Starring: Stephen Garlick, Amanda Murray, Spencer Banks, Edward de Souza, Nicholas Courtney

BBC Audiobooks - 2 x CD Set


Starring: Bill Nighy, Sarah Parish, Clive Merrison

BBC Audiobooks - 2 x CD Set

Reviewed by Ceri Laing


These two releases form part of the second wave of BBC Audiobooks’ Classic Radio Sci-Fi range and are adaptations of John Wyndham stories. The third title in this second wave is The War of the Worlds.

The Chrysalids was dramatised by Barbara Clegg in 1981 as a feature length ninety-minute play and Survival was dramatised by Pat Hooker in 1989 for the Fear on Four half-hour anthology series. Both were originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4.

Set in the ultra-religious village of Waknut where abnormality is abhorred, The Chrysalids tells the tale of David and as he grows-up discovering that he is ‘deviant’. In Wyndham’s intriguing short story Survival a commercial space fight encounters a problem and the passengers and crew face a question of survival with a limited supply of food and a pregnant woman on board.

The Midwich Cuckoos was dramatised by Dan Rebellato as two hour-long episodes, again for BBC Radio 4, but broadcast more recently, in 2003. In Wyndham’s tale the village of Midwich is sealed off, supposedly due to army manoeuvres, but something strange is going on as an invisible barrier around the village is found and everyone within the village is unconscious. The barrier lifts and months later there is an epidemic of pregnancies in the village and when the babies are born all on the same day they all have golden eyes...

The Chrysalids and The Midwich Cuckoos are amongst Wyndham’s well known work, with the short-story, Survival, being more relatively unknown. I’ve found The Chrysalids an interesting but, at times, pallid story and this dramatisation does reflect this. By contrast, The Midwich Cuckoos is a more successful story for me, and the dramatisation works well with the material. Survival is new to me and a very good story (although some of the themes aren’t unfamiliar), with the dramatisation being extremely successful.

There is a good mixture of talent acting within these radio plays, mainly drawn from the BBC Radio Repertory Company.

The Chrysalids stars Stephen Garlick, unsurprisingly best known as a voice artiste (most notably on BBC Radio and as the voice of Jen in Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal), his television work includes some notable telefantasy: appearances in The Boy from Space, The Tomorrow People story Into the Unknown and the Doctor Who story Mawdryn Undead, as Turlough’s friend Hippo Ibbotson. Also featuring in the play are Spencer Banks, best known as Simon Randall in Timeslip and Amanda Murray, another BBC Radio Drama Repertory Company stalwart, best known for her starring role in James Follett’s Earthsearch.

Fear on Four, Radio 4’s suspenseful anthology series saw the re-use of immensely successful Man in Black character (originally voiced by Valentine Dyall) introducing the stories. Following the death of Dyall, Edward de Souza stepped into the role for Fear on Four. Amongst de Souza’s varied career his is easily recognisable from his appearance in the final Sapphire and Steel story. At the time of Survival’s production Nicholas Courtney was a member of the BBC Radio Drama Repertory Company and he features prominently in the play. Courtney is a most treasured actor for fans of Doctor Who as he played the recurring character of the Brigadier.

Coming bang up to date with the recent production of The Midwich Cuckoos BBC Radio secured the talents of both Bill Nighy and Sarah Parish for the two main roles. Parish is best known for her appearances in Cutting It, Blackpool and most recently as the Empress of Racnoss in the second Doctor Who Christmas special, The Runaway Bride. Nighy is no stranger to BBC Radio as he starred as Sam Gangee in Radio 4’s widely regarded adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. In addition the two-part play also features Clive Merrison, best known on BBC Radio for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes in BBC Radio’s 4 stunning adaptations of the entire Conan Doyle canon and his recent success as the headmaster in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys on stage and film.


Both releases contain two discs.

The Chrysalids – disc one covers the first hour of the ninety-minute play and disc two the rest of the play with Survival, which runs to approximately half an hour. The split of the ninety-minute The Chrysalids is done as unobtrusively as possible at the end of a scene.

The two fifty-seven minute episodes of The Midwich Cuckoos are split between the two discs of the set.

The material sounds clear and fine, understandably as they are not as old as some of the releases in this range.


The BBC Classic Sci-Fi range continues a-pace and these two Wyndham releases are very welcome to the range and, as with the other releases, Andrew Pixley provides extensive in depth sleeve notes. As I’ve commented The Chrysalids is a little stilted in places, but then the original story suffers from that, however, the cracking Survival more than makes up for any minor short comings in the main play.

The archive radio fan in me would have perhaps preferred an earlier version of The Midwich Cuckoos released. Andrew Pixley mentions a 1980s version, produced for the BBC World Service, which may not be available for commercial release. Either way, this versions is a good dramatisation, with a good cast, and deserves a realise in its own right. The two leads being well-known isn’t going to harm sales, either.

It’s very good to see BBC Audiobooks release this sort of material, and for the BBC Classic Sci-Fi range to apparently be such a success. The range is set to continue with a third wave due later this year, with another Wyndham adaptation, The Kraken Wakes; an adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End and the long-desired The Slide, written by former Doctor Who script editor Victor Pemberton. So keep ‘em coming BBC Audiobooks! … and while you at it have look at some of James Follett’s plays for fourth wave!  [And the brilliant 1981 version of H.G.Wells' The First Men in the Moon, starring Hywell Bennett and William Rushton, please! - Ed.]


The Chrysalids and Survival

Amazon: £12.99 (click for latest price)

Play: £7.49 (click for latest price)


The Midwich Cuckoos

Amazon: £9.09 (click for latest price)

Play: £7.99 (click for latest price)

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