STRONTIUM DOG (2000 AD)

Two hour long “Strontium Dog” adventures (well, three — more on that in a moment) were produced by Britain’s successful Big Finish based on the science fiction comic book adventures of an intergalactic bounty hunter, Johnny Alpha, and his allies (though using original scripts/stories). There was a third play, in that Johnny appeared in the Judge Dredd audio drama, “Pre-Emptive Revenge” — and since it‘s an equal teaming, it could just as easily be regarded as a Strontium Dog play guest starring Judge Dredd.

BF produced these as part of their 2000 AD line (a title borrowed from a British comic book) along with dramas based on the much more famous Judge Dredd comics. The line didn’t really seem to take off (they produced 16 Dredd plays over two years, then scaled back to a handful of enhanced readings, then stopped altogether). But they may have backed the wrong horse — because the Strontium Dog tales were arguably the superior, and perhaps should’ve been marketed on their own. And rely less on the 2000 AD connection — since it might’ve made people unfamiliar with the comic give the audio dramas a miss, assuming they’d have to already be a fan (I’d never even heard of the comic and yet really enjoyed the audio dramas).

Judge Dredd is a, frankly, problematic property — since it’s constantly torn between being camp/parody and straight adventure. But the Strontium Dog plays were more straight-faced — plenty of wit and comedy, sure, but less overt camp, so you could still groove to the characters and the action-suspense.

Simon Pegg voiced lead character, Johnny Alpha — Pegg best known as a comic actor in movies, but here truly excellent in a serious role as the gruff-but-sympathetic mercenary. And there was nicely evoked camaraderie and comic banter between the characters (Johnny, Wulf, McNulty and Grokk) — the characters and the actors really gave the plays an extra soul.

Although the plays are unconnected, “Down to Earth” (2002) makes a good intro to the premise, as it takes place on earth and explains the reality and the history (Johnny and others are mutants — caused by Strontium radiation — in a world where anti-mutant prejudice still lingers). It has a cyberpunk-ish vibe with Johnny returning to earth to find his kidnapped partner, Wulf.

“Fire from Heaven” (2003) has them in their more typical milieu of deep space, tracking a fugitive on alien worlds for a more Star Trek/Star Wars feel (and with more humour — a comedy-drama adventure). Both are quite entertaining — well acted, good sound production (though some of the action scenes are a bit confusing, and with a slight “mature” edge) and with some clever twists and turns (and some imaginative SF concepts).

The Judge Dredd play, “Pre-Emptive Revenge” (2004), has the two characters bickering as they traverse a bombed out wasteland, and coming upon a seeming deserted enemy outpost. Also quite entertaining, with an added eerie atmosphere because of the setting.

The fact that each has a slightly different milieu/vibe maybe means if they were only going to do three, at least they aren’t just carbons of each other (one cyberpunkish near future, one Star Trek-like deep space, one post-Apocalyptic).

Down to Earth and Pre-Emptive Revenge are still available for download from the BF website. Fire from Heaven is available for free streaming at a BBC website. All are available from iTunes.

I suppose the limited number might also be because Pegg‘s film success made it harder to find windows in his schedule to record them. But whatever the reason, it’s really too bad BF didn’t do more, because these stand among my favourite audio SF adventures.