TERRY PRATCHETT'S VINYL DISCWORLD / WRITER: TERRY PRATCHETT / LABEL: DEMON MUSIC GROUP / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
In 2018, Penguin released Terry Pratchett: The BBC Radio Drama Collection, seven full-cast dramatisations of the famed fantasy humorist's works. Coming in at over 13 hours of audio, the set collected seven of the Radio 4 series, originally broadcast starting in 1992 with an adaptation of Pratchett's eighth Discworld novel, 1989's Guards! Guards! now comes a massive, 15 LP box set collection from Demon Music Group, bringing to vinyl for the first time ever all of those stories.
Interestingly enough, neither set includes the 2003 Radio 4 adaptation of The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, which has never gotten an actual physical release, both opting to include instead a 1996 adaptation of the first Johnny Maxwell novel, 1992's Only You Can Save Mankind, making the title of this Demon box set - Terry Pratchett's Vinyl Discworld - slightly incorrect.
For their first adaptation, the BBC rather killed it with Guards! Guards! The voice cast is fantastic, and allowing the story to spool out over the course of six episodes allows the plot time to breathe. It's utterly charming, and really leans into the fact that the Night Watch's story is as much a comedy, police thriller, and rough-and-tumble underdog story as it is fantasy.
Wyrd Sisters is a fantastic adaptation, although the voice of Sheila Hancock's Granny Weatherwax isn't nearly as big as I would've expected. She's almost relegated to the background in many of her scenes. The plot is excellent, although it seems as though the adaptation crams the latter half of the book into the final episode, after a rather leisurely pace moving through the first three.
Despite being the first of Pratchett's novels to focus on the character of Death, who's appeared in nearly every single book in the Discworld series, Mort isn't exactly a classic. While the plot elements would have far-reaching consequences, especially echoing throughout Reaper Man and Soul Music, the story's more in line with the more parodic aspects of Pratchett's early Discworld books, as opposed to the satirical tone which would inhabit the latter works.
The 2004 Radio Four production has far too much narration, and comes across as more of an audio book than radio play. While Geoffrey Whitehead's portrayal of Death is nicely humanising to the character, it could've stood a bit more skull-y echo. The audio is actually a bit of a problem all over the recording of Mort, with every character sounding as if they were recorded separately from one another, with wildly differing audio tone for each. Mort and Ysabelle sound clean, the narration sounds a trifle fuzzy, and Death's manservant, Albert, is a smidge hollow.
Mort is also the beginning of a three-series stand by Carl Prekopp, who played the titular Mort, then Brutha in Small Gods, and a young Sam Vimes in Night Watch. His characters are all slightly naïve and hopeful, but charming in their own slightly soppy way.
Night Watch manages to return to the joy of Guards! Guards!, thanks to the inclusion of the Watch and all, and by stretching out to five episodes, avoids the rather unfortunate reduction which came with the four-episode adaptations of the majority of stories in this collection. The tale of time travel and following one's sense of good.
Interestingly enough, the 2013 adaptation of the Faustian drama Eric turned the rather short novel into a rather shortened series of four episodes, all only about 15 minutes each. This means that there are two episodes per LP side, and rather than feeling rushed, it just feels that the story's been perfectly summarised. It's rather due to Mark Heap as the wizard Rincewind, who is as perfectly-suited to the role as he would be the following year when he portrayed the angel Aziraphale in the 2014 Good Omens radio play. The audio effects, in particular the Luggage, are also quite fun.
Only You Can Save Mankind is fine. It's nice that it's included, but is rather more of a bonus than anything. The plot and storyline are definitely very teen-centric, and while it's an interesting take on the idea of an anti-Ender's Game storyline, the story and radio play aren't as universally enjoyable as the other six stories.
The packaging on this release is just stellar. Demon Music Group's box sets have always been exceptional, but the metallic accents on the box itself make things stand out before the plastic wrap's even been peeled off. The image of the Great Turtle, A'Tuin, adorns the top, with a listing of the contents on the back. Once inside, the lining of the box itself is papered with images of the stars and planets through which the Disc floats on the back of A'Tuin.
The packaging on each of the album sleeves highlight characters and situations from the various titles (we especially loved the prominent use of Nanny Ogg's cat, Greebo, on the cover of Wyrd Sisters). Inside each is a brief essay by Discworld and Pratchett historian, Stephen Briggs, who has himself done quite a few dramatisations of the series himself. The album jackets aren't the usual, slimmer box set sleeves, but are just as sturdy and robust as any standalone release. They're all gatefold sleeves, as well - even the single LP of Eric - and the vinyl comes pressed on a gold-and-white ‘Discswirl’ colored wax. Night Watch and Only You Can Save Mankind include themed etchings on Side B of the sets,
The inner sleeves for each LP come together to create a massive five-by-three-foot map of the Disc itself, with prominent quotes from each episode on the reverse. Additionally, a chromium portrait of the author himself caps everything off. The end result is a massively-entertaining, highly-absorbing collection that will entice Terry Pratchett fans, despite the minor quibbles and equally massive price tag.