Review by Ian McArdell
Survivors: New Dawn sees three further adventures for Abby Grant and Jenny Richards. Some twenty years on from the initial outbreak of ‘The Death’, this sequel series has caught us up with the two remaining central characters from the show.
Abby Grant has been in hiding. Finally reunited with her son Peter, she lived a quiet life away from the authorities who would have seen him tried for his crimes. Conversely, Jenny Richards now holds the title of Law Minister. In charge of a force of police-like Rangers, she is part of the Provisional Government which sits in Cambridge. The administration looks after a country divided into zones, each with nominal parliamentary representation but also controlled by a pretty autonomous Governor.
However, the events of New Dawn 1 have seen Abby fall foul of this system; under a corrupt, powerful governor she was abducted and sold as a slave. After escaping and reporting the ordeal, her story was not believed. Meanwhile Jenny, while aiding her friend’s escape, saw first-hand another inept governor doing little for the people under his care.
As this set of stories begins, the pair are riding north to the zone of Governor Dominic Crayle. They seek to expose him with a ticking clock; a parliamentary election will ratify this broken system unless Jenny can find proof and demand an investigation.
In Bad Blood, the Yorkshire bound Jenny and Abby are stopped on the road and encounter a unique situation; a deceased zone governor has left a power vacuum that her rival twin daughters are seeking to fill. One by assuming her mother’s mantle, the other by forming a rival ‘independent group’. The latter appears to be gaining ground, charging money with menaces to travel on the roads.
Through excellent performances from Sheena Bhattessa and Sheetal Kapoor as Helen and Emma Maxwell, Lizbeth Myles’ story pleasingly avoids the obvious: there’s no mistaken identity or impersonation here, or twins telepathy for that matter. Instead, it shows two capable young women who have stepped up to positions of responsibility, being cunningly played off against each other. It also serves to show this new generation how resourceful our two Survivors have learned to become. From a political angle, there’s a theme of independence verses central control at play to.
Having hooked up with their ranger ally, the charismatic Vanessa Walker (Yasmin Mwanza), Jenny and Abby arrive at Governor Dominic Crayle’s compound. When First We Practise to Deceive sees Jenny pull a spot inspection, while Crayle refutes all of Abby’s accusations and denies everything.
Andrew Smith’s script sees Jenny remain an uncomfortable guest, while Abby and Vanessa ride to Thirsk, the site of her ordeal. There they find all evidence of the slave market, and her abductor, erased. They also encounter Crayle’s men, Tom Dillion and Pyro, thugs who will stop at nothing to keep their master’s secrets. When all hope is seemingly lost, a simple clue uncovers his horrors and leads to a tense finale.
Dominic Crayle is a terrific creation, brought to life by Gareth Armstrong. His denials are eminently plausible and it’s all too easy to believe them.
The story rolls straight into Roland Moore’s finale, Last Stand, with Abby and Jenny on the run. Down to one horse and wounded, the pair brave the ruins of a city – all the while being trailed by Crayle and his men, including the child-like Pyro, who he bullies and dominates.
Yet, in the ruins of that city they find another remarkable survivor who might just be their salvation. Akhil, a former shop-owner, has eked out a half-life in his flat for two decades. In that time, he’s buried his neighbours, become book-smart and has, importantly, amassed a small arsenal of weapons.
As this final confrontation with Crayle ensues, it’s framed in a wider context. The fate of our two heroes is tied to the future of civilisation; if they can’t reveal the truth about Crayle before the upcoming elections, what hope is there for law and order this fledgling democracy?
Paul Bazley gives a touching performance as Akhil, who is by turns funny and tragic. The dynamic between Crayle and Joshua Riley’s Pyro is fascinating too, the younger man looking to the powerful Governor as a father figure, despite his cruelty.
Across the three stories, both Carolyn Seymour and Lucy Fleming sparkle in their roles as these formidable survivors. It is clear the pair share a strong camaraderie off-mic and their characters’ enduring friendship and resilience is a joy to listen to – despite the horrendous situations they are forced to endure.
It has been a long journey with Survivors at Big Finish, forty-two episodes across ten series, but with taut direction from Ken Bentley, the stories retain their capacity to shock and deliver hard choices. Throughout its run the series has never pulled its punches and the finale of New Dawn is no different. Yet it offers hope too, striking an optimistic tone for the future.
If you’ve not experienced Survivors, it’s not for the faint-hearted – but it’s an incredibly rewarding listen and perhaps one of the best things Big Finish has created. I can’t recommend it enough.
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