In the U.S., radio plays do not have the popularity they once might have enjoyed years ago, but in the U.K. they are an enterprise that continues to flourish. Big Finish has given the many Doctors of Doctor Who new life with their audio dramas, and there are many more to chose from. But lately, good fans had been waiting excitedly for the radio adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. And with a cast counting James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Natalie Dormer, David Harewood, and Christopher Lee among its number, it wasn’t hard to figure why.
The drama is currently available to listen to for free via BBC iPlayer, with the first episode available for download. If you’ve got a chance, I highly recommend giving a listen before it is pulled down. (It’s bound to be up for sale before long, so don’t worry if you miss out this time around.)
The casting of this particular venture is absolutely superb, though no one likely needed to be told that. But its the production value of the play all around that makes it such an impressive feat. Often, listening to audio dramas can feel tedious in places—it lacks motion, the sounds effects are cartoonish, there’s too much exposition needed, the lines feel forced because they have to paint a picture of what the listener cannot see. Neverwhere has managed to avoid these pitfalls with sharp editing, engaging background audio, and wonderfully unique performers who bring distinct qualities to each role; you’ll recognize Anthony Head as Mr Croup, and Doctor Who alums Bernard Cribbins and Sophie Okonedo as Old Bailey and Hunter.
Fans of the book are sure to be delighted at what a faithful translation they have managed in this production, and the and novel-like pacing of the adventure that allows it to unfurl in a particuarly satisfying way. Fans of Neil Gaiman will be additionally pleased to pick out his tenor in a few bit roles. (They are, if you must know, all hilarious.) But when all is said and done, what makes the drama so much more interesting to listen to is the chance to experience a different art form, one that most have considered dead since television became such a popular mode of entertainment. Give it a try on some good speakers, relax, and enjoy.
And when you form an audio drama addiction, don’t blame me….
Emmet Asher-Perrin is Tor.com’s Editorial Assistant.