Survivors – BBC TV

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

Episode reviews – episode four (series one)

Episode 4 – BBC One – 21:00-22:00 – 9 December 2008

Synopsis

Determined to follow-up on the lead offered by settlement leader Samantha Willis, Abby heads off to visit Waterhouse in the hope of finding her son Peter. Without Abby to hold it together, her community begins to unravel. Anya and Greg are left behind when Tom, Sarah, Al and Najid decide to try out life in Willis’ highly disciplined commune. The visitors soon finds the binds of loyalty between them are strained to breaking point. While Greg and Anya find themselves under attack from violent raiders, Abby finds herself caught up in the conflict between the rightful owner of Waterhouse and the gang of young men who have seized control of the property. Despite the risks Abby’s resolve to search for Peter does not waver, with some unexpected consequences…

Commentary

Simon Tyrrell’s script for episode four revisit themes from Terry Nation’s Garland’s War (with more than a nod also to Ian McCulloch’s third series tale of a community run by children – A Little Learning). But in place of Nation’s tightly focused tale of a dispossessed member of landed gentry battling to get his home back, Tyrrell instead weaves together three separate storylines – Abby’s continuing search for Peter and her encounter with Jimmy Garland; life at Willis’ settlement as seen through the eyes of the defectors from Abby’s group; and the threat posed to Greg and Anya abandoned at the group’s house.

The frequent twists and turns of the resulting parallel plotlines; the efforts to give screentime to all of the main cast; and the welcome respite (for this week at least) from the scientists in the bunker, together result in some engaging on-screen action. But characterisation of the guest cast – which was so noticeable a strength of episode three – is far less effective here, and this is more than one moment of jarring implausibility along the way.

The Waterhouse component of the storyline is easily the weakest of the three. Whereas Nation drew Jimmy Garland as a strikingly self-possessed adventurer, untroubled by this fascination with the challenges of the post-Death world, Tyrrell’s Garland is a much less impressively realised figure. Although he’s clearly a capable and charismatic bloke, he simply registers far less powerfully. In Nation’s original, the usurper Knox was also a fitting opponent for the Earl in the woods. Here the gawky teens who have evicted Garland come across as a much more inconsequential threat. It seems hard to believe that he could not send the moppets packing (nursing a thick ear or two between them) before settling down to a breakfast of fresh-roasted rabbit. In 1975, Nation had more time to hint at the growing intimacy of Garland and Abby; here with just one episode to play with, their attraction has of necessity to be compressed. There’s certainly more heightened drama in Tyrrell’s reading of the attack on Abby’s jeep; or the disappointment of her reunion with a boy who shares a name with her son; but there’s less dramatic credibility in the neat resolution of the conflict. Nation’s view on how such a scenario would play out was far darker.

Much more successful are the twin original storylines, in particular the the drama that surrounds the impromtu decamping to Samantha Willis’ settlement of Tom and company. Willis is becoming an increasingly interesting character: mixing her utilitarian values with a disdain for both democracy and compassion. Al soon buckles under the pressure of hard work; while the ever-calculating Tom weighs up the possible advantages of life under Willis’ tutelage. When he judges the time is right, he betrays Al (and in consequence Najid), even to the point of abandoning him alone in the wilderness. Al in turn reveals a level of motivation and commitment only previously hinted at, and returns to rescue and reunite with a grateful Najid. It is only when Tom’s subterfuge collapses under Willis’ suspicious scrutiny, that he takes the ever-compliant Sarah and heads for home.

Through these scenes, more layers are revealed of the ruthlessly self-serving nature of Tom; and his willingness to dispense with others as soon as his judges that the time is right to do so. Circumstance here forces Al to shed the last vestiges of his feckless playboy past. To reunite with Najid he demonstrates guile, courage and a firm sense of loyalty to his surrogate son – actions of a kind that would have been inconceivable to him in his old pre-plague life.

Not everything about Al has changed, of course. When Tom arrives in the same car he previously abandoned him in to offer him a lift home, Al accepts Tom’s apparently straightforward apology without pause for thought. Despite the experience of betrayal, Al still struggles to grasp the reality of the threat that Tom poses to him and those around him.

There’s a much more straightforward sense of menace evoked by the arrival of unwelcome visitors to Abby’s depleted settlement. In some nicely judged character development, it is great to see that it is the preoccupied Greg who loses focus and easily subdued by the surprise raiders; while it is the level-headed Anya who fights back aggressively against her attackers – and in the process saves them both.

Abby is understandably disturbed to arrive back to an unexpectedly empty settlement, but soon the full complement of housemates returns as the community reconvenes. Although the drama wraps up without reference to it, Abby and her compatriots certainly need to take stock in the light of their latest adventures. All of them must surely reflect on the fact that their community began to disintegrate almost as soon as Abby left them. This certainly suggests that (like it or not) Abby bears great responsibility for their collective fate; but it also highlights how shallow the roots are that this new settlement has yet sunk. Tom’s duplicity and wafer-thin sense of commitment to his friends is now surely incontestible. In fretting about Abby’s fate and that of the settlement, Greg must now surely acknowledge that his plans for an independent life are now far less attractive to him than before. It is also very clear that Anya is even more resourceful and impressively self-reliant that she has so far revealed to her new friends.

Let’s hope that room for character developments such as these are not lost in the pressure to deliver on the scientists-in-the-lab storyline which the trailer for next week’s episode strongly suggests will now take centre stage.

Verdict

A somewhat uneven episode, in which the most recognisable story elements from the original series are the weakest component. Some strong character work and a higher than usual action quota help to offset (in part) the less impressive aspects.

For a thoroughly detailed review and commentary on this and all other episodes in both series, see: Rich Cross. 2010. World’s Apart: the unofficial and unauthorised guide to the BBC’s remake of Survivors. Cambridge: Classic TV Press. [ available to order direct from the publisher ]

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

  1. Martin said

    If you don’t like it that’s fair enough, I have no problem with that at all. But why tune in every week? If I don’t like something I simply do not bother to watch it. you must be leading a very sad life if you have to watch something you quite obviously hate, and then log on to the Internet and post long and opinionated criticism in some cases week after week. I along with many others am enjoying this series and hope the BBC commission a second and third. You are obviously very talented writers yourselves why not take the time you wasted watching the program and then slagging off on the net to do something constructive, how about coming up with some interesting story lines yourselves.
    Put up or shut up.
    Martin.

  2. Ross White said

    I actually thought this was the best episode of the series so far and that the series is generally improving as it goes on.

  3. Nick Supermollusc said

    Like the whole series, this episode was a set of missed opportunities. The “Garland’s War” strand was too swift and superficial. There was great potential for a kind of “Lord of the Flies” set-up with the lads in the house, but there was little dramatic tension in their domestic set-up, and the slow outworking of the original story was lost. As someone else has said, (the new) Garland, uncharismatic though he was, could have spanked the lot of them before breakfast.
    Punches pulled again –the horrible rapist guys were dealt with far too easily, and why would Greg have let them out to live and do it again? Great scope for a “Law and Order” agonising decision — we have them tied up; do we slit their throats (why the hell hasn’t the resourceful Greg got a gun yet?) and if so, who’s going to do it?
    The new to this series eco-centre bit was actually the best bit, with some genuine tension, I thought. Samantha Willis’ Nulabor creepy bossiness was well done, and the tension between Tom and Gavin had real threat. Somewhat against my will, I found Al’s character development convincing and well done…
    I can’t help feeling that this production falls between two stools — it’s neither rolling soap-opera like a post-apocalypse Archers, which would work as an open-ended series, nor does it convey the desolation and loneliness and finality of the original, which was flawed, especially in its lack of continuity in characters, as in the way Wormley appears in one episode and then drops out, but which definitely had a quality which makes one want to revisit and rewatch it. I can’t imagine feeling like this in a a few years time about the revamp.
    This episode, six out of ten

  4. Gary said

    It’s hit and miss whether my comments get posted anymore. Here goes though…

    Last night I watched the first episode of the original series just to refresh my memory. The original is far, far, far, superior in every way. I can assure you that I don’t make such a statment through nostalgic rose tinted glasses. I make it after a side by side conmparison of old and new.

    There is at least TWICE as much dialogue in the original series. The characters speak to each other as one would in real life. The viewer is drawn in to the plot from the very beginning by virtue of being just as confused about what is going on as the characters are. The viewer is intrigued, worried, disconcerted, curious, on edge. The viewer is part of the production and is “experiencing” the plot. This means that the viewer BONDS with the characters.. all within the FIRST TEN MINUTES.

    I think a good word to use for the new series is “patronised”. Whoever cooked up this twaddle seems to have made the arrogant assumption that everybody knows the plot of the original series. So obviously no need to build up the characters and BOND them with the viewer. This means the viewer isn’t treated as a part of the production. We are certaintly confused, but that is because we are constantly trying to figure out who are these people? Four episodes in, and we are still asking Why are they acting like they are? Where have they come from again? What is their motivation? What do they believe in? What do they represent? They are empty shells. Hollow people with no edge to them. They are weak “everyman” characters” They are off the shelf national statistics percentages. They are at best a little clique of pick and mix characters, aimed it seems at the zoned out clubbing generation who think flashing lights, shiny cars and loud noises are the height of stimulation.

    The natural response to such weak and splintered characterisation is to switch off and basically not give a t*** what happens to them. They are like strangers you pass in the street. With no knowledge of them you don’t wish them harm, but then you don’t have a great deal of concern for them either.

    As for the camera work, I again counted the time between camera angles in the original. As an example, in the original series Abby discovers what she thinks is the dead body of a tutor at her son’s school. This scene unfolds with camera angles that in places remain fixed for over a minute at a time. The focus is on the DIALOGUE and on the EMOTIONAL TURMOIL of the characters. The camera does not move from their faces as we watch the FEAR and DESPAIR in their eyes and listen to the ever increasing sense of FUTILTY in their voices. That one scene HINTS at what the future potentially holds, much more chillingly than a dozen rapid cut scenes in high definition could ever hope to. Why? Because it lets the VIEWER use their IMAGINATION based on their OWN EXPERIENCES and their OWN KNOWLEDGE to fill in the gaps.

    After watching episode one of the original, I then watched an episode of the Last Train from 1999. Although it was silly as a premise, the whole thing worked due to the effort put into the production. AGAIN, the camera work was understated, non intrusive, clean and simple. The actual craft of “showing” the story does not overpower the plot. The tension between the characters is palpable. They are all rounded, believable personalities. The hook is perfect to keep viewers interested ( known scientist says she can contact known government facilties – simple premise keeps plot moving)

    Why is it so difficult do this with the new Survivors?

    This new series is ridiculously top heavy in terms of camerwork and music. It’s like a mediocre record that a producer has tried to fill out but gone way over the top about. It’s all image over substance. Just why have the BBC made this new series so badly? Why such weak casting and such terrible writing? Is there nobody left in a position of authority at the BBC that understands more than spreadsheets, costings and viewing figures?

    If this attempt at “reimaging” a classic series is the best the BBC can come up with, then just STOP NOW. Do yourself a favour, give up trying to be cutting edge. Stick to minority programmes and public information films.

    Whoever signed the cheque for this one clearly doesn’t know what they are doing and is obviously more suited to a role in accountancy or marketing. It’s making the BBC look bad….in my humble opinion.

  5. Nick Hubble said

    I’m not sure I agree totally with the review – I thought the updating of Garland’s War was more interesting and engaging than that. I liked the fact he wasn’t an aristocrat and I don’t think the plot was especially implausible – no more implausible than 70s style Tv drama serial episodes often were. I think that is part of the current series’s strengths and weaknesses: it is closer to the storytelling style of the 70s (despite modern filming conventions) than most stuff on TV and so inevitably it seems odd to some people. In fact, it is something of a hybrid and I guess this is why it is being found unsatisfactory in certain quarters.

    Willis is not utilitarian – she doesn’t possess any ethical values that I can detect. She is the typical modern politician who, rather than acting out of conviction, acts convictions out in the way she thinks others expect them to be (i.e. when she thinks it is required to be tough, she behaves like a caricature of a reactionary authoritarian – a stance that probably produces worse results than a genuine authoritarian does). The whole point of pairing her up with Tom in this episode is to show her as being as bad as a ‘sociopath’.

    I don’t think Tom is necessarily a threat to the group – he is amoral rather than immoral and as such he represents a narrative device to show things about the people around him. The basic problem with the group is that there was not the time of the original series to bring them together organically, so it had to be done artificially on the abandoned motorway. What these episodes, where they split up into tripartite narratives and then come back together, do is to symbolically generate a bonding process while trying to keep the narrative moving. Again this creates the hybrid problem, because in some ways the series is totally driven by the need to update the original in less episodes. I find this fascinating but I can see others might just prefer them to tell the story in a new way.

  6. Phil said

    I think I’ve discovered what happened when this series was devised. Someone lost half the script, which may account for the jumping from here to there, then the script writer dropped off to sleep and picked up a another book when he woke up, probably a Mills and Boone.

    This fourth episode promised so much but delivered so little. The BBC can do great drama, as was proven to anyone watching Spooks on Monday evening, but this Survivors production crew don’t seem to have grasped what the story is all about, the locations are poor, even the countryside shots have a soft focus background, couldn’t they find one place that didn’t have people or cars? It is supposed to be about survival, yet the cast haven’t exhibited any sign of panic, fear or an ability to survive without modern aids. I took a look at the original series over the weekend, and even the intro title and music of the original strikes home instantly, the plot explained in a few seconds, the music haunting. The original series had some bad acting, food tins which were obviously empty, but one tended not to notice this as the plot was so enthralling. Perhaps this new production has tried too hard not to follow the first series resulting in a series which is getting worse with each episode. Now not so much a drama as a farce. A second series? You must be joking!

  7. Paul said

    Where do you start with this one?

    Tom’s in episode consistency but series inconsistency perhaps? We’ve now had 4 episodes and four different sides to Tom Price, is the man a 6 sided dice or what?

    It would seem next week that the scientists are going to try and make contact with Abby because she recovered from the virus rather than being naturally immune, hence the plot device of the extended blabble into the camera at Willis’ place.

    I too found the Garland story line too detached from reality, he could have easily removed all of the children from the house within a morning if he wanted to, and I don’t see a community of just him and those boys really working.

    Finally though, what is up with Greg’s Landrover? I think that is the last 3 episodes now when he has been messing around with it, why not just get another one?!

  8. Andrew Harrison said

    I liked the episode. Because they have had little time to develop the characters, this updated series is never going to be as good as the original. However, they managed to capture the feel of Survivors. I enjoyed the Garland’s War scenes – although it was not as frightning as the original. I like the edge that is coming through from the Tom Price character,and the friedship between the two Asian characters is entertaining. No appearance from the men in the lab this episode – unless I missed it. I can’t believe there is only two episodes left – I will be sworry when it has finished.

  9. Nick said

    Ummm. First time I’ve actually had to think about whether or not I liked an episode or not… As opposed to being positive I didn’t.

    Still far too ‘fluffy’ & ‘fashionable’, still abysmally acted/scripted and still cliche ridden, that’s obviously not going to change.

    But at least there was an attempt at a new ‘take’ on the Garland story arc.

  10. David B said

    Gets more and more hilarious as the weeks pass!

    Question…who’s keeping all the grass neatly mown in the houses of post-apocalyptic britain? What moron was responsible for continuity in this series?!

    Classic!

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