Audio Review – The Coming of the Martians

Review by Ian McArdell

Since going out of copyright, there have been a few projects based on H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds, adding to the extensive catalogue of adaptations already available.
While the most well-known versions might be Orson Welles’ famous 1938 radio play or Spielberg’s Tom Cruise fronted movie, both shifted the location and moved the story to their present day. Slightly more faithful is Jeff Wayne’s musical interpretation, which at least keeps the setting correct – although it has claimed the title and forced this adaptation to be dubbed ‘The Coming of the Martians’; originally the title of the first part of the novel. With a fresh take on the novel by Nick Scovell, who may be known to some for his re-staging of Doctor Who classics, Sherwood Sound Studios’ approach has remained incredibly faithful to the original text; this is a tale of a Martian invasion of the home counties, with the action taking place across Surrey and Hampshire, as well as London.The Coming of the Martians is a full-bloodied adaptation which does not shy away from the grim horrors of the Martian plans for Earth. Beginning gently, with scenes between the narrator and Ogilvy (Dan Starkey), tensions ramp up as we learn about the strange activity seen on the red planet. Ogilvy’s infectious excitement soon bleeds away though, when the pair are exposed to the alien menace which has crashed on Horsell Common in a strange metal cylinder and the might of the British army can do little to stop their advance.
Colin Morgan (Humans, Merlin) takes the role of the narrator, endowing his character with a sense of curiosity which challenges a natural trepidation. An ordinary man caught up in monstrous events, he later sinks into terror and becomes volatile in his desperation; with Morgan utterly convincing on every step of his emotional journey – doubtless thanks in part to the assured direction of Lisa Bowerman.

The other major roles are performed by Nigel Lindsay and Ronald Pickup. Lindsay is the Artilleryman; first pragmatic and then rather desperate, with his ghastly predictions for the future of mankind under Martian rule, while Pickup’s Curate is terrified and trying – attempting to reconcile his faith with the devastation and horrors all around him. Both give excellent performances and are perfectly cast. The drama boasts an incredibly detailed and impressive soundscape from producer Martin Johnson, from the obvious noises like the visceral Martian heat ray and the resonant roar of their war machines, to engrossing battle sequences on land and at sea, the drama demands your attention. He also provides a melancholic score which builds the tension, not least with its opening theme which evokes a sense of dread.

I particularly enjoyed the use of the army telegraph as a method of advancing the plot, delivering chunks of business and building out the scale of the conflict in broad strokes. Later, the same is true for newspaper sellers quoting headlines which move the story forward. Although the presentation of the story is engrossing, I did find that I lost track of who was who among some of the minor characters, such as the narrator’s brother and his wife, and so I suppose that a good familiarity with the story in its prose form would be a benefit. That said, I feel this is really going to appeal to those who adore this classic “scientific romance” which has fired the imagination of so many readers over the years and it certainly brings the action to life with vivid style!

With a runtime of just over ninety-five minutes, Sherwood Sound Studios has produced the drama in 5.1 surround sound up to 24bit/96khz resolution and is making it available in a variety of formats, from CD to extras packed DVD and an attractive Collector’s Edition USB which comes with a linen book to imitate the first edition of the novel.

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