Audio Review: The John Wyndham Collection
THE post-war novelist John Wyndham Parkes Lucas Beynon Harris, or to use his pen name John Wyndham, is without doubt one of the greatest science fiction writers this nation has ever produced, standing up there with the likes of HG Wells, Arthur C Clarke and Michael Moorcock, his influence extending beyond literature into films, television and radio.
His thoughtful, logical and rational approach to extraordinary circumstances injects his work with a realism and grounding which ensures even the most fantastical of concepts seems likely. His characters are everymen and women who just so happen to find themselves struggling to deal with forces beyond their understanding, rather than square-jawed heroes and heroines who have spent their entire lives fighting the alien hoard.
These six full-cast BBC Radio dramatisations reflect the majority of Wyndham’s science fiction work, and feature performances by a diverse range of British acting talent, with varying degrees of success.
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Probably the most well-known of all of Wyndham’s novels is The Day of the Triffids, which has seen numerous adaptations in various media. This classic tale focuses on humanity’s struggle to survive after the majority of the population are suddenly blinded and the carnivorous Triffid plants escape their confines. The themes of ecological upheaval and genetic manipulation are strikingly relevant today, perhaps even more so than when the novel was originally published, and without the restrictions of representing the Triffids on screen, this adaptation manages to make the aftermath of the disaster both atmospheric and believable, thanks undoubtedly by the strong performances of a cast led by Last of the Summer Wine actor Peter Sallis.
When typical schoolboy Matthew (Sacha Dhawan) begins hearing voices from an invisible friend Chocky, his behaviour is dismissed by his family as a phase he’s going through, until he suddenly gains a genius-level understanding of binary maths and anti-gravity propulsion… Although some of the performances here let the rest of the cast down, particularly Owen Teale and Cathy Tyson as Matthew’s parents, the production is nonetheless a well-crafted adaptation of Wyndham’s novel, and certainly worthy of its inclusion here.
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The double bill of The Chrysalids and Survival explore the dark side of human nature, a theme which Wyndham returns to throughout his work. The former concerns deviancy and abnormality within the ultra-religious village of Waknut, where anyone different is seen as an offence against God, whereas Survival finds the remaining crew of a damaged space craft torn apart over the dwindling resources and the lengths they will go to in order to survive. Sharply-written and thought-provoking tales which benefit from first-rate performances and direction.
The Kraken Wakes is a classic tale of monsters from the deep, alien invasion and ecological disaster, as the world is flooded by rising sea levels caused by a menace lurking beneath the ocean surface… The themes will once again resonate with modern-day audiences, as the story touches upon climate change, government propaganda and humanity’s supremacy on the Earth, but unlike the other plays, this dramatisation suffers from overblown production levels, with confusing editing, excessive sound effects and problems with dialogue. It’s a pity that despite working from such strong source material we are left with a sub-standard audio play.
Wrapping up this box set is The Midwich Cuckoos, perhaps better known by its film name of Village of the Damned, a version of which was filmed in Hertfordshire. The village of Midwich is sealed off by an invisible wall which prevents access and renders everyone within the perimeter unconscious… It soon transpires that every woman of childbearing age within the village has been impregnated, and when the babies are subsequently born on the same day, they have golden eyes and can communicate telepathically. For the villagers of Midwich, things will never be the same again.
Bill Nighy and Sarah Parish lead the cast in this familiar story of society invaded from within by an alien menace, here maintaining the Cold War metaphors from the original book, and this is ultimately one of the strongest dramatisations of the story available in any medium.
The legacy of John Wyndham should never be overlooked, both as one of this country’s leading literary figures of the 20th century, and also as a pioneering science fiction writer whose work’s influence is evident even today in TV shows like V and FlashForward.