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Audio Drama Review


Classic Radio Sci-fi Collection


Starring: Robert Glenister, William Gaunt, Carleton Hobbs and Gerald Harper
BBC Audio
RRP: £65.00
ISBN: 978 1 40846812 8
Available 02 September 2010

Five groundbreaking stories, each exploring different aspects of the science fiction genre and which had a huge impact when first released, have been adapted for radio. This box set collects together all five productions, which were previously released individually. This collection includes full-cast productions of Frankenstein, The Time Machine, The Lost World, R.U.R and Solaris...

Victor Frankenstein, an ambitious young scientist and seeker after knowledge, considers it the pinnacle of his career when he makes a creature in his own name. But his triumph soon turns to horror, and he is appalled when the Creature, denied a female counterpart, turns against his creator and commits a terrible crime. In a desperate attempt to destroy his creation, the scientist tracks him from Europe to the desolate North Pole, and in this bleak landscape of ice and fog, prepares to confront his nemesis...

This adaptation of Frankenstein was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in two parts on 9 and 16 October 1994. It is a dark and brooding dramatisation of Mary Shelley's famous novel, and stars Michael Maloney as the scientist who makes a creature in his own name. Denied a female counterpart, the creature turns on his creator, then murders Frankenstein's brother. In an attempt to destroy his creation, the scientist tracks him to the Arctic - where this tale opens.

This radio play begins with the crew of the ship Archangel who see a giant of a man on a sledge in the middle of the Arctic. Four days later they see another man on the ice and ask if he wishes to come on board. At first he declines their offer, until he hears that they are heading to the North Pole. Once aboard, we discover that this man is professor Frankenstein and he is heading North to track and down and destroy his creation. Frankenstein then recounts his tale of how the monster was created and why he is chasing it.

This 2-disc CD collection is wonderful retelling of the timeless, classic story. The acting it uniformly impressive, as are the sound effects. If I had one slight moan, it's that the mix is a little uneven and that in places the sound is too loud and in others it's too quiet.



H.G. Wells's thrilling story of an inventor who travels in time and discovers a nightmarish dystopian future opens in 1943, when Wells is recording a talk for the Home Service in which he questions mankind's future. After the broadcast, he spends the evening with American journalist Martha, and tells her the astonishing news that his best selling book The Time Machine was not fantasy but fact. Wells explains that he was actually present at the dinner party in Richmond fifty years earlier, when the Time Traveller returned from his first fateful journey into the future. He reveals to Martha the full story of the Time Traveller's encounter with the Eloi and the Morlocks - and what really happened to him afterwards...

Originally broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 22 February 2009, this full-cast dramatisation of H. G. Wells's pioneering science fiction adventure stars Robert Glenister as the Time Traveller and William Gaunt as H. G. Wells. The Time Machine has been adapted several times for TV and film, but surprisingly this is the first ever UK radio adaptation.

The worth was certainly worth the wait, as this dramatisation beautifully brings to life the familiar story, but goes further than the original novel by having Wells explain that the events were based on true events and that he was actually witness to the time traveller and his amazing adventure. So the story doesn't end the same way as the book, but instead goes onto explain what happens to the descendents of the Eloi and the Morlocks even further into the future.

I couldn't help but think that whoever was responsible for the sound design was a huge Star Wars fan. The background chatter of the Eloi sound like Ewoks, while the grunts of the Morlock sound very similar to those of the Tusken Raiders (aka Sand People). And while we're on the subject of sound, Jon Nicholls's music composition goes a great way to heightening the mood and emotions of this production.

This CD also includes an introductory sleeve note recounting the making of the radio adaptation, written by producer Jeremy Mortimer.

From start to finish this audio production will have you hooked. A great way for the young to be aquatinted with one of Wells's greatest stories.



London, 1907. Journalist Edward Malone, rejected by the woman he loves because he is too prosaic, decides to go in search of adventure and fame to prove himself worthy of her. He meets Professor George Challenger, a controversial scientist who claims to have discovered a 'lost world' populated by pterodactyls and other prehistoric monsters. At an inflammatory public lecture, an expedition is organised to find Challenger's rumoured world, and Malone volunteers to go along as a representative of the Gazette newspaper. His arrival in South America signals the start of an epic journey of discovery that is more shocking and amazing than he could ever have imagined...

This radio dramatisation of Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel The Lost World still stands up incredibly well today - mainly, I suspect, due to the fact that it is set at the end of the 19th century and is very much a period piece. Originally broadcast as three parts between 26 January - 09 February 1975, this gripping dramatisation manages to retains the excitement and suspense of the original book.

The story follows a 19th century expedition to enter the rumoured lair of animals thought to have died out millions of years before - a terrifying world of pterodactyls and other 'prehistoric monsters'.

The suspense will almost kill you, because it's not until way into the second CD that you really get onto the plateau - everything before this is an incredibly slow build. That's not to say that this is long and drawn out, far from it, as this helps to flesh out the characters more believably. It also means that, like the explorers, the listener is itching to see what awaits them on the plateau - even if you've already read the book and know what's coming.

There are also some interesting sleeve notes which include the original Radio Times listings.

An outstanding audio drama that really captures the essence of Doyle's original book.



Fired by a passionate enthusiasm to improve on nature, inventor Rossum spends a decade trying to create humans. The experiments fail, until Rossum's engineer nephew takes over and manages to invent artificial beings. Intelligent machines, with no emotions and no souls, these 'robots' make perfect workers...

Originally broadcast on BBC Radio 3 in 1989, R.U.R. is a drama production of Karel Čapek's 1921 play, set in a future where all the work in our society is carried out by robots manufactured by Rossum's Universal Robots. In fact, it's widely believed that Čapek's play introduced the term "robot".

While on a tour of Rossum's Universal Robots factory Helena Glory, a member of the League of Humanity, reveals her disdain for the way robots are being manufactured. The General Manager of R.U.R., Harry Domain is the one conducting the tour and their meeting eventually leads to the two of them falling in love and eventually they become engaged.

Years later Helena manages to persuade the powers that be to design the robots with built in emotions, little realising that this will lead to a revolt against the human race. As the robots go about destroying mankind, they discover that they are not as easy to eradicate, especially when the robots emotions get in the way.

This audio drama is a joy from start to finish and also includes interesting sleeve notes on the making of the the radio adaptation.



When psychologist Kris Kelvin, arrives at the scientific research station hovering high above the surface of Solaris, he finds the place deserted except for two scientists, who have been driven mad by some unknown horror. The researchers had been trying to investigate the ocean planet, and probe the secrets of its alien lifeforms. But their clumsy, aggressive approach has provoked a terrifying response from the ocean, which is now confronting them with their most painful repressed thoughts and memories in human form. Kris is faced with the manifestation of his long-dead wife, Rheya, and his guilt over her suicide, but whatever is tormenting the other scientists appears to be worse...

Solaris is based on Stanisław Lem's 1961 novel and revolves around a group of scientists who have been conducting ongoing research for years on a strange ocean lifeform that inhabits the planet Solaris. When the researchers become more aggressive in trying to force contact, the ocean's response is to experiment with the researchers' minds by confronting them with their most painful and repressed thoughts and memories through the materialisation of complex human constructs.

Incredibly slow moving, Solaris, relies on a steady build to allow the audience to feel for Kelvin's character and the dilemma he has to face as his dead wife seems to have returned from the grave. While he knows it's not her, it's not long before Kelvin starts to see her appearance as a chance to finally lay the ghosts of the past to rest.

The story, on the surface, seems about as shallow as you can get: A psychologist arrives at a research station where everyone has gone mad. His dead wife starts to appear to him and he discovers that it's the planet playing with his mind... but there is so much more going on with this tale. It's also pretty moving too.

I was surprised to discover, through the sleeve notes, that this adaptation was first broadcast in 2007. To be honest it sounded a lot older and I was expecting to learn that it was produced in the '70s. In fact, the only thing that gives away that it is a modern recording is the fact that the voice of the computer (who I suspect is the same person who lends her voice to the end credits) has a slight accent. There's definitely a hint of a Lancastrian upbringing there. I'm afraid, on this score, it sounded very out of place. Computers with accents are hardly likely to you instill confidence that your well being is fine in their hands - especially when none of the scientists have accents. I mean, can you imagine if you got on a BA plane and the captain's voice came over the speakers with a thick Liverpudlian accent?

It was therefore no surprise to learn that this drama was produced in Manchester. Now, is this the sort of thing we are likely to see become more common place if the BBC's planned move to Manchester goes ahead; accents becoming the norm? I for one hope not. It's already started to become annoying how many presenters on TV and local radio stations have annoying accents, the BBC is the last place I want to hear regional dialects thrust down my earlobes. I was brought up in South Yorkshire, but I wouldn't want to hear my old accent all over the place.

Anyway, ignore the ramblings of a mad man - looks like some ghosts from my past came back to haunt me too. Solaris is a pretty enjoyable play which does a great job of transferring the novel into a credible play.


Nick Smithson

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