Ignore the title. Big Finish’s The Martian Invasion of Earth is an audio adaptation of The War of the Worlds by HG Wells, and it’s a damn good version, which is not as easy to come by as you might think.
In 1897, Wells imagined what might happen if the Earth was to come under attack from creatures from another world. Since then, the Martians have been coming to Earth in every conceivable form, and they’ve usually been an allegory for somebody else; the Russians in the famous George Pal film, the terrorists in Steven Spielberg’s version.
One of the joys of the new Big Finish version is that it sticks closer to Wells’ text than many of the versions with which we’re more familiar. There’s little about it that’s been updated or made especially socially relevant to the 21st century, at least beyond the extent to which Wells’ work is timeless. That gives this version a vintage quality that will be as relevant ten years from now as it is today.
The thing is, when you listen to this version, you can still hear The War of the Worlds as a socially relevant story. In the drama, the humans of the western world are rapidly turned into fleeing, panicked animals. It’s really not difficult to then draw parallels between the way the people in our world of the 21st century treat refugees from war and violence, and the way Wells and Big Finish reduce us to the status of refugees, hoping for compassion in a world under siege. But in truth, Big Finish wins big here by not turning the story into anything much more than it was when Wells finished it: aliens acting like the armies of the British Empire, towards the people of the British Empire.
One way in which this version differs from the book is in placing Wells and his wife firmly, by name, at the heart of the action; the narrator in the book is never named, but Big Finish put Wells and his wife Amy right into the drama. But beyond that what you get here is a fairly straight adaptation by Nicholas Briggs, which allows you to revel in it as a pure, intelligent entertainment – a science fiction invasion story, first, last and foremost.
In terms of performances, we’re in a pretty high league here – Richard Armitage as Wells brings a brown-voiced sense of old-fashioned right and wrong to the piece, challenged by some of the things he has to do, or to allow, in order to survive. Lucy Briggs-Owen, a Big Finish regular, brings good balance to him, both in terms of her voice and her performance as a frightened but steel-spined late Victorian woman, adding value, rationality and conscience along the journey into the world of the oppressed. Christopher Weeks and Helen Goldwyn play Edward, Wells’ brother, and Agatha, a woman he meets on his escape from the Martian terror, and while far from being an alternative, or a more morally dubious version of Wells and Amy, they show different strands of personality and face different challenges as they claim their right to survive.
There are other slices of morality given flesh here too – Ogilvy, the astronomer who first spots the flares on Mars that signal the disaster coming to Earth, is what might be thought of as the personification of our better natures, attempting to welcome the aliens, to neutralise fear, to stretch out the hand of friendship across the gulf of space. He’s the great ‘What-if?’ that could make The Martian Invasion Of Earth a great story of interplanetary brotherhood, but neither Wells nor Big Finish allow that optimism to survive. The Martians are written as a warning to us, and warnings need consequences. Nevertheless, Richard Derrington gives an almost exultant optimism and potential to Ogilvy that makes you want him to succeed. He makes you want to be part of a universally better species in this story, which is as effective as hearing what our Martian reflection does to the world on which it finds itself.
The Martian Invasion of Earth is full of rock solid performances, a love to the original story, and a faith with that story, shaking the certainties of a civilised world. You’ll think a little harder after listening to it, but its refusal to make the Martians especially socially relevant to our world gives this interpretation, like Wells’ original, a quality that will reward repeat listening for years to come.
Big Finish until March 31st 2018, after which date it will also be available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading audiobook retailersThe Martian Invasion of Earth is available to buy now exclusively from