Survivors: New Dawn 2 (Big Finish Review)

Survivors: New Dawn 2 is the second box set in Big Finish’s revival of its acclaimed post-apocalypse saga inspired by Terry Nation’s 1975 TV series.  Whereas New Dawn 1 (read our full review here) was an effective jumping-on point for listeners new to the series, the latest set is very much a follow-up, picking up several characters and plot threads left dangling by the previous release.  While that means it’s less recommendable if you’re entirely new to the Survivors world, it’s a very satisfying continuation of most of the elements set up in New Dawn 1.  Surprisingly, it also, in many ways, concludes them, and Big Finish has not as yet announced further plans for the range.

In Survivors’ version of 1975, the vast majority of the world’s population was swiftly wiped out by a flu-like plague (later referred to as ‘the Death’), reducing to a desperate existence the infinitesimal number who proved immune.  The timeline of the audio series has now reached the late-1990s.  A generation born after the Death are grown adults seeking to help shape a society re-emerging from the dark, and two of the original survivors, Jenny Richards (Lucy Fleming) and Abby Grant (Carolyn Seymour), are finding their place in the new world.

Jenny is now Law Minister in England’s Cambridge-based provisional government, who are about to face their first elections since the Death, but recent events have suggested that corruption may be rife among the country’s regional governors.  In particular, Abby has recently encountered a Yorkshire settlement functioning on human slavery – a fate which she herself narrowly escaped.  But the officials in Cambridge refused to act on Abby’s story without evidence, and so now she and Jenny must return to the region to gather just that.

Survivors: New Dawn 2 is written by Lizbeth Myles, Andrew Smith and Roland Moore, and directed by Ken Bentley.  It is available exclusively from the Big Finish website until 31st March 2022 and on general release after that date.

Bad Blood

Lizbeth Myles has contributed scripts to several Big Finish ranges, but this is her first for SurvivorsBad Blood sees Abby and Jenny sidetracked from their mission into Yorkshire when the governor of a region they are passing through, Helen Maxwell (Sheena Bhatessa), rescues them from an awkward encounter with roadside enforcers.  Helen’s fragile regime is under threat from an insurgent group led by Emma (Sheetal Kapoor) and, as Abby and Jenny attempt to broker a peace between them, a personal dimension to the conflict is revealed: Helen and Emma are in fact estranged twin sisters – the daughters of the recently-deceased previous governor – dealing with an especially painful rift.

Bad Blood may not be the most intense, life-or-death story ever presented by Survivors, but it is the kind of female-centric and emotionally astute tale at which the series has always excelled.  The broken relationship between Emma and Helen is affecting and strongly performed; it helps that Bhatessa and Kapoor have a vocal similarity which effectively sells their sibling status for the audio medium.

Meanwhile, Abby and Jenny each take a maternal interest in one of the twins.  This tenderness highlights the fact that the series’ two leads are now middle-aged, something that Myles made it a point to acknowledge (as she admits in the supplementary interviews).  It’s important that the stories reference that Abby and Jenny here are 25 years older than in most of the previous audios and the TV series, even if only in a few throwaway moments – sadly, however, this awareness does not seem to have made it as far as the cover art.

When First We Practise To Deceive

The middle episode of the box set steps up the tension considerably, as Abby and Jenny return to the region in which Abby suffered her harrowing near-enslavement in New Dawn 1.  Expecting trouble, they’re accompanied by a troop of rangers from a nearby province led by Yasmin Mwanza’s fiercely competent Captain Vanessa Walker.  There’s a hint of classic film thriller Bad Day at Black Rock (1955) as the group encounter shifty townsfolk who seem to have removed all evidence of previous misdeeds.  Finally Abby gets to personally encounter the regional governor about whom she has heard only very bad things, Dominic Crayle (Gareth Armstrong).

A complaint sometimes laid at the feet of Survivors on TV, and hard to entirely refute, was that most of the heroic characters spoke with cut-glass RP accents while less wholesome types were more likely to use regional dialect.  The audio series has rectified this somewhat by ensuring a strong diversity of ethnicities in its cast, but the sinister Yorkshire voices heard throughout Governor Crayle’s zone show that the stereotype hasn’t completely gone away.   Nevertheless, Armstrong plays Crayle – thoroughly denying Abby’s accusations and claiming to have been misrepresented – with sufficiently credible geniality, tempered with the nevertheless threatening edge of a powerful man being maligned in his own territory, to have the listener doubting who is in the right.

Mwanza makes Vanessa a vividly engaging addition to the cast, although the ranger’s Trinidadian heritage and the slavery theme of the story lead to a clunky exchange with Abby that one might charitably read as intentionally awkward.  That, however, is the only misstep in a story that, as our three heroines find themselves in the centre of an increasingly hostile town, seethes with a sense of threat that seems liable at any point to explode into violence.

Last Stand

Roland Moore’s closing episode begins with an attention-grabbing cold open typical of the writer, flashing to the end of the story without revealing the full context, and leaving the listener desperate to understand what they have just heard.  As with Moore’s closing contribution to the previous box set, Last Stand takes something of a left turn from the previous episode as Abby and an injured Jenny, hunted by thugs from Crayle’s zone, take refuge in a block of flats in a largely abandoned nearby city.

Here they encounter Akheel (Paul Bazely), a kindly former shopkeeper who has lived alone in the flats for more than 20 years.  Kept sane by the memory of his schoolteacher wife – whom he still hopes could be alive somewhere in the world, and might some day return to their home – Akheel has kept up a careful, solitary existence for decades.  The kindness he shows to Abby and Jenny contrasts effectively with the grisly lengths to which he’s had to go to keep his existence tenable – unable to cope with the smell of death in the flats, he personally removed and respectfully buried every deceased tenant in the building – creating an instantly engaging character.  His ultimate dilemma – whether to save his two new friends, at the cost of abandoning his long-cherished hope that his wife might return – is heartrending.

There is strong material for the women, too, as Jenny’s worsening condition forces Abby to consider a future without her after all the times that each has relied on the other.  Moore’s greatest strength is always in the characterisations; however, he does not neglect the villains, or the suspense.  The outnumbered heroes and the tower block setting suggest a vastly more dowdy take on Die Hard, and director Ken Bentley excels in conveying a number of violent confrontations through sound alone.  It’s a thoroughly gripping conclusion to the box set.

Some Final Thoughts

Big Finish’s Survivors has almost never failed to deliver gripping drama and New Dawn 2 is another definite hit.  Like many of the previous box sets, after a relatively quiet start the tension builds relentlessly, leading to a nail-biting conclusion.  It’s full of great material for Carolyn Seymour and Lucy Fleming, who – as always – rise to the occasion.  The stories are well-written, the supporting cast strong and the sound design and music impeccable.  Although it’s not a good jumping-on point for new listeners (who would be better directed to the previous box set), if you’ve been following the series up to this point, this box set is thoroughly recommendable.

The only caveat concerns whether or not New Dawn 2 is a continuation of the Survivors saga, or – as in some ways it seems to be – a final conclusion.  If it’s a conclusion, it’s less powerful and somehow less necessary than 2019’s Series Nine, which brought things to a head with real impact.  At the same time, the two New Dawn sets have set up a wider world very worthy of more detailed exploration, and not only some new characters but a whole conceptual generation whose outlook and progress would be well worth following.

Big Finish are being very canny, perhaps, in having it both ways.  If Survivors does not continue, then New Dawn will stand as an effective coda to the series that uses its legacy characters extremely well.  On the other hand, its glimpse into the wider world hints at a direction for the series going forward, focusing on a new generation and the slow development of a new way of life.  The pertinent question for potential listeners, then, is whether New Dawn is satisfying on its own terms as a piece of storytelling.  For this reviewer, it is.

Extras

The bite-size cast and crew interviews which traditionally accompany Big Finish stories are, as ever, insightful, enjoyable and full of enthusiasm.  The rapport and warmth between Seymour and Fleming is hugely likeable and engaging – they’re interested not only in their work on their own characters but in the stories themselves and the characters encountered by Abby and Jenny.  All the writers contribute.  Younger than many of the audio series’ writers, Lizbeth Myles came to the TV original in the era of UK Gold repeats rather than its 1970s heyday but her praise for it, and excitement at being able to contribute to the ongoing story, is fulsome and articulate.  Intriguingly, she refers to her script as ‘Blood Borne’, suggesting a late-in-the-day title change.

Synopsis

The world has ended. The pandemic crossed continents, sparing only a fraction of the global population. The survivors are now trying to pick up the pieces and rebuild society to create a new future. But with only a handful of towns and cities starting to rise from the ashes, and governance and law-making in a fragile, fledgling state, everyone must start over. And the worst of human nature has survived along with the best.

Abby Grant and Jenny Richards face a renewed fight for survival…

2.1 Bad Blood by Lizbeth Myles

Abby and Jenny are heading north when they’re thrown into the middle of a conflict between two rival factions. Learning someone has tried to assassinate the local Governor, is there anything they can do to prevent further violence and bloodshed?

2.2 When First We Practise to Deceive by Andrew Smith

Abby and Jenny reach the Zone controlled by Governor Dominic Crayle. He has serious questions to answer, but Crayle will go to any lengths to protect his secrets.

2.3 Last Stand by Roland Moore

In the overgrown remains of an abandoned city, a new friend helps Abby and Jenny make a last stand against a determined enemy.

Cast

Carolyn Seymour (Abby Grant)

Lucy Fleming (Jenny Richards)

Gareth Armstrong (Dominic Crayle)

Paul Bazely (Akhil Sarkar)

Sheena Bhattessa (Helen Maxwell)

Sheetal Kapoor (Emma Maxwell)

Yasmin Mwanza (Vanessa Walker / Tanya)

Joshua Riley (Perry ‘Pyro’ Bennett)

Sam Stafford (Sean Douglas / Tom Dillon)

 

Credits

Script Editors Roland Moore Andrew Smith

Written by Lizbeth Myles Andrew Smith and Roland Moore

Senior Producer David Richardson

Cover Art by Tom Newsom

Director Ken Bentley

Executive Producer Jason Haigh-Ellery and Nicholas Briggs

Music by Nicholas Briggs

Producer Emma Haigh

Sound Design by Lee Adams

Theme Music by Anthony Isaac

Based on the format created by Terry Nation

 

Recommended Listening

Survivors: New Dawn 1

Survivors: Revelation (available for free)

Survivors by Terry Nation (audiobook)

TD Velasquez is a writer, film fan, author of the blog Life Is About Fiction (@LifeIsAboutFic), and a host on the horror-flavoured British podcast, --And Now The Podcast Starts!! (@AndNowPodcast)

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