Friday, 17 July 2020

Tumanbey: Genre & Media

On Monday (Monday 13th July, 2020, for posterity) the last episode of Series Four of the BBC Radio serial Tumanbey was broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

This may not matter much to you; firstly, in that Radio serials are not an art form much in vogue*; secondly, in that according to blog statistics, quite a few of those reading this are from the United States of America. You can download it as a podcast here, if interested. Here is the BBC web page. I hadn't heard of it, but there is a book.

*Fine, yes, Podcasts are popular and Aunty Beeb has been rebranding in that direction - the BBC Radio listen again page became BBC Sounds in a move that denies their former status. I find this irritating. Radio, even listen-again-online radio is a subtly different medium from podcasts, for social reasons as much as any other. 

So, there are two things that I would bring up about this. Firstly, that Tumanbey sits in that low-fantasy pseudo-medieval niche that Game of Thrones made for itself. I'm not the only one to think so. The BBC does have a recent habit of following trends from across the Pond; a television adaptation of Bernard Cornwall's The Last Kingdom came in the wake of Game of Thrones and an adaptation of SS-GB followed The Man in the High Castle. Well, Mike Walker (whose historical dramas I'm quite fond of) had a hand in Tumanbey, so I started listening and found it worth my time.

It's an interesting prospect for Thrones-esque genre fiction. The radio format means that the expense is kept low (Cost of putting a dragon on radio = five sound effects. Cost of putting a dragon on screen = High.) The cast of characters is relatively small. Further, it is a brand new story, without the baggage of an adaptation. Fights and battles have to be kept to the personal - there is no spectacle creep, no Cult of the Badass. Nobody looks cool on the Radio; everyone could be dressed in unflattering period dress and strange haircuts (I long for the Vikings in Clown trousers - and, as in my Mistress of Mistresses review, civil wars with people who dress like they are from the same society). The pictures are better on radio. Or indeed, as it were, worse. Finally, Tumanbey, by the end of the fourth series seems to have come to an obvious endpoint fairly gracefully. Given the response to the conclusion of Game of Thrones, we may be grateful for this.

(Also, Tumanbey has Anton "Marcus Didius Falco" "Marcus Tullius Cicero" "Xavier March" "The Duke of Exeter" "The Earl of Strafford" "Tsar Peter III" "Thomas More but not Paul Schofield" Lesser in it as a blind Grand Marshal of mock-Templars**. Which is no bad thing.)

Secondly, I mention all this as a paean to the radio and the full-cast drama as an art form.  The semi-regualr reminder at this point that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy started life as a radio serial; that Peter Sellers and Orson Welles started their careers on the radio; that The Shadow became popular through the radio. It is something that appears to have died out in large parts of the English-speaking world (particularly in the US, though apparently the NPR Star Wars radio drama is fascinatingly pulpy). As is by now no doubt clear, I appreciate the connection to an older milieu and would like to see radio stations for things other than music and political commentary maintained.

**Mock-Templar is, of course, the Mock-Tudor of the 41st Millenium.

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