Since Survivors first resurfaced in the world of audio adventures in 2014, Big Finish has ensured that those who survived The Death have faced a torrid time: suffering at the hands of deluded settlement leaders, blood-crazed cannibals, bigoted bully-boys and a self-serving hippy charlatan. In the storylines of Series Five, released this November, there’s no let-up in sight for those battling to secure humanity’s future.
“One of the things that I wanted to do with Survivors was unleash a second wave of the plague,” explains producer David Richardson. “We’ve now got these decimated communities that have only just started to rebuild. What would be the scariest thing that could happen? I thought that that would be a plague coming back and people starting to die all over again. So that’s the very grim scenario we have in this latest box set.”
Script editor Matt Fitton suggests that it’s not hard to imagine how survivors might react to such a new threat. “Everyone gets caught up in a kind of fear and panic about a second outbreak and what it might do to their newly-established society, just taking its first steps into the future,” he says.
Two years on from the pandemic, there’s even more at stake. “People are well organised enough to try to contain things themselves and to keep everyone safe; apart from the ones who don’t know about it yet,” explains Fitton. “And then there’s this rogue element; those who are carrying it from place to place without realising it.” The actions of these newly-infected survivors put everything in jeopardy once again.
“The person who becomes the main carrier is someone who’s very capable and who finds themselves in a position of authority,” Fitton reveals. “But once they realise what’s going on, they can’t quite let go of that status. They feel that they should be able to do something about it. They can’t just give up. But that puts other people in danger, and we see the course of action that other communities feel driven to take in response.”
As the series’ heroes are forced to confront this latest terrible threat, Big Finish’s writers have had to tread carefully through the already established Survivors’ canon. The timeline of the audio adventures has progressed through each box set, and the events of Series Five are set in the latter months of the TV show’s second series. Ian McCulloch (Greg) remains impressed by Big Finish’s attentiveness when crafting each new set of stories. “It’s great that they consider it all very seriously,” he says, “and have made sure that everything matches the storyline of the television series.”
The most recent Survivors box sets have alternated the focus between Abby (played by Carolyn Seymour), a character not seen in the second or third series of Survivors on TV, and Greg and Jenny (played by Lucy Fleming). But Big Finish were keen to find a way to reunite the show’s three leads once more. “We actually missed having Carolyn and Lucy and Ian together in the studio,” Richardson admits. “And they missed being together too. But the timeline of series doesn’t allow for them to all to find each other again.”
“What we decided to do was to bring the actors together, but ensure that their characters never meet,” he reveals. “And I think that that has led to some very powerful scenes in these episodes; where they’re caught up in same events, and are very close to each other geographically, but never actually meet. Which, of course, in a scenario where there’s no communication system, is exactly what would happen.”
During a short break in recording, Seymour confirms that the trio of characters “just keep missing each other. It’s heart-breaking, really, and it keeps happening.” She continues to relish the chance to re-inhabit the character of Abby. “I love it,” she beams. “I don’t know how they wrote her so well, really. I just identified immediately. I just become her and it’s as simple as that. Big Finish is the most fabulous company to work for. I love coming in.”
Fleming confirms that all three actors are revelling in the working reunion. “None of us have really changed at all,” she reflects. “The characteristics that you remember of people in the past – Ian’s humour and Carolyn’s strength. Nothing changes – we just look a bit older.
Driven by the need to discover the fate of her son Peter, a quest that is “still paramount”, says Seymour, Abby is once again able to be a lone crusader. “She didn’t have time to do it in the original series” Seymour continues, “she was too busy taking care of people that she was responsible for. With this one, she has time. She has no binding commitments.”
The fifth series sees the return of recurring characters ex-civil servant Evelyn Piper (played by Zoë Tapper) and the emotionally-scarred Hannah (voiced by Fiona Sheehan). Tapper played the role of doctor Anya Raczynski in the BBC’s 2008 TV remake of Survivors, and her involvement provides a link between all three incarnations of the series. “It actually came about because Zoë was in working with John Hurt on The War Doctor series,” explains Richardson. “The affection that she clearly holds for Survivors is one of the reasons that made her want to do it.”
Joining the expanding ensemble for this series are Doctor Who regulars Neve McIntosh and Richard Hope. McIntosh takes on the pivotal role of Carol Baker, head of the Maythorne community and an important catalyst in accelerating the spread of the new virus.
These latest episodes also bring to the fore the ‘Whitecross’ community, the centre of operations in Series Two of the TV series, and explore efforts to reconnect the first electricity supplies; one of the central themes of the third TV series. But with the new virus threatening everything and everyone, the finale of the audio Series Five shows how merciless its impact can be. Despite the death toll, with Series Six and Seven now confirmed, Big Finish’s Survivors series is itself clearly in rude and vibrant health.
The original series’ leads are full of ideas for future storylines. “I wouldn’t mind seeing some environmental themes in there,” Seymour suggests. “Having someone looking at how the long-term use of pesticides destroys the viability of land.” Fleming is hopeful of balancing adventures stories with more reflective moments. “I think it will be important to include some of the more philosophical questions that we came up with in the TV stories, as well as all of the all-action stuff,” she says. For McCulloch, there’s more dramatic mileage in the medical challenges the survivors face, wondering, “What on earth would you do when health care has reverted to a medieval level?”
All three of them are eager to continue and to see their characters’ stories evolve and intertwine with the new protagonists introduced by Big Finish. “Abby could go on for ever,” Seymour insists. “Even until I’m 93 and I get wheeled into the studio in my bathrobe and slippers.” Now, there’s a survivor talking…
Series Five of Big Finish’s SURVIVORS audio adventures is released in November.