These final four dramatic episodes bring to a first-class conclusion nine series of original full-cast audio dramas set in the world of Terry Nation’s peerless 1970s’ post-apocalyptic BBC serial Survivors.
With an experienced creative team completely in command of the material, and knowing in advance that these instalments are the closing chapter in the current run, Big Finish deliver thrilling set-pieces and big pay-offs in the major story arcs, along with many more intimate kinds of resolution in the key relationships that have shaped this long simmering endgame. All of this drama is punctuated by a series of outstanding heart-in-the-mouth moments in which the ultimate fate of characters is wrapped up in a sense of genuine jeopardy.
Events get underway in Jane Slavin’s opener The Farm, which succeeds in establishing the seriousness of the threat posed by The Protectorate; a self-serving military fiefdom run by the ruthless Meg Pritchard which controls territory stretching from Scotland down into the English shires and which has ambitions to extend its borders. With Jenny Richards now a Protectorate prisoner and forced to run a labour gang, she is able to expose the exploitation and cruelty hidden beneath the veneer of respectability and reasonableness cultivated by Pritchard. In an episode full of strong, self-assured female characters, it’s not surprising that a rebellion is soon brewing amongst the oppressed workforce of indentured women.
There’s plenty of high adventure in Christopher Hatherall’s Hearts And Mines, which brings into sharp relief the battle lines being drawn up in the fast-looming new English civil war. The increasingly confident Craig is now leading a guerrilla militia, carrying out raids against Protectorate enclaves in the name of the Federation; a campaign backed by Jenny, Abby Grant and doctor Ruth. Inside Robert Malcolm’s child army, Ruth is working as a spy passing vital information to the resistance. But Abby remains painfully conflicted, desperate to reconnect with her psychologically-damaged son Peter who remains in the thrall of Malcolm and the Protectorate, and is determined to avoid more bloodshed. The struggle to deny the Protectorate access to a vital coalmine reveals the fault lines amongst both rebels and enforcers, with Hatherall making great use of the below-ground setting to raise the stakes of his plot.
Fade Out by Roland Moore is a combination of tense thriller and character study which focuses on twin dilemmas: Abby’s high-risk bid to win back the confidence of the seemingly heartless Peter without revealing her true affinities to Malcolm; and Craig’s and his allies’ decision on whether to flee from an approaching raiding party or attempt to withstand a siege in an abandoned cinema. Amongst the tense anticipation of gunfire, Moore makes space for some superb moments of quiet reflection, as Craig and his compatriots share an eve-of-battle screening of an old B-movie (the creaking script of which is full of metaphors for the survivors’ own plight), before the outcome of this stand-off reveals the full price that these survivors must pay for their decisions.
Things are brought to a momentous end point in Andrew Smith’s electrifying series finale Conflict, in which the two sides in the civil war attempt to land the decisive blow. Smith’s thrilling script intertwines the protagonists’ different stories as events count down through a series of explosive points of no return. It’s a story packed with both action and high emotion, with Smith able to cram in a huge amount of incident without events feeling rushed or characters short-changed.
Carolyn Seymour (Abby) and Lucy Fleming (Jenny) are absolutely in their element here, both enjoying pushing to the fore new aspects of their characters’ nature: Abby is halting, doubtful and distracted, pulling away from her friends to concentrate her efforts on recovering Peter’s love; Jenny is resolute, determined and completely committed to the struggle to free the country from encroaching tyranny. Helen Goldwyn also excels in exploring Ruth’s more heroic and action-orientated sides; George Watkins convinces in completing Craig’s evolution from wild-child into fully-fledged rebel leader, while Hywel Morgan brings gravitas and malevolence to his portrayal of the ruthless Robert.
Strong pacing across all four episodes, as matters build to the tensely plotted climax, is down to the astute creative decisions of director Ken Bentley, who highlights the emotional texture of stories that are driven by action motifs. Great sound design by Benji Clifford adds atmosphere and edge to proceedings, while Nicholas Briggs’ powerful score accentuates the unsettling mood and driving tempo. It’s the combination of these elements that underpins the assuredness of this final full-cast Survivors outing.
When Big Finish premiered the first series of Survivors audios back in 2014, the company were taking something of a punt on a property that (when they were asked for suggestions) had not featured in many of their listeners’ wish lists. Yet Big Finish’s Survivors releases have gone on to attract some of the strongest critical plaudits that any of their audio series have yet received.
It’s the growing disparity between that soaring reputation and declining sales volumes that has rendered future full-cast Survivors releases uneconomic. Big Finish deserve praise not only for producing remarkably high-quality stories (which have impressed fans and cast members of the original series alike), but also for ensuring that these new Survivors audio adventures end with a fitting sense of closure and of scale. It brings the curtain down on the series at an endpoint that feels true to the ethos of Nation’s original vision for the show, and which is not bound by the requirement to “hit the reset button”.
There’s still great potential here, as the UK begins to emerge from the dark ages of The Death, for more stories set in this uniquely realised dystopia, should sufficient numbers of those who have yet to purchase copies of this extraordinary audio series belatedly recognise the error of their ways. If that doesn’t happen, this will remain a stunning finale for what must be celebrated as a consistently compelling audio drama.