The fourth box-set of Survivors audio adventures foregrounds original series characters Greg Preston and Jenny Richards, and brings closure to two of Big Finish’s own character creations, in a layered and completely absorbing tale of manipulation and deceit engineered by the audio series’ most charismatic and scheming villain yet.
The Survivors audio series began on extremely strong form back in 2014 and has delivered consistently high-quality instalments in each subsequent release. Above all, the scriptwriters working on Survivors have remained confident that the show’s listeners are prepared for stories which use the motifs of action-and-adventure to explore challenging, disturbing and difficult themes in a world in which all the old certainties have gone.
Opening episode “The Old Ways” (Ken Bentley) returns to the time of The Death, depicting the futile efforts of a dwindling band of politicians and civil servants to manage the unstoppable pandemic. Pitched into a level of crisis management way above her pay-grade, junior administrator Evelyn Piper (convincingly voiced by Zoë Tapper, who appeared in Adrian Hodges’ 2008 TV ‘reimagining’ of Survivors) finds herself seconded to an official team quarantined in an emergency bunker. This new perspective on the authorities’ doomed attempts to salvage the rule of government and law is chillingly convincing. As conditions worsen, tensions inside the bunker reach breaking point. The venal nature of many of those in positions of authority is then cruelly revealed.
The storyline of second episode “For the Good of the Cause” (Louise Jameson), propels things forward two years; to align with the Whitecross era of the TV series. Greg (Ian McCulloch) and Jenny (Lucy Fleming) visits the mysterious Belief Foundation at the invitation of Jackie (Jameson), where they hope to catch up with a newly contented Molly (Fiona Sheehan). They are introduced to the charismatic and welcoming Theo (a thoroughly winning performance by Ramon Tikaram). Theo gives guidance and inspiration (and not, he is quick to point out, ‘leadership’) to the Foundation, citing his belief in the principles of Gaia and its ability to rebalance the ‘natural order’ of life. Greg sees great potential in the community, but Jenny is not won over by Theo’s seemingly self-deprecating worldview.
When Piper, wandering and lost, arrives at the Foundation, she urges Theo to rescue those still enduring a grim life within the bunker. In the events of “Collision” (Christopher Hatherall’s first script for Big Finish) a scavenge-and-rescue party convinces some of those living there to leave and travel to the Foundation. But these former pen-pushers and bureaucrats lack practical survival skills, and their arrival at the settlement only causes schisms and splits. A return trip to the bunker, to entice the remaining occupants to leave, uncovers hidden motives that have catastrophic consequences.
Closing episode “Forgive and Forget” (Matt Fitton) focuses in different ways on the issues of punishment, redemption and the impact of guilt. A visitor is revealed to be a person from Molly’s past, and is called to account for their criminal culpability. Jackie’s own dark secrets come to the surface, and she too must make a public account of her actions. When Molly insists that she must be allowed to decide the accused’s fate, the results are both shocking and unexpected. Other characters are compelled to accept responsibility for their behaviour, as layers of deception and deceit collapse; and the future of the Foundation and its residents hangs in the balance.
Tikaram delivers Theo’s dialogue with the kind of warm and mellifluous vocal tones that make his character’s magnetic personal appeal entirely plausible. McCulloch is on fantastic form as Greg; at his finest when railing against the hypocrisy and cant of others. Fleming is excellent too, clearly enjoying the opportunities that come from finding a pro-active Jenny at the heart of the action, and ensnared in a tangle of moral dilemmas. The sparks that fly between the two of them, as Jenny asserts her independence against Greg’s protective, alpha-male instincts, make for some fantastic listening. Sheehan finds new textures in the character of Molly, and delivers a great performance that brings out the harder, less-sympathetic sides of her nature. Tapper’s reading of the well-meaning but over-stretched Piper is acutely well judged, while Jameson excels in presenting Jackie’s emotionally conflicted journey towards personal acceptance.
Intelligent, literate and superbly scripted and performed, this is a post-apocalyptic drama of the highest possible calibre. Determined to avoid the predictable tropes of that genre, it invites its listeners to navigate a moral minefield in a way that few other dramas of this type would attempt. This comes recommended without reservation.
SURVIVORS: SERIES FOUR / PUBLISHER: BIG FINISH / CAST: IAN MCCULLOCH, LUCY FLEMING, ZOË TAPPER, LOUISE JAMESON, FIONA SHEEHAN, RAMON TIKARAM / WRITERS: KEN BENTLEY, LOUISE JAMESON, CHRISTOPHER HATHERALL, MATT FITTON / DIRECTOR: KEN BENTLEY / PRODUCER: DAVID RICHARDSON / AVAILABILITY: OUT NOW