Adapted from H.G Wells's 1901 novel by Mark Gatiss (The League Of Gentlemen), The First Men In The Moon is a feature-length BBC production that makes satisfying use of a low budget to retell a story that touches on British imperialism and culture clash. This fourth adaptation of the story begins in 1969, on the eve of the Apollo 11 moon landing, where a little boy called Jim (Alex Riddell) wanders into a tent at a village fete and discovers a wizened old man called Mr Bedford (Rory Kinnear) therein, who regales him with a tale about the day he travelled to the moon 60 years before... By means of flashbacks to 1909 (a framing device of Gatiss's invention), we meet a younger Mr Bedford as a struggling businessman who's decided to write a play to earn extra cash, who later befriends eccentric Professor Cavor (Gatiss) while renting a country retreat. It turns out Cavor has unintentionally created the world's greatest invention -- a liquid he names "Cavorite" that can shield the air above it from the effects of gravity, thus enabling the easy lifting or levitation of any object. This fluid will clearly turn Cavor into a multi-millionaire overnight, given its abundant practical applications, so Bedford is keen to become Cavor's business partner to solve his financial woes. However, the two friends quickly become distracted by a desire to build a spherical craft to take them to the moon, and after a successful launch and landing they discover a subterranean race of insect-like creatures known as "Selenites"... A project like The First Men In The Moon will inevitably be compared to its source material and previous adaptations, and Gatiss's retelling comes out well in comparison. The only real problems are with regard to budget, as the BBC4 production just doesn't have the money to bring the novel's scope to fruition (a sequence where the Earth's atmosphere is nearly stripped away after a Cavorite experiment goes wrong is reduced to mere anecdote, for instance), and the decision to create the Selenites with indistinct CGI robs them of the charm they had as animatronics in the 1964 movie -- although the actual animation wasn't too shabby. While this 2010 version lacks scope and visual punch, it does have a well-judged script that largely defers to the novel, and two appealing performances courtesy of tetchy Kinnear and Gatiss -- the latter of whom channels another League Of Gentleman-esque oddball (loved Cavor's inattentive groaning while deep in thought). The pair have an immediately appealing chemistry, too. The homespun feel of The First Men In The Moon even works in its favour, to an extent, because its chintzy aesthetic invites audiences to consider everything might be the fantasy of two middle-aged losers, or a story brought on by dementia in the elderly Bedford. Overall, with faults that are clear repercussions of underfunding, The First Men In The Moon is otherwise a charming and engaging Edwardian sci-fi adventure that reminds modern audiences of what this story inspired (there are similarities to Joe Dante's Explorers, while the first Wallace & Gromit adventure "A Grand Day Out" certainly owes it a huge debt of gratitude). The whole production could have been far grander, but a clever script and memorable performances more than compensated. Asides The First Men In The Moon is often credited as the first example of both an alien dystopia and alien insects in science fiction. So while those angles may feel old-fashioned to us 109 years later, this story is where those clichés began. Clever chap, that H.G -- having also pioneered the idea of time-travel (The Time Machine), invisibility (The Invisible Man) and alien invasion (War Of The Worlds). The geriatric Bedford was a dead ringer for Steve Coogan's Dr Terrible character, don't you think? This project reunites Gatiss with director Damon Thomas, who also helmed Gatiss's excellent three-part pormanteau ghost story Crooked House. Did you spot the blink-n'-miss cameos from Gatiss's League Of Gentlemen co-stars? Reece Shearsmith played the Moon and Steve Pemberton played the Sun. You may also have recognized Julia Deakin as landlady Marsha from Spaced.
WRITER: Mark Gatiss DIRECTOR: Damon Thomas CAST: Mark Gatiss, Rory Kinnear, Alex Riddell, Peter Forbes, Julia Deakin, Lee Ingleby, Katherine Jakeways, Philip Jackson, Ian Hallard, Reece Shearsmith & Steve Pemberton TRANSMISSION: 19 October 2010 €“ BBC4, 9PM

Dan Owen hasn't written a bio just yet, but if they had... it would appear here.