Review by Ian McArdell
Children of the Stones is a new podcast audio drama, produced by BaffleGab for BBC Radio 4, and based on a story first presented in the 1977 HTV television series, which starred a pre-Blakes’s 7 Gareth Thomas. Famously terrifying, it follows the story of the Brake family, a father and son who move to Milbury; a village famous for its prominent circle of standing stones. This new interpretation, from writers AK Benedict and Guy Adams, comprises ten episodes which vary in length from twelve to twenty-one minutes, and runs to just over two and a half hours. The bones of the tale remain as before; although the writers have shifted a few of the pieces around to suit more modern ears.
Archaeometrist Adam Brake has arrived to investigate Milbury’s famous standing stones with some scientific rigour, and with a truculent teenager in tow. Here, the scientifically gifted Matthew has become Mia, an inquisitive girl recovering from the death of her mother in car accident, in which she also sustained injuries. Encouraged to follow her passions, Mia has started her own podcast; through ‘Proto Science’ she seeks to investigate the unexplained, much to her sceptical father’s frustration.
Shifting the focus onto Mia, rather than sharing the story with her father, her podcast offers a clever device through which we to both explore Milbury and meet the unnervingly happy locals. The story provides a slow build with plenty that is unsettling as Mia meets a group of friends who are then gradually stripped away from her as the tension builds. While the television series used flashbacks in passing moments, this version lets rip with lengthy sequences of travelling into the past of the village, thanks to Mia’s gift of psychometry (the notion that objects retain a psychic history).
In the central role, India Brown – best known from McKenzie Crook’s recent reimagining of Worzel Gummidge – is terrific. She convinces as a proper teenager, battling through an understandably difficult relationship with her grieving and often unsympathetic father (Steve Oram), not helped by the enforced move to Milbury. The story takes the time to explore this fractured family dynamic and it feeds satisfyingly into the wider plot.
As the principal villain Ralf Hendrick; Reece Shearsmith is clearly having lots of fun, from subtler moments through to full-on crackpot villainy, although he remains in the background for the first few episodes. Granted a former television career, Hendrick comes across as a bit of’ Professor Brian Cox’ type figure, albeit one who has gone spectacularly off the rails with a David Icke-style career transformation. In the wider cast, Ralph Ineson also entertains as heavily accented, local oddball named Laces and we loved the Jairaj Varsani as the sparky Rafiq.
Music was a memorable part of the original with discordant pagan chanting adding to a frankly terrifying experience at times. While not so full-on, Edwin Sykes’ rumbling score is certainly ominous and it is backed with superbly unnerving sound design from Richard Fox.
While not at all slavish to it, Children of the Stores retains the brooding atmosphere which made the original a highlight. Flared jeans and trippy visuals may have been exchanged for YouTube references and mobile phones; but there are still plenty of enjoyable chills to be had from a visit to Milbury. Happy Day!
All ten episodes of Children of the Stones are available now on BBC Sounds.
Check out our other Audio Drama reviews.