From acclaimed director Lisa Bowerman and an outstanding cast, Sherwood Sound Studios’ The Coming of the Martians may be the invasion from Mars you didn’t know you’d been waiting for
The War of the Worlds must be one of most successful science fiction novels of all time. The futurism of writers like Jules Verne is returned to semi-regularly for new adaptations, true. But it’s the work of HG Wells that buried itself deep into the fertile soil of the public consciousness. For over a century it’s spread its red weed outwards to wrap itself around our fears and dreams. Partly that’s because it’s actually about something beyond just big alien tank things blowing stuff up. Partly it’s because of the near infinite flexibility of that allows it to be adapted to any time or concern. It’s been adapted countless times in countless mediums. (A personal favourite remains the graphic novel pitting the Golden Age Superman against the Martian war machines.)
In audio terms, of course, The War of the Worlds has long been closely associated with a certain radio broadcast by Orsen Wells. So closely, in fact, that this release from Sherwood Sound Studios has been obliged to go by the title The Coming of the Martians. Though originally the subtitle of the first section of the novel rest assured this also covers second part The Earth Under the Martians. But it’s testament to its quality that it stands up to its better known predecessor. In fact, it may just be (whisper it now) actually better.
The Coming of the Martians is no gung ho tale of glorious battle, but depicts one refugee’s descent into the hellish terrors of war
For all the wild inventiveness of versions set in different times and places, using the Martians are metaphors for everything from communism, to terrorist sleeper cells, it’s the straight adaptations which tend to miss the point and simply relate the sequence of events one after the other. So this glorious new audio adaptation from Sherwood Sound Studios is particularly welcome in defying this trend. It’s soaked with all the atmosphere, horror and soul searching with which Wells was trying to infect his readers.
We follow one man as he drifts through the wreckage of the world. Not some great hero, he’s merely another bit of flotsam caught up in the chaos. Probably the core of his journey is his ever dwindling ambition. When we first meet him, his hopes are that this business with possible signalling from Mars will help his career. Perhaps even see his exclusive interview with the astronomer Ogilvy picked up by the Times. Then that he and his wife can safely wait out the Martian attack in the comfort of their own home. But by the end, even his desperate quest to find and save his wife is reduced to simply wanting to be reunited so that they can at least die together.
Lisa Bowerman has produced the masterpiece of her career
It’s also a journey the whole human race is on. The drama turns from idle curiosity to efforts to destroy the Martian tripods where they’ve landed. Then from a policy of containment to simply trying to stop London from falling, to a chaotic urge to survive. A former artilleryman lays out his vision of a future of a human race force bred in battery farms. But with a secret human city buried deep in the sewers. And the power of the moment isn’t just that the human race has been reduced to hoping for such ‘victories’, but that by stage even that sounds like hopeless fantasy to the listener. The Martians are indominatable. They think of everything. Even plans of scrabbling like rats in the undercity are doomed to fail.
What really sets Sherwood Sound Studios’ adaptation apart isn’t the keeping to the letter of the page. It’s how it makes you feel every ounce of terror and despair. A momentous achievement in audio drama, its success sits (appropriately) on three legs – the cast, director, and sound design. In The Coming of the Martians, director Lisa Bowerman has produced the masterpiece of her career. It’s simply the best thing she’s ever done in all her long association with top level audio drama.
An intelligent script and superb sound design conspire to make the best possible use of the audio drama format
She and writer Nick Scovell intelligently leverage the well known nature of the story in two key ways. They allow the rare moments where the story relies on first person narration of events to sit comfortably in the script but more importantly to avoid over-description of the action to distract from the emotion of the moment. This is never more true than the run of the Thunderchild. The action is almost entirely communicated by the howls of the Martiana and urgent, barked orders on the Thunderchild’s bridge. It evokes the classic sea war films where Jack Hawkins’ captain would steel his jaw and set his course against the enemy. The result is a triumphant sequence where you can practically feel the hearts of the sailors thudding in their chests. So tense that this reviewer, at least, was forced to pace the room while it played out.
These sense of tension and action is greatly aided by the state of the art sound design. Sherwood Sound have achieved an outstanding sense of distance and movement. Like some sort of aural black magic voodoo, they conjour up the mournful bellows of war machines lurching over the horizon of distant hills, as easily as their massive feet moving over and past the listener. Even less showy moments are subtly impressive – like the strong sense of the space and distance in the Pit scenes.
Colin Morgan leads the cast with a performance full of commitment and truth
Colin Morgan (Midnight) leads the fantastic cast that’s been assembled with a note perfect performance. It’s through his eyes as Herbert that we experience the Martian invasion. And Morgan’s gradual, believable unravelling from gentleman to refugee to livestock is the cornerstone upon which everything rests. His performance moves between restraint and raw emotion and is supported by the equal commitment of the rest of the cast.
Ronald Pickup (The Reign of Terror) deserves particular praise as the Curate that Herbert encounters along his travels and somehow winds up stuck with. Pickup’s Curate perfectly captures the character’s duality as he vascillates between arrogant authority and a childish begging for protection. Between his misplaced confidence that God will smite the heathen Martians down, and a fatalistic despair. Ultimately the Curate represents the less noble half of Wells’ hero’s own nature and while many adaptations inexplicably dispense with him, Pickup’s handling of the role shows just how vital and important the character is to the story’s drama and message.
The amount of love and effort lavished on The Coming of the Martians shows through. That care has been rewarded with a tremendously successful production. It shows just what’s possible when you assemble as talented a team as this. Whether you’re a devotee of HG Wells, a newcomer who wants to experience his best known work in an engaging and exciting way, or just a fan of great drama, The Coming of the Martians is something you’ll want to add to your collection.
The Coming of the Martians is a faithful audio adaptation of the original 1897 story The War of the Worlds by H. G. Wells.
A writer is caught in the middle of an invasion from Mars and desperately tries to find his way back to his wife. Encountering other unfortunate souls, he struggles with the dark horrific nature of human slaughter and the terrifyingly disturbing torment upon his fellow man.
This realistic surround sound audio adaptation stars award-winning actor Colin Morgan (Humans, The Living and the Dead, Merlin) alongside Ronald Pickup as The Curate, Nigel Lindsay as The Artilleryman, Dan Starkey as astronomer Ogilvy, with Olivia Poulet, Luke Kempner, Molly Hanson, Stephen Critchlow, Nick Scovell and Lisa Bowerman.
Adapted by Nick Scovell.
Produced by Martin Johnson.
Directed by Lisa Bowerman.
Running time: 96 minutes
The Coming of the Martians is released on July 30th, on CD, DVD (with 5.1 surround sound and extras), and on USB drive with limited edition packaging and booklet.
The Coming of the Martians is produced natively in 96Khz/24-bit 5.1 surround sound and is available in these different formats:
- Special Limited Edition USB Box – Limited to just 500 copies. Pre-order price £50, normal price £59.99
- Limited Edition DVD – Limited to 3000 copies. Pre-order price £20, normal price £24.99
- Standard 2-Disc CD Release – Pre-orders available at the normal price of £14.99
- Digital Download – Available upon release
The Coming of the Martians is exclusively available for pre-order at Sherwood Sound Studios
- Colin Morgan (Merlin) – A writer trying to find his way back to his wife
- Ronald Pickup (The Crown) – The Curate
- Nigel Lindsay (Victoria) – John, The Artilleryman
- Olivia Poulet (The Thick of It) – Wife of our writer
- Dan Starkey (Doctor Who) – The Astronomer, Ogilvy
- Luke Kempner (Murder in Successville) – Brother of our writer
- Molly Hanson – The brother’s fiancé
- Stephen Critchlow – Captain of The Thunderchild
- Nick Scovell – Henderson
- Lisa Bowerman – Helen
For more information, and pre-ordering, go to the Sherwood Sound Studio page