BBC Audiobooks - 3 x CD Set
Reviewed by Ceri Laing

Starring: Paul Daneman, Martin Jarvis, Peter Sallis, Anthony Jackson
Adapted from the novel by H.G. Wells by Jon Manchip White
Produced by John Powell


This six part adaptation of H.G. Wells’ story of Martian invaders was originally broadcast through June and early July of 1967 on the BBC Home Service. Producer John Powell revised existing scripts by Jon Manchip White which had been previously written for broadcast on BBC Radio in 1950. The scripts update some aspects of the original story, and in addition names Wells’ narrator as John Nicholson. Most of the cast came from the BBC Radio Drama Repertory Company, however Powell gave the central role of Nicholson to Paul Daneman (Powell would do the same the following year casting Daneman as Bilbo Baggins in his adaptation for BBC Radio of The Hobbit). In addition Powell cast Martin Jarvis as Ogilvy, Peter Sallis as The Parson and Anthony Jackson  as The Lieutenant. Providing the soundtrack and the effects was David Cain of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (his other scores can be heard on the BBC Radio’s adaptations of The Day of the Triffids and The Hobbit in 1968 and Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy in 1971).

As I say there are some changes to Wells’ story in the adaptation of this serial, but these are minor and generally it stays fairly faithful to the original story. Paul Daneman provides a rock solid central performance, drawing you into the tale, and there are sterling cameos from Martin Jarvis’ blinkered Ogilvy, Peter Sallis’ broken Parson and Anthony Jackson’s resolute Lieutenant, which weave in and out of the narrative as it progresses. Underpinning and enhancing the drama is David Cain’s (as ever) brilliant score and effects. All the elements come together to make this dramatisation a very effective adaptation of Wells’ story.


The set forms part of the second wave of Classic Radio Sci-Fi releases from BBC Audiobooks. It contains three compact discs each containing two “half-hour” episodes. Unfortunately, BBC Transcription Service versions of these episodes are presented on the release, as presumably the original broadcast versions no longer exist. The Transcription Service took copies of BBC Radio programming for sale around the world, editing it to remove elements which were too topical, or that wouldn’t be understood outside of the United Kingdom, or simply to allow space for commercials to be inserted. As result, with the loss of this edited material, these Transcription Service versions of the episodes run to around 26 minutes apiece. All the recordings though are clear and without undue background hiss, which allows the drama and David Cain’s excellent score to shine through.

As with the other titles in the Classic Radio Sci-Fi range the set comes with extensive linear notes from all-round expert Andrew Pixley, and, as ever, they make fascinating reading. Also reproduced with the notes is one of Radio Times articles that accompanied the original broadcast together with billings for the episodes (apart from episode 5) and a very welcome addition they are too. It is a shame, though, that reproductions of the other Radio Times article which Andrew Pixley mentions in his notes and the billing for episode 5 weren’t also included. But that is only a minor issue.


BBC Audiobooks’ Classic Radio Sci-Fi range continues from strength to strength. Last year we had The Day of the Triffids this year we get The War of the Worlds.

This is one of the best adaptations of the story I have come across and it’s very pleasing that BBC Audiobooks have chosen to release it. The sleeve mentions a copyright notice for Ollie Record Productions together with an advert for Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds, so presumably the audio rights for the story retain with the musical version which could’ve potentially presented issues for this release. So it is pleasing that all concerned came to an agreement to allow this version to be released – that sort of copyright complication has proved problematical for other releases.

Although, only the Transcription Service version of the serial is presented on the release (presumably, as I say, as the original broadcast version no longer exists) please don’t let that put you off – it is a shame, however, it doesn’t affect the narrative flow of the story. In addition it is a very nice all round package from Andrew Pixley’s informative notes, to the Radio Times reproductions, to Frazer Irving's cover illustration used for the release (the style of which is a distinct improvement over the one utilised for the first wave of this range). This release will appeal to any fan of radio drama or sci-fi and can be picked up for under a tenner online. Which is a snip!

Also available in this second wave of the range are two John Wyndham adaptations – The Chrysalids and The Midwich Cuckoos. If this is the quality that BBC Audiobooks’ Classic Radio Sci-Fi range can produce long may it continue! If it does continue there are plenty more other gems awaiting release in the BBC’s Sound Archives, James Follet’s work, more Wyndham adaptations and Isaac Asmiov adaptations. Surely The Caves of Steel or the BBC Radio and Radiophonic Workshop meisterwork, the aforementioned The Foundation Trilogy, deserves a release in this range?

Amazon: £11.43
Play: £9.99



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