The Cambridge Geek

Listening Log - 23 April 2022

Here's (some of) what I've listened to since the last one of these.

Bit of a cheat this week, as incorporating things from previous weeks as well. But I didn't post then, so tough.

The two big things are very big things. Specifically, the very last episode of Wooden Overcoats, and the last ever episode of Rusty Quill Gaming (it's a Q+A, but it's still the last). Quite a lot to say goodbye to in a single week, given these were two of the longest running, most popular fiction podcasts out there, for different reasons, in different ways.

Rusty Quill Gaming

A rather nice comparison to be made between improv and scripting really, in that the Q+As have shown us what could have happened if players had taken different actions, but also how much of the story either was written but never told, or never written and thankfully never investigated (lots of "oh I've no idea what would have happened" or "I had a vague plan"). Similar in many ways to the discussion between outliners and "seats of the pantsers" writers.

It's a very particular form of entertainment, and I can see why some people don't enjoy it. It can be thought of a spectator sport as much as an improvised performance, and it also needs you to be prepared to put up with a certain amount of nonsense which doesn't always drive the story - that can be a positive or a negative, and it's why chiming with the players is so important. If you're going to spend possibly years with people, they have to be someone you'd be prepared to be friends with.

There's a lot of smart of discussions to be had around how parasocial relationships work, and how they should be navigated to both use them to build an audience and maintain careful boundaries. But at the same time, if you're going to release a show with a heavy element of "table talk", you need your audience to imagine they're there with you. Especially if you want them to believe in a story you're making up as you go along.

Wooden Overcoats

Wooden Overcoats, on the other hand, is so carefully scripted that it can build to an almost perfect ending (and I only say "almost" because you can never please everyone).

It's always described as a sitcom, and it's only in hindsight I realise how much that that is true, but also that "sitcom" is often used as a label that might be taken to mean something shallow, which is unfair. Each episode, the sitcom tropes have played out. Some challenge has arisen in the main characters lives, they've generally had a feud between the two funeral homes, and at the end it wraps up either with things back to normal or with Rudyard worse off, but never in such a way as to significantly disrupt the setting.

Examples might include chocolates that cause unconsciousness, a range of injuries to Chapman(nnn!), or the fact that the Funns did maybe two successful funerals in the entire series. They should have gone bust.

And yet, and yet. Throughout it all, we get glimpses of depth. Rudyard's creeping admiration for a job well done, and the recognition of what that might actually look like. Antigone's stepping out of the shadows and into the light (yes, literally). Georgie's recognition that you don't have to actually be great at everything. And Chapman(nnn!), the eternal antagonist, finally dealing with his backstory. Which all comes together in the final episode.

It is finally time for Chapman(nnn!) to leave the island, following the revelations of the last couple of episodes, and so it's time for a leaving party in the village of Piffling Vale. And since Rudyard is obviously his best friend, he will arrange it.

Things play out in a way that isn't necessarily obvious, but in hindsight make perfect sense for the story being told. It's very well written, hitting just the right emotional notes that had me slightly weepy at the very peak. That's what happens when you build characters that someone spends time with over four series, and make them as lovable as this lot. You cheer their victories and bemoan their failures.

It's probably one of the best fiction podcasts out there, and will likely remain one of the luminaries, even as time passes.

Doctor Who: Redacted

Speaking of massive shows, Doctor Who pops up now, in the form of Doctor Who: Redacted. This is Ella Watts' second BBC Sounds audio drama in this sort of space, having been involved with Murmurs a couple of years back That was an anthology style show of original works, whereas this is one of the BBC's biggest elements. The obvious comparison is Big Finish, who have produced Doctor Who audio drama for a very long time now, though this runs a little shorter than I think those generally do. (Episodically at least, at 10 x 30mins, vs Big Finish's closer to hours.)

It will be interesting to see whether more of this sort of thing appears, if only because Big Finish have kept a very strong presence in the space, working with the actual cast and crew (even recently getting Ecclestone), so potentially competition if this does well.

The first episode is Doctor-lite in a similar manner to things like Blink or Turn Left, focusing instead on the cast and crew of essentially an in-universe "The Black Tapes", except it's "The Blue Box (Files)". A nice nod to the most common trope in spec fic podcasts, as it doesn't persist throughout, escaping some of the problems with that form.

Has a good bit of mystery and a lot of references to earlier Who work, and a nice cliffhanger that suggests a bigger story. Will keep listening.

Also is one of the few instances in which the BBC present the transcript of the work on the episode page. This has been something of an obvious hole for quite a long time - if the indie world can put the effort in to produce transcripts, it seems surprising that the BBC cannot. I doubt that this will be the drip that brings down the dam, but it's a nice fandom touch.

Dungeons and Daddies

And finally, from the brief half-hour of Redacted, to the literal "days" of Dungeons and Daddies. (About an hour per episode, and I'm on Episode 27. Terrifying when you think of it like that.) To make a callback to when I listened to Cast Party, this is a portal fantasy story, following four fathers who are pulled into the D&D universe and then have to go on a quest to recover their rapidly kidnapped sons.

I don't know how much I can add to the discussion of this show, as it's very popular and be around for a while, but for those who haven't listened to it, it's primarily a comedy, with the occasional tips into the very dark. All of the cast are entertaining, and I'll burst out laughing multiple times an episode. But sometimes they have to kill someone, and it is not pretty. Nice to see a moral code applied to what is often a "murderhobo" genre, in a way that feels realistic, even if after every grim moment someone comes out with a cracking one-liner.

This isn't one for the crunchy serious listeners, as they play very fast and loose with the rules and the internal logic, but if you find it funny enough, you won't mind.

Tagged: Round-up Audio