Reviews | Written by Rich Cross 28/11/2017

SURVIVORS SERIES SEVEN

There’s no let-up in the action dynamic of the seventh series of Survivors audio adventures, as the drama moves towards and past the events of “Power”, the endpoint of the TV series. But these four standalone stories are also amongst the most emotionally raw and wrenching yet heard in this audio series, as leading characters discover heartbreaking truths about the fates of some of those closest to them.

In Roland Moore’s debut Survivors script, the expertly plotted “Journey’s End”, Abby Grant finds an unexpected lead on the whereabouts of her missing son Peter when she encounters a young woman living in isolation and in fear of kidnapping by a gang snatching up youngsters. When she reaches the community where the children are living, Abby finds that all is not as it seems and discovers some devastating news that will rock her to the core. As an emotionally fractured Abby, Carolyn Seymour delivers a bravura performance. Her character’s anguish is palpable and the sequence in which she seeks confirmation of a terrible event is deeply (but not gratuitously) distressing.

Attention switches to Greg Preston, Jenny Richards and Ruth Anderson in Simon Clark’s taut and fast-moving “Legacy”. The story combines flashbacks to Greg’s work to bring a steam train service back into operation, with Jenny and Ruth’s later journey along the reopened track towards the village of Retworth. As the brutal truth of life in the settlement is revealed, Jenny is thrust into the unexpected role of rabble-rouser, calling on the inspiring legacy of Greg to encourage a rebellion against tyranny.

Big Finish have already strengthened the character of Jenny, bringing forward the resilient, brave, confident and independent aspects of her nature, and Lucy Fleming seizes the opportunities this affords with evident relish. Helen Goldwyn continues to shine in the role of medic Ruth and, as in last series’ “The Trapping Pit”, theirs is a winning pairing. Ian McCulloch always excels when Greg is in “man of action” mode, but here also convinces in some more reflective and vulnerable moments, as Jenny learns, in recorded playback, of the motivations that drove his relentless quest to rebuild civilization.

The pace deliberately slows in Matt Fitton’s compelling “Old Friends”, an intense and focused character piece in which Evelyn Piper (Zoë Tapper on excellent form) and Ruth attempt to coax the grieving and disconnected Jackie Burchall to recognise the value of continuing to strive to survive. This is a gripping and wholly absorbing three-hander. Under the guidance of director Ken Bentley, Louise Jameson makes the kind of astute choices that ensure her character’s psychological and emotional unravelling rings completely true. As gangs of hoodlums and arsonists draw ever closer, Jackie finds further encouragement in the voice-in-her-head of a much-missed friend, who pleads with her to embrace life and hope once more. Single setting dramas such as this depend so much on the quality of the writing, and Fitton’s insightful dialogue does not disappoint.

Events are brought to a compelling conclusion in Christopher Hatherall’s “Reconnection”, an episode whose title refers to both the hugely anticipated reunion of Jenny and Abby, and the recovery of the country’s power supply. Beset with grief, disappointment and self-recrimination, Abby has sought solace in a bout of self-destructive drinking, until a frank tough-love conversation with Jenny snaps her out of it. Working together once more, the pair travel to Derwent hydroelectric power station hoping to meet up with electrical engineer Alec Campbell. Instead they encounter a team of three men who have been despatched by Laird McAlister. When McAlister’s true intentions are revealed, the battle to settle the fate of the plant becomes a symbol of the struggle to wrest control of efforts to rebuild society across the British Isles. Hatherall’s winning story combines strong character interactions with well-plotted adventure motifs in a tale that follows on seamlessly from the TV series’ closing episode.

The underlying, unifying theme of all four stories is the experience of loss, and its powerful personal repercussions. Abby is emotionally ripped apart by the revelations of “Journey’s End”; Greg and Jenny individually reflect on the impact of their separation and the sacrifice of their relationship in “Legacy”; Jackie is emotionally unbalanced by the experience of compound grief in “Old Friends”; and Jenny and Abby react in very different ways to the devastating impact of the news of the death of someone close to them in “Reconnection”.

The stark choices facing these survivors are put into sharp relief: do they succumb to defeat and absent themselves from the struggle to remake the world, or do they commit, time and again, to that fight, despite the setbacks, the risks and the huge personal costs. Survivors has established itself as a flagship series for Big Finish, and it provides a setting for the exploration of complex moral themes in a way that few other genre properties allow.

Both sound design and the tone-setting musical score enrich the atmosphere throughout, with the edgy soundscape providing ample evidence of the value of keenly judged restraint. At times harrowing, at other moments uplifting, and never anything other than completely riveting listening, this latest series of Survivors audios delivers drama that is simply unmissable. As the series leaves behind the timeline of the TV incarnation of the show, Big Finish’s writers, cast and crew are all clearly brimming with fully deserved confidence. “This is truly uncharted territory,” says Hatherall. “There are no reference points now.” The two series of new Survivors audios coming in 2018 could scarcely be a more exciting or (in the best sense of the word) a more unpredictable prospect.

SURVIVORS SERIES SEVEN / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / DIRECTOR: KEN BENTLEY / PRODUCER: DAVID RICHARDSON / WRITERS: ROLAND MOORE, SIMON CLARK, MATT FITTON, CHRISTOPHER HATHERALL / STARRING: CAROLYN SEYMOUR, LUCY FLEMING, IAN MCCULLOCH, HELEN GOLDWYN, ZOË TAPPER, LOUISE JAMESON / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW