The latest instalment in Big Finish’s new series of audio adaptations of literary classics published in the golden age of adventure literature is a masterly presentation of HG Wells’ much loved tale of the inventive Victorian imagination The Time Machine. As the story begins, a well-to-do gentleman inventor regales his regular gathering of friends with a seemingly improbable story of his latest creation: a model machine that can travel through time, while remaining rooted in the same physical space.
Intriguing his audience with a demonstration of what many of them consider to be a clever parlour trick, the would-be time traveller reveals that he has built and tested a full-size version of his creation, able to carry him on a journey into the future or the past. The next time they assemble, he bursts into the room and regales them with a story of his life-and-death adventure in the far-flung future of the planet, an epic sojourn he has only just returned from. With his listeners’ interest whetted, the visitors withdraw, leaving the time traveller to recount his story to a solitary companion.
Ben Miles delivers a pitch-perfect performance as the nameless time traveller, finding just the right mix of the intrepid, the daring-do, the stubborn and the guileless in the character of the explorer. He is a voyager driven by a singular sense of mission, more interested in racing off into the unknown than in careful planning or risk assessments. Miles’ winning portrayal is well supported by the capable voice work of Nicholas Rowe, as the patient and wide-eyed Mr. Wells, and Anjella Mackintosh as the beguiling, if primitive, future-human love interest Uweena.
The early sequences of this audio adaptation of The Time Machine succeed in securing a richly atmospheric sense of time and place. The company and conviviality of a group of educated, well-off, “forward-thinking” men of the time encourages the maverick traveller to push things to the next reckless level. But while this is a full-cast drama, it is really in the two-hander segment, which makes up the majority of the running time, that the piece fully comes into its own. The traveller narrates his fantastic journey to this single, attentive listener who occasionally interjects in the telling before encouraging the storyteller to continue towards a fitting conclusion. It’s an unobtrusive narrative device, which director Bentley deploys sparingly to change pace and provide additional texture.
Adapting a literary classic for another medium is always a difficult task, but scriptwriter Marc Platt rises to the challenge with great skill, employing a “respectful not reverential” approach to good effect. Wells’ story skills are first-rate, but it would be hard to describe his prose as either economic or restrained. In reconceiving the story for audio, Platt never loses sight of the essence of Wells’ tale, but brings the necessary simplicity and sharpness to the dialogue; particularly during the traveller’s substantial monologues, when he judiciously trims Wells’ more purple passages.
Sound design by Peter Doggart and music by Howard Carter both add greatly to the ambience of the piece, especially as the infamous predatory Morlocks make their appearance and the traveller and Uweena struggle against the odds to return to the Victorian present.
Platt ensures that some of the key allegorical and metaphorical memes in Wells’ story find expression in this audio version: mostly notably the author’s evocation of a split in the human race that will, in the future, separate the privileged surface-dwelling capitalists from the exploited subterranean workers. As humanity degenerates, Wells suggests that the animalistic descendants of those labourers might come to feast on the flesh of men and women who live above ground – who have regressed to become their livestock.
But this adaptation remains an adventure romp and not a morality tale; a drama that captures Wells’ infectious sense of wonder about humanity's impatient and accelerating advance towards what remains an unknowable future. The Time Machine is the ideal aural entertainment to savour by a warm fireside on a crisp autumn evening. Two hours will race by before you know it...
THE TIME MACHINE / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / WRITER: HG WELLS / DRAMATISED: MARC PLATT / DIRECTOR: KEN BENTLEY / CAST: BEN MILES, NICHOLAS ROWE, ANJELLA MACKINTOSH, NICHOLAS ASBURY, JAMES JOYCE, HYWEL MORGAN, CHRISTOPHER NAYLOR / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW