Woking in Surrey doesn’t feature in nearly enough SF classics, let alone Barnet, Clacton-on-Sea or Shepperton Lock. Pick up a copy of H.G. Wells’ novel War of the Worlds, however, and you can’t budge for low-flying references to these jewels of the South East and much more besides. Spielberg’s underrated 2005 movie version is replete with indelible imagery but still missed a golden opportunity to set itself in Victorian England. We’d have paid good money to hear Tom Cruise solemnly intoning “they came on to the Essex coast, to Harwich and Walton and Clacton, and afterwards to Foulness and Shoebury!” in his best Dick Van Dyke accent. Ah well.
Luckily, while the fin de siècle paranoia of the original text (first serialised as a ‘scientific romance’ in 1897) isn’t scheduled to get the historical big screen treatment anytime soon, this final audio play in Big Finish’s sturdy run of Wells adaptations is a veritable blockbuster for the ears. Re-titled to avoid a legal stand-off with mullet-favouring rock opera guru Jeff Wayne, who now owns the copyright on the WOTW name, this version is adapted and directed by Big Finish’s own in-house Orson Welles, Nicholas Briggs. It won’t have anyone running for the hills as Welles’ legendary 1938 radio version did, but Briggs still has a field day ladling on the dreadful terror of the Martians slowly unscrewing their spaceship’s door, men and horses cooked alive by heat rays, our heroes ducking under a freezing river as marauding war machines stalk above their heads and the ungodly Martian war cry.
Hobbit trilogy star Richard Armitage hits the mark as the narrator (unnamed in the book, called Herbert Wells here), lending a baritone gravitas to proceedings. It’s a faithful adaptation apart from one rather nifty change: rather than drop his wife Amy (Lucy Briggs-Owen) off at Leatherhead never to be seen again, here she stays by the narrator’s side and proves a plucky companion in a Doctor Who-girl sort of way. This being Big Finish, don’t be surprised if H.G. and Wife reappear in a run of lavishly tooled box sets for your aural pleasure.
Yes, the Martians-suddenly-catch-flu-and-croak ending is still a bit ‘eh...?’ after all the ratcheted marauding that comes beforehand, but it’s nicely handled here with a touching payoff to the expanded role of Amy and just the right measure of ‘it ain’t over yet’ menace. All this and not a peep from David Essex or Justin Hayward out of the Moody Blues and you’re sorted for an evening of unnervingly sinister audio drama.
THE MARTIAN INVASION OF EARTH / DIRECTOR: NICHOLAS BRIGGS / WRITER: H.G. WELLS / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW (BIG FINISH WEBSITE), MARCH 31ST (ELSEWHERE)