Matthew Kresal is over the moon with the latest H.G. Wells adaptation from Big Finish.
When Big Finish announced they were producing a range of HG Wells adaptations, I was thrilled. Here was the company whose Doctor Who output I had come to love taking on the author who helped to shape the science fiction genre. Their release of The Invisible Man proved they were more than up to the task of bringing these legendary works to life. Their second adaptation would be that of Wells 1901 novel The First Men In The Moon, famously adapted for the screen in 1964 as well as a subsequent BBC 4 version in 2010. How does this new adaptation fare then?
Like its immediate predecessor from Big Finish, it's a largely faithful adaptation of the original novel.
Those who have read it will recognize not only characters but many of the events and even dialogue reproduced within the two hours of audio drama. There are descriptions and details that seem lifted straight from Wells' prose, edited and made more concise, but most definitely authentic in content and delivery. It's as faithful of an adaptation as you are likely to encounter.
Which isn't to say that it doesn't make changes or additions. Like with their Invisible Man, the script adds on a framing device which script writer Jonathan Barnes uses to introduce a female character into proceedings. Details towards the end are changed a bit from the novel as well, though the content is there, and there is a slightly altered ending which brings to mind another of Wells famous works. On the whole, it's a faithful adaptation which makes changes that enhance the narrative rather than tamper with it wholesale.
Beyond the script, the cast is first class which is even more remarkable given that there are only five credited actors. As with Wells' novel, two characters are the main focus: Cavor (played by Nigel Planer) and Bedford (played by Gethin Anthony). Anthony carries the lion share of the production as he not only plays Bedford but also largely narrates events, both of which he does well. Cavor is the star of this release with Planer's performance often bringing to mind William Hartnell's First Doctor with his “Hmms” and laughter as well as a general air of eccentricity.
The three members of the supporting cast are equally solid. Up and coming actress Chloe Pirrie plays the newly created character Maria Bell, a young lady who makes Bedford's acquaintance and whom brings the story out of him. Pirrie's performance is interesting in its own right for reasons that will only become obvious upon listening and I sincerely hope that she returns to the company's output in the not too distant future. The supporting cast is rounded off by David Horovitch as The Grand Luna and by Alan Cox who plays several roles in the production, though you wouldn't know that without looking at the cast list. It's a solid cast once again highlighting the quality of the actors Big Finish brings on board.
The production values also highlight what Big Finish excels at doing. Peter Doggart's sound design and music are first rate with the score feeling cinematic at times, especially with its opening and closing theme. The sound design is interesting as well, bringing to life (along with Barnes' script and Anthony's narration) the Moon as described by Wells which harkens back at times to the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in its heyday. Lisa Bowerman's direction continues to be superb, bringing all these elements together splendidly.
Did Big Finish's The First Men In The Moon live to expectations? Most definitely. Jonathan Barnes makes interesting additions to Wells' novel when need be while also doing a largely faithful adaptation, a rare feat in its own right. Lisa Bowerman's direction brings together cast and crew alike to present a wonderfully thrilling piece of retro sci-fi. The result is the second success for Big Finish's HG Wells range and, one hopes, shows an exciting trend for the future.
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.