The opening ten minutes or so of Gone Away are a good example of the leisurely pace of television drama from the mid seventies. We follow Tom Price as he explores a deserted farmhouse in search of food. We then see him prize open a cupboard to discover a shotgun – afterwards he manages to shoot a chicken but it’s taken away from him by a young boy,
The boy, and an older man, are living nearby and haven’t eaten in days. Despite this, Tom demands the chicken back. It’s another example of how selfish Tom Price is – he’s able (as the man says) to easily shoot more wildlife, so there’s no good reason why he’s so insistent on reclaiming the bird.
Food is also on the mind of Abby, Greg and Jenny. They decide to stock up with provisions at a nearby supermarket, but things aren’t as straightforward as they seem. Apart from the rats running amok, there’s the foreboding sight of a dead man, hanging from the ceiling, with the word “looter” attached to his body.
Greg sees this as a strong indication that they should go elsewhere, but Abby is insistent that they finish loading the supplies they need. At present, Greg is a fairly passive character, content to accede to Abby’s wishes (“you’re the boss” he tells her later). Later, we’ll see him take direct action, which does indicate that he’s slowly forming a bond with the two women.
They’re prevented from leaving by three armed men, Dave (Brian Peck), Reg (Barry Stanton) and John (Robert Gillespie). They’re part of Wormley’s organisation and they make it clear that if they want to take the goods away then they’ll have to register and get a chit. In some ways, it does make sense – food and other supplies should be rationed, rather than horded by a small band of people. But the question is, who has given Wormley the authority to take control?
The answer, of course, is nobody and in Greg’s eyes this makes him and his men little more than opportunistic criminals. Abby is less sure and wonders if a strong government, however embryonic, isn’t what’s needed. Jenny has marked Abby down as a potential leader, although Abby herself strongly demurs – all she wants to do is find her son.
Gone Away is fairly light on plot, instead it’s more concerned with character development. The middle of the episode allows Terry Nation to again discuss how the survivors will live their lives from now on. Wormley’s way (an autocratic leader) or Abby’s way (a commune, with everybody contributing equally). It’s obvious that the series will edge towards Abby’s plan, but a co-operative will only work if everybody contributes – and rogue elements, like Tom Price, will always be a problem.
Jenny snatches the shotgun from John, which changes the dynamic of the stand-off. Given that Jenny isn’t the most forceful person it’s a little surprising that she’s able to overpower him (although later events may explain this). But it’s clear that Jenny isn’t capable of pulling the trigger. During the whole stand-off, Greg has remained in the background, silent. But when Jenny starts to waver, he snatches the gun and forces the men back. This allows the three of them to escape with Dave, Reg and John in pursuit.
Ian McCulloch’s preferred vision of Survivors was the one seen in series one and he particularly rated episodes like this, which combined drama with an action/adventure edge. The more talky series two episodes (and a lack of character development) were factors in contributing to his departure.
Later, all three encounter Tom Price. Jenny’s run into him a few times before, but it’s a new experience for Abby and Greg. We see Tom at his most ingratiating and obsequious, but once he gets the chance to join Wormley’s gang he leaves them without a second thought. Over the first three episodes we’ve had plenty of opportunities to see that Tom’s not a man to be trusted (which will culminate mid series, with the episode Law and Order).
Dave, Reg and John are waiting for Abby, Greg and Jenny to return to their base (they’ve set out to discover if a boy Tom met was Peter – it turns out not to be). John waylays them and tells them to hide so he can draw the other two off. His decision to leave Abby, Greg and Jenny alone does give a sliver of hope that Wormley’s group may have more liberals like him.
By the end of the episode we’ve learnt that Abby’s dream that all the survivors would band together with a common aim is unlikely ever to happen. What remains of society is fragmented and chaotic, with smaller groups (often conflicting) being the order of the day.