Review by Ian McArdell
Ghosts and Demons is the latest story from the world of Terry Nation’s Survivors. While the audio dramas have pushed the timeframe on to the late 1990s with New Dawn, this story is firmly lodged within Series 1 of the television show (set around the time of the episode Something of Value). Indeed, the challenges our heroes face during the story are rooted in the events of that episode. As with some of the best of the full-cast range, Ghosts and Demons offers us multiple ways into the story by following the experiences of the characters through the early stages of “the death”. In most cases, it’s tragedy; for others, it’s freeing.
Here we meet a loner soldier, horrified by what he’s asked to do, and a mis-matched family drawn together through adversity. Then there’s a more familiar face, Anne Tranter – perhaps the ultimate survivor – using her wits and her sexuality to exert control of a country house where a noble butler still serves his aristocratic masters despite it all.
Then there’s Tommy, leader of a vicious gang of lads, who’s worst impulses have been given free rein by the collapse of law and order. With a chip on his shoulder and any societal restraints on his worst impulses long gone, those who encounter him are subject to his brutal whims. Tommy’s gang leave a trail of wanton (and murderous) destruction in their wake and he rules by fear.
At The Grange, our Survivors heroes are going through a rough patch too. Due to a concatenation of unlucky events, they find supplies running low and their ability to trade a necessity. Everything rests on Greg Preston’s ability to fix their fuel tanker, but he’s having a crisis of his own. Triggered by having had to shoot looter who was trying to steal their essential fuel supply, Greg has lost something even more vital: hope. It’s not the act of killing a man that rocks him, but the well of despair it opens when he realises how far society has crumbled.
As the story develops, all these disparate groups are inevitably drawn together and the narrative strings are pulled expertly by writer Ethan Milsea. Survivors stories are always strong stuff, how could they be otherwise, but this tale is one of the most brutal. While the violence is not shied away from, indeed there are a number of cold-blooded killings, at times what’s implied is even worse.
Amid the carnage however, the author effortlessly demonstrates their understanding of the show’s regulars – from Abby’s ever-present thoughts of her son to Jenny’s struggle to understand where she fits with Greg, and Viv’s desire to make himself useful despite his disability. They also shine a light on the mental toll that a global pandemic could have on those who survive it, through a variety of characters. Given the state of the world at present, it’s certainly food for thought.
In her role as narrator, Carolyn Seymour tells the tale in a compelling fashion. Her characterisation of the lads in Tommy’s gang infantilised them in the most terrifying manner, adding a layer of immaturity that I found chilling over and above the implications of their murderous actions.
All in all, Ghosts and Demons is an excellent Survivors story, full-bloodied and not for the faint of heart. It may be Ethan Milsea’s debut novel for Big Finish, but on the strength of this I hope he will be asked back for more (NB. It has not gone unnoticed that Ethan Milsea is an anagram of Alan Smithee).
Survivors: Ghosts and Demons is available on CD and download from Big Finish.
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