Updated: January 14 2018 20:59
Evelyn Piper and Ruth Anderson try to coax Jackie Burchall out of her psychosis before marauding gangs overwhelm them
EVELYN PIPER MEETS Ruth Anderson at an agreed rendezvous point at Evelyn's request. Worried about the mental health of Jackie Burchall, who is now living alone at her old family house, Evelyn is hoping that Ruth’s medical insights can help them both persuade Jackie to return to the community support available to her at The Foundation. Jackie is living in a disconnected, fantasy state in which she imagines that fragments of her old life exist and, at the same time, that everyone she meets is dead and a ghost. Jackie hears the voice of her deceased friend Daniel Connor in her head. While his presence is a comfort, Daniel is an insistent voice of reason; urging Jackie to seek out the company of others and leave her delusion world behind. As Evelyn and Ruth try to coach Jackie back towards reality, they are concerned that wild gangs of urban arsonists and vandals may reach the area before they can persuade her to come with them. Despite Daniel's encouragement and reassurance, Jackie refuses to leave, challenging her friends' belief that there is still hope in this new world, and confronting Evelyn with her judgement of her guilt at the Foundation trial. Can Evelyn and Ruth convince Jackie otherwise, and before the marauding gangs overwhelm them?
"OLD FRIENDS" IS a Survivors audio drama unlike any other yet heard in the series. It calls a pause on the predominant action-and-adventure motif that Big Finish have to take the time to explore some complex, and at times distressing, psychological themes.
Based on a brilliant premise, and brought to life through some excellent individual performances, "Old Friends" is the kind of episode that requires the framework of a well established series, in which characters have shared a whole set of experiences and the contours of the drama's environment have been thoroughly established. It is the 'maturity' of Survivors on audio (in the sense of its already impressive longevity) that provides the necessary context for this sort of story.
Jackie's world has become one of isolation in which she imagines that everyone who speaks to her is a spectre
What also distinguishes this distinctive episode is that none of the original trio of leading characters feature. It focuses on just four characters, with original series medical student Ruth Anderson joined by three survivors now well established in the audio realm who are the exclusive creation of Big Finish's scriptwriting team.
With only the minimal extraneous sounds of the approaching mob delivering a larger soundscape, most of the episode focuses on the interactions of the four characters (although, of course, only Jackie can hear the internal voice of Daniel). When the character of Jackie Burchall was first introduced, in the second ever episode "Exodus", she was already a psychologically damaged individual who had been left in dissociative denial about the death of her family when Daniel Connor first encountered her.
Their relationship became a key ingredient in her slow and faltering recovery, but by the time the events of "Old Friends" opens, Burchall has fallen back into a deeper version of her earlier disconnected self. Her relapse has been triggered by news of the death of Daniel and by the outcome of the impromptu inquiry at The Foundation during which Evelyn Piper rebuked Jackie for trying to evade responsibility for her children's deaths.
Jackie's world has become one of isolation and withdrawal in which she imagines that everyone who speaks to her is a spectre; the disembodied voice of someone who has died (as so many of those close to her have). The voice of Daniel speaks in exactly the supportive, caring and encouraging way that the former journalist did when he was alive, calling on Jackie to embrace the connected life that is available to her and to leave behind her self-imposed exile of guilt and regret.
Evelyn, who has been trying to coax Jackie back into the real-world, is willing to indulge Jackie's disfigured fantasies to a degree, if only as a means to connect with an otherwise unreachable patient. Medical student Ruth is initially less indulgent, insisting that Jackie be compelled to confront the harsh realities around her and agree to leave with them.
Jackie's procrastination ultimately threatens the survival of all three women, as the rampaging mob closes in
Jackie's procrastination and her repeated attempts to rebuff Evelyn's and Ruth's concerns ultimately threatens the survival of all three women, as the baying, rampaging mob closes in on the neighbourhood. But the persistence of Ruth, Evelyn and the voice of Daniel do finally succeed in breaking through Jackie's denial, forcing her to once again accept her own worth and value of other's belief in her.
Scriptwriter Matt Fitton understands the different natures and motivations of these characters so well, and pretty much everything in this story rests on the quality of the, often fraught, dialogue between them. Fitton's script is as electrifying as it is emotionally literate, allowing the cast to find both great depth and subtle nuance in their interactions.
The trio's flight from the raiders provides a tense finale for what has been up-until-now a focused character drama. Their race to freedom is a literal 'escape from the clutches of death' for all three, but for Jackie leaving her old home behind represents an additional symbolic act of breaking free. Because of their refusal of others to let her succumb to psychological collapse, she has been able to come to terms once again with the incalculable losses that she has endured since The Death and is able to face the new world anew.
"Old Friends" also provides a fresh lead on the whereabouts of Peter Grant and his new travelling partner, the young Victoria, who are revealed to have been Jackie's temporary guests, while she was in a distracted, delusion state. There is now the possibility that either the residents of Little Tadlow or Evelyn's network might reach Abby Grant with the news that Peter is still alive.
One of the the things that Big Finish has prided itself on in relation to the Survivors audios is the priority afforded to action and adventures motifs. Arguably for the first time since the series one finale "Esther", this episode shows how confidence the series' producers should be about extending that focus, to include an appreciation of more psychological and existential themes. As "Old Friends" ably demonstrates, 'survival' is not just a matter of satisfying material needs. Unexpected, surprising and never less than riveting.
MATT FITTON WEAVES in a return for the dead Daniel Connor (John Banks) in another moving tale, packed with emotion
Tony Jones, Cultbox
IT'S ONE OF the most nuanced, and careful, explorations of PTSD and mental health I've ever heard
Alasdair Stuart, Sci-Fi Bulletin
SINGLE SETTING DRAMAS such as this depend so much on the quality of the writing, and Fitton’s insightful dialogue does not disappoint
Rich Cross, Starburst
IT IS A testament to the strength of the storytelling that only one of these four speaking roles in this story is an original Survivors character
Ian McArdell, Indie Mac User
The ninth series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to buy (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.
"There's still great potential here, as the UK begins to emerge from the dark ages of The Death, for more stories set in this uniquely realised dystopia, should sufficient numbers of those who have yet to purchase copies of this extraordinary audio series belatedly recognise the error of their ways. If that doesn't happen, this will remain a stunning finale for what must be celebrated as a consistently compelling audio drama, 5/5"
The eight series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to buy (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.
"This latest boxset delivers an impressive mix of large scale, high stakes and small scale, intimate stories which set in motion the events which will come to an explosive conclusion in the final set in this current run of post-apocalyptic dramas, 5/5 " - Cultbox
The seventh series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to buy (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.
"At times harrowing, at other moments uplifting, and never anything other than completely riveting listening, this latest series of Survivors audios delivers drama that is simply unmissable. As the series leaves behind the timeline of the TV incarnation of the show, Big Finish's writers, cast and crew are all clearly brimming with fully deserved confidence. The two series of new Survivors audios coming in 2018 could scarcely be a more exciting or (in the best sense of the word) a more unpredictable prospect, 10/10" - Starburst
The sixth series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to buy (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.
"After five extraordinarily well-received box sets, each of which offered a self-contained and themed collection of four episodes, the sixth series of Survivors audio adventures confidently takes a fresh approach... It's a liberating shift in format and, under the keenly judged direction of Ken Bentley, these scripts make exceptional use of the opportunity to tell diverse, if equally compelling, standalone stories, 10/10" - Starburst
The fifth series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to buy (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.
"As it explores the highest stakes possible, this develops into the most thrilling and compelling set of stories in Big Finish's Survivors series to date: which, considering the exceptional quality of the drama in the preceding four instalments, is quite some achievement. This is extraordinary, exemplary human drama; by any standard, 10/10" - Starburst
The fourth series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to purchase (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.
"Intelligent, literate and superbly scripted and performed, this is a post-apocalyptic drama of the highest possible calibre. Determined to avoid the predictable tropes of that genre, it invites its listeners to navigate a moral minefield in a way that few other dramas of this type would attempt. This comes recommended without reservation" - Starburst
The third series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to purchase (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.
The second series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to purchase (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.
A full-length audiobook of Terry Nation's Survivors novel (in CD and download formats) read by Carolyn Seymour.
The first series of new Survivors audio adventures is available to purchase (in CD and download formats) from Big Finish.
Series nine reviews addedAdded: 13 July 2019
Series eight reviews addedAdded: 9 January 2019
Series seven reviews addedAdded: 14 January 2018
Series six reviews addedAdded: 12 July 2017
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New interviews addedAdded: 21 November 2015