Review by Ian McArdell
Terry Nation’s Survivors, which ran for three series in the mid-1970s, told the story of the population ravaged by a deadly virus and how the few who survived it struggled to keep going in a familiar, yet utterly changed world.
Reunited some forty years on, the show’s original stars have gone from strength to strength in Big Finish‘s audio revival with their stories weaving in and out of the onscreen action. In addition, these audio dramas have added memorable original characters like Jackie, Daniel and Evelyn to the mix.
While the last audio box set, Series 6, told stories set during the final television series, this latest release pushes the timeline on a little further. That final run on television had a running thread about the quest to re-establish some structure to society through a federation of communities and the theme continues here in another run of (mostly) discrete stories.
Journey’s End by Roland Moore
While Carolyn Seymour originally parted company with the show after its first year, we have continued to follow Abby Grant’s quest to discover the fate of her son on audio. Journey’s End finds her running down the final lead she has about Peter after years of searching.
Coming across a teenage girl who has endured alone in a small village, Abby’s hopes are raised at the suggestion of Peter’s survival. Rounded up by a gang of men, he was taken for his own safety to a local community under the direction of a man called Abraham (Brian Protheroe).
Central to this story, in addition to the heart-wrenching scenes performed by Carolyn Seymour, is the role of Sonia played by Katherine Rose Morley (Last Tango in Halifax), whose fate is entwined with the community Peter was taken to. Strong and resourceful, she makes a great companion for Abby and her story is just as compelling.
In a world steeped in death and darkness, writer Roland Moore manages to both surprise and devastate us with two parallel tales about families, with the character of Abraham serving as an interesting counterpoint to the events in Series 6’s Lockup.
Legacy by Simon Clark
Following Greg Preston (Ian McCulloch) at this point in the show’s timeline presents a significant problem; Greg made but two appearances in the final television series and, though we did not actually see him die, went out with a pretty grim storyline in ‘The Last Laugh’, penned by the author himself.
However, just as Greg’s impact on the emergent society was shown onscreen, so this episode too deals with the consequences of his actions. As Jenny and Ruth (Helen Goldwyn) ride on a steam train service some months after his death, we learn about Greg’s actions through flashbacks, the life-changing impact he had on its driver Neville and his partner Sylvia, and about Retworth, the destination it is bound for.
Managed by its smooth talking frontman, Barstow (Graham Seed), Retworth hordes huge stores of food and medical supplies and is offering them to communities across the country in exchange for sending their pregnant couples to live there. With her medical skills in demand, Ruth too has been offered the “Retworth deal” and while she is keen to help, Jenny remains decidedly sceptical of Barstow’s motives.
As well as celebrating the character of Greg, writer Simon Clark‘s story also provides plenty of emotional turmoil for Lucy Fleming’s Jenny, who is forced to confront her feelings of grief and abandonment, as well to look at what kept Greg from returning to her and their son after his Nordic sojourn. In terms of audio design, this story is a particular joy for the evocative steam train sequences too.
Old Friends by Matt Fitton
Seemingly broken by the cycle of death around her, Jackie (Louise Jameson) has returned to her old home and lives there alone. Alone, that is, save for the dead people she talks to – principally the late Daniel Conner (John Banks), who seems to now inhabit the role of an angel on her shoulder.
Concerned for her welfare, both mental and physical – due to a gang of destructive youths – Evelyn Piper has summoned medic Ruth in an effort to persuade Jackie to move to safety.
Matt Fitton‘s script is a much quieter affair, with a limited cast of characters, and it is a testament to the strength of the storytelling that only one of these four speaking roles in this story is an original Survivors character; the others, created for this audio version, have become as important to us as Abby, Greg or Jenny.
Of course, in addition to the writing, casting plays its part and Louise Jameson inhabits the role of Jackie so completely, that I utterly believe her in the role despite my familiarity with her as Leela; among others. Zoë Tapper impresses as Evelyn too, who admits her dubious moral actions of the past and it is terrific to hear John Banks return as Daniel, giving Jackie (and us) a chance to bid him a proper farewell.
This is a tale entirely suited to the audio medium, well directed and utterly engaging, and probably my favourite of the set.
Reconnection by Christopher Hatherall
Finally, riffing off the programme’s final television episode ‘Power’, we find Jenny on her way to restart another hydroelectric power plant and running into Abby Grant.
Initially thrilled to see each other, they are at markedly different places in their lives; Abby is bereft and wallowing in grief, while Jenny is trying her best to continue Greg’s work. Christopher Hatherall’s script provides an amazing meeting between the two stars of the show, who have endured so much since they last met.
Travelling together to Derwent power station, the pair are met there by three Scottish gents who claim to have come from Jenny’s friend Alec but naturally, have their own agenda.
It goes on to offer some entertaining to and fro between the two parties, with a cocktail of nationalistic rivalry and all-too-believable 70’s sexism thrown in, and we are reminded how resourceful these two women have learned to become in a terrific standoff.
I have been necessarily mindful of spoilers throughout this review, as Survivors delights in presenting a world of shocks and grim surprises. Suffice to say that this latest set continues in that tradition, but is not without its glimmers of hope too.
More than perhaps was true for other box sets, a knowledge of the original show helps to set some of these stories in context. Not that they would be difficult to follow without, but it adds a layer and if listeners are motivated to re-watch the show on DVD that is all to the good, I know I have been.
While his name will doubtless be kept alive, I have to wonder if this might be the last we will hear from Ian McCulloch’s Greg Preston. Tough and uncompromising, his performance has been thrilling to listen to and the character has been well served, not just here but in Series 6’s terrific ‘Revenge of Heaven’ too. If this is it for Greg, we hope that Big Finish can find Ian McCulloch another role or two… it would be great to hear him in Counter-Measures, for example, or perhaps joining up as an old soldier with UNIT.
Meanwhile, for those who do endure, this set ends with the implicit promise of further trauma for one of the characters, which we presume will playout over the already announced Series 8 and 9 in 2018.
Survivors continues to do so much more than simply survive on audio and I look forward to seeing where the show is taken now it has stepped past the bounds of what has been seen. There are so many questions: can Greg’s precious Federation hold together or will those who remain fall into anarchy? Are there enough people to sustain a further generation? And what about Survivors in other countries?
Raising a glass to Greg Preston, and Daniel Conner, and with one eye on the future, I’m give this latest box set a solid 8 out of 10.
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