Episode reviews – episode four (series one)
Episode 4 – BBC One – 21:00-22:00 – 9 December 2008
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…
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.
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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