STARBURST MAGAZINE visited the Moat Studios during the recording of Survivors to find out just what is involved in bringing a cult TV drama to audio. Although the project was made public in July 2013 and will be released in June 2014 a lot of work had already happened behind the scenes. David Richardson, the Big Finish Line Producer for all ranges, takes up the story from the beginning:
“I wrote the brief for the series, sketched out the characters and gave them names. I also produced a breakdown of the episodes with titles. I wanted to set the world up in the first boxset and needed new characters to tell the story again. There are a lot of characters, not all of whom survive to the end…”
For those who don’t know, Survivors was a BBC TV drama that ran for three seasons between 1975 and 1977. It was devised by Terry Nation and tells the story of a post-apocalyptic Britain and the small group who survived a plague that has wiped out most of the human race. The central characters were Abby Grant (Carolyn Seymour), Greg Preston (Ian McCulloch) and Jenny Richards (Lucy Fleming). When Big Finish got approval for the project they got Ian McCulloch and Lucy Fleming on board at an early stage but there was no word from Carolyn Seymour.
David Richardson explained that he always loved the series watching them all at the time of first broadcast and several times since. In his words, “It’s really unique; a challenging piece of drama which was lovely to re-visit.”
The new series is not the original scripts re-cast for audio but a re-telling of the same story with a set of threads starting at the same beginning (the outbreak of plague shown in the TV episode Fourth Horseman). It is a clean slate with new characters telling the same story (starting with the episode Revelation by Matt Fitton) which converges with the TV show. Matt worked up the outline for the whole series and then briefed the other writers.
Central to the new characters is Daniel Connor, a journalist played by John Banks. John was doing A Levels when the series was first transmitted (thought doesn’t look old enough) and watched the whole collection as preparation. His character first thinks he has the scoop on a big story before realising that the scale of the cataclysm is such that by the time he writes it there will be no newspapers left nor many left to read them. His character goes on a true journey of discovery as he adapts to the entire fabric of his life being removed. Although his character acts as the listener’s conduit into the narrative, John is well aware that not every character can make it to the end:
“You turn every page of the script looking for a cough! This is a show like Sopranos where even big characters can die.”
David Richardson was very clear that casting was important and some roles were specifically created for certain actors and this included Adrian Lukis and Louise Jameson. Louise plays a character called Jackie Burchall whose dark secret is revealed in the second episode, Exodus written by Jonathan Morris.
Audio drama is also about the direction and the soundscape and here Survivors brings its own challenge. Director Ken Bentley explains:
“It’s important to get the flavour of the quality of production at the time and get the feel for the styles. Survivors on television had no incidental music which is a challenge to the sound engineer. Creating the word and atmosphere in an audio only production would be very difficult without the use of music. Overall though what’s important is that the experience as a listener should be the same to the audio as a TV viewer would have had watching the show.”
This is clearly a major challenge but one that Big Finish has risen to. David Richardson provided this update:
“I speak now having just signed off on the final edits, and I’m hugely proud of the way these episodes have turned out. They’re just so powerful. In terms of incidental music, we chose to go with a kind of ambient score, which was devised by Nicholas Briggs . It’s not so much music as just a hint of background colouring. It’s really heightens the sense of unease, and accentuates the drama.”
The final challenge came at a late stage in the writing; Carolyn Seymour was contacted and keen to be involved. With the first boxset worked out without the character of Abby it was important to allow at least a cameo from Carolyn who will play a more substantial part in the second boxset. Andrew Smith who wrote the third story, Judges, had this to say:
“I added a prologue to introduce her which works her into this boxset. Greg and Jenny are leaving the community and have a scene where they say goodbye to Abby.”
Fans of the original TV series may also like to know that Judges returns to the themes of the TV episode Law & Order – what do you do when there’s no justice system?
The final word must go to David Richardson who explains the vision behind this re-telling of the story of Survivors:
“Our mission was to recapture the tone of the first series and Terry Nation’s vision. This is a series about the best and the worst of human nature; characters come first and foremost.”
If the recording of the third episode is anything to go by, Big Finish looks to have achieved its target. Anyone with an interest in the show should be excited about the release of the first boxset in June.
Details and pre-ordering information are on the Big Finish website.
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