After a slight delay (it was originally planned for last autumn), Big Finish has released its final HG Wells title, The Martian Invasion of Earth. Adapted and directed by Nick Briggs, it stars Richard Armitage as the narrator, now firmly established as Herbert Wells (the novel avoids names for most characters). Herbert’s wife, Amy, is played by Lucy Briggs-Owen, and the two-disc drama follows the original storyline as the ruthless Martians land outside Woking, lay waste to London and finally fall to the smallest of inhabitants of planet Earth.
In adapting War of the Worlds, Nick Briggs has tweaked here and there, both making the female parts more substantial, and amending (and in some ways improving) the contrast between the experiences of Herbert and his brother Edward (Christopher Weeks) as both are displaced by the unyielding Martian onslaught.
Despite how many times one has watched the 1953 Gene Barry film, the 2005 Tom Cruise version and listened to Geoff Wayne’s musical extravaganza, there is much about this tale of Martian invasion that draws the listener in. The central thread has Herbert and Amy in the centre of the first landings and together surviving as best they can, despite the grim reality of the alien threat. They encounter the Artilleryman, the Curate, witness the all-consuming black smoke and avoid the deadly heat rays as best they can. Wells made some socio-political points about class and religion in the novel, and these remain, but only enough so as to give Herbert some definition, not to overwhelm the listener with a point of view. By giving Amy more to do, Briggs’s adaptation gives more pace to events, and makes them less introverted.
In contrast, brother Edward faces the ordinary folk of England now desperate to survive as their lives and land are torn away. Edward makes the acquaintance of Agatha (Helen Goldwyn) and the two of them have several moments of dark humour as they make their way towards the coast.
One striking sequence is the navy ship Thunderchild, and it’s battle with Martian machines as it tries to provide cover for escaping civilians. We hear first-hand how the ship’s crew fought and died and one of many powerful moments in this glorious drama.
The sound is as impressive as the story deserves (and composer Jamie Robertson’s music suite is provided as an extra), and the cast are all compelling in their roles, with Richard Armitage showing the capabilities he has brought to his many audiobooks and documentary narrations. It’s a highly recommended release and a superb conclusion to this exceptional run of HG Wells stories.