And so the grimness continues.
Likely the darkest series ever televised (well, perhaps rivaled by the similarly minded Noah’s Castle…) and certainly the bleakest offering ever to cross the desk of Big Finish, Terry Nation’s 70’s postapocalyptic vision of the future Survivors is very much a William Golding cum George Orwell milieu.
Driven by a regression to preindustrial and decidedly Nietzchean and Social Darwinist in nature, Nation offers little hope from the more progressive minded survivors, who encounter one horrific totalitarian situation after another, one utterly irredeemable selfish right leaning loon succeeding the next in a relentless moebius strip of horror.
Beyond asking whether we as humans can transcend our base nature to achieve a compassionate, essentially cooperative future, Nation digs deeply into his Hobbes to deliver a ringing condemnation of the species.
There is no question, he posits: we will destroy ourselves, both in macrocosm (the initial apocalypse the events of the series take place subsequent to) and in microcosm (the flaring tempers, petty power struggles and dog eat dog scenarios that the characters deal with on an individual basis, both among their weekly encounters and even amongst themselves).
Needless to say, this is not my favorite series, with its Bronson filmesque rightist flirtations. Whatever Nation’s actual intent (which was likely more humanistic if not progressive than comes off herein), the driving vector is towards getting these characters to wake up and fortify themselves against one untrustworthy newly encountered character after another. A further right leaning statement cannot be envisioned.
Our first story comes courtesy of Ken Bentley (director of the Counter-Measures, Dark Eyes and Early Adventures series, here making the move to scripting), and it’s a tale which oddly seems to lack any overriding motivation for the events herein.
Abby and Greg (teleseries veterans Carolyn Seymour and Ian McCulloch) head out on horseback in pursuit of Abby’s still-missing son (whom we were informed in the first series may have in fact survived the plague alongside a small contingent of fellow boarding schoolers) while Jenny (Lucy Fleming) bickers with Greg over his getting Abby unintentionally pregnant. There’s not much progress on either end, but that’s not what I’m referring to with the above statement.
The bulk of the tale, which is where the problem lies, revolves around Jackie and Daniel (Louise Jameson and John Banks) heading West for what they hope will be “quieter and safer country”. Unfortunately, they break down and are forced to take shelter in a local village, where for no apparent reason, the sole current resident takes it upon himself to lead the pair into a deathtrap. The rest of the story involves their attempt to escape from drowning and facing off an escaped zoo animal just outside.
So…why exactly did this fellow try to kill them off? The best we get are some vague philosophical statements about survival of the fittest, but the truth is, there appears to have been zero reason for this clown to have attempted to murder two strangers who merely sought shelter from the storm. Was he an avid Fox News viewer? A card carrying National Fronter, Reform Partier or Tea Partier? Seriously, there’s no reason given, he just does it to be eeeeeevil. Pass.
“Oh, I like them, alright…just not sure I share the politics.”
Next up, Louise Jameson herself gives us Mother’s Courage, where the reunited quintet trail Abby’s son to a feminist colony from which men have been excluded en toto. There’s a heaping helping of a historically disproven branch of feminist philosophy* and a lot of chat and female bonding between the distaff members of the cast before they discover a more sinister reality barely concealed behind their hard sell recruitment efforts and pie in the sky dogmatics…
* OK, so if men are the harbingers of doom due to their testosterone driven urges to sex and conquest, why are today’s ladies often the more aggressive parties – an assertion which proves particularly evident on the roads, mind – while modern males correspondingly move in increasing numbers towards a more yin-oriented “metrosexuality” and an unprecedented rise in oversensitive emo kids? Go ahead, pull the other leg, ladies…
A baby is delivered, there’s a fight with swarming rats and rational discourse prevails in the end (or at least Jameson allows the characters to acknowledge the sheer inanity of the colony’s demagoguery), making this one easily the most thoughtful and well considered tale of the set. Hats off to the lady for her efforts herein.
After an adventure revolving around the distaff end of the cast, we now go all manly for a bit in Bentley’s The Hunted, where Greg (Ian McCulloch), Daniel (John Banks) and Russell (Tim Treloar) go mucking about in the woods hunting for noted survivalist Irvin Warner (Tim Bentinck) in hopes of learning some much needed skills for making their way in the new, uncivilized world.
Running afoul of bear traps, what appears to be a mysterious creature hunting them down and the gun crazed “freedom lovin'” Ted Nugentesque nutcase himself, Russell and Daniel make some confessions that may or may not surprise the listener.
“It was a lot more fun when it was illegal, wasn’t it?”
But then Russell disappears, and the others argue amongst themselves while his screams echo through the night…
Well, this is a bit of an odd duck. There’s a strong extent to which this is the quiet character piece complement to the female-centric Mother’s Courage, but it’s a damn sight more grim, atmospheric and even a tad slasher horror, with all the “stalking through the woods” survivalism. While the ending is a bit dark, this is very probably the best story in this set, and a damn sight more listenable than the bizarrely motiveless Dark Rain, by the same author.
“You’re enjoying it…revelling in the absence of rules. Giving each other permission to ‘do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law’.”
“You’d be surprised how many people want to break taboos…no one sits in judgment. Who says I want to regain my humanity? Human beings are just another pack of animals…always were.”
Finally, Matt Fitton (Death Match, Equilibrium, An Ordinary Life, Signs and Wonders, Luna Romana, The Wrong Doctor, Dark Eyes) drops in for Savages, which follows the fate of Ian McCulloch’s Greg Preston from the close of The Hunted and dropping a heaping helping more of dark, rightist philosophical flirtations on the listener.
Sure, the leads are generally on the side of humanity, compassion and community…but their over-trustworthiness, lack of rural survival skills and general naivete leaves their end of the ideological dialogue feeling overly flat by comparison to the callous, self-centered and atavistic (but in the face of extreme situations, utterly logical and far more practical) “fend for yourself” crap coming from the encounter of the week…or in this case, episode.
Again, this circles back to the core problem with Nation’s Survivors in general, rather than any particulars of acting (which is strong if not quite intense across the board) or scripting (which wouldn’t be quite so upsetting if it weren’t reasonably well constructed in terms of characterization and dialogue, if not plot). So for the record, the curious need not fear: you’re in good hands as usual with the Big Finish folks.
But unless you’ve got a particular taste for schadenfreude or find yourself attempting to figure out where you stand philosophically on life and society in general, Survivors is really not the series to cut your teeth on.
And to be entirely honest about it, some of us have to deal with this sort of interpersonal philosophic dialogue and deal with these sort of attitudes on a daily basis in the real world…and thus may prefer to avoid this line and what, it must be admitted, sums up to its uncompromising realism, entirely.