“There are times I wish these Survivors boxes could be less tightly plotted. I sense that Christopher Hatherall and Simon Clark have great Survivors stories within them, but they’re always having to tie into the story arcs plotted out by David Richardson and Matt Fitton.”
So I wrote in my review of Survivors Series Five from Big Finish. Well, never has a wish of mine when it comes to Big Finish audio drama been so quickly or so clearly granted, as Series Six is here… and it features no story arc at all, just four standalone tales in the world of Survivors. Including one by Christopher Hatherall and one by Simon Clark!
This really does allow the set to avoid some of the weaknesses of previous sets. Big Finish’s three-hour-plus stories often feel overelongated; instead we get four snappy tales of life after the Death. The cast size has often been a limitation, too; with four or so main characters to fit in, that means the communities they come to can only be represented by two people, because Big Finish stories typically don’t go over six actors in a one-hour tale. But each of the stories here features one or two main characters, meaning they are able to visit bigger, more complicated communities.
Essentially, this set is four different perspectives on four different communities after the Death. Abby visits an isolated community still under aristocratic rule. Jenny and Ruth encounter a desperate family on the road with a baby to care for. Greg travels across the length and breadth of Scandinavia. (One of the weirdnesses of Survivors on audio is how the characters jump around between sets because of events in the TV programme, which I’ve never seen. Apparently Greg lives in Norway now?) And Abby and Greg both encounter Peacetown, where the Law still rules, and the Law is harsh.
Each story has its own strengths. Ian Potter’s Beating the Bounds is what I like from Survivors, a glimpse at how people rebuild communities according to new rules that aren’t necessarily palatable — or in this case, very old rules actually. The Trapping Pit by Christopher Hatherall was my favourite in the set, using a small cast and a single location for most of the story, the kind of stage-like thing that works so very well on audio. It’s very intense, and you don’t know who will live and who will die. Simon Clark’s Revenge of Heaven is a bit grandiose for a Survivors story (and perhaps a bit contrived; Greg is the only person in all of Norway who can rescue a scientist from kidnappers?), but the image of a Greg-built air-ship hurtling its way above the postapocalyptic landscape is exuberant. Andrew Smith’s Lockup is the set’s weakest, lacking the nuance of the best Survivors tales, but there are some nice callbacks to Law and Order from the TV programme, and it’s nice for Greg and Abby to finally meet one another again.
I was about to write above that The Trapping Pit was nice because it had no real villain — but then I realised the same was true of Beating the Bounds and (to a lesser extent) Revenge of Heaven. It’s a nice move for the series, placing the emphasis where the title indicates it ought to be: survival. The main characters aren’t fighting bad guys, they’re not heroes; they’re survivors, fighting a hostile world and their own limitations, and this brought out in all four stories.
The main characters here are as they always are: Carolyn Seymour as condescending Abby, Ian McCulloch as gruff Greg, Lucy Fleming as empathetic Jenny. This set adds a new TV character to the mix: Ruth, played by Big Finish regular Helen Goldwyn. Goldwyn is a recast of a character who was recast on television, too, but as I’ve never seen a Ruth episode, it didn’t bother me — and besides, she’s properly excellent here, as we really follow her and her struggles. The only thing to not like about the conception of the set as a whole is the lack of Big Finish’s original characters; Zoë Tapper has a brief appearance as Evelyn Piper, but that’s it. I know the next set is also taking this anthology-esque format, so hopefully she or Jackie or some other new character gets their time in the spotlight too.
Audio drama can do some of its best work when it’s intimate, personal, and character-driven. Survivors Series Six leans into that with its set of four standalone tales, and I hope to see more of that going forward.
Survivors Series Six (by Ian Potter, Christopher Hatherall, Simon Clark, Andrew Smith) was released by Big Finish Productions in May 2017.