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Valley of the Shadow - Charles Beaumont

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Listening Length: 43 minutes / Publisher: Falcon Picture Group / Release Date: 7 Jan 2011

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      12.01.2013 19:08
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      "You've seen them. Little towns, tucked away far from the main roads. You've seen them, but have you thought about them? What do the people in these places do? Why do they stay? Philip Redfield never thought about them. If his dog hadn't gone after that cat, he would have driven through Peaceful Valley and put it out of his mind forever. But he can't do that now, because whether he knows it or not, his friend's shortcut has led him right into the capital of the Twilight Zone." Valley of the Shadow is a 2011 radio adaptation of a 1963 Twilight Zone episode of the same name written by Charles Beaumont. Phillip Redfield (voiced by Chelcie Ross here) is an intrepid journalist on his way by car to New Mexico for an assignment. The sort of person who can't resist investigating and letting his curiosity getting the better of him but there will be some big consequences for this particular trait today. Out of gas on the lonely road, he stops at a small out of the way backswoods town called Peaceful Valley to fill his tank up with petrol but finds that the few locals he encounters seem rather strange and wary of him. They don't seem to be very comfortable with strangers in these parts. When his dog jumps out of the car to chase a cat, a little girl seems to use some sort of transporter device to make the dog disappear. His dog is eventually returned and the locals insist it merely ran around the side of a house. When he drives away though, Redfield crashes his car into what seems to be an invisible barrier erected around the town to prevent him from leaving. There is something very weird about Peaceful Valley.

      He is taken taken to the town chambers and told by the town's elders that he has stumbled across their secrets and now poses a problem. One hundred years ago Peaceful Valley was visited by a stranger (presumably an alien) who gave them miraculous technology - atomic disassembly/reassembly devices that can teleport human beings and bring dead people back to life. They were instructed that they could use the super technology for their own benefit but must never share it with governments or anyone outside of Peaceful Valley until there is world peace. Redfield is given a choice. He can either live in Peaceful Valley for the rest of his life in luxury and harmony or he can be executed to preserve the secrets of the town. No prizes for guessing which one he goes for but peace and prosperity is obviously no long term substitute for free will and as you can imagine he's soon plotting to escape from Peaceful Valley and debating whether or not to half-inch the book that contains the town's incredible secret. Will he ever manage to escape? This was adapted from the expanded one-off hour long 1963 Twilight Zone fourth season and so consequently this radio version is longer than usual too at 44 minutes. It wasn't a classic Twilight Zone story and hardly one of Charles Beaumont's best ever scripts but Valley of the Shadow is decent enough for what it sets out to do and has an interesting moral quandary at the heart of the story with Redfield having to decide if the world is ready for salvation.

      Shouldn't such immense power (and these super technology nowheresville inhabitants even have the deus ex machina power over life and death with their devices) be used to make the world a better place or would it be too dangerous to trust humanity with such incredible resources? If the television episode was modest fun but never much more than that then the same can largely be said of the radio version. Chelcie Ross (no, I have no idea who he is either) is ok as our narrator and central protagonist and once again the deliberate use of a restrained and old-fashioned score is a help in generating something approximating a Twilight Zone atmosphere. These audio dramas always feel somewhat anachronistic to me and I like that quality. One advantage this does have over the television incarnation of Valley of the Shadow is that onscreen (with The Twilight Zone's limited budget) Peaceful Valley looked rather empty and ghost town despite the fact it was supposed to contain a 1000 people and be in the possession of highly advanced technology. Here you can least imagine the town in a fashion more suitable to what the original author's intentions were supposed to be. People pottering about, more evidence of superior building work and technology in general.

      The premise of Valley of the Shadow is diverting enough and there is always something enjoyable about stories that maroon a central character in an eccentric middle of nowhere town they have to try and make sense of. However, the story does maybe lack some nuance and there are a few gaps in logic along the way. I wouldn't have minded more of a full cast approach to this at times either. It would have been fun to have two or three famous guest stars playing the town elders and debating with Redfield in the town hall as they tried to work out what to do with him. By and large, like the other radio plays in this series, Valley of the Shadow scores its points with a languid low-key atmosphere that allows the imagination of the listener to fill in the blanks. This is far from the best example of either the television or radio series but I have a fondness for Valley of the Shadow and Charles Beaumont and enjoyed this as far as it went with the extra layer of curiosity of being able to contrast and compare with its visual predecessor. I always enjoy too the way they have Stacey Keach in each of these taking on the Rod Serling narration duties. He sounds a bit sedated these days but he's still Stacey Keach.

      At the time of writing you can buy this as part of one of the Twilight Zone audio collections or download it individually for £1.19. I should point out too that if you visit the homepage for the radio series you have the chance to listen to some free samples and get a general idea of what the series is like.

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