Matthew Kresal reviews the latest adaptation of The Martian Chronicles, released last week by Big Finish.
Since its publication more sixty years ago, Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles has been a seminal work of literary science fiction. Built around a series of short stories written the decade before, this tale of Martian colonization had proven to be a fertile ground for adaptation for radio, stage and screen. Joining those ranks is this 2014 production from B7 Media that was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 which is now available on CD and download via Big Finish Productions.
The production is anchored by a strong cast. While Bradbury's characters were by and large American, this production keeps up to the times and the current trend in space exploration, real and imagined, with a more international crew. Leading it is the one and only Darek Jacobi as Captain Wilder who becomes the main focus of the story via a framing device that allows the production to span decades. Jacobi proves to be more than up to the task carrying a great sense of both authority and humility to the role, portraying Wilder as a man amazed and sometimes appalled by what he encounters. It's Jacobi who anchors the production and gives it considerable gravitas.
There's a solid supporting cast as well. Perhaps the biggest name is Haley Atwell (aka the MCU's Peggy Carter) as the geologist Spencer. Atwell wonderfully portrays Spencer's awe at what the Martian's have accomplished as well as both incomprehension and fury at how her fellow humans are acting. The supporting cast also includes performances from Mark Lewis Jones as the scientist Hathaway, John Altman as the pigheaded Parkhill and Melissa Aston-Munslow in a small but important role at the end. It's a solid cast and one that brings the tale to life splendidly.
Hats off as well to the production values. Alister Lock, whose sound design has populated many a Big Finish production, creates a dynamic soundscape that brings to life not just Bradbury's Mars but also various spaceships, as well as other varying locations in the sonic equivalent of the "glorious Technicolor" of olden days, from canals to vast cities and vast landscapes. The music of Imran Ahmad adds an additional layer to the production, coming in at just the right moment to make everything else pack that much more of a punch. Compliments as well to director Andrew Mark Sewell as well for a superb production overall.
My greatest compliment though may well go to the script. Writers Richard Kurti and Bev Doyle certainly had their work cut out for them. The book is a sweeping (though quite episodic) tale spanning decades of future history. Kurti and Doyle had an even bigger challenge in condensing down into a mere hour. Thankfully they proved more than up to the task, creating what can perhaps be best termed a loose adaptation in that it draws on elements from across several stories in the book. While changes are made, such as making Spencer female and reducing the number of characters introduced, the production retains much of the flavor of the stories it draws upon.
Where the script is especially successful is in both updating Bradbury's original stories for a more modern audience and bringing out the elements that are as relevant today as they were decades ago. The questions that are raised about colonization, commercialization, and indeed about human nature itself are just as thought provoking now as they were then. So while it might not be a blow by blow recreation, it certainly proves the timelessness of Bradbury's vision.
This production of The Martian Chronicles comes highly recommended. It's a tale as relevant now as when it was first printed, and one that has been brought to life superbly by cast and crew alike. It captures the flavor and world that Ray Bradbury created without bring slavishly faithful to it. The result is a rich, entertaining and thought provoking hour of audio drama that isn't to be missed.
Matthew Kresal lives in North Alabama where he's a nerd, doesn't
have a southern accent and isn't a Republican. He's a host of both the
Big Finish centric Stories From The Vortex podcast and the 20mb Doctor Who Podcast. You can read more of his writing at his blog and at The Terrible Zodin fanzine, amongst other places.