Forget the Big Finish Classics line, with stories like Dorian Gray and Frankenstein. What really catches my eye is their recent delve into more au courant iterations of classic British sci-fi.
I mean, think about it – with (a sequel to) John Wyndham’s much beloved Day of the Triffids and Jack Gerson’s The Omega Factor, can J.G. Ballard be far behind? Or hell, how about a trip across the pond to give the audio drama treatment to the great if irascible Harlan Ellison? An adaptation of “Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman”…the mouth waters at the very thought.
“I swept back the curtains, but only darkness lay beyond. What had happened to the sun? Why hadn’t it risen?”
It seems to be something of a trend at Big Finish of late.
Expanding in new and unforseen directions beyond their core cult television revivals (particularly Doctor Who related, but further inclusive of such similarly beloved teleseries from the 60’s through the 80’s as Dark Shadows, Blakes Seven and The Avengers), the company has been branching out into brand new series (Dorian Gray, Sherlock Holmes, Vienna, Pathfinder Legends) and a number of dramatic adaptations of past miniseries (Survivors, The Omega Factor) and novels (Frankenstein, Treasure Island, et al).
And so it is that we come to a comparatively recent entry in the annals of dystopian British sci-fi, namely Simon Clark’s 2001 followup to John Wyndham’s classic Day of the Triffids.
Director John Ainsworth keeps the listener on the edge of their seat, working in tandem with a script adaptation that gradually reveals the secret underpinnings of a post-Triffids Earth in the course of a rather busy and event filled narrative.
“Triffids. The Great Blinding. Together they created the most destructive event in human history. Billions died. Cities fell into ruin, civilization collapsed…and the Triffid, the plant that walks and kills, conquered the world.”
David Masen (Sam Troughton, who when agitated sounds uncannily akin to his late father and 2nd Doctor Who Patrick, with a touch of 5th Doctor Peter Davison for good measure) is one of the lucky children born shortly after the arrival of the alien invaders and the consequent Night of the Cometesque mass blinding of society at large.
“We are brilliant in the art of repair. We recycle, we refurbish, but we don’t build from scratch. We don’t dig ore from the ground to produce refined metals. If we’re not doing that, how can we build new tractors or even cast so much as a humble spoon? Those aircraft you fly…the newest one is over 30 years old. They should be in a museum…
We must move forward, enough of scavenging on a dead civilization…because one day, there will be nothing left of the old world to scavenge. And then, without a shadow of a doubt, we shall decline into a new dark age. One from which we will never emerge.”
A pilot, he spends his days away from his relatively idyllic and Triffid-free home base of the Isle of Wight transporting needed supplies and special passengers between ports. On one fateful day, he’s given the task of bringing a meteorological scientist up above the clouds to identify the source and figure a solution to the sudden darkness that has come upon the planet at large. But even high above the stratosphere, there is nothing but night…
When he loses radio contact during a lightning storm, he finds himself flying blind and forced into a crippling emergency landing on a floating island infested with Triffids. Here he finds a strange wild girl (Becky Wright) living alone for years among them, and eventually makes contact with a passing ship containing an American scientific expedition consisting of the lovely strawberry blonde Kerris Bydecker, zoologist (the formidable Nicola Bryant), the wary Rory Masterfield, geologist and Gabriel Deeds, botanist (Geff Francis), whom he quickly bonds with over table tennis and improvised shipboard cricket matches.
But the ship is soon bound for more Western shores, and it’s here that things begin to become increasingly unpleasant.
“All our vehicles run on wood alcohol. It’s so rough, it chews the pistons to hell after 2000 miles.”
“Our engines still run pretty much OK after 100,000 miles.”
“That’s why we desperately need to learn from you and your people how to process Triffid sap into fuel…it’s a matter of survival.”
When Masen arrives at the island of Manhattan, it seems a virtual paradise: streets hum with activity, cars run, headlights blaze. But their paradise seems short lived: unlike the residents of the Isle of Wight, they have not learned to utilize and distill the Triffids into food and fuel.
Worse, the spectre of Jim Crow has returned, in full force…
“Then I understood. A sign on the carriage stated “coloureds and unsighted”…in the next carriage, white and sighted New Yorkers sat on comfortable seats.
This discrimination needled me. Then I realized that there was trouble in paradise…”
With Gabriel and Kerris falling into proscribed roles (with Kerris somewhat conflictedly but nonetheless vehemently defending their rather backwards way of life), Masen finds his world upended yet again, as he winds up in the company of the boisterously likeable Southern-fried John Schwab (Sam Dynes) of the Quintling faction, who his New York compatriots had noted as being pirate raiders…
As Masen discovers more about Fortress New York and the tyrranical General Fielding (Paul Clayton), we move straight into Survivors territory, complete with breeding camps, “ugly treatments” for dissenting females and worse. It’s rather grim.
What is fascinating about Night of the Triffids is that it was written right at the conclusion of a very different era. Because its message is so directly pointed at 2014 societal trends as to be shockingly prophetic…
With an increasingly radicalized right wing making waves internationally with such hate fueled, irrational movements as the Tea Party and the National Front and a sinister conjunction of elected officials and frighteningly rich corporate industrialists working together feverishly to repeal century old rights and standards in favor of a backwards-looking early industrial robber baron cum pre-feminist/pre-civil rights societal milieu*, the warnings contained herein have never seemed quite so relevant, or so positively dire.
* We won’t even touch on the bizarre refusal of entrenched interests to even consider side by side implementation of alternatives to fossil fuel or corn-based ethanol production…
Much like the similarly minded Survivors, this is uncomfortable listening, cutting far too close to the bone and offering a relentlessly grim dystopian vision for the future towards which we are collectively hurtling, the intervention of Triffids or no.
But unlike Survivors, there is a virulent strain of hope wending its way through the exceedingly dark (in both a literal and figurative sense, mind) narrative, and even a sort of “happy”…or more particularly, hopeful ending allowing for a potential future, a new beginning, if you will.
Hard listening indeed. But for those who prefer their science fiction with a particularly British dystopian flavor, Night of the Triffids comes quite recommended.