Survivors Series Eight continues Big Finish’s audio exploration of what happened after the original programme ended, this set promising — at long last — an encounter between Abby Grant and the son she’s been questing for since 1975. (Well, they did encounter each other, sort of, in Terry Nation’s novelisation, but it clearly isn’t consistent with the television programme and audio dramas.) Unlike the past couple of sets, though, this one returns to the structure of having one overarching story, instead of four individual episodes.
Its story picks up on hints from Series Seven about a community of boys under a military leader, Hywel Morgan’s Robert Malcolm. Malcolm has organised his boys into a military unit, and they have some kind of long-term plan that’s still unclear at the end of the set. Like in a lot of Big Finish’s box-set-length Survivors stories, though, the villain is sort of over-the-top ridiculous. Morgan himself is very charismatic, but it’s hard to believe he inspires much loyalty based on the actions he forces his followers to carry out. (I’ve been rereading the Horatio Hornblower novels of late, so I have lots of thoughts about how someone is harsh but inspiring, and Robert Malcolm isn’t it.) He turns on them so much it’s hard to understand why they wouldn’t turn on him. But I think Big Finish feel that in these sets where the whole thing is one long story, the bad guy has to be really bad, and so they have a habit of overdoing it.
The first episode is Bandit Train by Christopher Hatherall. It’s basically one long action sequence where a train that Abby, Jenny, and company are travelling on comes under attack. Survivors tries stories like this out every now and again, and it never really works for me, as it doesn’t play to the strengths of the medium or the characters. There’s also a pretty obvious twist.
Jane Slavin’s Robert is another familiar story type, one where Big Finish reveal more about a character by jumping back to the time of the Death. At first that annoyed me — I think there’s been diminishing returns with this type of story — but I ended up liking this one, as Robert Malcolm gathers an odd group of people around him in his attempt to survive. There’s one delightfully awkward scene where he ends up in a car with his wife and his mistress, trying to do his duty to both. Like the best of these flashback stories, we see human nature at its best and its worst here, and there are a couple of good, stark twists.
The last two, Lisa McMullin’s The Lost Boys and Roland Moore’s Village of Dust, make up a two-part story about Abby, Jenny, Ruth, and the child army of Robert Malcolm. Both are decent episodes, but nothing special, as they seek out Peter and also try to work out what Malcolm is up to. There are some good callbacks to previous stories, too. The big reunion is oddly muted — Abby’s material in Series Seven was more emotional than this.
As it often is, the delight of these sets is in the characters. Though at this point the audio-original cast has been completely stripped away, I’ve come to enjoy the TV characters a lot. Obviously Abby gets a lot to do here, but I felt Jenny really shined, the level-headed counterpart her friend needs in the midst of her grief. And I just adore Helen Goldwyn’s Ruth — like the best Survivors characters, she sounds like an ordinary person caught up in extraordinary circumstances.
This is the second-to-last Survivors set Big Finish will release, I believe, and despite my reservations about this set’s overall story, I can’t wait to hear how it all comes together. It’s been almost five years of Survivors on audio, and Big Finish has produced some great stuff, and will hopefully continue to do so.
Survivors Series Eight (by Christopher Hatherall, Jane Slavin, Lisa McMullin, Roland Moore) was released by Big Finish Productions in December 2018.