Big Finish: SURVIVORS: NEW DAWN 2 Review - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Big Finish: SURVIVORS: NEW DAWN 2 Review

It’s the end of the world as we know it – and Tony feels fine.
Survivors at Big Finish has been a long journey – 11 box sets, going back to the beginnings of the original series premise, and recounting the events of the pandemic Death.

It brought back the three original key survivors, Abby Grant, Jenny Richards, and Greg Preston (Carolyn Seymour, Lucy Fleming, and Ian McCulloch, respectively), and ran the scenario forward, sometimes in line with the 1975 TV version, and frequently exploring sidelines, bringing in other characters, and very often going much broader in scope and darker in tone than the TV version ever had the budget, the time, or in point of fact the general audience to do.

To call Survivors the jewel in the Big Finish crown serves only to belittle all the OTHER jewels in the company’s storehouse. But certainly, if you’re a fan of ridiculously high quality human drama, Survivors is a series you don’t want to let slide by you.

Why the eulogy?

Because Survivors: New Dawn 2 looks like it’s the last set in the run of Survivors stories – certainly for now, possibly forever. Certainly, by advancing the timeline of Survivors by 15 years between Survivors 9 and New Dawn 1, there are productive gaps in which – who knows? – a whole new group of post-Death Survivor stories could be fitted (the rise of the woman who becomes Prime Minister, Celia Tate, for instance – just saying…). And there’s always potential to extend the story beyond the restoration of at least a form of British democracy, especially given how potentially corrupt the structures of power are shown to be in New Dawn 1. Survivors: Revolution, maybe, with Abby and her friends toppling a government that no longer serves the people?

But New Dawn 2 takes us to a place and time where the run of stories at Big Finish at least has a coherent end-point, a point at which, should there be no more Survivors from Big Finish, it won’t feel like an unfinished symphony.

That said, Bad Blood, by Lizbeth Myles, starts off the set with a retro feeling of the immediately post-Death years, where the governance of a zone is contested between the two surviving daughters of a former, officially-appointed governor. The Maxwell sisters, Helen and Emma (Sheena Bhattessa and Sheetal Kapoor respectively), are both essentially living out their mother’s plans for their zone – a kind of (oh gods, please forgive us) Zexit from the new federal government. But while Helen assumes nominal control and the relative plushness of the governor’s house, as in an aristocratic family, Emma gets her Robin Hood on and sets up a gang of vigilantes, stopping strangers and making them pay tolls to fund their minor revolution.

What complicates all this is that Helen’s ex-boyfriend, Sean (Sam Stafford), left her – for her sister! He’s now Little Sean to Emma’s Robin, a vital voice in her counsels, but sometimes over-reaching his authority.

Into this Succession-style dynastic squabble ride Jenny, the Law Minister for the new government, and Abby, a wanted woman. They’re soon separated, and each begin working on one of the sisters, urging reconciliation, compromise, and in Jenny’s case, submission to the rule of law, because after all, governor’s aren’t governors until they’re FORMALLY appointed, so technically, the authoritarian Helen is as much in violation of the law as her revolutionary sister.

Lizbeth Myles here sets the tone of New Dawn 2 perfectly – the tantalising hint of an achievable stability, threatened by personal interest, emotional responses to intellectual problems, and the potential actions of people trained by the post-Death years to act purely in the interests of themselves and their people. That’s a note that carries through all three stories in this set, but it’s most poignantly delivered here because of the family element and the messy relationship dynamic, with Sean acting as a surprising lynchpin on which the future of the zone and its stability depends.

It would spoiler you to explain how events play out, but there are fires in the night, assassination attempts, denials, betrayals, the reconciliation of some of the players, daring rooftop rescues, and a couple of enjoyable call-backs to other Survivors box sets along the way before Abby and Jenny feel able to leave the zone.

That’s the nail-biting joy of Lizbeth Myles’ story here – it combines the overarching theme of potential stability and easy chaos with a personal story of family grief and complicated relationships, and still manages to tell a tense adventure story of bullets, burnings, races and rescues, with both of our seasoned Survivors automatically pulling for reconciliation and progress. You need some serious writing skill to pull off a balance like that without making the wiring of what you’re doing too obvious, and Lizbeth Myles, along with script editor Andrew Smith, deliver it with an aplomb that not only makes it look easy but also never gives you a neon sign of quite how clever they’ve been. That means all you’re left with is a belter of a tale that satisfies on lots of levels simultaneously.

If there’s one issue with the story, it’s that after the events that closed out New Dawn 1 (Nope, no spoilers), you almost automatically expect them to be referenced at the start of New Dawn 2, and they aren’t. In fact, they don’t get a mention till the end of the box set, which, here in the non-Survivors universe feels a touch harsh. But then, in the Survivors world, there’s a sense that you deal with emotional trauma and loss when there’s time and luxury to do so, and not before. That’s a reality that smooths out even this smallest of niggles.

The last two stories of New Dawn 2 follow up on Abby’s experiences in New Dawn 1, where she was captured and held in a slave auction in the otherwise unassuming town of Thirsk. She’s since been unable to convince Prime Minister Celia Tate that the governor, Dominic Crayle, is running a slave economy in the north, become a wanted woman and gone on the run. But in episode 2 of New Dawn 2, When First We Practise To Deceive by Andrew Smith, Abby and Jenny go back to Crayle’s domain, this time with a troop of rangers, to give the place an official once-over and if necessary, enforce the law.

Crayle, played by Gareth Armstrong, is accommodating, plausible, and claims to have never heard of any slave auctions, or the men who captured, sold, and bought Abby on her last visit, and her having escaped before she was brought onto Crayle’s property weakens the evidence of her experience.

A guided tour reveals nothing untoward to Jenny – no slave workforce, no words out of place – though that in itself only deepens her suspicions of a cover-up, because she understandably believes her friend over some unknown quantity of a northern governor.

Meanwhile, Abby and the leader of the sanctioned rangers, Vanessa Walker (Yasmin Mwanza) go to investigate the farm of the man who first captured Abby, only to find it wrecked, empty – and with a vicious surprise waiting for them. Similar investigations of the location of the slave market find it ‘accidentally’ burned to the ground, and no-one able to shed any light on the affair.

Running into Crayle’s own rangers, Tom Dillon (Sam Stafford, doing double ‘wrong ’un’ duty in this box set) and ‘Pyro’ Bennett (Joshua Riley), Abby and Vanessa suspect the whole thing stinks to high heaven, but on joining up with Jenny after their exploits, they still have no hard evidence with which to confront Crayle or recommend his dismissal.

As is the way of these stories, it’s dangerous to spoiler you too much, especially when there’s a story balanced on how credible the memory of one of our core survivors is, but without telling you that Abby and Jenny find at least what they believe is enough evidence of wrongdoing to report back to the Prime Minister and bring Crayle’s world crashing down around his ankles, episode 3 will be impossible to talk about.

When First we Practise To Deceive is another pivot-balanced story, this time centred on what the truth is, and how you determine it. If no evidence exists but what one person remembers, where does the truth lie? In the word of the victim, or the word of the accused? Look hard enough and you’ll always find an ethical dilemma in Andrew Smith’s work, and here, it’s that question of the burden of truth. Can the convenient non-existence of evidence be construed AS evidence? We’re torn with Jenny’s dilemma of absolutely believing the victim, while knowing that there’s not enough evidence to convict Crayle – until, just possibly, there is.

Oh, and while we’re here, two other points. When the issue of a slave market was raised in New Dawn 1, it was interesting that it was regarded as a new barbarity – not least because Abby and many of the other slaves were white. When First We Practise To Deceive raises the obvious point that there has been a long tradition of white English people enslaving non-white people around the world, when Abby says as much to Vanessa, who is proud of her Trinidadian heritage. Her answer ignores a lot of historical pain, as people in a post-Death world would likely do. “Still a terrible thing to do,” she reasons, and sets herself against it, whoever the victims are. Vanessa’s very much a stand-out character in this episode, and Yasmin Mwanza in future Big Finish releases? Oh hell to the yes please. Again, not for nothing, but a gap-filling Survivors series that goes back and includes her journey (some of which we hear about in this episode) would be entirely welcome too.

Last Stand, by Roland Moore, does exactly what it claims to do – gives us a dramatic stand-off in which can be read the underlying struggle of the world to rise above savagery and self-interest to return to a state of law and order, where justice can at least potentially thrive and be trusted equally across society. OK, admittedly, ‘return’ might be putting it a touch strongly, but you get the idea.

With Abby and Jenny fleeing Crayle’s zone, with what both he and they think is enough evidence of wrongdoing to bring his governorship to an end, Crayle and his acolytes ride out after them. That’s the cue for some positively Western-style action, with tracking, gun-play, and the discovery of a lone helpmate in the remains of a desolated city.

When Jenny is injured in the chase, Akhil Sarkar (Paul Bazely) takes our heroes in, but with Crayle and Pyro – not a nickname you just stumble across during the course of your everyday life - laying siege to the place, the battle is once more between the forces of a positive future (Abby and Jenny), and the forces of a relearned primitivism (the besiegers) consuming that potential.

If Vanessa is the stand-out character of episode 2, there’s little doubt that Akhil is a new favourite in episode 3, and when we learn his reasons for still being here, all these years after the Death, he becomes a proverb of hope against hope in our hearts, even if, as Abby somewhat cruelly tells him, the hope is forlorn.

There are enough reversals of fortune in this story to keep us guessing all the way to the end, including at least a couple of “Wait, we thought you were dead” moments. Like all the best Westerns though, this is the story of order and chaos, personified by people and groups, and affected by their actions, the stands they take, and even the deaths they die.

While, most of the way long, it might feel like that’s ALL this story is, the ending puts the struggle of our Survivors into a broader context still, and pays homage to all the OTHER Survivors we’ve known and loved along the way. If you’ve followed the Big Finish Survivors series from the start, it recapitulates how far you’ve come – even if you did leap forward 15 years pretty recently.

Survivors: New Dawn 2 is both the conclusion we need to the events of New Dawn 1, and a journey through the ease with which stable systems can dissolve into chaos and violence without constant vigilance. It’s a fitting tribute to the message that has been at the heart of Survivors since the very beginning – that people working together can conquer all the difficulties we make for ourselves, and stand at least some chance of beating even those natural disasters that we encounter, particular in a post-pandemic world.

If you’ve been at all invested in the Survivors journey at Big Finish, you need to know how it ends. New Dawn 2 ends in a way that proves the quality of Big Finish stewardship of the properties for which it has a license, because, more than any other iteration of the Survivors story, it will leave you nodding your head in approval.

Survivors: New Dawn 2 is exclusively available to buy from the Big Finish website until 31 March 2022, and on general sale after this date.

Tony lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who, Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the 70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By day, he runs an editing house, largely as an excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book. With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at

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