Audio drama review: William Gibson’s Alien 3

After what felt like a very long time without any significant Alien franchise releases, it seems like we’re being flooded with new material at the moment! It’s a great time to be an Alien fan – what with the recent Dark Horse releases, Alien: Echo by Mira Grant (which I recently reviewed), and the very exciting Alien RPG from Free League Games. But in today’s post, I’m focusing on the audio drama of William Gibson’s Alien 3. 

The story of Alien 3 (and what could’ve been) is well known to many Alien fans. I’m not going to rehash it here – the account is easily available elsewhere on the internet – but suffice to say that in the early 1990s, William Gibson was approached to write a script treatment for the third Alien movie. Already a well-established SF author, Gibson delivered a script which dialled the action elements of Aliens all the way to 11 and expanded the Alien universe with the introduction of the Union of Progressive Peoples. Described as “communists in space”, the UPP had a very 80s action-movie vibe. Suddenly, with the introduction of this new faction, Weyland-Yutani’s reasons for wanting to obtain new biological weapons became clear. Even if all we saw in the script was a cold conflict, it was obvious that the United Americas and its corporate allies were at war with this faction. I’m a big fan of Gibson’s Alien 3 script, and I know that I’m not alone in feeling that this would’ve made an amazing addition to the Alien universe.

The Audible adaptation of Alien 3 is based on the second draft of Gibson’s script, which reins in the action elements to a significant degree. Where I’m in the minority as far as many fans are concerned is that I prefer the original script to this version, although the second draft is still excellent. This isn’t the first time that the script has been adapted – check out Johnnie Christmas’ Dark Horse comic version for a very visceral realisation of the story – but where the Audible version truly shines is the cast. Incredibly, both Lance Henriksen and Michael Biehn provide their vocal talents! From a purely nostalgic point of view, it was great to listen to these Alien stalwarts contributing to the universe again. 

This version of Alien 3 feels less like Aliens and more Alien, although there is some exciting action towards the last third. The shift from Anchorpoint as a “shopping mall in space”, with a bolted on Colonial Marine garrison, to a semi-abandoned station, has a significant impact on the story. There are fewer personnel to deal with, which both allows the Audible version to focus on character development (the lack of which is often cited as a criticism for the first draft script), but also means that the alien has fewer potential targets. The number of xenomorphs is also pared down; there aren’t many in this version of Alien 3 (which again makes it feel less like Aliens), but they are just as lethal. Many elements of Alien 3 were later reflected in Prometheus and Alien: Covenant – there’s a strong shift away from the “hive structure” of Aliens, and a move towards the alien as an infection. It’s interesting to note that Fox (or Disney now, I guess) seems to regard the alien as more a disease than a creature. If you look back over the films, there’s been a real momentum towards the alien becoming a “Thing-like” creation, rather than a distinct organism. This version of Alien 3 reflects that mentality. 

As you’d expect from an Audible audio drama, the production quality is very high. Dirk Maggs is a great producer, having previously produced the Alien stories Out of the Shadows, Sea of Sorrows and River of Pain. I’ve already mentioned the tremendous talents of Biehn and Henriksen, but the other voice acting is also excellent. My only minor criticism would be the length of the drama. Running at just over 2 hours, it may disappoint hardcore audio drama fans. However, you’ve got to listen to Alien 3 for what it is: an adaptation of a film script. Given the quality of the subject matter, I was fine with the shorter length – this is a short, sharp shock, and the movie-like length of the drama reflects that. 

Overall, William Gibson’s Alien 3 is a superb addition to Alien lore. Dirk Maggs has once again done an impressive job in producing this drama, and the voice talents of Michael Biehn and Lance Henriksen add a level of authenticity to the production that will make this a must-buy for most Alien fans. I’d strongly recommend that you take a listen. The only question is, where next for these audio series? The focus on alternative or unproduced scripts opens all sorts of possibilities. Could we perhaps see David Twohy’s Alien script turned into a drama, or better yet Peter Briggs’ original Aliens vs Predator…?    

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