Welcome back to the Company's most adult and terrifying series as we embark on the second series of Survivors. After the meteoric success of the first year that managed to not only capture the fatalism and despair of the TV series but also transfer it to audio and make it sophisticated in a whole new way is there any way they can replicate that kind of triumph in series two? The answer is yes and no, because what you get is pretty much more of the same but it manages to continue to be just as well written, acted and executed with just as many disturbing moments and a feeling of disquiet that simply isn't there with other ranges. It appears there is a scattershot approach to the storytelling this time around (where the first set very much felt like a continuing story) but by the time you get to the last story it is tying up elements that were introduced in the first and it does feel like a coherent story. The cleverest part of this is episodes two and three which tell different stories at the same time and feature all the female characters in one story and all the male in the other and explores the different kinds of stories you can tell with a certain gender at the helm.
Dark Rain by Ken Bentley kicks off the set in suitably intense style and features the two strongest of the original characters, Jackie (Louise Jameson) and Daniel (John Banks) having to fight for their lives and being rattled by the experience. It's a great way to catch up with the characters and remind us what their fears and motivations are and this is effectively one of those submarine stories where the water rises up around their waists and the characters no that they are going to die. Jameson and Banks deserve massive kudos for the work they do here, I have seen this situation played out loads of times before but never quite as raw and as real as it feels here. We spend a nice amount of time with our regulars from the TV series too, and this box set really integrates both extremely well (without ever going back to The Grange because the TV series is currently occurring there) and the search for Abby's son Peter is the focus, and Jenny, who is pregnant with Greg's baby. The most shocking moment in this story was Jackie's confession about her children and how she feels she doesn't deserve to die. I think she is the most uncomfortable character to be around because she is so kind and gentle and yet is clearly suffering from PTSD in a massive way.
Mother's Courage by Louise Jameson is a lot of peoples favourite from the set and I can see why because it takes a very simple idea (what would happen if there was a refuge run completely by women in a post apocalyptic world) and forces our characters to face the consequences of that. I was hard on the Eighth of March set and this story goes someway to explaining why because it is a much more mature celebration of women working in Big Finish; a smart script, hard hitting themes of motherhood, friendship and female strength and terrific performances from the actresses involved. My two complaints about this story are that the idea of a community that rejects men to such an extent that it would kill Jenny's child if it was a son isn't taken quite far enough (I almost wish that the pregnancy was further along so she did have the baby and we could have all the suspense of what the sex is) and so this is all talk and no action. But also that this is very similar to the story that played out last year with our heroes stuck in a twisted community that could offer them salvation if they leave their morality to one side. However, the reactions of all the characters to this set up is excellent, the dialogue is frequently hard hitting and Jenny and Abby really come off brilliantly in this, as strong as they ever were on TV. It somehow manages to be a celebration of men and everything they bring to society, and a firm reminder of their evils too. Thoughtful stuff.
My personal favourite of the year was The Hunted by Ken Bentley and that seems to be for all the reasons that other people didn't like it so much. It has a thin plot - the men of the group are hunted out in the woods by a wild animal and meet up with a hunter who can help them track it down - but it soon becomes the equivalent of a horror movie as it transpires a group of survivors are taking advantage of the hunt and posing as animals in the dark to murder people. This really scared me (my other half can attest to that who had to hold my hand for the whole second half) as the boys face the laughter and mockery of murderers out there in the dark. There's a beautiful conversation between Tim Treloar's Russell and Daniel that leads to a horrific murder scene and from that point on it plays out like the horror movie Them with a life or death struggle. I genuinely was uncertain if our regulars would get out of this, even though I knew Greg couldn't be killed. The idea that people might take advantage of the collapse of society and the absence of rules to play with people and kill them really struck a chord with me. I really appreciated Ken Bentley's use of sound in the direction, and how he trusted the audience to keep up with the action without having to explain what is going on in awkward dialogue. It means you are there in this situation with Greg and Daniel, and the threat is all around you. Bernard Holley's voice is unforgettable, and he will get a bigger role in the next story. I can't remember a Big Finish that put me through the wringer more than this in quite some time.
Savages by Matt Fitton brings this set to a close and is probably the biggest endorsement of the 'not suitable for children' tag that this range gets on the Big Finish website. Before I say the few things that let this down I want to say this is a strong conclusion to the set, once again featuring set pieces that set me on edge, brilliant performances and some character conclusions (Daniel finally makes a choice that crosses a line and Molly's attempted suicide is understandable, inevitable and very dramatic) that will need dealing with in the future. What made the murderers so scary in the last story was that they seemed to be enjoying themselves and the fact that there was nobody to stop them. Fitton (probably wisely) gives George Ridley a motive for why he has turned to cannibalism and because it was an act of desperation that has become a need makes him much less frightening. I can't say I felt empathy for the man (he's played a little broadly like a villain too) but his backstory, and giving him a murderer pal who does all the dirty work before he gets the pots boiling takes the edge of the violent chaos of the promise of these monstrous characters. I got strong Countrycide vibes from Torchwood, and this plays out in as vicious and unpleasant a manner. You actually hear characters eating human flesh so prepare yourselves for that. Also, the ending where both the killer and the butcher are killed means the series gets to duck away from the riveting question of what to do with these people in a society with no rules. We could have had our audio equivalent of Law and Order.
I might have more complaints than the previous set but the standard is still very high. Big Finish has caught something very dramatic and vivid with this series. I'm in awe of the convincing performances and sound design. It makes me weep that I have head back to silly old Doctor Who at some point. This is real audio drama: 8/10