Survivors – BBC TV

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

Episode reviews – episode six (series one)

Episode 6 – BBC One – 21:00-22:00 – 23 December 2008

Synopsis

A patrol from Samantha Willis’ putative new ‘government’ arrives at Abby’s settlement, demanding (at gunpoint) that the community submit to an enforced census. Abby and Greg are appalled to find that the villainous Dexter is amongst Willis’ gang; and the entire group are horrified by the revelation that the crippled Bob is still alive and that Sarah abandoned him for dead. After violence erupts, the gang seize doctor Anya – whose skills are betrayed by Sarah, herself about to be kidnapped. Tom is joined by Greg and Al in a rescue party, and Anya is freed. Left alone with the raiders, Tom shoots raider Gavin dead and sends his compatriot off with a message to Willis to keep away.

Abby and the group agree to leave their settlement, but an disgruntled Najid runs off heading to Manchester in search of his family. In a city nightclub, Najid meets Craig, a Fagin-esque figure, who commands a group of child scavengers, rewarding them with shelter, electricity and bribes like games consoles. Abby and the group arrive at at Najid’s family’s flat, but find it empty and are taken by surprise when own stocks are pilfered by thieves. Najid helps out on a scavenger hunt, but is chased off by another lone survivor. Willis and Abby’s group find themselves photographed by the scientists’ roving helicopter – though neither group know of the vehicle’s origins. With Al remaining at Najid’s flat, the group bunker down for the night. In the early hours, Craig takes away Najid’s new compatriot, the ailing Darren, ‘dispensing’ with him, and in the morning tries to make Najid his latest permanently conscripted recruit. Abby’s group are again raided, and left without supplies.

When Craig takes the youngster back to his flat, Al frees Najid. On a carpark rooftop, Dexter attacks the group wounding Greg with a shotgun blast. As Tom pursues him, a bio-suited snatch squad arrives and seize Abby, throwing her into the back of a sealed van. As Tom arrives back to a scene of chaos, Greg slides into unconsciousness. Somewhere outside the city in a woodland, a young boy named Peter Grant rushes to rejoin a man on horseback as the pair prepare to depart on the next stage of a journey – their destination unknown…

Commentary

The first series of the new Survivors (and with renewal now assured, it’s possible to say that with confidence) ends in the kind of dramatically breathless and relentless style that would have been unthinkable in the mid-1970s. There’s little doubt that this reflects a very contemporary style of TV storytelling (how different is this sign-off from the considered and far more understated 1975 series one finale A Beginning), but the question is whether this version of the drama works successfully on its own terms? In the view of this reviewer, the answer is an extremely strong ‘yes’. Although in many respects this seems, on first viewing, to be Adrian Hodges least subtle script with more than a couple of clunky plot points along the way, the sense of momentum and drive, the numerous narrative twists, and the wealth of intriguing ideas on offer here more than compensate for those ‘over-obvious’ moments.

Even more than the series pilot, this final episode is chock full of ‘plot’ (the length of the summary above is one indication of just how much Hodges crams in). One of the recurring themes evident here is that of characters being revealed in their truest colours to date. Not only is Tom’s criminal past made public, but the capacity for ruthless violence which he has struggled to keep hidden explodes into the open – but here is used in defence of the community. Samatha Willis’ willingness to strike whatever deals are expedient are shown to have reached new depths, even to the point of recruiting those she knows to be criminal psychopaths. Dexter meanwhile proves his is not simply bluff and bluster but a murderously unstable adversary. “That man is a thug and a murderer”, insists Greg, condemning Willis’ latest alliance. How prescient Greg’s warning will soon prove to be. The extent of Sarah’s duplicity is exposed to everyone, as Bob is revealed to have survived his abandonment. And while Greg abandons all pretence that he remains a misanthrope loner; Al too demonstrates how much he is prepared to risk to find Najid and keep him safe.

All of these revelations take place within the context of an energetic, driving narrative which brings the various protagonists together for a series of pay-offs, culminating in the (perhaps not all that surprising) seizure of Abby by the agents of the laboratory scientists and the (completely unexpected, and possibly fatal) wounding of Greg by the unhinged Dexter.

The remaining budget here is deployed to good effect as the programme returns to the streets of Manchester. The city is revealed as a dreadful place – in the grip of rats, ruin and random fires; where groups of roaming scavengers pick over supplies like locusts; and the place echoes to emptiness, abandonment and disease. The Fagin-like figure of Craig is a suitably creepy and degenerate ringmaster for his circus of children; a villain who buckles as soon as he is punched in the face by Al, himself a fairly hapless street-fighter! It seems clear that there is little chance of a dignified or productive life to be found in the urban sprawl of the city, and confirms yet again that the survivors future seems to lie in the countryside, if it lies anywhere.

That said, the best efforts of both Abby’s group and that of Samatha Willis to construct a new life for their respective communities are completely overturned by the events of the episode.

The technology and resources of the secretive scientists far outweigh anything that Willis can command. She is clearly unnerved by the realisation that her assertion of a ‘right to govern’ by any means necessary may be based on the delusion that she is the most powerful authority still in play. If she is not, how can she justify the morality of her actions since the plague?

Abby’s group meanwhile have to acknowledge that their first efforts at building a community have ended calamitously. Even before being forced to flee by Willis’ drive to expand the area she controls (strongly echoing Arthur Wormley’s gameplan from Genesis) Abby and her compatriots had put down preciously few longterm roots. Their foray into the city to find Najid, ends disasterously in Abby’s abduction and the possibly-fatal shooting of Greg. In many respects, the group are (individually and collectively) in the worst state that they have found themselves since the old world ended – scattered, homeless, hunted and injured.

Amongst the death, bloodshed and kidnapping, there are two isolated upbeat moments. Al saves a grateful Najid from a (likely brief) life of exploitation and servitude, although the pair’s worldviews remain as opposed as ever. Al wants credit and recognition for his efforts; while Najid insists on seeing his bravery as part of a higher power’s plan. And, of course, there’s the (apparently cast-iron) confirmation that Peter Grant is alive and well; revealed just moments after his mother has been detained to become the subject of laboratory experiments.

Together this makes for a pretty relentless, if largely visceral, drama as the episode delivers an impressively big send-off for the series – one which leaves open a huge number of possibilities for series two to explore. With Hodges reluctant to become preoccupied with the mechanics of self-sufficiency, sustainable technology or the intricacies of low-tech agriculture, series two of the new Survivors – which needs to move on from the immediate aftermath of the pandemic – will have to define some different dramatic territories to explore. Maybe Hodges and his team will opt to explore the notion set out in Abby’s observation: “Maybe safety matters more than freedom… I just want to stop being afraid.”

Verdict

In 1975, the first series of Survivors ended in a calmly understated series of optimistic resolutions, which demonstrated how far the world seemed to have moved on from the horror of The Death. In 2008, series one of the new Survivors ends in an explosive atmosphere of chaos, violence and threat, which confirm how little progress this modern cohort of survivors has made in building an inhabitable new world. Both versions seem appropriately in tune with their televisual times.

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 ]

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

  1. Chris Allen said

    Well after 6 episodes I can safely say that the new series is nothing like Terry Nation’s novel, which for me is a shame, as I think it’s a pretty good read and would make an excellent basis for a 3 series run (using the three sections of the book, “Fourth Horseman”, “The Silence” and “Exodus” as the basis for one series each).

    I won’t mention the follow-up book, “Genesis of a Hero”. Best forgotten IMO.

    Sadly, from comments he has made, Adrian Hodges doesn’t share my enthusiasm for Nation’s book. A real lost opportunity I’d say.

    Overall there was a lot to like about the new series although the final episode does seem to ignore one issue that the original series did not, that for the first couple of years, the cities would be practically uninhabitable. Millions of unburied corpses, no drainage, no sanitation, and a high probability of secondary diseases.

    In the 1976 episode “Greater Love”, one of the more likable series 1 characters, Paul, contracts a sickness and dies after venturing into a built up area in order to get medicine for Lucy Fleming’s character.

    Likewise, in the novel, many people overwinter in London in the first winter after the “Death” as severe cold keeps potential pestilence at bay, but they are forced out by the first thaws of spring.

  2. Michael Salkeld said

    I thought the last episode was the weakest , but some the the other episodes were very good,
    At least the end of the first series suggested there will be a second. As the story is incomplete.

  3. Nick said

    Not as laughable as some of the other episodes but still only worth watching if you want to see who’s going to get off with who.

    Pure soap opera pap.

  4. Phil said

    The reviewer says “…Adrian Hodges least subtle script with more than a couple of clunky plot points along the way…”, perhaps overall that is one of the major disappointments, the lack of continuity through trying to squeeze too much into one episode, and giving each of “stars” a fair bit of airtime has resulted in a dis-jointed series.
    This last episode did have a few moments of drama, and at last one building on fire! But the location shooting seemed unreal, too tight and faked.
    Abby, for me, fails miserably in this 2008 series, Greg doesn’t take a major role in the group, Anya started to take a stronger role, as did Al, but it was all too late. Why are the scientists searching so hard for a vaccine, is the virus still active? This hasn’t been adequately explained. Will the second series go off on a tangent of finding a vaccine rather than surviving? I hope not.
    Some scavengers took the group’s water, yet in the offices where the shooting scenes took place, a bullet burst a full water cooler container. At last the group has some arms, I’ve not even seen them with a kitchen knife for protection in previous episodes.
    As I’ve said in previous reviews, the BBC does make excellent drama, but this “bitty” production failed to achieve what I was expecting. The absence of the practicalities of surviving were missing, even contemplating leaving the chickens behind when the moved just didn’t ring true. There seems to be no problem getting fuel to run several vehicles, but it isn’t shown how they are getting this valuable resource. If there’s little water safe enough to drink, how are they finding enough clean water to wash themselves and their cloths. If there is a second series, I do hope that the writers and production crew take note of the comments on the first series and make amendments to future scripts.
    Paul in a review of episode 5 “This series is nothing at all like Terry Nation’s book, I wish it had been because the book is excellent…” thanks Paul, I may now spend a little money in the New Year to get the book.

  5. Kyle Pope said

    For the sake of full disclosure I am an American who has been watching this series via download as BBC America hasn’t picked it up yet, though I did learn about it while watching Primeval.

    I found this episode quite frustrating in that the entirety of the plot was driven by the characters suddenly lapsing into idiocy. In the earlier episodes much was made of how horrific the cities would become in the aftermath of the plague. Yet the group pack up and head in with little to no preparation for what Manchester had become. They leave their supplies unattended and are then surprised when scavengers pick them clean. The idea of parking somewhere concealed and leaving someone on guard (Tom preferably) never occurred to any of them. Then they all fall asleep in an unsecured area with no one standing watch. They’re lucky that all they lost was their water.

    They mount this expedition after having a serious confrontation with Willis’ little dictatorship that results in fatalities. After seeing that Dexter is now acting as muscle for Willis as she attempts to bring Abby’s group under her control, Abby’s smartest option was to pack up the group and head for someplace very far away. With the whole of the British Isles to play in that shouldn’t have been too hard to do. Instead they head off to the bowels of Hell after a teenager who doesn’t want to be found with a hunting party close behind. That this expedition would end in disaster was preordained. So far as I’ve seen, the only character who has any real grasp of the gravity of the situation is Tom. He’s the only character who is in any way prepared to survive in this new environment. It therefore surprised me that he would throw in on this Fool’s Errand.

    I’ve seen the original Survivors when PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) ran it back in the 1980’s. That version’s Abby Grant was a bit more rational and clear-headed. I could see others being drawn to her as she was somewhat rational in her assessment of the situation and made much better decisions. This Abby Grant is simply obsessed with finding her son to the exclusion of all reason and is simply pulling everyone around her into this confused vortex. As a result this group is all too quick to jump into the jaws of danger with no forethought or planning.

    This scenario would certainly be playing out very differently in the United States. We have a lot more space and a lot more guns. Survivors over here would be making every effort to stay as far away from one another as possible. I’d have packed up and headed for the mountains at the first signs of social breakdown. What Abby and her group haven’t grasped is that stripped of the comforts of civilization, humans will descend into savagery in very short order. Followed quickly by people like Wormley and his present day analogue, Willis, who will start grasping for power. History certainly backs that up.

    I’d like to see the series continue but I hope it’s with a smarter, more hardened group of survivors. If Abby and her group don’t quickly figure out that the world they knew is dead and start taking a more pragmatic view of the situation then we’ll be spending the second series sitting around watching fools die.

  6. Nick Supermollusc said

    Something I forgot to mention; the obsession with control and information which Willis and her cronies want, barging into people’s homes against their will and demanding personal data. This was a strong strand and a modern reference to current society. The more I think about episode six, the more I think was there to like

  7. Nick Supermollusc said

    I’ve come to the view that one shouldn’t see this series as a reworking or reimagining or whatever of the original, because apart from some of the names and some vaguely reminiscent plotlines there isn’t really that much in common between the two programmes. Survivors 1.0 had a magnificent bleakness, an emptiness and loneliness so that, when for example in episode 13, a whole throng of people turned up at the house to double the number of faces on screen, albeit temporarily, it was startling and disturbing. We hadn’t seen that many people together for a long time. One of the frequent criticisms of Survivors 1.2 and especially 1.3 was that there were too many people in it. In the first series though, there were a dozen or so people in a house, thirty miles from the next settlement, with no government or deus ex machina in the form of black helicopters to help or hinder them with any existential questions, and flawed drama though it may have been in some ways it was unique, and it’s clearly stuck in a lot of people’s minds as it has in mine. I think that it’s futile to expect Survivors 2.0 to allow us to revisit that experience. It’s modern noisy “zoo” TV. Although maybe saying that says more about my/our expectations of modern drama and television than it does about the story of Survivors per se…

    Anyway, judged on its own terms I thought last night’s episode was pretty good – gripping and scary. Greg’s shooting at the end I found genuinely distressing; he’s been a stable pillar of our band of heroes and to see him go down was a shock. I reckon that the “Peter” sequence right at the end was in Greg’s head, following his conversation with Abby. Oh yeah, and when he said to Abby that his ex had taken the kids to Boston I thought, that’s OK Greg, Lincolnshire isn’t that big, but then I realised that that was another cultural cringe to enable the BBC to flog the series across the Atlantic.
    Al’s development into street-fighting man has been weirdly plausible, but as another poster has said, why the hell didn’t they equip themselves with some walkie-talkies before splitting up in Manchester? Leaving the vehicles unattended was just silly, although I liked the idea of the city now being the preserve of feral hoodies. Was it me, or was some of the jerky camera work (much better in this episode without the irritating swinging from speaker to speaker) taken from 28 Days Later? The bit where Naj and Darren escape from the shop I mean.
    Sarah is a great character, reminding us that immunity was chance, not strength or virtue. She hasn’t even got Tom’s amoral backbone and yet she’s still there. I think more could have been made of Bob’s surfacing, which we all knew was going to happen. Greg et al seemed not terribly outraged by the whole history of her betrayal. Anya’s sarcastic belittling of her in the shop was brilliant.

    There were a few badly plotted lines. Greg says after they’re had stuff pilfered in the department store that they have no water left, yet when Dexter fires on their landrover he hits a full water container on the roof, and when Dexter flees into an abandoned office there’s a full water cooler thing on the table. They hadn’t been looking very hard for fresh supplies. And the scientists’ (whom I’ve never liked) dialogue is stilted. Boss scientist just states the bleedin’ obvious when he says “Out of billions of victims one turns out to be immune…” Yeah, we know that. In the original quite a few survivors had the disease and recovered – Ann Tranter, the lad in “Corn Dolly”, Abby etc. Also, why does he go on about needing to save the human race? All the survivors out there are immune. It’s only the bods in the lab who need the vaccine. And the incidental music is completely unnecessary and patronising, with its attempt to direct our emotions. No score at all, as in the original and the early Dr Who would be much better. The survivors live in a world of near silence now, so so should we.

    It had me enthralled though, and to me had the kind of ruthlessness (eg Tom shooting Gavin in cold blood) which the series had lacked up to now. A strength compared to the original is the reappearance of characters, such as Samantha Willis, whereas Wormley was seen once and then vanished. I like the blogmaster’s point that when shesees the helicopter she suddenly realises that she may not be queen bee after all. That was well done. I’m left hoping that there will be Survivors 2.1. Nine out of ten.

  8. Paul Mount said

    Cracking review, Rich, absolutely summed up my feelings about this extraordinary adrenalin-rush episode which, frankly, had me on the edge of my seat – and modern Tv doesn’t do that so often these days. I’m completely won over by this new series of ‘Survivors’ and am thrilled that there’s to be a second run next year. Superb stuff.

  9. Nick Hubble said

    I liked the series but I thought this was the weakest episode – perhaps that is just a byproduct of the cliff hanger endings. I think the episodic serial structure works better where you get linked but self-contained episodes: in that respect all the other episodes were more satisfying in themselves in that they carried some sense of narrative closure. But it also has to be said that the Faginseque element was probably the weakest plot segment in the series so far – it is simply not in any way convincing that teenagers would behave in that way – they’d just shoot off.

    It also looked that it was filmed earlier than some of the previous episodes. I suspect the location shooting was done in one chunk. So therefore the work in the last few episodes in which the actors have begun to grow into their characters seemed to be missing in the later parts of the programme giving a curiously uneven effect (maybe I’m just imagining this).

    I liked the fact that Abby finally said ‘maybe Willis is right’ – it’s an interesting feature of the first series that no one pauses to consider that Wormley might be right. Mind you back in 1975, we all knew he was wrong (even at 10 years of age in my case). I still think Willis is wrong but what the series exposes is the current lack of ideas for alternative living in today’s society. In the original, Abby, Greg, Charles, Paul all have ideas about different ways of living – these seem to be absent in 2008. It really seems as though there is no alternative to authoritarianism – or leastways only hints. Last week they did let the schizophrenic character go off and, this week, Tom (who in a strange way is the moral hero of the series) did say ‘we make our own laws now’ – so there are hints at some sort of liberated plurality of ways of living. So I think its all to play for in the second series – and actually it will probably be more appropriate to compare the two series with the first series of the original (i.e think of it as one series with a big gap in the middle).

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