John Wyndham's 1953 story The Kraken Wakes is a bleak apocalyptic tale of aliens all but destroying humanity as they terrorise without discrimination from the depths of our own oceans. With the benefit of more than sixty years’ hindsight, it can also be seen as a novel about climate change; in Val McDermid's (writer of the Dr Tony Hill novels) update many details are brought up to date in line with our current understanding of how climate change might destroy our world. Amongst the changes, the refuge of the main characters switches to Scotland, away from the West Country. This adds to the veracity of the telling and does nothing to detract from the original.
The relocation to Scotland also allows for a surprise cameo from Nicola Sturgeon as herself, very much in keeping with the overall feel of the story.
Performed with a live orchestra (the BBC Philharmonic) it has a big screen feel as heroes, journalists Mike and Phyllis Watson (Paul Higgins and Tamsin Greig), are aided and abetted by a range of characters from military to scientist to fellow members of the press.
The story is retold over two one-hour episodes, and none of the original bleakness is lost from John Wyndham's classic. Both Higgins and Greig (superb casting) are entirely believable as two people gradually understanding the threat facing humanity while facing their own challenges as they prepare to survive in a much-changed world. As our eyes and ears in this dark sequence of events, they make a perfect narrative pairing and bring the story to life with great skill. The scenes most remembered where sinister alien tanks make their way into small towns in island paradises make as grim listening as they do reading. Wonderful stuff.
The music works very well, and Val McDermid deserves a lot of credit in bringing this story up to date without diluting the original nor making the retained elements seem at all dated. Credit must also go to Justine Potter's direction.
If you didn't catch part one when broadcast, do check out BBC iPlayer Radio, more information on the BBC website.
THE KRAKEN WAKES / AUTHOR: JOHN WYNDHAM / ADAPTED: VAL MCDERMID / STARRING: TAMSIN GREIG, PAUL HIGGINS, RICHARD HARRINGTON, SALLY CARMAN, ABDULLAH AFZAL, GARETH CASSIDY, NICOLA STURGEON / PUBLISHER: BBC RADIO 4 / BROADCAST DATE: MAY 28TH & JUNE 4TH