously ran for five years back when it was new; given the strengths and successes of both B7 Media and Big Finish, we wouldn’t be surprised if they can match that record.
The official DAN DARE audio adventures site is dandareaudio.com and titles are available from bigfinish.com.