Survivors – BBC TV

The BBC's revival of the classic 1970s post-apocalyptic drama by Terry Nation

Episode reviews – episode one (series one)

Episode one – BBC One – 21:00-22:30 – 23 November 2008

Synopsis

The world is in the grip of a ‘flu pandemic, which proves to be far deadlier than anyone dared fear. When more than 95% of the planet’s population are wiped out, the few remaining, isolated survivors inherit a planet in which civilisation lies in ruins and which they must now battle to secure themselves a future in which everything that they took for granted has been lost forever. Abby Grant is desperate to locate her missing son Peter; prisoner Tom Price is determined to escape death in jail; loner Greg Preston has set his sights on the solitary survivor’s life; Anya wants to leave her life as a doctor behind in the old world; playboy Al is adrift in this new world, until his chance meeting with young Najid jolts him into the present. When their paths collide, Abby urges them to forge a common aim – survival.

Commentary

The opening episode of Adrian Hodges’ reworking of Survivors is a startlingly good piece of work. Surprisingly, unexpectedly good – even. Yes, it is not without its flaws, but overall this is a hugely impressive debut which successfully navigates the remake minefield to produce a drama that is both acutely contemporary and true to the spirit and ethos of Terry Nation’s original vision.

The first thing to deal with is the question of difference. The Survivors of 2008 is profoundly different to the Survivors of 1975. It could only be so. Insisting that a twenty-first century TV drama replicate the look and feel of one made thirty years earlier is just pointless. The new version can only be faster, slicker and in every sense more modern that its predecessor. The question – surely – is not ‘how far have the producers of the new Survivors been able to make a show that pretends it was made thirty years ago?; but rather ‘have the makers of this revival been able to create a show that will resonate with modern TV audiences, without losing the essential things which made the original such compelling drama?’.

Characterisation in Hodges’ opening script is both strong and plausible, and – aside from a few clunky moments of exposition in the first few minutes – the dialogue convinces. Julie Graham (Abby Grant) and Paterson Joseph (Greg Preston) are both excellent, but it is the other ensemble parts which together give proceedings their strength. Max Beesley attacks the role of the reinvented Tom Price with relish; and Zoe Tapper brings an appropriately understated sense of bewildered self-doubt to the role of Dr Anya Raczynski. Nikki Amuka–Bird, as over-stretched government minister Samantha Willis, communicates an effective sense of out-of-depth denial. The interplay between new characters playboy Al Sadiq (played by Phillip Rhys) and devout young Muslim Najid (played by Chahak Patel) for the most part treads the tightrope of pathos and humour without falling off.

Taking the decision to kill off not just Abby’s husband David, but Jenny as well (who survived all 38 episodes in the original) is an audacious move which will cause some fans of the original series a great deal of angst. Hodges’ move is clearly intended to emulate the shock of despatching David Grant back in The Fourth Horseman in 1975, and for those mourning Jenny’s loss there’s some comfort in the fact that much of her personality has been reinvested in Anya.

The realisation, design and direction of this first ninety-minute episode is also extremely assured. The new title sequence and theme provide an energetic and distinctive signature, and the way that the episode is filmed gives a sense of scale to proceedings that the original programme’s directors could only have dreamt of.

The plotting of this first episode is fairly relentless, but there’s little in the way of padding at any point in the hour-and-a-half running time. Although he continually ‘reimagines’ Nation’s text, time-and-again Hodges name-checks scenes, moments and even verbatim lines of dialogue from the first episodes of the original as he drives his characters through their individual traumas and personal plague nightmares. Ultimately he brings his ensemble cast together at the episode’s end (without stretching dramatic co-incidence too far) – reaching an updated synchronisation with the closing scene of the original series’ Genesis, where Abby, Greg and Jenny (or in this case Anya – and company) are finally brought together in common cause.

So what about the bits that don’t quite come off? For me, although the exchanges between the ill-suited surrogate father Al and his super-serious young charge Najid are very well judged, the heavily signposted ‘surge of optimism’ signalled by the football kickabout on the motorway (and accompanying sound-track) feels misjudged – way too jolly; way too soon. However, an approriately in-keeping atmosphere is soon restored by Graham’s brilliant delivery of Abby’s ‘new life’ speech, in which she convinces her new compatriots to band together in a mutual fight for survival.

More significantly, the introduction of the mysterious men in lab coats in the secret bunker at the episode’s end is potentially worrying. It all depends where Hodges takes this. An interesting revelation about the root cause of the pandemic would be one thing; the unveiling of a tedious government or military ‘conspiracy’ (or salvation in the form of an secret ‘arc’ of technology and civilisation) would be another – and extremely unwelcome.

Overall though, this first installment is impressive, affecting, convincing stuff; which makes you look forward to episode two with a huge amount of anticipation – and expectation.

Verdict

An extremely strong opening episode, that updates the programme without losing sight of what made it so good to begin with. A surprise, a relief – and an opportunity clearly grabbed with both hands.



 

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69 Responses to “Episode reviews – episode one (series one)”

  1. Gus said

    Radiohead song in season 1, episode 1 while Al is wooing girl in gold, prior to her shower = ‘Talk Show Host’. You may remember it from the Romeo & Juliet soundtrack.

  2. Barbara said

    Very good! I watched the original series and I liked it so much. I watched the new series immediately after re-watching the first episodes of old series.
    I liked the characters, I liked the changes they made, I liked the tension and … wow … the new Tom Price what a surprise! :)
    I’m very happy they decided to make a second season, can’t wait for it!
    I’m from Italy, I don’t know if new series will ever reach Italian TV but thanks God my english is decent and I can watch episodes in original language :)

  3. Gordon said

    I notice Martin did not address my comments about reflective personalities from every day life. I reiterate ‘THAT ISNT ACTING’. Acting is a profession of taking a role and MAKING people believe in it NOT just being yourself. Dont you understand that? THAT is what acting is all about. As for the modern day Shakespeare actors, they too are a pale shadow of the former exponents of the art. Can you honestly say that anyone today is of the same stature of Olivier, Gielguid or Richardson. Thats why we have Shakespeare with a so called modern twist. Leave the bard as he is. He’s lasted four hundred years or so and he didnt do a bad job. THATS why he exists today.

  4. Martin said

    When you mention classical acting, I take it you are referring to to the hammy and sometimes camp efforts of the old time thesps who made the seventies so totally forgetable to most of us, the thought of the BBC production of the legend of Robin Hood is unforgettable, most of the cast were from the royal Shakespeare company. It was like watching a bad stage production of Hamlet. Its ridiculous to say modern actors cannot act. We have good and bad now just as we did in the seventies.

    Martin.

  5. tomii said

    What is the name of radiohead song in the first episode please??

  6. Gordon said

    Is Karen who comments on here about the acting being better than the seventies production for real. Its a sad indictment of society that anyone can see modern so called acting as better than the offerings we had in the seventies. I’ll advance some examples for this, Edward V11, Lily, I Claudius, the original Survivors. I dont even consider so called modern actors as a pale shadow of former exponents of the art, they are rubbish in entirity. It seems now that we have to have reflective characters from society as actors. That isnt acting, that is someone using their existing every day personality as a so called actor. Try any modern actor in classical productions and see how far these nonentities cope.

  7. Adam Stone said

    I really enjoyed the first episode and spotting which bits were lifted from the orginal series and which bits were added in.

    I must admit I liked the addition of this strange lab and it will be interesting to see where this leads.

  8. chris said

    where the original was genuinely chilling and (to a degree) realistic, the result of briliant title/credit sequences, no non diegetic music, evocative but bleak English landscapes, and, at times, some rather ambiguous characters, this version employs so many generic techniques, (dollying in, shallow focus, portentous soundtrack) that all sense of realism is lost. Despite the cut glass accents and well laundered clothing of the original, you could almost smell the decay and fear of the survivors world. This new version appears to offer both scientic hope and the possibility of a world which is only marginally less comfortable than before. Far too cosy……..and rather dull.

  9. Andy said

    I took it that the odd person died suddenly, hence they were at the wheel of their car. The rest had been feeling ill for a few days, took to their beds and died in their sleep. Don’t forget we saw Abby wake up ‘3 Days Later’. So the motorway wasn’t littered with cars, there were few (if any) bodies in the streets. Some families may even have found their dead relatives in the street and brought them home. Quite happy to accept all this and concentrate on the drama rather than nit-pick.

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