Dan Dare The Audio Adventures: A Debate

Dan Dare Audio

Before I listen to the latest Dan Dare Audio Adventure, I want to address a couple of things Garth Groombridge and I have been debating since I started these reviews. Garth’s reaction has been far more severe than mine with such comments as:
Ugh! No, no, please, why do people who have no love, no knowledge of, no understanding of, a well-established, beloved fictional character, let loose on writing something that pleases no one really;
Yeah, Dan Dare, but why change things? Just because they can? Annoys me; and
Why does anyone write or want to broadcast this inane crap? But, there again, changing the characters and who they were, is akin of Beeson’s equally stupid and wrong-headed changing Valerian from a time-space agent into a quasi-military Major and Laureline, rather than a fellow agent and equal, into a lowly sergeant, with Valerian only wanting to get into her panties. The word is: SACRILEGE.
Now I did enjoy the Luc Besson Valerian film, but at the time I was not at all familiar with the series, and as such wasn’t as disturbed by the changes made. I agree with Garth’s purist response to the Dan Dare stuff, but I’m less roused by it than he, possibly because I’m more resigned to it, and more cynically attuned to why something like this has been done. This was my response to him:
The short answer is that Dan Dare is, in their eyes, a valuable commercial property to be exploited. There is no point in owning the rights to him if you don’t use him. The only people interested in portraying him as he ought properly to be are Spaceship Away, and they have a licence that limits them to Hampson’s continuity (not that they’d ever want to go outside that), and that continuity restricts Dan to a dedicated audience.
The scripter who I quoted had half a point but only half. Dan is right in these constructions but everything else is wrong. It obviously made them money – the sale of the CDs, the multiple broadcasts on BBC radio, it’s all income. I was curious… But like I said, Dare is Intellectual Property and what use is IP if you can’t make money off it? That was ultimately Frank Hampson’s problem. He thought like a creator but his creation was owned by businessmen.
To expand upon that a little, I want to draw a distinction between categories of change. Almost inevitably, when a work of art is adapted from one medium to another, changes have to be made. These relate to the different media. Comics and books have the space and time to lay things out in detail. They can do background stories, situations, emotional responses in some depth because they can rely on their audience’s attention being focussed in their own time. Film and television have a different luxury: audience attention can only be given at the director’s pace, things have to be shown, not told. Stories have to be simplified, details left out, to retain the audiences’ focus. In The Fellowship of the Ring, Peter Jackson telescoped seventeen years of book time into about three minutes of screen-time.
If you like, these can be categorised as enforced changes. What gets Garth and my backs up are the gratuitous change, the ones unrelated to the differences in media. Sometimes these have a purpose: in his film adaptation of The Hot Rock, William Goldman reduces the Dortmunder Gang from five to four members by omitting Chefwick the locksmith and transferring his skills to Kelp, who is otherwise no more than a second-in-command: simplification.
But what possible good can it do a Valerian film to change the pair’s relationship from equal partners to military subservience? In The Devil Rides Out, what good does it do for the film to make Rex van Ryn a contemporary of the Duc de Richleau instead of thirty years younger?
The changes in the Audio Adventures are no better than this. They are in no way justifiable, but they are unfortunately explicable, however gratuitous they are. That is because the original Dan Dare, the one Garth and I respect, is sadly no longer a workable character in the Twenty-First Century.
Frank Hampson’s Dan Dare is a Fifties hero, in a Fifties-envisaged future that science and technology has condemned forever as Fantasy. He’s an optimist in an optimist’s universe that time and cynicism has condemned to be unbelievable. And in his particular roots, he is an idealised Forties character, the dashing RAF pilot brought forward into the dream of that future: it wasn’t just coincidence that his subtitle is Pilot of the Future.
Yes, he is still presented in those terms in these adaptations, and so he should be because these qualities are intrinsic to the character and what makes his stories live. To quote Garth again:
Maybe not purist purist….I could see the Dare stories modified, but within the criteria of the characters and the setting. Chang(e) personalities and you may as well give them new names and not write a Dan Dare story, but space pilot X. It’s a matter of respect for that character, and respect also for these who are fans of that character.
But I don’t see that original working anymore. Sherlock Holmes survives today because his original milieu is still valid. People are still attracted to Victorian times and Victorian crimes. The Sherlock tv series (which impressed me but not Garth) was a root and branch recreation that nevertheless kept the basic relationships between the players, transforming that into the Twenty-First Century. The Dan Dare Audio Adventures doesn’t do that. It keeps the names and nothing more, it strands the intrinsic Dan Dare in a universe whose construction is completely antithetical to his values. Better by far to leave the stories and the relationships as they were, but to do so is to try to preserve a time period in which there is no general interest, in fact for which there is a high degree of contempt, and no concurrent appeal.
I wish they would leave well alone, but understand why they make changes. I loathe the changes they make because, in rejecting the structures of the original, they reject the spirit of the original. Understanding why someone does something doesn’t mean their actions are justified.
The ones doing this for pleasure don’t understand what they’re actually doing. I think, in their way, they think they’re being creative, contributing to the legend if the character, making an addition. Instead, they’re being destructive but they don’t realise that.
As for the businessmen who own the name and the rights, they are only interested in making another penny off them, and don’t care as long as some cash comes in. Those of us who know and understand and respect the original, like Garth and I, are too few in number, and a dying audience. What these people don’t understand is that they are killing their goose, just as much as time is killing the Pilot of the Future. Dan Dare is nothing more than a label to be attached to some hard SF space adventure, to be changed on whim, without consistency to its latterday use, and that each change makes the name more and more just a label, to be be stuck on, then peel itself off as the gum decays…


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