CLASSIC RADIO SCI-FI -
THE LOST WORLD
Francis De Wolff, Gerald Harper, Carleton Hobbs
radio by Peggy Wells and Barry Campbell
Audiobooks - 3 x CD Set
Simon Ward, Tessa Peake-Jones, Harry Towb
the English stage by Nigel Playfair
Audiobooks - 2 x CD Set
Reviewed by Ceri Laing
The August 2008 wave of the Classic
Radio Sci-Fi range from BBC Audiobooks features releases of
Frankenstein, R.U.R. and The Lost World. This review
does not cover Frankenstein.
have been many BBC Radio adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic 1912
novel The Lost World (about an expedition to explore a remote South
American plateau still populated by prehistoric creatures). Presumably
this particular version has been picked for release because of the quality
and credentials its lead actors.
This three-part adaptation was originally
broadcast in 1975 on BBC Radio 4. It features the corpulent Francis De
Wolff (Doctor Who, Lord Peter Wimsey, The Tomorrow People)
as Professor Challenger, Gerald Harper (Adam Adamant Lives!,
Hadleigh) as the dashing Lord John Roxton, and Carleton Hobbs (a
fantastic character actor best known as BBC Radio’s Sherlock Holmes during
the 1960s) as the initially-sceptical Professor Summerlee. The opening
scene of the first episode is extremely stilted and poorly played and is
enough to put anyone off listening any further, but stick with it and as
soon as these three brilliant actors enter the whole piece is lifted. All
three are perfectly cast. Each scene in which they appear bristles and the
scenes which feature all three of them together (which thankfully are
many) are a complete joy to listen to.
Čapek’s three-act play R.U.R. or Rossum’s Universal Robots
was originally staged in Prague in 1920. Once it had been translated from
Czech into English, it was performed in New York, before being adapted by
Nigel Playfair for the English stage in 1923. The play became a massively
influential work throughout the 20th Century, not least for bringing the
word 'robot' to the English language (from the Czech 'robota', meaning
work or labour).
BBC Television’s condensed 1938 version of
the play is a significant landmark in British Telefantasy, as the world's
first ever televised science fiction play, so for fans of the genre this
is a key work. Three years later, the first BBC radio version was aired.
In 1948 a more complete BBC TV adaptation, featuring Patrick Troughton as
one of the robots, was aired (all long-lost, sadly).
This release features BBC Radio 3’s version
from 1989, which utilised Nigel Playfair’s adaptation as the basis for the
broadcast. Amongst the case are the renowned actor Simon Ward as Domain,
Tessa Peake-Jones (best known from her role in Only Fools and Horses)
as Helena and stalwart Irish character actor Harry Towb (whose career has
encompassed appearances in Hancock’s Half Hour, The Army Game
and Doctor Who). The director of the play for Radio 3 was Glyn
Dearman, one time actor (he appeared in previous Classic Radio Sci-Fi
release The Slide) and director of James Follett’s superb
Earthsearch series: no doubt one of reasons for him being picked for
the play. This version does betray its staged origins, but this can be
forgiven because of the work’s significance and also as it has a great
cast with lots of recognisable voices. Simon Ward’s performance as Domain,
particularly, stands out.
The three episodes of The Lost World
are presented over three discs: part one (entitled The Monsters of
Enmore Park) runs to 53mins 01secs; part two (The Edge of Terror)
runs to 49mins 25secs; and part three (Our Eyes Have Seen Great Wonders
- the penultimate chapter title from the novel) runs to 51mins 17secs.
The complete play of R.U.R. is
spread over two discs: the first containing 58mins 37secs and the second
containing 46mins 25secs.
The material in both releases sound clear
and fine, without any issues.
Last year I reviewed the second wave of the
Classic Radio Sci-Fi range from BBC Audiobooks and there have been
a couple of waves released since the one that The Lost World and
R.U.R. form a part of. It’s extremely pleasing that the range has
continued to flourish and numerous radio dramas have been released.
As with the previous releases Andrew Pixley
provides extensive notes and Radio Times billings and images are
reproduced, and continue to be very welcome. These should not merely be
treated as “extras” to the releases - the work put in by Pixley is evident
in the detail of the notes and they add so much to the end product. Also
of note are the brilliant cover illustrations, which help to effectively
encapsulate the drama. Both The Lost World and R.U.R. are
worthwhile contributions to this high quality range from BBC Audiobooks.
If you have enjoyed other titles in the
Classic Radio Sci-Fi range that I would recommend picking up either of
these two titles. The cast list for The Lost World should make it
an essential purchase, let alone the fact it is an adaptation of one of
the twentieth century's great novels!
R.U.R. is an intelligent,
thought-provoking piece, and its legacy on modern science fiction makes it
an important play that one should want to experience.
If you haven’t bought any of the range
before and you like quality drama then these are two excellent examples to
try out the range.
If BBC Audiobooks continue to release
titles like these then long may this range continue!
Reviews of other BBC Classic Radio
The Chrysalids, Survival and The Midwich Cuckoos
The War of the Worlds