2017: The Year of H. G. Wells

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The legendary author H. G. Wells is set to get a boost in profile this year as some of his most famous works are adapted by BIG FINISH. STARBURST caught up with range producer David Richardson to discuss this project…

H. G. Wells is widely known, even among non-SF fans, as one of the pioneers of science fiction. Born in Bromley in 1866, he died in London in 1946. Why does this matter? It matters because, under UK copyright law, it is now seventy years since his death meaning his works are now out of copyright, and available to all. Big Finish is taking this opportunity to bring us six two-disc audio releases throughout the year - starting in January with The Invisible Man - starring the late John Hurt, Blake Ritson, Annette Badland, and Dan Starkey.

David’s enthusiasm for H. G. Wells soon became clear: “I live in Bromley, Wells’ birthplace, so I guess this project is also a little personal for me. In the town centre, there’s a mural dedicated to his work, and I pass that at regular intervals all the time. Wells is part of the very fabric of our culture, and so it’s brilliant to have the opportunity to make these adaptations. When I first spoke to our executive producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs, the plan was just to do The War of the Worlds. But the more I immersed myself into Wells’ catalogue, the more I wanted to extend the project. And so the series of adaptations was born.

David also reflected on his appreciation of Wells’ work, “I think if you’re a fan of science fiction, which I obviously am, it’s impossible not to have connected with Wells’ novels throughout your life. I first came to them through Hollywood adaptations – The Time Machine and The War of the Worlds were staples of holiday viewing throughout my childhood – and reading the novels came later. They’ve influenced the genre profoundly: I’m sure that when Sydney Newman was first discussing the format that would become Doctor Who, then The Time Machine would have been mentioned. We’ve all seen countless adaptations of The Invisible Man, and perhaps been bemused by some of the film adaptations of The Island of Dr Moreau! And who can’t hum the music from Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds from memory?

John Hurt plays Griffin in The Invisible Man and Ronald Pickup plays Moreau in The Island of Dr Moreau

The series starts with The Invisible Man and continues every other month with The First Men in the Moon, The Shape of Things to Come, The Island of Doctor Moreau, The Time Machine, and The War of the Worlds. Having John Hurt appear in the first release is a measure of the both the stature of H. G. Wells and the reputation for quality Big Finish has long enjoyed. David spoke about the casting, “Casting has been a key element to this series. We knew that we wanted very prominent industry names, and actors who would connect with the material. John Hurt was a perfect choice for The Invisible Man – we’d greatly enjoyed working with him on our War Doctor audios, and he'd made no secret of the fact that he’d greatly enjoyed working with us too. I’d always remembered his compelling performance as Winston Smith in Michael Redford’s film of 1984, and I found it interesting that John was chatting about that in the green room while we were recording the Wells story. He is astonishing as Griffin [the invisible man of the title] – so powerful and threatening, and yet there’s a pathos he brings to the character that is quite magical. I’ve heard the finished production, and I’m immensely proud of it, and Blake Ritson (Indian Summers) is magnificent as Kemp. He was our first choice before we’d even started writing the script.

Nigel Planer, Gethin Anthony, and Chloe Pirrie are a glorious triumvirate in The First Men in the Moon. Nigel has a credit listing as long as my arm, and Gethin and Chloe are on their way to becoming huge stars – Gethin from Game of Thrones and co-starring with David Duchovny in Aquarius, and Chloe from major TV roles including War and Peace.”

Other casting highlights include Sam Troughton, Nicola Walker, and Ronald Pickup.

Nigel Planer as Cavor and Gethin Anthony as Bedford in The First Men in the Moon and Sam Troughton and Nicola Walker in The Shape of Things to Come

The stories are adapted by a range of regular Big Finish writers, including Nick Briggs (The War of the Worlds), Marc Platt (The Time Machine), director Ken Bentley (The Island of Doctor Moreau), and Guy Adams. Directing duties are split between Ken Bentley, Lisa Bowerman, and Nick Briggs. Adaptations follow a range of approaches from keeping very true to the text to bringing them more up to date. David explains further, “We’ve tried to keep them as authentic to the originals as possible, but not at the cost of making them as entertaining as possible. For example, The Shape of Things to Come would not have worked as a straight audio adaptation of the original text. So Guy, our writer, has come at it from a new angle which stays true to Wells’ vision while making it compelling and thought-provoking for modern audiences. I found his script to be a real page-turner. The Invisible Man and The First Men in the Moon have been adapted by Jonathan Barnes, who writes our Sherlock Holmes series. Jonathan is a natural at stories set in the Victorian era, and there’s a beautiful authenticity and tone to his scripts.

When we were discussing The Island of Dr Moreau, Ken Bentley threw his hat into the ring to adapt it, and his script is lovely – vibrant, and dark and gripping, and charged with a relevancy that will leave listeners thinking.

During the recording process, David found Wells’ stories still have a resonance even today: “We actually recorded The Shape of Things to Come two days after the American election, and the sense that our world is about to undergo a seismic shift made the material seem even more chilling than it did on the page.

The cast of The Island of Dr Moreau 

With these six titles, Big Finish has covered the big science fiction novels, but Wells wrote much more than these. Not only did he write several fantastical short stories, he also wrote many other novels. At the moment, Big Finish has no plans to adapt any of these, but that might change if this run of audios is a big suggest. David clearly enjoyed the process of producing these titles and would no doubt be happy to dive back into the imagination of H. G. Wells. Perhaps other writers from this period could also be considered – STARBURST wouldn’t be surprised to see an announcement of some Jules Verne stories for example.

For more information on the BIG FINISH range, head over to bigfinish.com.
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