Review by Ian McArdell
In the five years since its audio resurrection, Survivors, based on Terry Nation’s 1970s BBC television show, has provided some of the most shocking and traumatic hours of audio drama I have ever heard. Set in the aftermath of a devastating contagion, the show follows those who survived in their attempts to forge a new life, to re-learn the basics and work together in order to stay alive.Unfortunately, there are competing agendas for how society should operate as it rebuilds and repopulates. In this ninth volume, which wraps up the main storyline for the central characters of Abby Grant (Carolyn Seymour) and Jenny Richards (Lucy Fleming), those tensions have come to the fore; can Jenny’s cooperative Federation survive the brutal regime imposed by the militaristic Protectorate? And what of Abby’s long-lost son Peter, finally located but brainwashed into the twisted ideology of the Protectorate’s army of boy soldiers?
Jumping the timeline on by a number of months, after Jenny has recovered from the battle which concluded Series 8, we find her working under the care of the Protectorate at ‘The Farm’. Run by Meg Pritchard (the sublime Richenda Carey), her extreme methods and plans for establishing a new society become startlingly clear to Jenny, she and her female compatriots are kept segregated from the men and toil for long hours, milling flour and knitting. The subsist on a meagre diet and sleep five to a bed, while Pritchard enjoys the finer things and has designs on using them as breeding stock.
With grim themes of exploitation; particularly surrounding the proposed fate of the newly menopausal Beryl (a gloriously defiant performance from Issy Van Randwyck) and the naive Victoria (Lizzie Stables) who is in the first flush of love, this is another tremendous script from Jane Slavin who wrote the phenomenal ‘Robert’ for Series 8. On the basis of her work for Survivors, I look forward to hearing her contributions to Transference, the upcoming Big Finish Original.
Hearts and Mines
The second tale; by Christopher Hatherall, reconnects us with both Abby Grant and the travelling medic Ruth Anderson. While Ruth is ostensibly working for the Protectorate; teaching medicine to some of their young recruits, she is also acting as a spy for the Federation – feeding information to help disable their war machine. This is an enjoyable development for Ruth, allowing Helen Goldwyn to develop the character beyond her medical role. When an coal mining accident brings both factions together, Ruth finds herself recruiting a student named Spencer (Ashley Zhangazha) to help her, and we see how Craig (George Watkins) has developed into a hard-bitten rebel leader who butts heads with Abby.
Shutting down the mine will cut off the Protectorate’s supply of coal, and with it their tactical advantage of using trains, and so the story becomes a battle for control of the mine. Although it wraps up with a not unsurprising sacrifice, the story brings out divided loyalties and provides a turn of events which have ongoing implications that are worth preserving as a surprise. I will share a standout moment of dialogue though, as the villainous Proctor (Daniel Goode) – a thrillingly nasty piece of work – is granted the immortal line “Secure those rebel scum and bring them!”
Fade Out & Conflict
With the final two stories moving into an all out confrontation, between the forces of the Federation, led by Jenny, and the Protectorate, directed by Pritchard and led on the ground by Robert Malcolm (Hywel Morgan), we are now deep into spoiler territory. Suffice to say that any victory our heroes achieve is hard won and not without some shocking consequences. Across the events of ‘Fade Out’ by Roland Moore and ‘Conflict’ by Andrew Smith, Abby continues to try and reach out to her errant son Peter (Joel James Davison), appealing to his better nature with memories of childhood, while he remains in the thrall of the charismatic Malcolm. In her efforts, she comes into conflict with Jenny and plans to dismantle the Protectorate’s brutal regime, and Carolyn Seymour delivers every ounce of that desperation to save her son.
The finale returns us environs of the Farm, where we get to see the Protectorate in action, through the eyes of Scottish crofter Roddy (Mark Elstob) and where it is clear that they are aptly named; acting like the Mafia, they demand a tithe for their protection and deal violently with those who do not comply. As the story drives through to a thrilling conclusion, there are some pleasing name-checks to other characters; alive and dead – that will make long term fans smile, and the finale scenes offer both compassion and the promise of new beginnings.
In this final volume, the Survivors remains as action packed as ever, with director Ken Bentley bringing to life some wonderful set pieces, supported by sound design from Benji Clifford and a quirky, unsettling score from Nicholas Briggs. Throughout though, the stories remain deeply rooted in character as the focus falls onto Jenny and Abby. While Jenny is driven to keep the egalitarian ideals of the Federation alive, Abby’s motivations are what they always were: to be reunited with her son Peter. And this is as it should be, as the search for Peter was always her main impetus in the original television series.
If anything, I wish that the Federation vs Protectorate conflict could have played out over a slightly longer timescale, perhaps bringing in some of the other characters we have met along the way, but it seems churlish to grumble – Survivors, throughout its nine series run on audio, has remained consistently provocative, shocking and compelling listening, building on and surely surpassing the television series on which it was based.
While this might be the last of full-cast audios for Survivors, apparently a casualty of dwindling sales, we hope it is not the last stories from this world that Big Finish produce. This is a run of stories for which they can be justifiably proud; thirty-six audio episodes which have created a wealth of interesting characters and plot-lines that it would be great to explore further… as well as posing the tantalising question, as ever, of what happens next?
Download/buy here: https://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/survivors-series-09-1618
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