Updated: December 23 2020 09:43
As Britain falls prey to a pandemic, Robert Malcolm is torn between the responsibilities of his old life and his determination to survive
WHILE BRITAIN BUCKLES under the impact of a flu epidemic, former army man Robert Malcolm is struggling to balance the pressures of his complex personal life. Robert is revealed as a conflicted man, wracked by guilt and self-doubt about his wife Julia, a woman whose mental health collapsed following the death of their young son Henry. His wife has spent years living, in a medicated and disassociated state, in a secure asylum; while Robert has found love and intimacy in the arms of an ex-army colleague. As the world unravels with the spread of the plague, and the reality of their shared predicament becomes clear, Robert finds himself torn between his commitment to his new partner, his sense of duty towards his wife, and his evident sense of decency and concern for those in his community. With the hospital wards and facilities having slid into chaos, he decides to flee the disintegrating city, and sets off on a road trip to what he hopes will be a sanctuary, in the company of his lover, his wife and other patients from the institution. What he encounters as a result of his decision will change not only his worldview but his very nature forever...
FOR THE THIRD time in this series of Survivors audio adventures, Big Finish turns the clock back to revisit the onset of The Death. Series two opener Cabin Fever, portrayed the grim experiences of Molly trapped aboard a channel ferry in the company of the repellent Vinnie as the plague hit; while The Old Ways, the first episode of series four, presented the experience of junior civil servant Evelyn Piper, locked inside a government bunker ravaged by the pandemic.
Robert's loss of moral reason is the consequences of horrific circumstances, which compound latent personal failings
In her first script for Survivors, Jane Slavin presents the backstory of this series' (and the ninth and final series') titular antagonist. If Robert Malcolm is to be a convincing, threatening villain in the story arc to follow, it's hugely helpful that he is shown to be a three-dimensional, conflicted figure, whose loss of moral reason is the consequences of horrific circumstances, which compound latent personal failings.
As he is first introduced, Robert appears to be a decent enough, if flawed, individual. He is thoughtful and tender in his relationship with his new partner and distressed by the crushing emotional impact that the loss of his young son has had on his incarcerated wife. He's shown to be generally considerate in his interactions with others around him as they respond to the worsening 'flu' crisis the impact of which is being felt in every aspect of their shared and individual lives. There's no question that Robert feels trapped by a competing set of obligations and commitments from which there appears to be no way out, but he makes reasonable efforts to negotiate his way through the complexities of the different duties that marshall his life.
Slavin's packed and pacy script uses the context of the pandemic to outline the contours of Robert's character extremely effectively. This story shows the plague's effects being felt over a somewhat more extended period of time than has been shown in the audio adventures before. Characters report gradual, compound breakdowns in supply chains and services, as different elements of modern life give way and things previously taken for granted disappear. It's a very unnerving way to present the unravelling of society, and greatly adds to the sense of mounting dread and narrowing choices.
As he begins to grasp the full scale of the calamity overwhelming the country, Robert belatedly recognises the need to flee the city. Even as he shifts into crisis mode, this former military man still attempts to cling on to some semblance of moral behaviour, overruling the objections of his partner by collecting his wife from the hospital and then agreeing to take two more of the facilities vulnerable patients with him as he heads off in the search for sanctuary.
Writer Slavin herself joins a seriously impressive ensemble cast
Taking on a similar role to that played by Matt Fitton's Old Friends in series seven, Robert is very much a 'character' episode, one that takes a step back from the kinds of frenetic action rendered so well in the series' opener Bandit Train and finale Village of Dust to focus on the flaws, foibles and motivations of different survivors and their relationships with others in conditions of calamity.
Writer Slavin herself joins a seriously impressive ensemble cast. She's excellent in both the roles she takes on: as the considerate and pragmatic shop owner and as the fractured and unmoored Julia. Wendy Craig is a joy to listen to as endearing and quietly eccentric Elsie, who reluctantly gives shelter to Robert's rag-tag refugees, and who tries to cling to the remnants of normality as these (quite literally) fall away. The episode pivots on the character of Robert, and Hywel Morgan is completely convincing as an individual who reaches the fateful decision to renounce both the responsibilities that have 'weighed him down' in his old life and the morality which has kept this far-from-perfect figure on the side of decency until now.
A PROVOCATIVE CHARACTER piece with terrific performances all around – including two from the writer herself as both Julia and a characterful shopkeeper, and the incomparable Wendy Craig as Elsie
Ian McArdell, Indie Mac User
A COMPLEX, NUANCED, intensely dangerous man, Robert is convinced he's the hero of his own story. He may be right too.
Alasdair Stuart, SciFi Bulletin
THOUGH THE FOCUS is squarely on Hywel Morgan's performance as Robert Malcolm, the supporting cast also do an excellent job
Alex Jones, Blogtor Who
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