The sixth series of BIG FINISH’s SURVIVORS audio dramas offers four parallel standalone stories and heralds the return of a much-loved medical practitioner...
“We’re trying something a little different this time,” explains Survivors’ producer David Richardson. Over the course of five well-received series, Big Finish has delivered twenty original stories that intertwine with, and extend, the established canon of Terry Nation’s acclaimed 1970s post-apocalyptic TV drama. “We had made five successful box sets with big story arcs, and I loved them all,” he says. “But it excited us creatively to take a different path this time, and follow the kind of episodic storytelling that they had done on TV.”
The fifth series explored the seemingly unstoppable spread of a mutation of the Death plague but ended with that new outbreak being contained. Scriptwriter Andrew Smith, who penned that series’ thrilling finale Come the Horsemen, says that the story arc needed to conclude with a renewed sense of optimism, despite the calamity’s death toll. “I think we almost have to end on a note of hope, just to give our survivors some respite,” he suggests. “We had to draw a line under this second outbreak of the Death… and it’s nicely uplifting for them all that this particularly devastating period is behind them.”
The original leading trio of characters (Abby Grant, Greg Preston, and Jenny Richards) have once again scattered. “Greg has gone off to Norway and Abby hasn’t been seen for a long time… except in our audio series,” Richardson explains. This meant that Big Finish could craft stories that would “follow Greg’s exploits in Norway, and catch up with Abby, while keeping up to date with Jenny, too.” Tracking these characters through parallel adventures was a way of having “all three leads in the series at once without having them all meet again,” he confirms. “Well, not all of them anyway…” he adds, intriguingly. The absence of a single overarching plot has allowed the production team room for “more tonal variety within a single box set”.
Series Six sees the second alumni from the BBC’s 2008-2010 Survivors remake join the original audios’ cast. Julie Graham, who played Abby Grant in the ‘reimagined’ version makes her Big Finish début; while Zoë Tapper (Doctor Anya in the Survivors revival) returns in the role of Evelyn Piper, now leading the Foundation settlement. The writing team for Series Six also sees the welcome return of some experienced Survivors storytellers. Smith has worked on the audio series since the first box set; Simon Clark joined the scriptwriters’ group with Series Three, and Christopher Hatherall (who first appeared as a cast member in the third series) came on board with Series Four.
First-time Survivors writer on the sixth series is the established Big Finish wordsmith Ian Potter, who has written scripts for Counter Measures, Vienna, and The Avengers, as well as for the Doctor Who audio range. “Ian knows classic British TV inside out. I knew he’d get the tone of Survivors right,” Richardson enthuses.
After Abby’s preoccupation with the new pandemic in the last series, Potter’s opener Beating the Bounds sees her return to the quest that has motivated her since the Death first struck: the hunt for her missing son Peter. Compound disappointment with dead end leads has pushed Abby to venture far from the beaten track, where she cannot guarantee a warm welcome from isolated communities no longer used to the contact of strangers. “Ian’s delivered a wonderfully simmering, dark drama that feels like it could have been lifted from the TV series,” says Richardson. “I think it is completely captivating.”
Hatherall’s The Trapping Pit heralds the return of medical student Ruth Anderson, a character last seen in the second Whitecross-based TV series’ finale New World. Played by Annie Irving for one episode in Series One, the part was recast, with Celia Gregory taking over the role in the next series. Gregory’s untimely passing in 2008 (at the age of 58) meant that the part has had to be cast once again, for audio. “When we were recasting, I wanted to honour both the character and the lovely work that Celia had done,” Richardson explains.
The search led to Big Finish regular Helen Goldwyn, who has worked with the company since the earliest days and recently directed Carolyn Seymour’s audiobook reading of Jack Gerson’s The Fetch. “I knew we were in the right hands with Helen. She’s so experienced and confident. I did say to Helen that she could dip into the TV series, and I think it was ‘Lights of London’ that she watched. She voices Ruth brilliantly and gives a fantastic performance,” he adds.
Hatherall found inspiration for his setting in some old ‘country ways’. “I discovered that there’s this old, old method of hunting, which is called a ‘trapping pit’. The idea is that you attract animals to it and, if they fall in, there would be no way for them to escape,” he explains. When a highway holdup goes wrong, Ruth and Jenny come to the aid of a young robber who is seriously hurt when he falls into one such pit. “We try to play out the story almost in real time,” says Hatherall “to keep the intensity going, and have Ruth tested to her absolute limits in trying to save this character.”
Episode Three, Revenge of Heaven, gives Clark the opportunity to revisit Greg’s exploits in Norway. Back in 1977, TV viewers learnt little about the gruff civil engineer’s endeavours to reconnect the country’s hydroelectric plants and encourage the Norwegians to embrace the plan for federation and trade devised by their countryman Carlsson. “The brief gave me the scope to dream big about dangerous adventures in the wilds of Norway that the survivors wouldn’t normally face in Britain,” says Clark. “It allowed me to attempt something different from my other episodes: a relentless thriller with characters striving to achieve what, initially, appears to be an impossible goal.”
Greg is joined in his quest by adventurer Katherine Tanner, played by Graham. “Needless to say, Julie was fantastic in the part,” says Richardson, “and it was lovely to sit and chat with her about playing Abby Grant in the re-imagined BBC TV series of Survivors. It’s clear that the show is still very close to her heart.”
The series concludes with Smith's electrifying Lockup, in which Abby discovers a settlement named ‘Peacetown’, based in an old prison complex, is holding an inmate she knows well. When the jail’s leader is unmoved by Abby’s pleas to have the prisoner released, she must do what is required to try to free her compatriot. Smith is convinced that these kinds of stark challenges are what continues to make the drama of Survivors so compelling: its lead characters are ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances. “These aren’t action heroes,” he says. “They’re a housewife, a secretary and an engineer. They’re you and me. We can relate to them as we ask ourselves, how would we cope if all the trappings of comfortable, safe, modern life were swept away?”
With a firm commitment to produce nine series of Survivors audios before the end of 2018 already in place, series might will be the last to unfold within the established television timeline. Future series could see Big Finish move beyond the endpoint marker of TV finale Power and into new and untold post-apocalyptic territory, unconstrained by the existing canon. An enticing prospect! Which survivors’ paths might we see crossing then, and with what results?
Series Six of SURVIVORS audio adventures is out now from Big Finish.