The Unmutual Reviews: BIG FINISH - CALLAN (VOLUME 2)

"Congratulations, Big Finish. Once again, you smashed it!"

Review by Rick Davy


The showing recently of many episodes of the classic TV series 'Callan' on the popular Talking Pictures TV Channel, has brought new fans to an already popular series. The paralells between the series and The Prisoner have oft been noted (including in my review of the previous audio 'Callan' series), so it was with much excitement that we learned earlier this year that finally Big Finish were producing a second batch of episodes, over two years since their successful first series, starring Ben Miles as The Section's David Callan.

'Callan' is a unique series, and it would have been easy for any re-imagining or 'remake' of the series to have been a disaster, but fortunately in Big Finish, David Callan's fiery unhappiness and cynicism is in the very best of hands, and Big Finish deserve acclaim of the very highest order for this second series which was well worth the wait!

The four episodes in this set (words by Big Finish) are:

File on a Difficult Don 
The cap and gown meet the gun and bullet when Callan visits the Dreaming Spires to protect a code-breaker. 

File on a Mourning Mother 
Callan and Meres are investigating the mysterious death of a scientist at a top secret research centre when they discover, Hell hath no fury… 

File on an Elusive Engineer 
Callan and Meres are sent to protect a British engineer from an assassination attempt and then find themselves all at sea… 

File on an Angry American 
The CIA plans to execute a double agent on British soil and Callan is sent to make sure the target's wife doesn't get caught in the cross-fire... 

Peter Mitchell, son of original Callan creator and writer James Mitchell, created the above episodes (each 50 minutes in length, all with the familiar theme tune and even ad break bumpers) from another four of his father's short stories, which originally appeared in the Sunday Express, for audio format and it's fair to say that Peter has matched his father's writing style and sense of intrigue absolutely perfectly.

'File on a Difficult Don' is my personal favourite of this new bunch. Along with some great dialogue, a real feeling of the darkness which lives within the lead character which is left bubbling nicely under the surface. Callan's eternal exasperation comes to the fore again in 'File on a Mourning Mother', which has echoes of the classic TV episode 'Suddenly at Home', Callan's irritation expertly written by Mitchell, who has managed to channel the style of his father superbly.

Mitchell's understated prose is perfect for the audio format, and it genuinely does feel like the same series as that with which we are familiar from the small screen. The original Express stories were not long in length, so this series rose or fell on Peter Mitchell's ability to take a short story idea and extend it into a full-length episode. Mitchell deserves every possible plaudit for more than achieving this aim.

The last two episodes on the set are also highly compelling, and as ever there's the best part of an hour of behind-the-scenes interviews at the end of the set (something I personally always enjoy nearly as much as the episodes themselves) and I can't recommend this set in its entirety highly enough. I really do feel that 'Callan' and Big Finish are the perfect fit, and I would be hard-pushed to find a better example of audio adaptation in the last 10 years.

Along with Mitchell's exceptional writing, the acting performances are also of the very highest standard. Ben Miles truly rivals Edward Woodward's original performance, his constant battles with his inner demons coming across superbly. You can feel and see Callan's world-weary facial expressions through Miles's performance, and Hunter is again the perfect counter, the tone of Briggs' performance flawless in its execution.

Frank Skinner, as Lonely, again gives a believable and sympathetic performance, although the performance does still waver into charicature. Skinner's portrayal seems more assured and confident this time around so it was a little strange that he had less 'audio time' than the first set.

In the original version, David Callan is quite brutally unpleasant to Lonely, so it's a little off-putting to hear them being so chummy in these episodes, and I was also a little unsure about some of the guest performances/characters, not in the writing or direction, but the casting (which seemed a little bit off and it was hard to visualise some of the characters, whose tonality didn't seem to match the type of character they were portraying). But these are minor quibbles and do not devalue what is a must-have set.

The highlight, as with the first series, is Ben Miles portrayal, and the dialogue and interplay between Miles's Callan and Nicholas Briggs' Hunter, I only hope that they enjoyed playing opposite one another as much as I enjoyed listening (although, I suspect these scenes may have been performed remotely during the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown, which makes the performances even more astonishing).

I was genuinely gripped from start to finish and devoured this set in one sitting. It's not only up there with the very finest work that Big Finish have ever produced, but also up there with the very finest of Callan's original televisual adventures.

Congratulations, Big Finish. Once again, you smashed it!

Rick Davy, The Unmutual Website, September 2020.

Callan Volume 2 can be pre-ordered from Big Finish HERE.



Also available during this period of Callan renaissance is 'The Callan File', a 500+ page book on the original series by Robert Fairclough and Mike Kenwood, with foreword by Peter Mitchell. Click HERE to order.


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