Reviewed By: thisoldcan
Review Date: 2/23/18 3:12 pm
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In the final H.G. Wells adaptations from Big Finish, The Martian Invasion of Earth (an adaptation of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds), Herbert (Richard Armitage) and his wife Amy (Lucy Briggs-Owen) live a quiet life in Horsell Common, up until a curious pod drops from the sky. But when it opens, the nightmare begins, as the Martians have come to war with Earth. With seemingly unstoppable heat rays, deadly black smoke, and enormous, virtually indestructible ships, all hope seems lost, but Herbert and Amy are still striving to persevere and escape the wrath of the Martian invasion. The long-awaited final release in Big Finish’s adaptations of H.G. Wells novels may have faced an unavoidable, yet frustrating delay, but the result is easily one of the best stories of the year, and one of the best H.G. Wells adaptations to come from Big Finish. Stars Richard Armitage and Lucy Briggs-Owen are simply magnificent as Herbert and Amy, turning in two powerful performances that work well both separately and in tandem, providing a solid backbone to the excellent story. Nicholas Briggs faithfully adapts the original story for audio with a harrowing tale of an invasion from Mars, and the tale of two people simply trying to escape and survive. And while the writing and acting of the story is magnificent, the work of Iain Meadows on the sound design work is absolutely essential to the story, and Meadows just absolutely knocks it out of the park, with some absolutely stellar sound design work throughout the story. Nicholas Briggs may have taken his time working on this release, but the passion for the original story is evident in his nigh perfect adaptation of the original novel.
Richard Armitage and Lucy Briggs-Owen star in this story as Herbert and Amy, husband and wife who are attempting to escape from the invading Martians. Armitage is perhaps one of the most famous actors to star in a Big Finish production, having starred in The Hobbit movies and several other movies and TV shows. His casting is an absolute coup for Big Finish, as Armitage brings his baritone voice in to the studio, and gives nothing short of one of the best performances I’ve heard at Big Finish. He portrays Herbert with a wide variety of emotions, from a steely determination most of the time, to a completely broken, traumatized man when he’s allowed a moment to himself. There are so many fantastic moments from Armitage throughout the story, but I found the quiet moment when his character breaks down while retrieving a curio box for his servant, Meg, to be one of the most powerful moments of the story. Big Finish regular Briggs-Owen has a lot to compete with in this story, but she more than proves her medal by turning in a performance that is every bit as equal to that of Richard Armitage’s. Briggs-Owen is the emotional crux of the story, delivering a performance that is simultaneously full of steely determination and barely concealed trauma, and it is just completely spellbinding. I particularly liked the way that she reacted to the various deaths throughout the story, especially the first death of Meg, and her resigned determination to keep going, but I loved how she was unable to deal with the death of the Curate (Hywel Morgan) by the end of the story.
Nicholas Briggs, Big Finish’s executive producer, was tasked with adapting perhaps the most famous of H.G. Wells’ novels, The War of the Worlds, for the company. The story was unfortunately, and somewhat frustratingly delayed, originally scheduled for a November 2017 release, but arriving instead in February 2018. But any frustration with the delay I may have had evaporated as soon as I started listening to the story, because it is absolutely superb, and nigh perfect. Briggs faithfully adapts the original novel in a careful, engaging way, making it work extraordinarily well on audio, while also crafting one of the most harrowing, bleak versions of the story I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing. Briggs does a by and large faithful adaptation, making some small changes to the original novel that help it work better for audio. Certain events are streamlined, and the ending, with the narrator suffering a nervous breakdown following the death of the Martians is culled in favor of a story that allows the relationship between Herbert and Amy to flourish. That relationship is the highlight of the story, in my opinion. Briggs is smart to allow the story to have that emotional lynchpin of Herbert and Amy, which is certainly helped by the excellent performances by Armitage and Briggs-Owen, and their wonderful chemistry. It gives the story a bit of a different spin that’s almost more horrifying than the narrator breaking down for several days in the middle of a deserted city, because it becomes it gives the story a central struggle, rather than a nihilist ending, and it enhances the story all the more for it.
But easily the greatest part of the story is the absolutely fantastic sound design work by Iain Meadows. Meadows has worked for Big Finish a handful of times before, but he completely outdoes himself with this release, which is thoughtfully and mercilessly sound designed to absolute perfection. The highlight of Meadows’ sound design work was the sound design of the Martian machines. The sounds he uses are so off-putting and other-worldly that just by hearing them, there’s a sense of uneasiness and dread to them. As the story progresses, and the danger of those noises becomes clear, that feeling of dread only increases, lending the story a tense, breathless feel. I also thought that Meadows did fine work on the sound design for the rest of the tale, from the crowd noises to the sounds of the countryside. It’s hard to imagine that the sound of chirping birds could be so discomforting, but Meadows makes them the centerpiece in a number of scenes, where they evoke a feeling of revulsion at the juxtaposition between normalcy (the birds, the wind through the trees, and so on), and the utterly horrific carnage that was just witnessed. Sound design is one of Big Finish’s strongest areas, but Meadows absolutely blows everyone out of the water with his work on this release, creating an evocative soundscape that works both on its own merits and as part of the plot of the story.
Behind-the-scenes, there’s some interesting things going on. I quite liked the cover artwork, done by Tom Newsom, an occasional Big Finish cover artist, as it felts both very in step with the other H.G. Wells adaptations, but also different, and unique. I particularly liked the design of the Martian machines, as they felt very true to some of the earliest depictions of them in artwork, while being well updated for the 21st century. Jamie Robertson’s composing work is simply stunning, as he crafts a score that plays with the listeners’ emotions. Robertson does phenomenal work highlighting each scene, with tender music played during tender moments, and tense music during tense moments, but it’s the transitions between themes that works so well, as just a slight, sudden shift in pitch can cause your heart to leap into your throat. The behind-the-scenes interviews are typical Big Finish affair, though I did quite like the interviews with Nicholas Briggs and the two main guest stars, Richard Armitage and Lucy Briggs-Owen. Armitage and Briggs-Owen were engaging to listen to, as the two talked about their approaches to the story, and what it means to them, while Briggs offered some interesting insights into the writing process for this story. The behind-the-scenes stuff is available separately, alongside the final script and the first draft, and a music suite, which can all be downloaded off the Big Finish website.
Overall, The Martian Invasion of Earth is as close to a flawless story as one can get. Nicholas Briggs knocked this story out of the park, creating an adaptation that is just completely perfect; faithful by and large, but updating the story well to suite both more modern times and audio drama. In particular, I thought that the addition of a more emotional relationship between the two protagonists, Herbert and Amy, was an excellent addition to the story. Richard Armitage and Lucy Briggs-Owen star in this story as Herbert and Amy, and both deliver exceptional performances; Armitage for his steely performance, mixed with some genuinely affecting moments of trauma, and Briggs-Owen for her powerful, emotional performance. The sound design work for this release highlights an already fantastic release, as Iain Meadows works to make the Martians and their machines sound horrifying, and crafts a beautiful, rich soundscape that acts as a bedrock for the story. Despite taking longer than expected to come out, this release is more than worth the wait, easily taking the top spot as the best of Big Finish’s adaptations of H.G. Wells novels, and serving as a flawless adaptation of the original novel.