Updated: December 23 2020 09:43
If the Federation can pull off an audacious sabotage mission, the Protectorate will suffer a major setback
CRAIG LEADS A raid on a Protectorate supply camp to acquire weapons and ammunition. Determined to reconnect with her son Peter, Abby Grant works alongside Craig’s militia group, but urges caution in the hope of minimizing bloodshed. Ruth Anderson is working undercover within The Protectorate group run by Proctor, as a doctor and as a medical teacher. Her brightest pupil Spencer Friend thinks Ruth might have connections with the resistance being organised by The Federation. After he is beaten by Proctor for pilfering, Ruth selects him as her medical assistant when she is sent to a coalmine to attend the injured following a major accident below ground. The coal supplies are a vital asset for the Protectorate, and Ruth decides to trust Spencer to get a message to the increasingly ambitious and gung-ho Craig. When most of Proctor's men leave, Craig's militia seizes control of the site. With the help and expertise of miner Robin Bunce, they plan to render the mine inoperable by blowing key shafts and tunnels with dynamite. With Abby and Spencer left in charge of the detonator, Craig, Ruth and Robin head into the mine and begin laying charges. Working against the clock, the three of them prepare the explosives ahead of the deadline. But above ground a sudden change in the balance of forces throws all their plans into question. Will the mine still be destroyed, and will Ruth, Craig and Robin be trapped inside if it is...?
MORE THAN ONCE in this series of Survivors audios, writer Christopher Hatherall has demonstrated his ability to get great dramatic mileage for a situation of enforced confinement. In series six's The Trapping Pit, his story of the attempt to save the impaled and injured Craig Watkins had huge visceral impact; and in series eight his script for Bandit Train delivered action and high tension, as Jenny and Abby, stuck aboard their speeding steam locomotive, clashed as they came under armed siege from horseback raiders.
In this his final contribution to the series, it's the setting of a deep coal mine, wired for detonation as rival forces chase each other through its shafts and tunnels that provides the high-stakes setting.
Craig's evolution into a committed and capable field commander comes across as more than credible
Since his introduction in The Trapping Pit, Craig has evolved into a popular recurring character: a profoundly decent and honourable young man, although a youngster whose naivety can sometimes lead him to make bad decisions. After his torture, at the hands of the psychologically-scarred Peter Grant in The Lost Boys, and the resolve to fight back against his persecutors in Village of Dust, Craig has clearly toughened up and matured in the intervening months.
Now a militia leader, Craig's evolution into a committed and capable field commander comes across as more than credible. He has clearly found renewed purpose and self-belief in his determination to take the fight to the Protectorate and battle for the vision of his friends. Although now more mature, he remains, true to his character, impulsive and prone to impulsive, rash decisions.
What makes for some great drama is the conflict between Abby Grant and Craig over the correct way to prosecute the Federation's conflict with the Protectorate. With Greg gone, and Jenny a Protectorate prisoner whose location is unknown, there is little to hold in check Abby's fervent belief that her psychologically damaged son can be rehabilitated. While Craig's enthusiasm for taking the war to the Protectorate borders on the reckless, Abby is a continual counsel for caution and restraint. This is partly out of her understandable desire to prevent unnecessary bloodshed, but in this instance mainly to reduce the risk of Peter being injured or killed in the resulting crossfire.
What puts that clash of approaches into still sharper relief is that, as the story opens, the Federation is not in the strongest of positions. Its military might is limited, the number of communities that have openly declared allegiance is small, and key figures in the rebel leadership are either separated from each other or at odds.
What follows is a gripping action and adventure story which very adeptly extends the listener's sense of what life under the tutelage of the Protectorate is like for those inside its sphere: an a very unedifying reality it reveals. Life in Pritchard's Scottish enclave (revealed in the first episode) is grim and exploitative, but the miners labouring in a poorly-maintained deep mine, and their families, appear to be having things considerably worse. The youngest, most-agile able-bodied men have been recruited to Malcolm's army, and if the alternative to volunteering for military service is a life of half-starved, hard-labour it's not hard to see why so many youngsters have signed up.
As the story opens, the Federation is not in the strongest of positions
As is often the case in wartime, acts of sabotage against the enemy's supply lines give rise to moral considerations. While the injured and disaffected miner Robin Bunce (a spirited turn from Owen Aaronovitch) is willing to help the rebels wreck the mineshaft, he will be under no illusions as the likely retribution that his workforce will be made to suffer. He's also aware that, if the mine is rendered unusable, his community us effectively robbing itself of its own livelihood in the process.
The storyline of Hearts and Mines should do little to strengthen the self-belief of the rebellion, which experiences a cumulative series of setbacks and missteps. Ruth is ensconced in Proctor's militia as a spy, but the fact that she's duped by the double-agent Spencer Friend is a clear indication that her own subterfuge has failed. Spencer's own success at infiltration prevents the sabotage mission at the mine from succeeding, while the poor quality of explosive fuses that the rebels source prevents them from turning the tables. That failure also means that Bunce's sacrifice is in vain, as is that of the executed militiamen.
Finally, the calamity at the coalmine breaks Abby's connection with Craig and Ruth, and sets in motion the later (and potentially devastating) misunderstandings. Things are not going well in the Federation's campaign. Were they to be judged on the disaster of this mission alone, the chances of their forces routing the Protectorate seem far from certain. It's exactly the kind of unnerving reversal of fortune that Big Finish's writing team have handled so well throughout their Survivors timline.
ABBY IS A a parent in extremis, driven harder towards her son because of his crimes and you never fail to see her point even if you don’t agree with it
Alasdair Stuart, SciFiBulletin
WE SEE HOW Craig (George Watkins) has developed into a hard-bitten rebel leader who butts heads with Abby
Ian McArdell, Indie Mac User
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