Book Review – The Time Machine (audio)

  • Title: The Time Machine
  • Series: Big Finish Classics
  • Discs: 2 CDs
  • Author: HG Wells (original novel); Marc Platt (adapted screenplay)
  • Director: Ken Bentley
  • Cast: Ben Miles, Nicholas Rowe, Anjella Mackintosh, Nicholas Asbury, James Joyce, Hywel Morgan, Christopher Naylor

I have read HG Wells famous novel, The Time Machine, so I was looking forward to this adaptation by Big Finish. However, although it is a full-cast audio, the majority of the play consists of the Time Traveller telling his story to his friend, “Bertie”, identified in the credits as HG Wells. The play begins with a boys’ club dinner, with the Time Traveller presenting his idea of a machine that can travel in time though not in space, as well as a model to his friends. When his friends mock his idea, his next appearance is a traveler much the worse for wear that tells his friend his tale.

The Time Traveler does just that and travels to the far future. On a warmer Earth, he meets the Eloi, small child-like creatures who eat only fruit, speak in a “baby talk” and seem joyful but unmotivated. They are also terrified of the dark, and murmur in fear of “Morlocks”. The Time Traveler moves from frustration at this overly simple life to gradual acceptance. One day he saves a young Eloi girl from drowning when she gets a cramp, and the two become close. Uweena follows her savior around, and the Time Traveler attempts to teach her his language. Eventually, he convinces her to journey with him to find out more about their world, though the Time Traveler also wants to find his missing time machine so he can go home. They journey to a far city, finding a green marble museum, where the Time Traveler picks up a few weapons and matches. But he and Uweena are also attacked by the Morlocks – pale, simian, animal-like creatures who hate the Eloi, and even take them as food. The Time Traveler beats them back and he and Uweena retreat into the forest. They make fires at night and plan to return to a Spinx statute which the Time Traveler thinks hides his machine. But one night they are attacked by a pack of Morlocks. The Morlocks overwhelm the Time Traveler and Uweena. The next day, the Time Traveler is all right, but Uweena is missing. He makes it back to his machine, and even finds the doors in the Spinx’ pedestal are open. He thinks it’s a trap but enters anyway. It is. Still, he escapes going forward in time.

The Time Traveler moves forward millions of years to when the sun is a red giant, and the air thin. The only life is crawling creatures that live by slurping up the lichen and moss on the rocks at the edge of the sea, and red crabs that eat said creatures. Continuing on to the future, the Time Traveler nearly reaches the end of Earth’s time before he finally heads back to his own time. Appearing a week after he left, he tells his tale to his friend, Bertie.

His friends from the men’s club arrive — and they express their displeasure at the Time Traveler’s trick, insisting that he couldn’t have invented a time machine. When they which the lab/study the Time Traveler has disappeared – and according to Bertie, he is never seen again.

This is a faithful adaption of the story, The Time Machine, and that is part of the issue. The Time Traveler and Bertie discuss the Eloi and Morlocks clinically – as the result of evolution. Both believe that industrial workers would spend so much time in dark mines and darker factories and dark houses in dark slums – they’d grow pale with big eyes, unable to tolerate sunlight. Whereas the Eloi are “sunkissed” but “dumb” and innocent – like children because they have no work to give them purpose. It’s a classic ethnocentric and patronizing Victorian/Edwardian attitude that “those people” must be given work to keep them out of trouble. It’s also an over-simplification of genetic evolution. No sense of pity or responsibility or even empathy is given towards either the Morlocks or the Eloi. The Time Traveler claims to care for Uweena – but he manipulates her for his own purposes, taking her from her people, and on his own dangerous quest that she cannot possibly understand.

On the other hand, the descriptions of Earth’s far future under a red sun are well-realized and the descriptions are awesome. It becomes moody, depressing, but accurate. The word-pictures were vivid and an excellent use of the radio format. I liked that.

To sum up: on the negative side, The Time Machine shows it’s Victorian roots with a rather long debate on the future of mankind, to wit: evolution creating two sub-species. But on the positive side, the use of language in this story is evocative and moving. Overall, recommended, but there is a certain amount of ethnocentricism, patronizing attitude, and sexism that comes from the time the novel was originally written.

Find out more about Big Finish audios at their website: www.bigfinish.com.

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Note: No promotional consideration was paid for this review. I review because I enjoy it!