Big Finish: The Martian Invasion of Earth, Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: The Martian Invasion of Earth, Review

Tony’s hiding from the Martians.
The Martian Invasion of Earth is, in case you were confused at all by the fact that it’s called The Martian Invasion of Earth, the adaptations of HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds, from Big Finish.

The War of the Worlds has, over the hundred and twenty years since Wells wrote it, been used as an analogue for all sorts of things. In fact, part of the point of it was Wells, famously a socialist with even communistic leanings, conjuring with the notion of British imperialism. It was widely believed - at least by the British - that British imperialism was A Good Thing, bringing civilisation, education, and religious salvation to people who had known no ‘better.’ Frequently, those ‘benefits’ were brought through advanced military techniques and weapons which made the locals gasp in wonder – and, when they were used, to kill many and make others flee in terror.

The War Of The Worlds was Wells trying to show the inherent wrongness of that practice, by turning the tables on the ‘civilised’ imperial powers of the world as they were invaded by aliens with superior weapons and an agenda antithetical to their own survival.

Since then, the aliens have been used to show Americans the evils of Communism, and the danger of terrorist sleeper cells, to name just the two most popular movie versions. You can call the use the invaders to represent any oppressive enemy, but that’s to misunderstand the point of the book pretty substantially. The aliens, at least in Wells’ original, are US.

One of the main joys of this Big Finish version of the famous tale is that it sticks closer to Wells’ script than many of the versions with which we’re familiar. There’s little about it that’s 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.

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 has been widely assumed to be a ‘version’ of Wells himself, his wife more or less a distant avatar of hope, something to strive towards through the madness of a world under invasion. 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 actually comes as an enormous relief.

Don’t get us wrong – you can absolutely listen to this version and apply your own take on it drawn from the world around us. You can imagine it as a toppling of Western smugness and a lesson about the way the modern ‘civilised’ West treats refugees, by turning our society into the people fleeing from an unreasonable aggressor. But essentially, Big Finish keeps fairly close to the story and tells a science fiction invasion tale, as entertainment first and foremost.

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 works well as a 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 the challenges they overcome on their journey to claim the 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.

Pick up The Martian Invasion of Earth for the rock solid performances, the love shown to the original story, and the faith it keeps with that story, shaking the certainties of a civilised world. Big Finish makes a solid fist of delivering a War of the Worlds that celebrates the original in all its multi-faceted, socially relevant genius. It also delivers a version that will repay relisten after relisten – just as Wells’ original repays re-reading more than a century on.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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