Wikipedia has a list of stories for which time has caught up on their future setting and made them liars. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of sci-fi in there, including ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ by H.G. Wells. So, in their latest Wells audio adaptation, how did Big Finish deal with future history already in progress?
‘The Shape of Things to Come’ was first published in 1933 and dealt with future history. In the introduction, Wells presents Philip Raven as a friend who dreamt about reading a history textbook from the future. The book reproduces what Raven was able to recall of his dream.
Guy Adams, who wrote this adaptation, has moved the characters into the modern day to present it as an alternate timeline. Raven meets Jane, a historian from the future, who takes him on a tour of the past she knew. They witness the highs and lows of Jane’s timeline before Raven is presented with a terrible choice. It’s an inventive way to take on this story and Adams did really well with what he had to work with.
Nice To Meet You?
Jane and Raven are played by regular Big Finish performers Nicola Walker (Unforgotten) and Sam Troughton (Robin Hood). Since Jane is original to this version and Raven is only given a vague description in the original, both actors have a lot of freedom with their portrayals. Walker, in particular, channels some of Liv Chenka in her role as an intelligent pragmatist trying to remain distant. The rest of the cast, however, is harder to get a grip on because their appearances are fleeting.
It’s a flaw that really undermines an otherwise fantastic take on the story. The need to follow the alternate history set out by Wells means that many ideas and characters have to be quickly brushed aside for the next one. The first part consists mostly of brief chats with alternate historical figures and info-dumps. But this was probably inevitable since the original book is, essentially, one long info-dump.
The Debate of Things to Come
The second part picks up the story with more time to examine what Wells saw as the future of humanity. The original story is highly political and proved divisive when it was published. Adams has played on that to build tension between the two main characters. As events take a more dramatic turn, we get to understand Jane and Raven better. The political element is far too integral to be excised altogether. Whatever Wells believed, this adaptation is challenging and offers no easy answers to the dilemma presented. Both options have good and bad, the listener is left to ruminate on what they would do.
‘The Shape of Things to Come’ is an inventive idea, cleverly subverting the tropes of “alternate timeline” stories. Adams deserves no end of credit for turning what’s essentially a history textbook and polemic into a story that holds together so well. Unfortunately, there were some obstacles that couldn’t be overcome without drastically changing Wells’ story. This is well worth a listen if you’re a fan of speculative fiction, with an excellent storyline build around it.
Blogtor Rating – 7/10
Every action has consequences. One confrontation, one punch, one bullet – something as simple as a gesture on a train – all can change the course of history.
British diplomat Dr Philip Raven knows the world is on a knife edge. But he is about to see how history might have played out differently. How there could be a better future for those who dare to grasp it.
An emissary from that future has come to show him… The Shape of Things to Come.
Producer David Richardson
Script Editor Matt Fitton
Executive Producers Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs
Written By: HG Wells, dramatised by Guy Adams
Directed By: Lisa Bowerman
Nicola Walker (Jane), Sam Troughton (Raven), Ewan Bailey (Arden Essende), Simon Greenall (Hooper Hamilton), Eve Webster (Moira Caruso/ Anna), Duncan Wisbey (Titus Cobbett), Stuart Milligan (Benito Caruso). Other parts played by members of the cast.