Kirsty, Stella, Ian and Dan gather for the last time this series, to cast their minds back over the podcast so far and discuss whatever comes to mind. Meanwhile, Howard (who has now recovered from his COVID-19 jab) phones in for another delve into the Bag of Death.
The show will now go on a short hiatus. We’ll be returning around June to discuss, once again, the best and worst of horror with the choicest of guests. In the meantime, keep an eye on our webite, andnowpodcast.com, for new content, follow us on Twitter (@AndNowPodcast, @KirstyWorrow, @StellaGaynor, @IanWinterton, @LifeIsAboutFic and @LeeCushingPod) and consider donating to our Patreon page.
(Footnote: Apologies that this episode is dropping a day or so late. This is due to Dan being involved in an almost nasty accident. He’s okay, though, and no-one else was hurt.)
We have a sea of recommendations to tide you over:
The Love Witch is streaming via All4 (free in the UK) until 20th April
It’s time to wrap up the first series of –And Now The Podcast Starts! with a general chat between Kirsty, Stella, Ian and Dan as they reflect on producing 60-odd episodes of horror discussions during a global pandemic, pick out some favourite moments, and add in some bits they meant to say about earlier topics. More in this style next week, and then we’re taking three months off.
Please note: the sound quality is a little lower than usual this week, as a tight turnaround caused by everyone’s pre-Easter work pressures meant we had to use the Zoom sound recording and didn’t have time to edit it much.
Relevant Links and Availability
Owen’s appearance on Blue Peter can be seen on BBC iPlayer
NB. Contrary to what Dan says on the podcast, The Wicker Man (1973 disguised as 2006 version) is no longer streaming for free to Amazon Prime subscribers in the UK. The 2006 version is available to Starzplay subscribers
A return to 2018 (oh, those carefree, carefree days) this episode, as we release the second-to-last of our series of Halloween franchise reviews recorded in that year, with our look at Rob Zombie’s sequel to his own remake. Usual suspects Dan and Howard are joined by regular Halloween guests Spider-Dan (who at the time of recording was only just starting his own illustrious podcast) and actor, writer and sometime Michael Myers, Luke Richards. But what will be their verdict? As if you can’t guess.
Relevant Links and Availability
Halloween II (2009) is available on DVD, Blue-Ray or rental streaming via Amazon or YouTube. It can also be streamed for free to members of Shudder
Spider-Dan is on Twitter and his podcast’s website is here
Luke Richards is also on Twitter: follow him to learn more about his Halloween fan film, One Night in Haddonfield
Don’t Breathe is showing on Film4 in the UK at 11.15pm on Saturday 27th March
The Battersea Poltergeist podcast is still available for download here and begins broadcasting every weekday at 11.30pm on Radio 4 from Monday 29th March
The Guest is showing on Sony Movies in the UK at 11.20pm on Tuesday 30th March
The Terror can be streamed via BBC iPlayer and is showing in the UK on BBC2 at 9pm on Wednesdays
Overlord is showing on Film4 in the UK at 10.45pm on Friday 2nd April
Please note: this piece was originally written in 2019, but it was never published (mainly because it was too bloomin’ long). Our chat about Survivors in the most recent episode of the podcast inspired Dan to put it on the blog…
Most important points first: Survivors is the best series of audio dramas that Big Finish Productions have ever made, and this is the final box set. 2019 is rife with conclusions to long-running epics, from Marvel’s cinematic universe to TV’s Game of Thrones to the Skywalker saga, but Survivors dwarfs all of them, this release completing a story arc that original writer Terry Nation began on TV in 1975. But is it a worthy conclusion, and was the protracted journey worth it in the end? Survivors Series Nine is written by Jane Slavin, Christopher Hatherall, Roland Moore and Andrew Smith, and directed by Ken Bentley. It is available for purchase as a CD or download directly from the Big Finish website (where the first episode of the series can be downloaded for free) or on CD from other retailers.
9.1 The Farm by Jane Slavin
After a short, sharp coup, power has shifted and a new order asserts control over the country. Meg Pritchard believes she is the leader who can draw together the threads of civilisation.
With the men sent to war, Jenny must help the women of ‘The Farm’ see the truth behind their new society.
9.2 Hearts and Mines by Christopher Hatherall
The Protectorate now holds resources once shared by the Federation. Its enemies are branded terrorists, as they skirmish up and down the country.
Craig wants to strike a decisive blow, while Abby still hopes for reconciliation. Ruth is caught between her friends: can she stop them both from making terrible mistakes?
9.3 Fade Out by Roland Moore
Robert Malcolm is closing in on the ringleaders still struggling against the Protectorate. One of his soldiers has reasons to make this fight personal.
But the fugitives, hiding in an abandoned cinema, find that people are tired of war. When the soldiers come to town, for some, this will be their last stand.
9.4 Conflict by Andrew Smith
The Protectorate tightens its grip on the fragile infrastructure of a country in recovery. All stirrings of rebellion must be crushed.
But Jenny has a plan to unseat its leaders once and for all. And now she and Abby are heading inexorably towards a final confrontation.
This article contains no spoilers for this box-set but does reveal some character developments from earlier in the series.
Oh, to hell with it. In case you’re a fan of the Survivors TV series and audios, who’s been following the saga but hasn’t yet heard the finale, let me answer my last two questions with a simple “Yes”. All four episodes in this box-set are high-quality, unfailingly gripping drama, and the finale – from the pen of one of Big Finish’s finest writers – is thoroughly convincing and satisfying. TV Survivors ended inconclusively in 1977, but thanks to this audio series, the arcs of almost all of its major characters finally come to a meaningful end. Stop reading this review, and go and listen to it now.
However, if perhaps you aren’t so familiar with the history of either the TV or audio series, allow me to wax lyrical.
The premise of Survivors is joyously simple and immediately fascinating: 99.9% of the world’s population are suddenly wiped out by a flu-like plague, and the naturally-immune 0.01% left behind must find a way to begin again. I’m a sucker for post-apocalyptic fiction and a few years I go I found myself, in a binge that was deep even by my standards, imbibing multiple end-of-the-world narratives at once. I watched The Walking Dead, read F Paul Wilson’s Adversary Cycle, even worked in a Scream Park (where, as a miscellaneous ghoul, I got to wander through a zombie-infested wasteland looking for tourists who wanted their picture taken with me).
But, gripping though many of these frolics often were, the one which by most affected me was, by far, Survivors. It turned out that of the vast array of fiends that seem to come to prominence following every fictional apocalypse – the zombies, vampires, giant insects, murderous flora and the rest – nothing was as chilling as Survivors’ ultimate demon: simply a terrible, terrible quiet.
In the first TV episode, The Fourth Horseman – still one of the most intentionally shattering viewing hours ever presented as entertainment – Abby Grant (Carolyn Seymour) wanders through her Kent village searching for anyone else who may have proved immune. In one of a number of bone-chilling moments presented with matter-of-fact starkness, she finds a church full of corpses and, looking up to the skies, intones in a simple, plaintive voiceover: “Oh God, please don’t let me be the only one.”
Abby only appeared in the first of Survivors’ three TV seasons, Seymour leaving the show reportedly due to disagreements with producer Terence Dudley, who may have been unhappy paying the high salary she commanded (the highest of any actress at the BBC at the time). One of the many joys of the Big Finish continuation is that it brought Seymour back to the role after 39 years and has given her ample opportunity to prove that she was (and still is) worth every penny that Dudley allegedly begrudged.
Abby had disappeared from the TV show apparently in search of Peter, her unseen son – known to have been on a boarding school field trip when the plague struck, and thus possibly still alive – leaving a key storyline unresolved until Big Finish picked it up and took it in a surprising direction. Over the course of nine box-sets, Abby’s search has brought her to many a dead-end – I’m thinking particularly of Roland Moore’s heart-wrenching Journey’s End from Series Seven – and Seymour has always portrayed Abby’s indefatigable drive and near-self-destructive obsessiveness with such realism it’s occasionally hard to listen.
And yet, as this finale shows, Abby remains an inspirationally brave and heroic character, someone who you’d hope would be there at the dawn of a new world, who holds on to her compassion despite repeated encounters with the worst of humanity. Ever since she burned her house down and cut her hair short at the end of The Fourth Horseman – saying goodbye to her old life to give herself the best chance of finding a new one – she’s never lost her steely resolve, or her ability to do the unexpected, in the face of an agonising decision.
The Big Finish Survivors began in 2014 (ignoring the continuity of a TV remake transmitted in 2008-9) and initially had the same relationship to the original TV show as Fear the Walking Dead has to The Walking Dead: starting the story from the same point and depicting events from the perspective of different characters in a different location. While Abby’s apocalypse was largely rural and middle-class, the end portended by an epidemic of late-running trains and the breakdown of the phone link to her son’s boarding school, Matt Fitton’s award-winning Revelation kicked off the audio series with the claustrophobic terror of London in collapse and Heathrow in quarantine.
Over the course of several episodes, the audio series established its own group of survivors including Daniel Connor (John Banks), Maddie Price (Chase Masterson), and Jackie Burchall (Louise Jameson) before gradually bringing them into contact with characters and actors from the TV original, including Abby, Jenny Richards (Lucy Fleming), Greg Preston (Zombie Flesh Eaters star Ian McCulloch), Jimmy Garland (Richard Heffer) and Ruth Anderson (the embattled young medic exemplified on TV by the late Celia Gregory but in the audios perfectly recast with Helen Goldwyn).
In fact, the only major TV character missing from the audio series is Charles Vaughn, the commune leader played charismatically by Dennis Lill (Only Fools and Horses, Rumpole of the Bailey, Sherlock Holmes – to name just a few of many significant credits). The non-appearance of Charles has apparently been due to rights issues, as he wasn’t actually created by Terry Nation, but he finally gets a graceful name-check in Andrew Smith’s finale script – he was just off-stage all the time.
The horror that all the characters in Survivors must face is that of a world in which not only their loved ones, but every single person they’ve ever known, is gone, and the from-scratch rebuilding of civilisation must be down to them. Given the premise of the series, by these final episodes, many of the initial survivors are no longer, well, surviving.
It’s several years since the plague that became known as ‘the Death’, Greg’s attempt to set up a federation between burgeoning communities has fallen down, and in its place has risen the Protectorate, a kind of military dictatorship headed by Meg Pritchard (Richendra Carey).
A persistent motif across both the TV series and audios has been how the power vacuum left by the Death has provided an easy step towards fascism, as the terrified survivors, desperate for leadership and stability, become prone to follow clever bullies who are able to make their heartlessness look like strength. Pritchard is the apotheosis of this tendency, played by Carey with just enough charm to be a credible leader to her immediate followers (who include, for complex but believable reasons, Abby) but viewed with enough scepticism by the remote communities that rebellion is brewing.
One of the resistance leaders is Jenny Richards, and the episodes set the stage for a powerful confrontation between the two former friends. It feels significant and satisfying that the audio series should include this in its conclusion, given that Fleming and Seymour share a history going back to the first TV episode, and also that Lucy Fleming is able to match Carolyn Seymour beat-for-beat in emotional intensity.
(Fleming is a rarely-employed actor perhaps more famous for being the inheritor of the estate of her uncle Ian – creator of James Bond – than for her acting, but she’s terrific here. One of the joys of the TV show is watching her quick development from an earnest but slightly wooden presence in the early episodes – at one point the director pans away from her face to a symbolic shot of rain puddles to suggest Jenny’s anguish, perhaps because the young actress wasn’t able to produce tears on camera – to a performer capable of a really visceral realism by the second season.)
A criticism of the TV series was that, as it went on – especially in the second and third series, which were not overseen by Terry Nation – it moved away from the brutal, stark horror of the post-Death world and towards a more pastoral kind of survival, as the characters settled into communes and were challenged more often by the practicalities of farming than by the dark depths of human nature revealed by the new world. It could still be powerful stuff on occasion (the episodes written by Greg actor McCulloch are especially strong) but something of the original flavour was lost.
The audio series has largely remedied this by bringing on a strong procession of villains to keep the survivors under maximum stress. The TV series did this too, but more sporadically, and with characters who tended to pop up for one memorable episode and then disappear. The audio series has often used its format to improve on this: with exceptions (Series Six and Seven), each box-set tells a serialised and contained story which affords time to explore antagonists’ motivations, rationale and humanity, lending typically villainous character types a depth and believability which increases their menace.
Apart from Meg Pritchard, the main ‘villain’ of Series Nine is Robert Malcolm (Hywel Morgan), the principled but frighteningly ruthless commander of Pritchard’s military. An army officer before the Death, Malcolm benefits from the long-form storytelling even more then preceding antagonists: he was introduced in Series Eight and even given a flashback episode allowing listeners to re-experience the collapse of civilisation from his viewpoint and to feel the impact of everything he lost. He also benefits from the hugely menacing performance of Morgan, whose Welsh accent lends his speeches a hint of persuasive charm that leaves listeners in no doubt that he does not trade in empty threats.
Unlike lesser mid-tier villains, Morgan genuinely cares about the soldiers under his command, and is clear-eyed about the faults of his superior; in a different world, he could’ve been a good man. But his strategic competence, his sincere belief in the necessary use of force and his ability to exploit his hold over Abby mean that he evokes a constant sense of danger.
Every episode in this box-set has a foreboding electronic music score by Nicholas Briggs, Big Finish’s multi-talented executive producer (forever doomed to be remembered for perhaps his least-favourite but most culturally significant gig: he’s voiced the Daleks and Cybermen on TV Doctor Who since 2005). The use of music is striking in both the TV and audio versions of Survivors. Incidental music is entirely absent in the TV series, subtly emphasising the lonely desolation inherent in the premise and lending a matter-of-fact quality to the stark societal horrors presented. (It was a point lost in the 2008 remake, wherein the scene described above, with Abby despairingly appealing to God as she fears she is alone in the new world, was undermined by a cacophonous accompaniment that suggested a 180-piece orchestra was just around the corner.)
Big Finish realised that a complete lack of musical score might be a mistake in audio drama – where the music often fills in for a lack of visuals – and so Briggs, and later composers, compromised by opting for sparing use of unmelodic stings and washes which aurally suggest the harsh emptiness of the post-Death world. Over the course of the nine box-sets, however, more melody has crept into the scores, and it seems appropriate that the final box set features the most musically-nuanced backing of the series.
The TV episodes always began and ended with different arrangements of Anthony Isaac’s theme tune: doom-laden, dramatic and largely electronic for the opening titles, and then epically orchestral (and tentatively hopeful) for the end credits. To me, this seemed to reflect the journey that the survivors must take if humanity is to prevail: to recover from the shock of the Death itself and build the foundations for a future society that might be better than the one they knew. While the focus of the final episodes are, rightly, on the plight of the characters we have followed since the beginning, Smith’s script (and Briggs’ score) is peppered with details which suggest that a new day might be about to dawn for this world.
How ironic that this, at least for the moment, is to be the last of Big Finish’s Survivors. The company has taken inspiration from Terry Nation’s original and created a genuinely believable, fascinating and powerfully affecting world. If they were ever to revisit it, there would be endless angles for fruitful exploration: the series is effectively alternative history, in which civilisation collapsed in 1975 – so, one can’t help but wonder, what’s the Survivors version of 2019 like? Perhaps, if sales pick up, we might one day get to answer that question. But with regard to this box-set, Abby, Jenny and the others have the finale they have always deserved.
As with many Big Finish box-set releases, each disc features a suite of behind-the-scenes interviews. The commitment of everyone involved, and their well-justified pride in their work, is clear, if tinged with a little sadness that this is the end of the run. Producer David Richardson doesn’t rule out a hypothetical return to the Survivors world one day, but is coy about what form it may take. Like the series’ own characters, we live in hope.
Dan used to love post-apocalypse horror, especially the BBC’s ‘humanity-destroying plague’ classic, Survivors (1975-77). But he hasn’t re-watched it since COVID-19 hit, as he feared it would be too much like real life; for the same reason he hasn’t seen Steven Soderbergh’s eerily prophetic film Contagion (2011), which has had a new lease of life on streaming since lockdown. Stella and Ian join him in rediscovering these chilling tales and to discuss horror in a time of pandemic. And there’s another phone call from Howard, bringing The Bag of Death.
Please note, the general discussion of Contagion and the first episodes of the TV and audio versions of Survivors contains some minor spoilers (as well as a spoiler for the opening scene of the first episode of The Walking Dead).
00.00.41 Introduction and news
00.10.55 The Walking Dead opening analysis (includes a spoiler)
00.16.10 Pandemic horror introduction
00.20.07 Contagion chat
00.41.21 Survivors (TV) chat
00.56.50 Survivors (audio) chat
01.10.50 The Bag of Death (with Howard)
Relevant Links and Availability
Contagion (2011) is currently free to stream if you’re an Amazon Prime subscriber in the UK
Survivors, the 1975-77 TV series, can be streamed via BritBox in the UK (as Stella mentions, some of it is also on YouTube – but it shouldn’t be)
Survivors, the 2014-2019 audio series, is available to buy from the Big Finish website (they offer the first episode as a free download here)
Dan’s review of Survivors Series Nine (2019) will soon be posted on our own blog page
Waco: Madman or Messiah is currently streaming on Netflix in the UK
The brilliant drama/documentary podcast The Battersea Poltergeist has just completed its eight-part run on BBC Radio 4 (although a bonus ninth episode is due to be released in a couple of weeks), and it’s also available on BBC Sounds and all the podcatchers. Kirsty and Ian have been raving about it for weeks, and finally Stella and Dan are caught up and just as enthused about its brilliant mix of investigation and storytelling.
The show’s writer and host, Danny Robins, was kind enough to give us an hour of his time for a fascinating chat about the inspirations behind the series, his status as a ‘hopeful sceptic’ and the impact of the show itself. The first part of the chat is spoiler-free and there’ll be a warning when spoilers are imminent. We’re confident that, if you haven’t yet listened to The Battersea Poltergeist, after hearing Danny talk for just a few minutes, you’ll be switching podcasts (temporarily, of course).
Following this there’ll be a call from Howard in his now-traditional Bag of Death segment.
00.09.17 Introduction to The Battersea Poltergeist (although Dan calls it ‘The Battersea Podcast’ because he’s an idiot)
00.24.00 Danny Robins interview (non-spoiler)
00.47.30 Danny Robins interview (spoiler)
01.29.35 The Bag of Death (with Howard)
Relevant Links and Availability
The Battersea Poltergeist is available to stream worldwide via BBC Sounds and other podcast platforms
Of Danny’s other shows, Folsom Untold is available on Audible, while Haunted is available on iTunes and other podcast platforms
NBC’s Hannibal (2013-15) brought to the small screen, and re-imagined, the world of FBI profiler Will Graham and his colleague/nemesis, cannibalistic psychiatrist Dr Hannibal Lecter, after their introduction in Thomas Harris’ novel Red Dragon (1981) and its subsequent sequels and film adaptations. Kirsty and (to a lesser extent) Dan have been talking about devoting episodes to it since the beginning of this podcast, and now the show is finally getting the spotlight it deserves with the first of a three-part, season-by-season retrospective.
Joining us on this journey will be two very special guest ‘Fannibals’. Dr Rebecca Williams, Senior Lecturer in Communication, Media and Cultural Studies at the University of South Wales, and Dr Lori Hitchcock Morimoto, lecturer in Media Studies at the University of Virginia, combine scholarly insight with irrepressible enthusiasm in an in-depth but (mostly) spoiler-free discussion with Kirsty and Dan of what makes this such a remarkable season. Following this, Stella, Ian, Kirsty and Dan give the season the traditional, more spoilery review.
Elsewhere, Howard calls in again, with another random pick from The Bag of Death.
09.52 Introduction to Hannibal
27.11 Discussion with Rebecca and Lori (non-spoilers)
02.00.56 Discussion with Rebecca and Lori (spoilers for Season One ending)
02.07.44 Spoiler review for Season One with Ian and Stella
02.45.04 The Bag of Death with Howard
Relevant Links and Availability
Hannibal is currently available to stream free for members of Amazon Prime in the UK
TVJunkie’s trailer for the series can be viewed on YouTube
Dr Lori Morimoto’s video essay on Hannibal can be seen at this link (warning: spoilers for all seasons)
Hannibal for Dinner (featuring Kirsty’s essay) is now available to purchase from McFarland Books
Becoming: Genre, Queerness and Transformation in NBC’s Hannibal (featuring Lori’s essay) is available to purchase from Syracuse University Press
As Above, So Below is currently available to stream free for members of Amazon Prime in the UK
The Act is currently available to stream free for subscribers to Starzplay in the UK
The Battersea Poltergeist podcast is currently available to stream in the UK via the BBC iPlayer
Stephen Volk wrote Ghostwatch, the 1992 TV play which rated so highly on Kirsty, Stella and Dan’s list of Movies That Scared Us The Most last year. And Ghostwatch is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Stephen’s diverse array of horror output in a variety of media, including prose fiction: his new collection of stories, featuring a teaming of the legendary literary detectives C Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes, has just been released by PS Publishing.
In this lengthy interview, Stephen discusses these new and old triumphs, and many things that came between them in his remarkable career, including times spent in Hollywood, his work with famed directors Ken Russell and William Freidkin, and what he thought of Inside Number 9’s Ghostwatch tribute episode from 2018. Ian, Stella, Kirsty and Dan were just thrilled to be able to speak to him, as will probably be apparent to the listener.
Elsewhere, Howard calls in to chat about how life is treating him in lockdown, what he’s been watching on TV lately, and to pluck another surprise horror film from The Bag of Death.
Stella, Kirsty and Ian have all seen lots of True Blood, HBO’s steamy vampire romance, and love it to bits. On the other hand, Dan has only seen a bit of it, but he loved that. Listen to them wax lyrical and philosophical about why it’s so good (except for, as Ian points out, when it isn’t) and how it compares to the Charlaine Harris books it was adapted from. And if you’ve never seen it, the gang pretty much avoid spoilers, for once. Plus, we have another phone call with Howard and Dan as another random film is plucked from The Bag of Death.
Relevant Links and Availability
All seven seasons of True Blood are available to watch in the UK via NowTV
It’s time to return to our series of Halloween franchise reviews, recorded back in 2018. Dan and Howard are joined by returning guests Luke Richards (actor and writer-star of the upcoming Halloween fan film, One Night in Haddonfield) and Spider-Dan (host of the podcast Spider-Dan and the Secret Bores) for a spoiler-filled discussion of Rob Zombie’s 2007 reboot of the franchise.
In more recently recorded material, Stella and Dan chat about their winter reading, viewing and listening, and Howard phones in to pluck another horror film at random from The Bag of Death.
Relevant Links and Availability
Halloween (2007) is out on DVD and Blu-Ray in both its original version and an extended director’s cut
Wrong Turn (2003) is available for free streaming to subscribers to Amazon Prime in the UK
Overlord is currently streaming via Netflix in the UK
Sour Hall is available for purchase from Audible (or it’s free if you’re a member)
Luke Richards can be found on Twitter @Luke_Richards92 – follow him for more information about One Night in Haddonfield
Spider-Dan can be found on Twitter @dan_bores and his podcast can be found on whatever platform you’re using now
All soundtrack clips are used for the purposes of criticism, in the spirit of Fair Dealing (UK law) and Fair Use (US law). No copyright infringement is intended