HG Wells The Time Machine (audio) review

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With September’s release of The Time Machine, the Big Finish range of HG Wells audios hits the home straight with this two-disc adaption by Marc Platt of this classic story. Starring Ben Miles (The Crown) in the role of the nameless Time Traveller, it’s a very faithful telling of the original text, and worthy of a place in any collection of Well’s works.

For those more familiar with the film adaptations, the 1960s film by George Pal (and this audio) align far more to the text than the 2002 adaptation. The Traveller is narrating his adventures to a Mr Wells (Nicholas Rowe) and he starts with the cosy dinner party at which he discussed time travel with his guests, then quickly turn to his trip in the time machine itself.

Without the visual tricks of George Pal’s film, the journey is detailed entirely through narrative, and the bulk of this release is a mix of narrative with short segments of dialogue. This allows Marc Platt to give us huge swathes of prose and remind us just how good a writer Wells was. The Traveller ends up in the idyllic world of the future, and meets the Eloi who live on fruit and spend their time indulgently. He rescues one from a river, and forms and attachment to her. This Eloi is named Uweena, unlike the original character Weena (no reason given for the name change), and is played by Anjella Mackintosh. It’s an important part if difficult as Uweena is a passive creature, there to be afraid of the troglodyte Morlocks, and ultimately capture by them. It’s these sequences that give the listener most action and the chance to relish the superbly realised future London landscape.

HG Wells was politically active, and in many ways this section of The Time Machine allows him to discuss his views on the evolution of society and his take on left-wing politics. Marc Platt is careful to allow plenty of air time to his views, but not at the expense of the story.

The audio follows the original text closely, so unlike the George Pal ending where the Traveller ends by going back to the future [sic!], the Traveller escapes from the Morlocks by plunging deep into the far future. There the sun has swollen; the air thinned; what life survives has evolved and adapted to be unrecognisable. It’s a sober, grim world, boding no sense of a positive outcome for humanity. It’s an essential part of the original and full credit to Big Finish for not shying away from it.

Of course the Traveller has to return to tell his narrator the story, and we still get an ending where the only question is what happened next? Wells left that to the reader’s imagination, but it’s a fascinating topic.

The Time Machine is another very strong release in this range, and it’s with some regret we realise there is now only one more release to come in this series.