Survivors – BBC TV

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

Episode reviews – episode one (series two)

Episode one – BBC One – 21:00-22:00 – 12 January 2010

Synopsis

After the shoot-out and kidnapping on the car park roof, the remaining members of the group find shelter and Anya attempts to tend to Greg’s gunshot wound. In his delirium, Greg hallucinates about his break-up with his wife, and flinches at the recollection of the violence he is capable of. Scavenging the medical supplies that Anya needs to save Greg’s life, Anya and Al are trapped in the rubble of a collapsed hospital building. When Tom fetches the others to help rescue them, Sarah learns from some local survivors that a local gang leader may have the tools they need to remove the heavier debris. Knowing her friends will die is she does nothing, a horrified Sarah is forced to submit to a violent sexual assault to secure the trader’s co-operation. Waking up in the laboratory, Abby learns from Whitaker that he believes that she is unique: a survivor whose antibodies may hold the key to a vaccine. Concerned scientist Sami warns Abby not to trust his bosses and helps her in a foiled escape bid. When Tom frees Anya and Al, the group return to find Greg’s condition has worsened. Anya cleans and patches his wound. The following morning a recovered Greg expels Tom from the group: blaming his murder of Gavin for the disasters which have befallen them all. Greg agrees that the group must begin the search for Abby in earnest. In the laboratory, Whitaker and his colleague Fiona Douglas consider re-infecting Abby with the virus to improve the quality of the blood serum she can provide them.

Commentary

There’s little question that in the first episode of series two of Survivors creator Adrian Hodges delivers on his promise to crank up both the tempo and the action-adventure components of his storytelling. Aside from the exchanges in the rubble between the trapped Anya and Al, episode one provides a series of relentless dramatic set-pieces neatly intertwined with a whole number of revelations about characters, their back-stories and the motivations.

Those looking for a quick resolution of the Peter Grant storyline (which provided the final scenes of episode six of series one) will be disappointed; but it’s very satisfying to see the separate Greg and Abby plotlines rejoined only moments after the climactic cliffhanger.

With Hodges effectively leaving Terry Nation’s Survivors novel on the shelf (at least for the time being) the series heads off to explore some new and original storylines. And while episode one of the first series depicted the near-total death of the population of the planet (which ought to be hard to top in the ‘grim’ stakes), the opening instalment of series two successfully projects the much publicised ‘darker’ tone that looks set to be one of the defining features of the second series. The urban post-plague world is here shown as a harsh, unforgiving and hostile place.

At the close of series one, Abby’s group were left in a disastrous state (with Greg bleeding out and Abby a hostage of the scientists) but throughout episode one of series two things get progressively worse for the group. Greg’s survival hangs in the balance, and when the hospital collapse traps Anya and Al the fate of all three appears to have been sealed. It might be fully in character to see Sarah try to convince Tom that the trapped pair are a lost cause; but it’s more surprising to see Al effectively give up on his chance of rescue; reconciling himself to his impending death (while mourning the lost opportunities of a life cut-short). With Abby cautiously agreeing to help the scientists’ efforts to find a cure, the chances of the group being surviving long enough to be reunited appear (at that moment) remote.

The pacing and taut intercutting of the various story strands of the opening twenty minutes makes for gripping viewing. The sequences around the burning hospital provide some excellent action sequences (and some haunting individual images) and while the CGI of building’s collapse is somewhat overplayed the overall results are impressive.

Director Jamie Payne (who was responsible for the high-octane sign-off of series one) returns to deliver some striking visuals and a strong sense of narrative drive throughout. Abby’s quarantine ward is suitably enclosed, antiseptic and sterile, adding to the sense of claustrophobia and ‘otherness’ – so completely unlike from the squalor and want of the world outside. Inner-city Birmingham, in contrast, provides the setting for some well-rendered scenes of empty urban dystopia.

The decision to incorporate ‘flashbacks’ to reveal the hidden truths of Greg’s past (which could easily have been a jarring and unwelcome innovation) works surprisingly well. While Greg is revealed in a new and deeply unflattering light, it is the thoroughly discredited character of Sarah who finds the beginnings of redemption (at the most appalling cost). Addison’s performance in the scenes surrounding her horrific sacrifice is superb.

The scientists-in-the-bunker storyline was one of the more controversial elements of series one, drawing criticism from those who saw it as an unnecessary intrusion into Terry Nation’s premise. This first episode of the new series suggests that their conspiracy story will move from the fringes of the drama to become fully enmeshed with the survivors’ own adventures. In some well played sequences, Abby first rails against her imprisonment and then gradual softens as she is drawn in to the apparently benign explanations of Whitaker (which mask rather more deceitful and amoral ambitions). The ‘teaser’ element that the scientists’ previously provided is replaced by hints of Greg’s connection to Whitaker, signalled by an oblique postcard message.

Although Anya and Al survive disaster at the hospital, the episode ends with some unwelcome new developments which make the group’s prospects look even worse than before. A guilty Greg expels the ‘murderous’ Tom Price in the hope of distancing the group from the ‘contagion’ of his violence – leaving the remaining members of the ‘family’ even more vulnerable than before. Then, in an unexpected turn, the scientists agree to expose Abby to the plague for a second time – risking her life in order to make a better candidate for their experiments. The trailer for episode two shows no indication that Hodges will let up on the dramatic momentum or the new ‘dark and dangerous’ motif.

Verdict

As it shifts into new post-apocalyptic territory, Survivors returns in confident mood – setting in motion a new set of character conflicts and deepening the crisis in which Abby and her cohort find themselves. A promising start.

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 ]
 

Please submit your comments and reaction to the episode below. Please note: all comments submitted to this blog are moderated prior to publication. We do not guarantee that all submitted comments will be published, but do pledge that a representative balance of comments will appear.

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

  1. Katie Linnell said

    Bring it back!

  2. Neil Harrison said

    and…the reason for commenting now is that we have just been enjoying the repeats on BBC HD…. despite having already bought the 2 series boxsets.
    Please BBC bring it back!

  3. Neil Harrison said

    I watched the original series in the 1970’s as a teenager – it was very good. However the 2008/2010 remakes were absolutely fantastic – a truly brilliant cast – great writing and compelling storylines. It defies belief that the 3rd series was cancelled, no doubt replaced with some cheap rubbish import from the USA or anything that requires little or no effort …. reality tv etc.
    Just wish Sky would pick it up or something, coz the pathetic BBC just continue to shhot themselves in the foot.
    BRING BACK SURVIVORS!! PLEASE

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