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Audio Drama Review


Classic Radio Sci-Fi
The John Wyndham Collection


Starring: Bill Nighy, Barbara Shelley and Peter Sallis
BBC Audio
RRP: £65.00
ISBN: 978 1 40846811 1
Available 02 September 2010

This title includes the acclaimed BBC Radio dramatisations of six classic John Wyndham stories, with casts including Bill Nighy, Barbara Shelley and Peter Sallis. John Wyndham is one of Britain's most popular science fiction authors. His quietly menacing post-apocalpytic novels transcended the genre, appealing not only to fans of SF but also to a mainstream audience. This collection includes full cast radio dramatisations of The Day of the Triffids, The Kraken Wakes, The Chrysalids & Survival, The Midwich Cuckoos and Chocky...

Bill Masen wakes in his hospital bed, eyes bandaged. Something is wrong, it's unusually quiet and no one has come to his room. When he removes his bandages he finds a world that has changed utterly. Most of the population are completely blind - only those who didn't watch the meteor shower in the the previous night sky can still see. And as law and order break down, a new menace appears - triffids, walking carnivorous plants that can kill a human with their lethal sting. For Bill and the other survivors, it's now a battle to stay alive...

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 between June and July 1968, this radio play version of John Wyndham's classic book has aged like a fine wine. Spread of six 30 minute episodes, The Day of the Triffids tells the story of a triffid expert called, Bill Masen, who is one of the very few people to still be able to see them.

The very species that is preying on mankind is responsible for saving Masen's life - a young triffid stung him which left him in hospital with his head covered in bandages on the night that the meteor shower, that caused world wide blindness to all those who witnessed it, is putting on a spectacular but lethal display across the globe. The first episode builds the back story up well and concludes not long after Masen wakes up in his hospital bed.

The resulting chaos sees various groups rising up from the mess and vying for supremacy - including the seeing (who wish to live away from the blind, because they are a hindrance to their survival) and the blind (who want to imprison the seeing to use them like guide dogs). Masen was originally in the first category of survivors but, after being kidnapped, he is suddenly forced to act as the eyes for a group of blind people.

This radio play is incredibly atmospheric and frighteningly real in places. The panic attacks, as the first victims realise that they are blind, are totally believable, as is the frightening way that law and order breaks down literally overnight. As Masen points out, a new class system is born from the disaster. The rich (or the sighted) and the poor (the blind). In fact the triffids don't really pose that much of a threat, or feature that heavily.

I did have one nit-pick. One of the sighted groups that Masen joins talks about repopulating the planet. Their leader claims that they can accommodate a number of blind women as they will give birth to sighted children, but that they can't afford to have any blind men. Surely the men could also father sighted children (the blindness is only caused because their retinas have been burnt beyond use, and is not a genetic fault). If they want to repopulate the planet quicker surely finding room for a few extra men would be helpful.

As an added bonus there are a number of deleted scenes at the end of disc three and some interesting sleeve notes by Andrew Pixley.

One of the best radio plays I've heard in a long time - even more impressive when you consider it was made in 1968.



At first, the fireballs seemed to be nothing more than a dazzling display of lights in the sky, plunging into the deepest oceans and disappearing without trace. But when ships started sinking inexplicably and the sea-lanes became impassable it seemed that the world was facing a threat of unprecedented proportions. Mike and Phyllis Watson, both radio journalists, are caught up at the centre of events, well aware that it's not the cold war or international conflicts that are causing these events, but something infinitely more deadly - an alien invasion. And that's not all: the sea level is rising, the ice caps are melting, London and other cities are flooding, millions of people are drowning and ecological disaster looms. And whatever the alien beings are, they have begun to emerge from the sea...

The BBC's radio play adaptation of John Wyndham's The Kraken Wakes was originally broadcast on Radio 4 in 1998.

At the story's heart is a science fiction tale full of contemporary resonance's, from the fear of global warming to the distrust of official information and propaganda, and the ultimate fear of a challenge to the supremacy of human beings on Earth.

I have to admit that I found this a little too similar in content to Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids. And, on balance, I actually found that play much more engaging than The Kraken Wakes.

The biggest issue I had with this recording was the small cast. Some of the vocal performances are not overly impressive - especially were American accents are called for.

This CD release also includes a detailed sleeve note recounting the making of the radio serialisation, written by Andrew Pixley. Although why Pixley's name is shouted from the rooftops is anyone's guess (He's mentioned on the back cover and at the end of the sleeve note). It's not as though Pixley is an expert on John Wyndham. To be perfectly honest, anyone could have written these. A quick Google and a look through the BBC's archives would have provided all the information a work experience student would have needed to write them.



This double bill CD collection contains two John Wyndham stories which were adapted for BBC radio in the '80s - The Chrysalids and Survival.

Ten-year-old David is a happy, ordinary boy, untroubled except for occasional strange dreams about a mysterious city - until he befriends Sophie, who is unlike anybody he has met before: she has six toes. But in the ultra-religious village of Waknut, all abnormality is abhorred as an offence against God, and he must keep her secret to himself. When he learns that he, too, is 'deviant', he realises that differences can be very dangerous indeed...

The Chrysalids was first broadcast in 1981 and examines the inhabitants of a religious village where the residents believe that in order to follow God's word they need to preserve absolute normality among their people, plants and animals living in their surrounding area. Anything with even minor mutations are considered "blasphemies" and the handiwork of the Devil. Individuals not conforming to a strict physical norm are either killed or sterilised and banished to the Fringes, a forbidden area still rife with animal and plant mutations.

The main story follows the experiences of a ten-year-old boy, called David, who befriends a young girl called Sophie with six toes. For fear of what the villagers will do to her, David keeps her secret hidden but he can't do so for long. It soon becomes apparent that David, and others of his village have a hidden mutation of their own - they have telepathic abilities.

David begins to question why all who are different must be banished or killed. As they mature, David and his fellow telepaths realise that their unusual mutation would be considered a "blasphemy" and they carefully conceal their abilities. That their mutation cannot be directly detected allows their unusual abilities to remain undiscovered for a time. Eventually the group is exposed and David, his cousin Rosalind and younger sister Petra flee to the Fringes.

This story starts off as though it is set in our civilisations past, but it soon becomes apparent that it's set in the future - and that the mutations are the cause of a nuclear war that has long since past.

On a technical point, some of the scenes are almost impossible to listen too without clapping your hands over your ears. The problems? Well, sobbing and screaming children really aren't the thing to listen to through headphones at full blast.

While the story is interesting enough, I couldn't help thinking that it would have been much more powerful if it had been half the length - scenes to have a tendency to drag on here and there.



Set in the future the human race witnesses the first auto-piloted space flight. When the ship meets with an accident, one of the passengers is killed and the others are cast adrift in space. They have enough supplies to last for three months - but the only woman on board, Alice Morgan, is pregnant, and needs extra rations. Then food starts to go missing from the larder. What lengths will the passengers go to in order to survive...?

Survival was originally broadcast in 1989 and is a shorter, but much sweeter tale than The Chrysalids. As a radio drama this works much better - it's certainly easier to relax and enjoy than the earlier story.

When the spacecraft malfunctions and food starts to run out the passengers have to make the decision whether to die together or slowly kill one person at a time in order to feed the rest of the starving people.

As a production there's little to fault it. The vocal talents of the cast are first rate and the music and sound effects make it sound as though it were recorded much more recently than it was.

The two stories are split over two CDs, with The Chrysalids spread over disc one, and half of disc two. To be honest I found Survival a more palatable tale. The Chrysalids just seemed to go on and on and some of the voice acting was pretty annoying - there's something about the way adults pretending to be children always seem to over do it.



Driving back from a weekend in London, Richard and Janet Gayford are surprised to find the village of Midwich sealed off because of 'army manoeuvres'. There are no birds singing, the air seems thick and there is a strange sort of music in the air. It soon becomes clear that there is an invisible wall around the village, and everyone within the perimeter is unconscious. When the barrier lifts, the strange occurrence is put down to a gas leak. The villagers seem to have suffered no adverse effects from their 'day out' - until, some months later, there is an epidemic of pregnancies among the women. All of the babies are born on the same day, all have golden eyes - and they can all communicate with each other telepathically. As they grow older and their powers grow stronger, the people of Midwich begin to feel threatened...

The Midwich Cuckoos was originally written in 1957. This BBC adaptation was first broadcast in 2003 and stars Bill Nighy and Sarah Parish. To be honest though this recording is as timeless as the '68 Day of the Triffids - with no effort made to set this version at the turn of the 21st Century - thankfully. As far as movie adaptations are concerned, the most famous are the Village of the Damned / Children of the Damned films from the '60s.

The title is a reference to the cuckoo bird, which is known for laying its eggs in the nest of other birds which then raise them as their own. Here an "alien" presence has laid its "eggs" in the wombs of all childbearing women in Midwich in the hopes that they will raise them as their own.

As the children grow it soon becomes apparent that they are not human, but still their parents care for them. It soon becomes apparent that the children are separated into two entities. The male's minds are all linked together as once large collective, as are the female's.

The story is in a similar vein to Jack Finney's 1955 book The Body Snatchers (which went on to spawn two movie adaptations, in 1956 and 1978, entitled The Invasion of the Body Snatchers).

This modern adaptation will introduce an old classic to a new generation of potential fans. The story is straightforward and more than a little unnerving. And, in a time when we stand on the cusp of the ability to produce human clones, this story takes on a new slant. The children may no longer be simply from outer space, but could be the result of a human scientific experiment.

I for one am glad to see an old classic being reintroduced to a modern audience.



When young Matthew Gore starts talking to himself, and introduces his invisible friend Chocky to the family, his parents decide it's just a phase he is going through. But when Matthew starts explaining binary maths and anti-gravity propulsion, they begin to worry. Is Chocky really just the product of an over-inactive imagination, or something more?...

Based on the 1968 novel, this full-cast radio drama was first broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 1998 and tells the chilling tale of a normal boy confronted with abnormal circumstances.

Matthew had always been an ordinary boy. Even when he started talking to himself and introduced his invisible friend Chocky to the family, it was obviously just a phase he was going through. And all children have imaginary friends, even if eleven-year-old Matthew is a bit old to have one.

As he becomes increasingly distressed and blames it on arguments with his unseen companion, his parents become concerned. But when Matthew's teachers start to all believe that he is naturally gifted at all subjects, concerns turn to worry. After all, Chocky is only the product of an overactive imagination. Isn't he?

After Matthew saves his sister from drowning, word soon gets out to the local press that Matthew couldn't swim and that he was helped by a guardian angel. As this story starts to spread, certain organisations start to take an interest in Matthew. As they close in on him it soon becomes apparent that his fellow man are more likely to cause him harm than his new inquisitive friend.

One of the interesting aspects of this story is the way in which the listener is never really sure whether Chocky is a force for good or evil until the closing act. Another interesting aspect is that the producers also updated the tale for a modern audience (by introducing mobile phones and home computers) but not to the point where it is thrusting technology in the listeners' faces in a bid to showcase that they've modernised the story.

While all of the actors are impressive in this play, Kathryn Hunt (who played Angela Harris in Coronation Street, and Pauline Webb in Drop Dead Gorgeous) is well cast as the voice of Chocky. While her voice has obviously been treated a little to give it that other-worldly sound, she manages to convey strong emotions through an almost emotionless tone.


Nick Smithson and Pete Boomer

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