One of the best elements of Big Finish’s take on Survivors is its scope. In three seasons, the show has explored not just multiple survivor groups but multiple approaches to post-apocalyptic stress disorder. The world has ended and while every life left is precious, the pressure on each one is impossible. How do you earn your place? How do you help others? Can you? Should you?
Those questions lie at the heart of what’s the strongest series of Survivors to date. It ties together characters from previous seasons and gives us a sense of two elements that ongoing post-apocalyptic stories need and very rarely have; time passing and situations improving.
This is not the post-Death world of the early episodes or of the first episode here. This is a Quiet Earth where people have rebuilt, are starting to reconnect and are still carrying wounds from previous stories. It feels realized and deep. This is a setting that, for all the small amount of humanity left alive, is rich with possibility. Not to mention horror.
And that brings us to ‘The Old Ways’ by Ken Bentley. Set during the Death, it introduces new character Evelyn Piper (Survivors TV alumni Zoe Tapper). A civil servant deployed to Tartarus, a bunker designed to act as a backstop for civilisation, Evelyn is there when it ends and when it begins again. The death of hope and the rebirth of possibility lie at the heart of this often startlingly dark story and it’s a credit to everyone involved just how hard hitting this episode is. You know most of the cast are already dead. You hope you’re wrong. You’re not, and when they begin to die it’s some of the best, most intense drama this series has produced.
‘For The Good of the Cause’ brings in Greg and Jenny as they check in with old friend Molly and where she’s living. It’s a welcome, almost rustic change of pace after the 28 Days Later-esque horror of the previous episode. Louise Jameson’s excellent script starts off gently and does some smart, logical world building as Theo and the Foundation are introduced.
But as the episode continues, Jameson cranks the tension so gently you almost don’t notice. Someone is stalking Molly, someone else is setting fire to nearby buildings and as the Foundation grow as a force in the world it becomes clear that they’re not quite as benevolent as they like to think…
That’s wrapped up in the Mephistophelean presence of Ramon Tikaram as Theo, head of the Foundation. Theo is gentle, compassionate and very clearly has an agenda. Tikaram shows us that, giving him a playful dimension even as something dark grows in the background. It’s endlessly smart, subtle writing and acting that mesh together to create something truly impressive.
‘Collision’ by Christopher Hatherall has one of the toughest jobs in the series. Despite this being Hatherall’s first script for Big Finish, he handles it like a seasoned pro. This is where the first episode is tied into the overall plot and where the ideological conflict begins to boil over. The last thing any of these characters are comfortable with is change and yet, again, change is exactly what they’re having to deal with. It’s tense stuff especially the finale but even the villainous choices are grounded in realistic, understandable thinking. Which, in a sense, makes what some people do even worse. It’s an impressive episode and an impressive debut. Watch for big things from Hatherall in the future.
Matters come to a head with ‘Forgive and Forget’ by Matt Fitton. Jenny, Jackie, Evelyn, Molly and Greg are all faced with near impossible trials as every element of the past is brought back to the fore. This is the episode where the ideological conflict sparks into all-out war and its season best work from both Tikaram and McCulloch. There’s a delicately handled reveal here that shows just how broken Theo is that’s as horrific as it is tragic and it’s one of the best things the show has ever done. Tikaram is an astoundingly good voice actor and he deals with the pivot central to the character with grace and intelligence. Theo, like everyone we’ve met so far, is the hero of his own story. Unlike them, he’s far more ruthless and calculating than even he’s prepared to admit.
The clash between Theo and Greg and the very personal war that Molly fights this episode are series highpoints for the show. They also tie into the series’ recurrent theme of the past coming back to haunt the characters. Everyone, as one character says early on, has done dreadful things to get here. But it’s the peace they make with those choices, and their willingness to face the consequences that gives the show its dramatic impetus.
Verdict: The world may have ended but the choice between right and wrong is more vital, and harder to make, than ever before. That may make the characters’ lives hell but it makes this a hell of a boxed set. 9/10