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Review of The Invisible Man from Big Finish Productions

H.G. Wells. The name conjures visions of tripod spaceships and plush Victorian time machines. It awakens nightmares of Martian invasions and...

H.G. Wells. The name conjures visions of tripod spaceships and plush Victorian time machines. It awakens nightmares of Martian invasions and dystopian futures. It pushes to the surface dreams of the future that have long since become tired tropes - and yet still manage to haunt the modern mind.

And, for many Americans, the name of this 19th and 20th century science fiction legend is likely to dust off another memory - Old Time Radio. Or, more specifically, that most infamous of radio dramas: War of the Worlds. When Orson Welles' broadcast this production of H.G. Wells' Martian epic in 1938, it captured America's attention. It is seared into our collective consciousness perhaps more completely than any other artifact of Old Time Radio. H.G. Wells and audio drama go together like apples and pie.

And now, Big Finish Productions is carrying on the H.G. Wells audio drama tradition. In 2017, the British audio production house known for their Dr. Who dramas rolled out a new lineup of productions based on six of his classic novels:

My experience with Mr. Wells stops at vague visions of tripod spaceships. So, when I got the opportunity to check out Big Finish's adaptation of The Invisible Man, I was stoked. I put in the earbuds and dove into Wells' classic story of a figure mysteriously wrapped in bandages and staring from behind dark glasses. 

With a nearly 3 hour runtime, this production is a movie-like drama in the style of a BBC radio play. Thea Cochrane's flawless sound design and Jamie Robertson's hauntingly epic score compliment the fantastic performances of popular British actors such as the late, great John Hurt. One of his last performances, Hurt's portrayal of the Invisible Man got him nominated for Best Actor in the 2018 BBC Audio Drama Awards. And he deserved it too. Wells' Invisible Man is a cartoonish character, but Hurt so fully becomes that cartoon that you are convinced he is flesh and blood. 

Summary:

In the midst of a snowstorm, a stranger arrives in an English country inn, seeking solitude. Soon, inexplicable goings-on at the Coach and Horses bring fear to the village.
Two very different men – the scholarly Dr Kemp and gentleman-of-the-road Thomas Marvel – are drawn into terrible events beyond their understanding.
A man named Griffin has defied the laws of nature and is about to embark on a reign of terror.
For he is... The Invisible Man.

The adapter, Jonathan Barnes, did a good job translating the story into the audio medium. In his own words, this was a challenge because The Invisible Man is “such a visual idea - you know, you think of the film from the 30s as a very visual image.” So “there’s a lot of comedy you’re missing out on” when you translate the story to audio. “But hopefully we’ve found a way round that. And, you know, the idea of a disembodied voice speaking to you out of nothing - out of the ether - maps very well actually I think onto the strengths of the audio medium.”

Though Barnes did a great job adapting this visual story to audio, I do have a few quibbles with his writing choices. Some of the adapted dialogue doesn’t seem consistent with the characters, and there is an added bookend story that seems a bit contrived. It seemed like the script could have used another edit to smooth these rough edges. But, all things considered, these are small bumps in an enjoyable ride.

If The Invisible Man can be used as a litmus test for Big Finish’s universe of H.G. Wells adaptations, I give these productions the gold star. If you want to paddle back to the fountainhead of the Sci-Fi genre, this lineup of dramas is a handy oar.

Content Advisory for The Invisible Man:

Misuses of God’s name are scattered in a couple scenes. Drinking is common and not looked down on. Torturous experiments are performed on both an animal and a human, and violence is peppered throughout the story including the choking of a man to unconsciousness, the mention of a suicide, and the finding of a dead man on the side of the road.

As a side note, Wells' outlook on life was morally bankrupt, and while this does not seem to come through in The Invisible Man, it most likely shows up in some of his other stories - most notably The Time Machine. For some fascinating and disturbing information on Wells' vision for the future, check out this video and this article

Places You Can Listen:

CDs and downloads of all these productions, including The Invisible Man, can be found at the links near the beginning of this article.

If you would rather listen to or read the unabridged versions of these stories, many of them can be can be found for free in audiobook form at Librivox.org and in e-book form at Gutenburg.org.

Happy Listening!


Besides being an audio drama junky, Joah Pearson is a son, older sibling to 8, aspiring content communicator, and big-time consumer of pizza, podcasts, books, movies, and Gray Havens music. At bottom, though, he is a junkyard being gloriously overhauled by King Jesus. He lives in Georgia and posts stuff at kingsrecorder.wordpress.com.





Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, ATC will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for your support!

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