Updated: December 23 2020 09:43
Living under the rule of the Protectorate can be hard, even more so when your true purpose is hidden from you
JENNY RICHARDS HAS been taken north to the Scottish headquarters of Meg Pritchard, head of The Protectorate. The command centre is a labour camp, and Jenny finds herself put in charge of a group of indentured women workers, who toil in harsh conditions for precious little reward. Pritchard is keen to win over Jenny's loyalty, offering small bribes, and the promise of greater power and an easier life. Jenny feins interest in Pritchard's advances the better to gather information about Protectore plans. Life at the camp is segregated, with the female workforce house in crude wooden huts behind the fence, while male soldiers train and patrol in the countryside beyond. Young Victoria is besotted by the attention of a male soldier beyond the wire, and it soon becomes apparent that, like her, many of the women of child-bearing age are pregnant as a result of similar illicit encounters. Meanwhile other women, including the argumentative and irascible Beryl, are coming to terms with the effects of the menopause. But when it becomes apparent that "breeding the next generation" is exactly the role that Pritchard has in mind for the young women under her rule, and that she has been disposing of menopausal women as no longer productive, Jenny is compelled into a decision. But will she be able to engineer a breakout from the camp; how many of the women will join the attempt; and where should the escapees head in the hope of real, lasting freedom...?
THE ENDGAME OF this nine series run of full-cast audio Survivors adventures gets off to an extremely impressive start in Jane Slavin's thoughtful and often unsettling opener The Farm, which introduces the villainess of the coming showdown and confirms the ruthlessness of The Protectorate and its avaricious ambitions. At the same time, Slavin brings to life the diverse personalities of a group of female "guest workers", who are effectively the bonded labour of the Protectorate, forced to work in support of the "war effort" and kept in conditions of grim servitude.
Back in series two, Louise Jameson's inspired script for Mother's Courage put the focus on a community of women, who were attempting to follow their own independent path in the early aftermath of The Death. One of the many ways that Big Finish's series of Survivors audios has gone on to distinguish itself is the extent to which the battle for survival has brought into the spotlight strong, empowered and resilient female characters.
The series has brought into the spotlight strong, empowered and resilient female characters
As well as exploring different aspects of the natures of Jenny Richards and Abby Grant, as they have been shaped by their experiences, many new female characters have been introduced to the series as major story arcs have developed.
But at no point have the series' clear feminist credentials meant that female characters have had to be gentler, more reasonable or more selfless than their male counterparts. In these communities of survivors on audio, women and men share the same ability to embody the best or the basest of human motives.
The storyline has echoes of the TV series' episodes Corn Dolly (in its focus on the drive for reproduction as an imperative above all others) and The Chosen (in its depiction on a dysfunctional community governed by a twisted ideology). But while, in Corn Dolly, Charles Vaughan attempts (with mixed success) to convince female survivors of child-bearing age to accept the need for loveless pregnancy, the head of the Protectorate uses a combination of deceit and social engineering to dupe women into believing they are enjoying a genuine passionate partnership with a member of the male militia. And while the isolationist religious zealots of The Chosen believe in the righteousness of their mission, they seek to shun rather than to colonise their neighbours.
In sharp contrast, the expansionist Protectorate are motivated by the desire to impose their vision and their authority over the entire country and crush all opposition. This enables Slavin to present the Protectorate as a morally repugnant, as well as a formidable, colonial force. This works all the better in this opening episode because the forces of the Federation are comparatively weak and their key organisers are scattered around the country (and, as becomes apparent in later stories, not of one mind when it comes to the best way to prosecute the rebellion).
Key to making the menace of the Protectorate convincing is the duplicitous character of Meg Pritchard, played to supercilious perfection by Richenda Carey. A combination of a lady of the manor (albeit on an estate that's seen better days) and ruthless gangmaster, Pritchard makes for a properly imposing villainess. She's a very effective manipulator of all of the resources at her command, running her own private army, a camp full of enslaved labourers working to supply them, and armed with a plan for national domination.
Pritchard's conviction that women who are no longer able to bear children should disappear is barbaric
Separating men and women in order to encourage the illicit relations that will lead to pregnancy amongst the younger women workers (a scheme in which many of the soldiers are fully complicit) is heartless. But her conviction that women who are no longer able to bear children should "disappear" is barbaric, and, in the context of the current conflict, a "war crime". It's the hidden cruelty of Pritchard's nature that makes her attempts to win over Jenny's allegiance all the more unsettling, even though (unknown to Pritchard) Jenny is engaged in her own game of bait-and-switch.
Slavin creates a very relatable ensemble of characters amongst the women workers. Making the most of some first rate dialogue and feisty exchanges, Issy Van Randwyck delivers a brilliant, barnstorming performance as the mischievously menopausal Beryl Howarth; Lizzie Stables is great as the insolently lovestruck young Victoria; while Isla Carter is thoroughly believable as the level-headed and sympathetic Cayla Kenny. The theme of unfulfilled sexual longing in the post-Death world is not one that the series has addressed before, and the fact that it surfaces so clearly here, on the eve of civil war, feels very human and is an indication of how far concerns and preoccupations have moved on from the immediate life-and-death pressures of that followed the pandemic.
The Farm sets up the context for what is now an inevitable showdown between the two forces now battling over the fate of the entire country very effectively. In the latter part of the episode, the wily Beryl's escape from incarceration, and Jenny's decision to lead an escape bid, builds the action component towards a strong finale and a tense cliffhanger. What permeates the episode is the sense that, with everyone involved knowing that the series is the endgame for the full-cast Survivors audios, is the sense that this final run of four episodes will deliver a genuine sense of closure. As our heroes flee imprisonment under fire, there's every indication that this won’t be the last time that Pritchard and Jenny Richards will face off.
SLAVIN DOESN'T SO much open the boxed set as kick the door in, throwing a new set up, two excellent new characters and some very dark implications at you in short order
Alasdair Stuart, SciFiBulletin
WITH GRIM THEMES of exploitation; particularly surrounding the proposed fate of the newly menopausal Beryl... and the naive Victoria... who is in the first flush of love, this is another tremendous script from Jane Slavin
Ian McArdell, Indie Mac User
JANE SLAVIN DIVES Jane right into this dynamic, drawing a line between Pritchard who prizes survival at all costs and Jenny who believes humanity must act with compassion to be worth surviving
Don Klees, We Are Cult
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
Series five reviews addedAdded: 20 December 2016
Series four reviews addedAdded: 26 June 2016
Series three reviews addedAdded: 18 December 2015
New interviews addedAdded: 21 November 2015