Sunday, 22 November 2015

Survivors (1975)

In 1975 Terry Nation, already renowned as the creator of the Daleks and soon to add Blake's 7 to his resume, destroyed the world - it's something every British sci-fi writer does at some point.

In Nation's case he did this via the BBC and a plague known rather wonderfully as 'The Death'.  The show was called 'Survivors' and followed a group of people trying to make their way in a world changed beyond all recognition and the trials they face as they go about relearning the skills needed in order to, well, survive.

From the off Survivors was always, to an extent, an ensemble piece although one with a changing triumvirate at it's head with only Lucy Fleming's Jenny Richards remaining as a lead for all three series.

Survivors first series concentrates on Jenny, middle class mum in search of her son Abby Grant (Carolyn Seymour) and engineer Greg Preston (Ian McCulloch) as the three slowly find each other and more in a world suddenly bereft of people.  Of the three only the overbearing Greg seems to have the slightest idea about how to survive with Abby entirely fixated on her search for her son and the as wet as water Jenny left entirely at odds with the world.

The life the group build in a handy mansion  is beset by problems from both outside influences and of their own making with one particularly harrowing episode - 'Law and Order' - where Greg shows just how unsuitable he is to have any sort of power.

By the time we arrive at series two our group has, by necessity, joined forces with one we had met briefly in the earlier series.  Abby has left to continue her search for her elusive son and has been replaced by Denis Lill as Charles Vaughan.  Cowed by the deaths of many of the group he led in series one Charles is a more sympathetic character than the single minded and driven Abby.  Joining them in this new community is Charles' saintly partner Pet (Lorna Lewis) and the lazy, smelly, miserable and deeply unpleasant farm hand Hubert Goss (John Abineri).

This second series is a more domestic affair as the group meet various other groups and struggle with establishing their crops and livestock. Interpersonal strife is still the hallmark of the series - mostly with Herbert as the catalyst - but the series isn't afraid to cast it's nets wider with the highlight of the series being the two part 'Lights of London' storyline that gives us a much deeper understanding of how the world has changed with our first look at how the city has coped since the Death.  The series ends with Greg abandoning his wife, son and community in order to fly off and tinker with some technology.

To my mind the third series which sees Jenny, Charles and Hubert hit the road in search of Greg is the least successful of the three.  After the relative inaction of the second it's good to see the cast back on the road but the reason behind it is weak - Jenny's constant, whining, neediness for the husband that has deserted her and their baby son to go adventuring with a young Norwegian girl to the extent that she also pretty much abandons her baby in order to try and track him down - but it does result in some excellent episodes as we and they are exposed to the wider post-Death world.

Since I was a little kid I've had a love for this very British sort of post-apocalypse TV and literature; I just find it irresistible.  It's one of those genres where it's easy to point out flaws, inconsistencies and errors and here it's no exception - the obvious 'Where are all the bodies?' question is easily avoided given the TV restrictions of the time - but Survivors real strength is that for the most part they try and treat the apocalypse in as realistic a way as possible.  The actual survivors are woefully ill equipped to deal with the situation they find themselves in and make some spectacularly bad decisions.  They are temperamental, selfish, gossipy, insecure, angry, unpleasant, helpful, loving and entirely human.






6 comments:

  1. The episode where one of the survivors develops rabies (also a big fear at the time) scared the life out of me. I must have been 9. Since then, of course, wherever I go I look for the sort of house I'd commandeer in the event of a flu-type contagion. Something with a nice view and a vegetable garden, I've always thought.

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    1. ha ha - a nice view and a vegetable garden would be top of my list also.
      mind you my gardening skills are more than a little ropey so i think i'd need some sort of well stocked supermarket supply depot fairly nearby also.
      and yes rabies (that one is a fave episode of mine), along with getting trapped in an abandoned fridge, the big fear of the 1970s. at some point soon i'll get around to featuring 'The Mad Death' on here.

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  2. I just finished re-watching the first series and was quite impressed. I saw the original when I was about 12 and it really spooked me at the time. It was all very believable when Britain was living with power cuts, IRA bombings and the Cold War threat of annihilation. Watching it again I was struck by how earnest and naive some of it seems - I like how characters were not afraid to say innocent things like "I don't know" or ask for a hug - a more innocent time? The acting could be really hit and miss, but I liked whoever played Abby Grant - she didn't have to speak, she could reply by just by arching her eyebrow. The characters all seemed oddly familiar too - especially Greg and Jenny - must have imprinted on my brain at that early age.

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    1. Hi Michael.
      the first series is by far the best although two has it's share of excellent episodes.
      i was very young when it first screened so i don't have that original memory to go on but i know what you mean about the actors. They all had failrly busy careers, Carolyn Seymour (Abby - and yes she's fab isn't she) did lot'sof US TV, Ian McCulloch (Greg) did Zombie Flesh Eaters and Zombie Holocaust so he's a very familiar face for me (i love zombie movies), Denis Lill did lot's of TV including a couple of Doctor Who series and Lucy Fleming (Jenny) was in loads of things - Avengers, Smiley's People, Wycliffe - and interestingly is Ian Fleming's niece and runs the company responsible for his books.

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  3. The thing about Survivors is that it was more or less contemporary with the self-sufficiency movement. The funny face of this was The Good Life and John Seymour was its prophet. I loved all of this and still read post-apoc books. Very sad for the BBC to have had another go and not even finish the series.

    One complaint about Survivors, very little archery and boats. Law of the Jungle, with or without Brian Blessed could have been developed as an alternative to the smallholding concept and certainly the daft electricity ideas.

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    1. Hi Edwin
      Sorry for not replying sooner but i only just spotted your comment.
      I'm also a post-apocalypse addict. i'll pretty much read anything of that sort and it all comes down to shows and books like this and Triffids and The Changes.
      i get your point with the archery and boats. I suspect as with most of these things budget was the major factor in the scripting and it was simply cheaper to keep the action confined to a couple of buildings and a muddy field.

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