After five extraordinarily well-received box sets, each of which offered a self-contained and themed collection of four episodes, the sixth series of Survivors audio adventures confidently takes a fresh approach. This new release offers a quartet of single adventures, all set within the timeline of the third television series, which follow the parallel exploits of Abby Grant, Jenny Richards and Greg Preston before delivering an unexpected reunion in the closing story. It’s a liberating shift in format and, under the keenly judged direction of Ken Bentley, these scripts make exceptional use of the opportunity to tell diverse, if equally compelling, standalone stories.
Events get underway in Ian Potter’s debut Survivors script “Beating the Bounds”, which appears to take inspiration from first series’ TV episodes “Gone to the Angels” (the infection risk facing a long-isolated group) and “Garland’s War” (the struggle for control of a country estate) as the springboard for a captivating, intelligent and original character-driven piece. As she pushes further into the post-Death hinterlands of the UK in her hunt for her son, Abby is compelled to do her redoubtable best to redeem herself after she becomes the unwitting harbinger of a disaster that could engulf a precarious rural community headed by an old-school “lady of the manor.” As with the other original series’ leads enjoying their own episode this time around, Carolyn Seymour seizes the extra space that a solo story offers to reflect some very different aspects of Abby’s nature.
Switching the focus to the travails of Jenny, Christopher Hatherall’s “The Trapping Pit” is a harrowing, gripping tale of emergency field medicine that unfolds almost in real time. Lucy Fleming continues to revel in Big Finish’s characterisation of Jenny as an active and can-do survivor, and here she demonstrates gumption, guile and courage. Full of heart-in-the-mouth moments, the story is premised on desperate efforts to save the life of a badly injured young highway robber.
It is entirely fitting to have the return of medical student Ruth Anderson announced with a visceral paramedic emergency; a story that gives Helen Goldwyn plenty of material through which to show her mettle. Goldwyn’s winning portrayal of the assured, passionate and driven doctor-in-extremis is immediately recognisable, although hers is arguably a more emotionally open reading of the character of Ruth than seen in Celia Gregory’s on-screen performance; something that works extremely well here. What makes the plight of the young thief and his siblings all the more poignant is that their villainy is not born of wanton criminality but of acute need. With more than a hint of the “race against time” motifs of TV episode “Something of Value”, this is breathless and brilliant stuff.
Simon Clark’s “Revenge of Heaven” turns attention to Greg’s exploits in Norway during his efforts to activate the recovery prescriptions of the Carlsson scheme. Clark is a consistently inventive writer, and the merciless icy setting of the Nordic mountains provides a magnificent background for an energetic, action-packed tale of the kidnap-and-rescue of an individual who could be humanity's saviour. Julie Graham returns to the world of Survivors on convincing form as the steely agent Katherine Tanner, who provides an excellent foil to Ian McCulloch’s doggedly heroic Preston.
In delivering the episode’s numerous action sequences, Clark does not skimp on the storyline. “Revenge of Heaven” offers a complex and layered plot, in which the stakes are extremely high and which the outcome remains uncertain until the very end. Sound design throughout series six is superb, but in “Revenge of Heaven” Benji Clifford excels in building the soundscapes that evoke the sense of travelling through an extreme and hostile landscape.
Andrew Smith’s scripts for Survivors are always taut and high-stakes affairs. His series finale “Lockup”, a signature example of tough-as-nails storytelling, depicts Abby’s arrival at the inappropriately named “Peacetown”, a former prison complex controlled by the brutal Brendon Glover through his legal diktats. After Abby discovers that a close friend has been imprisoned on spurious charges, she immediately questions the legitimacy of the gaol’s regime. After Abby learns of the cruel treatment of inmates, and the forced labour gangs that sustain the settlement, she finds herself detained and on trial for trumped-up offences. A final showdown will decide the future of “Peacetown” and the legal framework that governs it, in a fraught and satisfying endpoint for the set.
If there is a theme running through all four stories of series six, it is the idea that isolation and introspection is anathema in a struggle for survival that can only succeed on the basis of collaboration. This new episodic format (which will continue into series seven this November) provides new latitude and scope for what are thrilling one-off stories of post-apocalyptic peril. Big Finish’s Survivors audios have now been “in production” for longer than cameras rolled on the original TV series back in the 1970s. The next three confirmed series of Survivors audios can push the implications of that fact into stories that will unfold after the events set out in the TV canon have concluded. Given the strength of the drama on offer here, that is a hugely exciting vista to contemplate.
SURVIVORS SERIES SIX / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / DIRECTOR: KEN BENTLEY / PRODUCER: DAVID RICHARDSON / WRITERS: IAN POTTER, CHRISTOPHER HATHERALL, SIMON CLARK, ANDREW SMITH / STARRING: CAROLYN SEYMOUR, LUCY FLEMING, IAN MCCULLOCH, HELEN GOLDWYN, JULIE GRAHAM, ZOË TAPPER / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW