Since October 2013 I have been reviewing Big Finish audios for www.planetmondas.com - and now all my reviews are collected here, please take your time to have a read.
Monday 30 November 2015
Survivors Series 3
As the mighty Tom Baker once boomed out “Britain, Britain, Britain” But what is Britain? Well apart from the obvious answer, to me Britain is a collection of many nations (England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Cornwall, Manx); an alliance bound together by an act of Union. We are home to many different creeds, cultures and philosophies. We welcome with open arms those who are different as they will enrich our society and they in turn enrich us and with evolution and learning from each. But the fundamental building blocks of fairness, liberty and respect remain in place. This is the Britain I love and this is the Britain I inhabit. I am Welsh, I am a Welsh speaker, I love my nation, but I love the whole that it is a part of; co-existence, support, respect (ribbing over sport) all part of our national make up – and as part of the European Union our cultural, philosophical and economic boundaries have grown and been enriched further. My Britain.
There are some who see Britain in a different way – they see Britain as an isolated island nation, a place where foreigners are not welcome, where those that are just a little bit different are to be feared. The sort of person who would see the pandemic in Survivors not as a disaster but as an opportunity, the sort of person who previously had their worst excesses reined in by the rule of law. The sort of person that would kill those who are different just because they are different and enjoy it. A bully, a tyrant, a bigot, a fundamentalist. Survivors Series 3 is the story of just one of those sorts of people. Survivors Series 3 is the story of John Vincent.
John Vincent, or Vinnie to his friends is a thoroughly frightening creation. A fully rounded three dimensional believable character – his hate oozes out of the production. His oily, supercilious exterior barely covering a bubbling rage. A truly hateful character and utter plaudits to Paul Thornley for bringing him to life. As far away from an arch panto villain as you can get – Thornley injects Vinnie with a visceral hate fuelled energy, a genuine belief that the pandemic was caused by foreigners. His rag tag band of Fascists have labelled themselves “The British Government” and are intent on rebuilding Britain in Vinnie’s distorted image – no foreigners, no gays, no contact with the outside world – England for the English.
The box set is spread over four interlinked stories and makes a good jumping on point for new listeners, because in episode one, we go back to the beginning, back to the pandemic:
Cabin Fever by Jonathan Morris
This is Molly’s origin story. Molly from Series 2 returns again played by Fiona Sheehan – she is being cared for by Dalton (Andrew French) as she has come down with a fever, and recounts a tale to him of how she came to survive the Pandemic. Turns out Molly was on a cross channel ferry with her friend Janet (Miranda Raison) returning to England. But England is blockaded, under quarantine because of the plague, so is the rest of Europe and they are left adrift, floating in the channel, abandoned, as death takes hold. This is a real powder keg situation and a certain Vinnie sees it as an opportunity to take command. He and his “lads” waste no time asserting their authority and as the situation worsens so Vinnie’s attitudes become more and more extreme, revealing the sort of person that he really is.
Molly it turns out is an unreliable narrator, and the story of the relationship she forms with Gloria (an unrecognisable Lisa Bowerman) is all the more horrific when the reality of the situation dawns on Dalton. Vinnie is a man who will not be crossed, will not be spoken back to and will not compromise. His character is established here – he could be just another right wing thug, but the writing and the characterisation raise him to a whole new level of evil.
Contact by Simon Clark
Remember Series 1? Remember Maddie Price (Chase Masterson) the American Attorney trapped in the UK? Well she is back, and she has a plan. Maddie is holed up in the Post Office Tower with communications expert Jonathon (James Joyce), she is the voice of London Calling – reaching out to the world on shortwave radio to try to build an international community. But she is attracting attention. Abby Grant (Carolyn Seymour) and Daniel Connor (John Banks) have worked out where she is and are heading to the tower to ask can they use the Radio to ask for help in finding Abby’s son. Others have also picked up the voice of London Calling – a certain group calling themselves “The British Government”, a group led by one John Vincent, an if there is one thing Vinnie does not want is foreigners being called in to Britain. After all in his twisted mind foreigners caused the pandemic so why invite them in. By subterfuge Vinnie works out where the broadcasts are coming from and his group set so ff to the tower to stop them. What a tense episode, the verbal sparring and pretence of Vinnie that he is respectful when he meets Abby – he is an intelligent man, he wants Abby with her cultured English voice to be the voice of the British Government – Abby stands her ground which leads to…. well that would be telling.
A very tense episode, you can just feel the disaster coming, my heart was in my mouth as I inevitably waited for Vinnie to play his hand.
Rescue by Andrew Smith
Jimmy Garland is a bit of a hero, and an excellent character, played by Richard Heffer – he is the perfect anti-Vinnie. Cultured, well spoken, intelligent and British in the best sense of the word. He is also an ex-army officer and knows a thing or two about guns and explosives. Jimmy is the sort of man that instils loyalty, not through fear but through respect – something Vinnie will never have – and what better man to lead a rescue mission to the Post Office Tower. This is a real edge of seat episode showing all the best and worst in human nature. In fact this is a theme of Survivors – the triumph of hope over fear, of cooperation over isolation and it is no better personified than in Jimmy and Vinnie.
There are some very upsetting scenes during this episode, and some of the language is unpalatable at best – but these are the sort of people we are dealing with and Andrew Smith pulls no punches in his depiction of unfettered Fascism in its purest form – disturbing and humbling.
Leaving by Matt Fitton
A rumour of a ship leaving for America is enough to get Maddie Price ready for the journey. As our heroes head for Plymouth to meet up with the Captain of “Mayflower 3” – a voyage is planned to the USA, Maddie and Daniel have passage guaranteed board the Mayflower 3 – but Vinnie and the British Government have different ideas – they want to “protect our borders” whatever the cost. A chilling and heart pounding conclusion as the forces of progress and regress have their final confrontation. Sacrifices for the good of all are made, and Survivors will never be the same again…
What an exceptional set. Exceptional. I found Vinnie abhorrent, but superbly acted, he stole the show – no scenery chewing or panto just a violent thug with no-one left to tell him no – where his world view is the world view.
The stories are moving, but they are hard going – no soft soak, this is a brutal world and even the “good guys” who are trying to maintain a form of civilisation have to do some pretty extreme things – difference is they do these things because they have to not because they want to. It is a story of hope versus fear, I vote for hope every time, but hope has a price, and a very high one at that. If I lived in the world of Survivors, I don’t think I would have lasted long – I am an idealist and this is a world where your ideals can lead to your swift demise.
Brilliantly written, utterly compellingly acted and directed, to say I enjoyed it is not quite right, but boy did I appreciate it.