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The Time Machine: Classic Radio Sci-Fi is a (yes, you guessed it) radio adaption of the classic 1895 fantasy novella by HG Wells. This famous yarn was all about a Victorian gentleman who travelled far into the future in his incredible Time Machine constructed from ivory, quartz, nickel and brass, allowing Wells not only to tell an exciting and imaginative story but present a parable about class and a possible future for mankind. This BBC adaption was released as an audiobook in 2009 and is 100 minutes long in duration. There are a few changes from the novel apparent right from the start. It's not as bad as that awful Time Machine film with Guy Pearce of about ten years ago but you do get slightly irritated that they never seem to leave Wells' books in their original form. The story here opens not in the warm glow of a Victorian home but in 1943 during the London blitz. HG Wells (William Gaunt) is recording a speech for the Home Service and afterwards talks to a young journalist named Martha (Donnla Hughes). Wells drops a bombshell when he claims that his novel The Time Machine was not fiction but something that actually happened. He was one of the Victorian Time Traveller's (Robert Glenister) weekly invited dinner companions and witnessed the return of the shaken time jumper before listening to the amazing story of what had happened to him in the far distant future. Wells recounts the extraordinary tale to Martha with a few extra details that were absent from his famous novel...
This is a modestly ambitious audio rendering of The Time Machine that has its moments but doesn't quite do enough to be regarded as a classic or memorable audiobook. The device of having an older Wells tell the story as if it really happened is quite interesting but was hardly essential. It does become a little wearing the way they always have to come up some minor twist or modification when adapting old stories sometimes. William Gaunt as Wells therefore has the bulk of the work here and he's generally fine. Gaunt, in case you didn't know, is a veteran actor who I think was in several sitcoms in the eighties and nineties. He's best known for the 1960s adventure series The Champions where he played one of three super powered humans who worked for the government. Or something. There was an American bloke who looked like James Bond, the lovely Alexandra Bastedo and Gaunt, Gaunt being the most unlikely member of the team as he looked like he'd struggle to hold his own with Larry Grayson in a fight let alone dodgy foreign super agents. Anyway, Gaunt has a warm and quite distinguished voice and is well cast. The Time Traveler is voiced by Robert Glenister (brother of Gene Hunt actor Phillip). Glenister is someone you'd probably recognise from television if you saw him (I remember him playing one of David Jason's assistants in Inspector Frost) and although he looks like a bit of a scruffy herbert in real life he's fine here, posher than usual and sounding relatively enthusiastic about being in this radio play.
The Time Traveller of course travels far beyond his own time into the 83rd Century and finds that human beings have evolved into two separate races - the Eloi and Morlocks. The Eloi are like children and live out a carefree existence on the surface. The grunting monster like Morlocks are subterranean and surface at night to prey on the Eloi. The Morlocks are suggested to be descendants of the working classes, the story making a not so veiled comment on the ever growing gulf between the classes as witnessed by Wells. The Eloi are suggested to be the descendants of the upper classes, the fragile and vacuous result of centuries of idleness and easy living. The section of the novel where the Time Traveller explores this strange new world (his Time Machine is temporarily out of action, leaving him stranded) is very gripping in the book and some of this sense of wonder and strangeness is captured quite nicely here at times. 'All the traditions, the complex organizations, the nations, languages, literatures, aspirations, even the mere memory of Man as I knew him, had been swept out of existence. Instead were these frail creatures who had forgotten their high ancestry, and the white Things of which I went in terror.' Problems with these sections? I suppose the most obvious would be some of the sound effects used to convey these future offshoots of the human race. The Eloi in particular are conveyed by a what sounds like a continental foreign language and also a fluffy chirping cooing noise. You sometimes can't help imagining Robert Glenister surrounded by cheeky little puppet monkeys or something.
Much better is the background music which is very ambient and atmospheric in line with this off-kilter dystopian world that the Victorian inventor has found himself in. There are a few changes here and there to the story (the ending is tinkered with in particular) and while it's always mildly interesting and fun to have a few additions and further speculations on the Time Traveller and what happened to him I wouldn't have had a problem myself with just being given a faithful version of the novel. The Time Traveller has a portable dictaphone here to record his thoughts. Obviously, if he can invent a time machine he's more than capable or inventing a recording device but it does seem rather contrived. In fact, the whole addition of an elder HG Wells recounting the story as if it were true does seem somewhat clunky too. While Gaunt is an enjoyable presence here you can't help thinking the whole thing might have worked just as well if the bedraggled Time Traveller had told his tale to his dinner guests in Victorian London as he munched on some mutton and drank some wine - just as he did in the original novel. The Time Machine: Classic Radio Sci-Fi is generally good fun and well acted but ultimately never quite as good as you want it to be. Those who haven't read the novel might possibly enjoy it more than pedantic HG Wells fans. At the time of writing you can buy this used or new from £7.
I picked this CD as I do like a good story to listen to when I am going on a long journey in the car. I thought it would be hard to go wrong with a classic book like The Time Machine. However I was wrong.
Most of the reviewers on Amazon seem to have really enjoyed the CD but I was not impressed. Firstly they have chosen to do it as a play rather than a narration of the book. This means that they have had to find odd ways of narrating instead, which either involve a ridiculous recording device, or long periods of one character recounting their actions in a stilted manner.
Secondly, the lack of narration and the fact that many of the actors used sound similar means that it is often tricky to figure out who is speaking. I recently listened to News of Paul Temple which was narrated by Anthony Head, and he managed to make all the different characters sound very distinct. You would think that with different actors involved this would be even easier, but sadly it is not and I found myself wishing for Head's array of voices rather than the confusing mess that I found on this CD.
Thirdly, they have taken some odd liberties with the story which simply serve to add confusion to the plot, such as it being told in flashback by an older H G Wells. And fourthly, the indecipherable language used by the childlike people that the traveller meets in the future was really, really annoying.
I was really disappointed with this CD and I would recommend that you either buy the book if you are interested in this story, or buy another CD if you're interested in an audio book.
This CD has an RRP of £10.34 but is available at the moment on Amazon.co.uk for £8.27.
(updated from my review on Amazon.co.uk)