Big Finish’s audio revival of Terry Nation’s seminal 1970s post-apocalypse series came with a lot of respect, a lot of love and a lot of thought. The second series, out earlier this year, developed the format into something that would work for the company in an ongoing sense; four linked hour-long plays in each box set, focussing on particular characters and a more or less self-contained story arc, thus allowing a large cast room to breathe by not attempting to include a significant role for everybody in every set. If the first series was grim – the apocalypse revisited from a new perspective – then the second series, which told a smaller story but addressed equally big themes, was no less bleak, and was perhaps even better than the first.
The third series continues to focus on original character Abby Grant’s search for her son Peter, and takes the story back into the capitol (the scene of an especially well-remembered story from the TV series); however it begins with an episode told almost entirely in flashback, another new introduction to the Death that swept the nation and an excellent jumping-on point for anybody who has still to give Survivors a try. Molly (Fiona Sheehan)’s story is, despite its setting on an estranged ferry boat, in many ways a fairly typical one of the new breed of survivors in the audio series; the format allows the writers to go rather deeper into the dark recesses of the human psyche than the TV series sometimes could, and while characters in each must suffer loss in order to appreciate their place as part of the “team”, the ways in which that loss is realised are occasionally murkier and more adult forty years on. The twist at the end of this first episode is logical and shocking and sets Survivors apart from most other series, even ones with similar themes.
The three episodes that follow, taking up with characters and ideologies established in the first, suffer by comparison with the first two sets only in that the climax of this third series is a rather too visual one to fully translate into audio, and perhaps because although the antagonist here is a fully-realised character and plentifully shaded in, his philosophy (while well-explained and expressed) feels somewhat two-dimensional in the wake of a superlative second set of episodes.
By setting the audio Survivors within an established juncture of the television series, it can occasionally feel as though the dangers aren’t real, what with the foreknowledge that certain characters must survive in order to still be taking part back in the original. The team at Big Finish have largely negotiated that potential problem by making their original characters just as interesting and authentic as the returning ones, and they are also demonstrating a willingness to kill popular and likeable characters off to keep the drama fresh and unpredictable. This third series is no exception.
With an astonishingly accomplished sound design and acting almost literally to die for, and with twelve sixty-minute episodes now under their belts, the audio revival of Survivors has now proven itself easily the best and most consistent work that Big Finish has taken on, and with a format that allows for a greater involvement in characters and storylines there are ways in which producer David Richardson is even improving upon the TV original. If you enjoyed the television series but haven’t tried the audio version yet, you’re missing out; there are times when the drama is so immersive you entirely forget the pictures aren’t there. This is unreservedly recommended listening.
Special Features: Interview
SURVIVORS SERIES 3 / SCREENPLAY: JONATHAN MORRIS, SIMON CLARK, ANDREW SMITH, MATT FITTON / STARRING: CAROLYN SEYMOUR RICHARD HEFFER, CHASE MASTERSON, JOHN BANKS, FIONA SHEEHAN, PAUL THORNLEY, MIRANDA RAISON, LISA BOWERMAN / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW