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The War of the Worlds - H. G. Wells (Audio CD)

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Genre: Sci-Fi & Fantasy / Author: H. G. Wells / Audiobook published 2007-01-08 by BBC Audiobooks

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      11.03.2011 15:16
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      Martian invasion of the Home Counties!

      A full-cast BBC radio dramatisation of HG Wells' classic The War of the Worlds from 1967 comprising of six half-hour episodes. It was adapted by John Manchip White with music by David Cain. I didn't know this existed until recently but it's a lot of fun on the whole with a spooky score from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The story has been updated and tinkered with quite a bit but it still remains relatively faithful to the novel and captures the enjoyably strange giant Martian robot tripods laying waste to surburban England with heat-ray weapons atmosphere of the source material. Replacing Wells' nameless narrator as the central character here is Professor John Nicholson (Paul Daneman), an astronomer who has noticed eruptions and flashes of light on Mars and - correctly as it turns out - suspects this could be very bad news for us if the rascals are on the way here. The first cylinder crash-lands in sleepy Woking and Nicholson's fears of an invasion turn out to be true when a peace delegation receives a very hot (get it? oh please yourselves) reception from the Martians and our unwelcome visitors emerge on huge metallic tripods armed with devastating weapons. Nicholson is about to be plunged into a terrifying world of carnage and danger where it appears that the game might be up for the human race and life as we know it...

      I believe this was a re-working of scripts from a fifties BBC radio version of War of the Worlds that was sadly wiped and doesn't exist now. This version is set in the fifties and the Martians are now having to battle tanks, jet planes and helicopters rather than field guns and cavalry. This is quite good fun and because these modern weapons prove just as useless against our alien invaders as the human weapons of the original novel so the 'scare' factor of the adaption is well up to par. The story here even touches on the problems of a modern army having to deploy and fight in the tidy commuter belt of Surrey! The pivotal role of the artilleryman from the novel is filled by a helicopter pilot (played by Anthony Jackson) but he still serves the same function, telling us and the central character about how the army were no match for the Martians in a terrifying battle and later appearing again with his fantastic and somewhat improbable dream of starting a new human civilisation and resistance deep underground.

      The pilot and Nicholson hunker down in a plush hotel in this wrecked and abandoned London and the eerie almost the end of the world atmosphere is nicely conveyed. Nicholson is much more tolerant of the pilot's grand fantasies here than the narrator in Wells' novel is of the artilleryman's subterranean daydreams. The changes in this adaption are quite clever at times and supply some great twists on the original novel. The Martians have to take on tanks in the biggest battle at Shepperton, deploying black smoke to get the upper hand, and they are also attacked by jet fighters. The adaption uses news broadcasts about the crisis to good effect too although it's a slight shame that the brother of the narrator from the novel is excised here. It means this adaption doesn't contain the 'Thunderchild' section, a wonderful passage in the book where a battleship saves a ship full of evacuated people by sinking two Martian tripods at sea. But anyway, the news broadcasts are good fun, particularly in the way the growing alarm of the newsreader is apparent.

      The sound effects in this radio version are often very atmospheric and vivid with some suitably strange and discordant beeps and clangs to accompany the Martian activity. The famous section of Wells' novel where the central character becomes trapped in a ruined house with a Priest while Martians potter about with their mechanical contraptions all around them is present and correct, the Priest nicely played as a broken man by Peter Sallis of Last of the Summer Wine and Wallace and Gromit fame. This is a pretty scary section of the novel and done justice to by the actors and script here. At 3 hours long this radio adaption never feels rushed or truncated and I like the fact that it has plenty of time to develop at its own pace and build tension. Paul Daneman is excellent as our central hero and the supporting cast all do good jobs. Martin Jarvis is effective too as Olgilvy, a blinkered colleague of Nicholson who fails to see the danger of this Martian visit and insists on a very ill-advised peace mission when the first cylinder arrives.

      Anyone who is a big fan of the novel or spooky radio programmes from yesteryear should certainly enjoy this. The six episodes are all great fun and contain a good degree of invention. It's dated of course and there are inevitably one or two quibbles arising from the decision to set the story in the present day but - on the whole - this succeeds admirably in what it sets out to do and captures a good deal of the spirit of the original book. At the time of writing you can buy this for around a fiver which, given that you three hours worth of discs, is not bad at all. I would certainly recommend this as a nice piece of vintage sci-fi radio fun.

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