“There never was an apple that wasn’t worth the trouble you got into from eating it.”
To recap: the first half of the BBC4 radio adaptation of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s apocalypse comedy Good Omens was solidly good, if not soaringly excellent. The second half improves markedly on those solid foundations, which is perhaps unsurprising, since it’s roughly the same point in the book at which Armageddon steps up a gear. While Newton Pulsifer of the Witchfinder Army heads to Lower Tadfield to investigate its strange weather patterns (they have normal weather for the time of year there – which is the kind of slanty genius that makes this book so brilliant), Aziraphale and Crowley have Discussions with their respective angelic and demonic line managers, and Adam the Antichrist starts making Weird Stuff happen in his neighbourhood.
Oh, and in a related subplot, the Four Horsepeople of the Apocalypse are a-riding in…
Firstly: CROWLEY. Crowley is just perfect. I mean, he was perfect in the first half, but he’s even more perfect (perfecter?) here. I don’t believe there is anything else to be said about him.
The other voices are also good. Charlotte Richie (of Siblings and Fresh Meat) is an interesting choice for Anathema, but, bar a few disorienting BBC3 flashbacks, it works, surprisingly enough. There’s a matter-of-fact capability to her voice that’s well-suited to the practical witch, though, incidentally, I was disturbed by the producers’ choice to make Anathema a nuclear power sceptic. Book-Anathema isn’t stupid or superstitious, and nuclear scepticism is both of these things. The Four Horsemen, too, are well-cast, which is something of a relief, because it’s so easy for an adaptor unsympathetic to the fairytale rhythms of Pratchett’s work to ruin his more allegorical characters.
It’s where the book runs into its most action-heavy sequences towards the end, though, that the adaptation collapses a little. A non-fan audience might be forgiven for thinking these the weakest sections of the story; a little anti-climactic, perhaps, which is almost inevitable given the medium. Spectacle is important for the coming of Metatron and Beelzebub, and for the stand-off between the Them and the Horsepersons, and it’s the one thing radio can’t deliver.
I was pleased, though, that despite the lack of a narrator the producers did find a way of including Good Omens‘ lovely epilogue: “If you want to imagine the future…” There’s something deeply, imagistically satisfying about that ending, with its Yeatsian echoes (“slouching hopefully towards Tadfield”); it’s an optimistically humanist conclusion to a story which is, ultimately, about humanity, about being able to accept humanity over divinity. It’s a sign of director Dirk Maggs’ respect for his source material, I think, allowing Good Omens to be more than a comic tale of inept angels and social awkwardness: it’s allowed, in the BBC’s hands, to be a meaningful story in its own right. That respect is accorded to too few Pratchett adaptations.