❉ Jenny, Abby and Peter Grant head inexorably towards a final confrontation.
With people dying from contaminated fish and closing circuit breakers at a power stations as major plot points, the post-apocalyptic drama Survivors was the most BBC science-fiction series imaginable. Walking the line between fascinating ideas and genre tropes characterized most of creator Terry Nation’s best work, and Survivors’ first series was arguably the pinnacle of his approach. Though conflicts with producer Terence Dudley led to Nation moving on after the initial series, the storylines that followed nonetheless remained in keeping with the groundwork he established. The same holds true for Big Finish Productions’ continuation on audio.
From its initial boxed-set in 2014 to the recently released ninth series, the audio incarnation of Survivors both introduced new characters and revisited key characters original television run with stories yet to tell. When lead actress Carolyn Seymour left after the end of the first series, her character Abby Grant likewise left to search for her missing son Peter and never to be seen again onscreen. Seymour’s costars Lucy Fleming and Ian McCulloch carried on as Jenny Richards and Greg Preston. The final TV episodes didn’t provide closure on all points but nonetheless managed to end the television run with both hope for the future and the potential for future complications.
Both of those qualities are on display in the latest audio release, which wraps up the ongoing narrative Big Finish started five years ago and gives a stronger sense of closure to the stories of Abby, Jenny and fellow TV series alumni Ruth Anderson (now played by Helen Goldwyn). While the other characters and situations are largely new to the audio stories, the kinship with Terry Nation’s original vision of Survivors is tangible. From Davros in Doctor Who to Servalan in Blake’s 7, Nation clearly took an interest in what happens when power flows into the wrong hands, something the societal collapse initiated by “the Death” made all too easy.
The writers for the audio series picked up that thematic thread with characters like Robert Malcolm and Meg Pritchard. Neither is as colorful as Nation’s onscreen creations, but colorful villains are a luxury only a functioning society (however twisted) can afford. That sort of escapism would feel out of place in the fractured world that Survivors depicts. If that approach makes Pritchard and Malcolm seem relatively mundane as antagonists, it also enables their actions to disturb by rooting them more firmly in reality.
Forcing women to bear children against their will and turning young boys into blindly obedient soldiers ready to kill on command are troubling, because they’re entirely plausible impacts of the attempt to rebuild society after the Death. The opening episode, The Farm by Jane Slavin, dives right into this dynamic, drawing a line between Pritchard who prizes survival at all costs and Jenny who believes humanity must act with compassion to be worth surviving. To its credit the series also allows some for ambiguity for those like Abby with more individual motives who walk the line between the two factions.
The choice Abby makes in Hearts and Mines by Christopher Hatherall is a natural result of her unwavering focus on finding her son Peter and might be the most consequential of the entire ongoing story. Though she’s no fan of Pritchard or Malcolm, Abby’s devotion to her son puts her closer to their orbit and sets her at odds with Jenny and Ruth. This culminates in the set’s final installment, Conflict by Andrew Smith, whose work on the audio version of Survivors goes back to the first set.
Coming after Fade Out – an excellent exercise in tension by Roland Moore (another previous contributor to the audio series) – the events of Conflict don’t necessarily surprise but still provide a satisfying conclusion while leaving the door open for further stories. Abby, Jenny, Ruth and their friends may be in a better state than when their odysseys began, but their world remains far from good. That’s another sign of the audio incarnation’s fidelity to the original program and a nice punctuation to the accomplishment of its creative team. The combination of their ability to explore new territory while maintaining a strong connection to the source material has made Survivors one of Big Finish Productions’ very best revivals of a television classic.
❉ ‘Survivors: Series 9’ was released in June 2019 available on CD at £25 or £20 on download. It will be exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until July 31st 2019, and on general sale after this date.
❉ Don Klees has spent many years in the video business. This continues to enrich his life in many ways, chief among them being able to tell people he watches television for a living. An avid consumer of pop – and sometimes not-so-popular – culture, Don is a regular contributor to We Are Cult.