A review of the Audio-Drama Podcast “We’re Alive”

We’re Alive is a zombie apocalypse audio drama that ran for 4 seasons that ran between 2009 – 2014. A side story continuation ‘Lockdown’ finished has just completed as a podcast mini-series (April 2016).

And what a piece of work it is.  Starting life in season 1 it immediately established its credentials as a high quality audio drama with laudable production values.  An army sergeant Michael Cross (Jim Gleason) is pulled away from his studies on a college campus when he’s called up to deal with apparent violent riots.  Said riots turn out to be the rise of the undead.  Michael is reunited with his army buddies Angel (Shane Salk) and Saul (Nate Geez) and they realise that the established order is crumbling rapidly and they need to find a safe haven.  Banding together with fellow survivors Pegs (Elisa Eliot) and Riley (Claire Dodin), and eventually stumbling across gravelly voiced veteran Burt (Scott Marvin), they hole up in a tower block which they turn into a fortress.  This is the location of the first 2 seasons, which are centred on the defence of the tower block from monsters.  These monsters are the infected, but also humanity at its most monstrous in the form of “The Mallers,” ex-convicts who occupied a Mall and represent human survival at its most vicious and violent.  One of the Mallers leaders, ‘Scratch (Jenna McCombie),’ is a human nemesis whose battle with the tower dwellers becomes intensely personal when her brother is killed in an invasion of the tower.  Scratch will take her battle to the very end of the finale of season 4.

So season 1 starts feeling pretty generic, survival horror with a military bent, a template that has been well established.  As the story deepens over the next few seasons, however, we find that have bonded with main characters, and are engrossed with the developing lore and story arc of the series.  The creatures mutate into a range of monsters, from lumbering behemoths to smaller faster creatures.  They seem to be guided by a hive mind intelligence, and who is the tattooed figure who seems to appear as a watcher and leader of the undead army at key moments in the story?

The origin story of the creatures is hinted at in the early seasons and developed more fully in the later ones.  Whilst I’m not convinced that all the strands of this hang together, it makes for an intriguing and suspenseful listen.

The series has some stand out set pieces that live in the memory; the initial outbreak; the discovery of a grisly arena where survivors are brought to die apparently for the creatures’ amusement; battles at the tower; encounters with the behemoths; a chase through a prison with hideously mutated creatures, and more.  The story keeps its locations pretty tight and does not become too sprawling and fragmented.  We move from the tower to a colony, a series of safe houses, and war-torn streets and locations in between.

The cast are uniformly brilliant.  Michael is a solid lead, a sympathetic and very human leader who clings to his identity as a soldier.  Burt is a memorable fan favourite.  Gravelly voiced doesn’t begin to describe his tones.  It sounds like he’s gargling with gravel.  He’s an old school gun fetishist and veteran.  There’s a scene where Scratch almost breaks Burt by torturing his gun (named Sheila after his dead wife) which is probably one of the series most suspect scenes.  The female characters are varied and interesting and fight on an equal footing with their male counterparts (the apocalypse is an equal opportunities employer).  Pegs is maybe overtly cookie at times but still someone you are always glad to get back to.

Scratch is a stand out performance, Hell-bent fury and icy cruelty.

What I love about this whole series is that it is an amazing achievement that is testament to the democratic creative power crowd funding today.  Production values are cinematic in scope, and the intention to be a “theatre of the mind,” wholly immersive audio, is a successful one.  The sound effects and musical score are solid and laudable and together with the top notch voice acting, pull you in.  The snarls and roars of the creatures, especially the behemoths, are particularly memorable, and not what you want to hear in the dead of night.  It’s great that we can enjoy the whole series free (get it here) and the whole enterprise deserves your support, if you care about stories and particularly love this genre.  You can pledge support here.

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