Survivors – Starvation

starvation

Starvation opens with two women, Wendy (Julie Neubert) and Emma (Hana-Maria Pravda), facing starvation.  They live in a fairly isolated spot in the country and have eaten all the food in the few other houses nearby.  Wendy suggests that she goes into the nearest town, but Emma dissuades her.  Wendy might be young, but she’s no longer strong (due to malnutrition) and the town is probably rife with diseases.

Because Emma is an old woman and unable to actively find food herself, she’s happy for Wendy to go out foraging.  Wendy does find something to eat, but it’s in the hands of Tom Price, who’s keen to share – but only on his terms ….

Although Starvation is a decent character piece, which introduces us to three new survivors (Wendy, Emma and later on, Barney) it does feel rather contrived in places.  Given that Wendy and Emma live in the country it’s impossible to believe that there’s no fruit to be found or any fish in the river.  As for the latter, we later learn there’s plenty of fish, as Wendy comes across Tom who’s caught some, so it’s odd that neither of the women seem to consider this possibility.  Instead, they’ve been living on nettle soup and the like, whilst all the time slowly growing weaker from a lack of solid nourishment.

It’s been a while since we’ve seen Tom Price and he’s grown grimier and hairier.  When he spots Wendy he’s instantly and obviously attracted and tells her that he’s a merchant who gets people what they want and in return they give him what he wants.  Exactly what he gets isn’t spelled out, although it’s not exactly difficult to guess what he means.  Especially when he tells Wendy that he’s a rich man who could treat her like a princess (“you’re a pretty little girl”).

Thanks to his prominent teeth and his strong Welsh accent (which he could make even broader when the part demanded it) Talfryn Thomas could never be described as a subtle actor.  But his broadness (in contrast to the dialed-down performances of virtually everybody else in Survivors) works well – as he can be sinister or amusing, subversive or supportive (whilst the others have more settled, straightforward personas).

Naturally, Wendy declines his charms in favour of the charms of the fish and runs off with his food.  As he pursues her, Abby, Greg and Jenny spot Emma being attacked by a pack of wild dogs.  A few minutes earlier the dogs had surrounded their van before they all ran off together to harass Emma.  Why did they do this?  In story terms it’s obvious, but it’s another part of the plot which doesn’t really make a great deal of sense.

Abby frightens the dogs away and looks after Emma whilst Greg and Jenny draw them off in the van.  There then follows another plot contrivance – after they appear to have shaken the dogs off, why doesn’t Greg just reverse back to Hannah’s cottage?  Instead, he tries to find another route and on the way discovers a substantial manor house.  Greg, Jenny, John and Lizzie are then trapped because the wild dogs have returned and once again surround the van.  I’m assuming that the van has run out of petrol, otherwise surely they could have driven away and lost them?  Of course, Greg and Jenny need to be removed from the middle part of the episode so that Abby can meet Emma and then re-encounter Tom by herself, but it’s another awkward part of the story.

Having decided to settle down and find a permanent place to live, the place they’ve found, The Grange seems ideal as it has a substantial amount of fuel, acres of land for growing crops and even some sheep.

There’s a lovely two-handed scene with Carolyn Seymour and Hana Maria Pravda.  Emma Cohen couldn’t be further removed from the likes of Jimmy Garland.  Garland relishes the prospect of living in this new world whilst Emma wishes she was dead (and therefore with the rest of her family).  Emma’s a prime example of somebody who needs other people in order to survive and it’s no surprise that she and Wendy will join the others at the Grange.

On the commentary track for The Fourth Horsemen episode on the DD Video release of series one, Carolyn Seymour commented that she never really knew or understood Talfryn Thomas, which is understandable since they’re very different actors.  This gives their scenes in this story an extra frisson (in addition to the fact they’re quite amusing, a rarity in Survivors, which was obviously never the most light-hearted of programmes).

In pursuit of Wendy, Tom discovers Abby and Emma.  He manages to take Abby’s rifle, so he holds the upper hand.  He then tells her that he’s a merchant who can provide things for people, provided they do things for him.  Abby calls his bluff and seems quite keen for such an arrangement – leaving Tom half eager and half afraid, maybe because (rightly as it turns out) he fears that Abby’s going to trick him!

The contrast between Abby’s cut-glass accent and attitude and the grimy Tom (who doesn’t look like he’s had a wash for months) is what makes this rather entertaining.  In the end all becomes clear – Tom goes off to his van to get some food and the previously unseen Wendy locks him in.  But even when we can’t see him and can only hear his voice (alternatively threatening and pleading) Talfryn Thomas is still the centre of attention.

Plot-wise, this is a fairly thin episode and the various logical flaws are a slight irritation, but it works well as a way of introducing the new characters into the series.  Later, the others encounter Barney (John Hallet).  He’s a well-built man, but has a simple, trusting nature.  It’s no surprise that Tom latches onto him, as he obviously realises he’s the one person that he can dominate.

Everybody seems happy with the Grange as a base, so the survivors set out to explore their new home and work out a plan to make the best use of the land.  But the arrival of a stranger in the next episode shows them that they’ve still plenty to learn.

Survivors – Garland’s War

garland

Abby’s quest for her son continues to be fruitless and the latest lead is possibly the cruelest blow yet.  Abby, Greg and Jenny travel to an isolated farmhouse because they’ve heard that a boy lives there.  When she’s told that his name is Peter, Abby’s hopes are instantly raised.  She rushes out to meet him but the expression on her face makes it quite clear that he’s not her son.

Since Abby is quite a humourless, driven character, it’s sometimes a challenge for Carolyn Seymour to give her any light and shade.  Garland’s War is a good script for Seymour since it gives her more to play with (and she works well opposite Richard Heffer).

Terry Nation returns to scripting duties for the first time since episode three and this episode bears all the hallmarks of a typical Nation story.  It’s a direct, action-based yarn which features strongly written characters who are placed in direct opposition to each other.

Next, Abby travels to a country house called Waterhouse as she’s heard that several boys are living there.  She sneaks out in the middle of the night, much to Greg’s annoyance, but he decides that it’s too late to follow her and so they’ll wait for her return.  This means that McCulloch and Fleming only appear at the beginning and the end (it’s very much Seymour’s episode).

On the way to Waterhouse, Abby runs into a hunted man.  They manage to escape and he introduces himself as Jimmy Garland (Richard Heffer).  He’s also the Earl of Waterhouse, and he tells Abby that he’s been dispossessed of his ancestral seat by Knox (Peter Jeffrey) and his followers.

Garland is something of a cliched boys-own character, but Heffer is able to give him some depth.  Unlike most of the people we’ve met so far, Garland is happy to be alive in this harsh, post-apocalyptic world.  He was a solider and an adventurer and he’s quite candid in telling Abby that he was made for this time.  Waging a one-man guerrilla war against Knox and his followers is therefore all in a days work for him.

There’s a definite attraction between Abby and Garland, although she is slightly shocked by his callous attitudes.  When she asks him if he doesn’t feel anything for the millions of people who died, he says no – how can anybody processes the pain of such a catastrophe?

Although slightly underused until the last fifteen minutes or so, Peter Jeffrey is his usual immaculate self as Knox.  Since the script was written in such a way to present Garland as the clear hero and Knox as the clear villain, it comes as a surprise when Abby meets Knox face to face and finds him to be an apparently reasonable man.

He’s able to sow several seeds of doubt in her mind as he paints Garland as someone who wants to assume his place as the lord of the manor, with everybody else effectively working as his serfs.  Of course, it’s all a ruse to gain Abby’s confidence and Garland does turn out to be the man we think he is.  He’s able, with the help of Greg, to extract himself from Knox’s clutches, but although Garland has lost this battle, he’s still fighting the war.  This gives the story an open-ended feeling as we leave him to carry on his struggle to retain his home.

An interesting thing about the first series of Survivors is that people pop up from time to time – they might appear in one episode, not feature for a while and then re-appear.  This gives the programme a different feel from many series, which are more episodically self-contained.  For example, the likes of Tom Price, Vic Thatcher and Anne Tranter will all return shortly (and Jimmy Garland will be back in the series finale).  This fluidity certainly works to the series’ benefit.

We’re now moving into the phase of the programme where they have a settled base of operations.  For the remainder of series one it’s the Manor and in series two they join Charles’ community.  This gives the show a different feel, not least because from the next episode Survivors changes to an all-VT series (there’s no filming until the second series two-parter Lights of London).

It’s a pity in a way, because we lose the glossy filmic shooting from episodes like this one (the night-time hunt for Garland through the woods, for example).  But on the other hand, had Garland’s War been an all-VT production then some of the studio shots that were meant to be outside might have been a tad more convincing.

The next few episodes will see an influx of new (and not so new) characters who will swell the regular cast.  Some make it into the second series, whilst others aren’t so lucky …..

Survivors – Gone to the Angels

angels

Abby’s continuing search for Peter is a very useful plot device as it can make the main characters go to locations that otherwise they’d have no good reason to visit.  This is demonstrated in Jack Ronder’s script when Abby learns that a party of boys from Peter’s school may have gone to “visit the angels”.

Some months before the death, three men (who somehow knew that an imminent catastrophe was approaching) went off to the Derbyshire hills to live in religious seclusion.  Abby sets off to find them, whilst Greg and Jenny remain behind.

Greg and Jenny aren’t alone though, as they’ve essentially adopted two young children, John (Stephen Dudley) and Lizzie (Tanya Ronder).  The pair have been living by themselves ever since the death and jump at the chance to join Abby, Greg and Jenny.  Their initial appearance is a delight – they’re dressed in adult clothes which are far too big for them.  Both Dudley and Ronder have a natural precocious charm which is clear from their first scene.  Some might argue that casting the son of the producer and the daughter of the script-editor is rather nepotistic, but it works.

There’s another new face in the story, Lincoln (Peter Miles).  Nobody plays strange and unsettling characters as well as Miles (who’s made a long and successful career out of it) and Lincoln is another good example.  Initially, he seems a little jumpy but fairly normal, but it doesn’t take long before his instability is very apparent.  Greg and Jenny take the children and leave – he begs to come with them, but Greg is adamant that he’s not welcome, so Lincoln is left to whatever the fates decree for him.

Survivors is an often bleak series, though occasionally there are brief glimpses of hope.  But hope is in very short supply in Gone to the Angels.  Abby finds the three men on the mountainside, although she’s disappointed to learn she’s the first person to visit them since the death.  Jack (Frederick Hall), Robert (Kenneth Caswell) and Matthew (Nickolas Grace) may all be deeply religious but they’re also friendly and welcoming.

Later, the others make the trip as well.  They find an equally warm welcome (Matthew delights in playing with the children, for example).  But shortly afterwards when all three fall ill, Abby realises that she’s inadvertently infected them with the death.  As they were isolated on the hilltop it appears they never came into contact with the virus (which doesn’t really make a great deal of sense – the virus spread all over the world very quickly, surely it could make the trip up the hill as well?)

This slight plot quibble apart, it provides a chilling conclusion to the story as Abby shoulders her burden of guilt over their deaths.  Hall, Caswell and Grace are all excellent – especially Frederick Hall as Jack who retains his serenity even when he knows that he’s dying.

There’s little solace to be gained from this episode, except maybe at the end when Abby looks into the faces of John and Lizzie.  Even after all the deaths, do they (and other children) offer hope for a better future?

Survivors – Corn Dolly

corn dolly

Time has obviouly moved on since the previous episode, Gone Away.  Then, Greg was ambivalent about staying with the two girls – but the glance that he exchanges with Jenny at the start of the episode is the first indication that their relationship is deepening (later, for example, she asks “Can I hug you?”)

But the main thrust of Corn Dolly (the first episode of Survivors not to be written by Terry Nation – Jack Ronder scripted this one) concerns Charles Vaughan (Denis Lill) and his community.  This was Lill’s sole appearance during the first series – it seems that at this time Charles was scripted as a purely a one-off character.

However, Carolyn Seymour’s departure after series one meant that Charles Vaughan would return as a regular and by the third series he would become the series’ central character.  The decision to bring Charles back didn’t find favour with Ian McCulloch (although he stated later that he didn’t have anything against Lill personally).  McCulloch considered that another male lead diluted Greg’s role (and he also argued that it had an adverse effect on Jenny’s character development).

But although the character of Charles didn’t appeal to McCulloch, the series was immeasurably strengthened Lill’s presence.  Even in this episode (when it becomes clear that Charles has opinions which Abby, Greg and Jenny find unpalatable), he’s still an appealing character, since he’s practical, organised and friendly.

Before the death, Charles was someone who was already quite self-sufficient – so what he’s doing now (with a dozen or so people) is simply on a larger scale.  But Charles isn’t just content to exist, he wants to know exactly how many people are left.  Simply put, are there enough to ensure survival?  He estimates that around 10,000 people are still alive in the UK – so if they can survive the next two generations, there may be a chance.

There has to be a twist to the story though.  Returning to Charles’ community, they find most of the people are dead or dying – poisoned by fish from the river.  It’s an indication of just how fragile life is now: even a handful of deaths means that the ultimate survival of the human race could be placed in jeopardy.

Charles has his own opinions on this (and it’s not one that Abby can agree with).  They need children (as many as can be produced) and in his eyes monogamy is no longer an option.  Any women of child-bearing age need to be in a constant state of pregnancy (and the identity of the father isn’t that important).  This is a debate that has been heard before in post-apocalyptic fiction (we see a similar community in The Day of the Triffids).

Abby finds the notion of women becoming little more than cattle unpalatable and it’s Charles’ insistence on this point that forces Abby, Greg and Jenny to leave (it becomes apparent that all the women are either pregnant by Charles or, had they not died, would have been).  Of course, when Charles returns as a regular character his more extreme views are downplayed or ignored (in series two he has a partner, Pet, and this appears to be his only relationship).

It’s the shades of grey that make Corn Dolly such an intriguing episode.  Charles does burn with the conviction of a zealot, but it’s possible to understand his point of view.  However, in a world where medical assistance is so limited, childbirth becomes very hazardous.  But without the next generation, there is no future.

Survivors – Gone Away

gone away

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.

Survivors – Genesis

genesis

Genesis opens with Greg, Abby and Jenny all in the same part of the country but not yet close enough to make contact.  Abby sees Greg’s helicopter but can’t attract his attention, Jenny sees the remnants of a fire lit by Abby but by the time she gets there Abby’s moved on.

Greg had been working in Holland and pilots the company helicopter back to his house.  A piece of visual shorthand (a wedding photo) gives us that information and when he sees a slumped figure on the sofa it immediately brings to mind Abby’s discovery of her dead husband in the previous episode.  But his first words show us that theirs was quite a different marriage.  “I was wrong Jeannie. I thought you were the kind to survive just to spite me.”

Greg obviously still had a lingering sense of duty to check if she was alive, but her death has freed him of that obligation so he drives away.  Like most of the people we’ve seen so far, he doesn’t have any particular destination in mind, so when a woman, Anne Tranter (Myra Francis), flags him down and frantically asks for his help, he agrees.

She takes him to a quarry, where a man called Vic Thatcher (Terry Scully) is trapped under a tractor.  Greg manages to free him, but his legs are mangled beyond repair.  Anne, like Abby, comes from a privileged background, but there the similarities end since Anne is completely self centered and spoilt.  Myra Francis is perfectly cast as the rich bitch and it’s a pity that she didn’t appear in more episodes (she has one more after this).

Terry Scully excelled at playing victims and Vic is another notable one.  At the end of the episode it might be assumed that we’d seen the last of him, but he does reappear later in the series.  It’s just a shame that Scully had to be replaced by Hugh Walters for the last few episodes of series one.

The survivors are able to take anything they wish – witness Tom Price’s child-like pleasure in acquiring a Rolls Royce (I particularly like the way he continually beeps the horn, as if he can’t quite believe he’s driving it). He runs into Jenny again, who begs him to take her with him, but he refuses. He reassures her that help will be on the way soon, if not from this country then from America. He’s convinced that the Yanks will come through, just like they did in the war.

Elsewhere, we see that Greg has a much more realistic view. He tells Anne that things won’t get back to normal for decades, if ever. As an engineer, some part of Greg’s mind must be pondering how to rebuild the shattered infrastructure (even if it’s only local to begin with). Anne is clearly only concerned with her own welfare – there’s enough supplies stockpiled to ensure she can live a comfortable life, so why should she worry about anybody else? (The most obvious example of this is later, when she abandons the crippled Vic).

Arthur Wormley (George Baker) leads a group that is, for the moment, self sufficient. He appears charming, but it quickly becomes clear to Abby that he sees himself as the man to lead the remnants of society. Some may not see this as a bad thing, but in Wormley’s world not everybody is created equal. His vision of a centralised government (with him at the centre) dismays Abby, who likens his proposals to that of a feudal baron. Later, we see how ruthless he can be when dealing with anyone who disagrees with him (executing a man who has broken what he considers to be the law)

Whilst he doesn’t threaten Abby, his presence serves as a reminder that the fracturing of society will inevitably see groups of survivors banding together, not only for their own safety but simply because everybody’s chances of survival will be greater if they join forces.  This is fine, but whose authority (if anybody’s) should they be under?  This is a topic that the series will return to again.

Before Abby moves on, she does try and explain to him the importance of self-sufficiency – not just in growing food, but in all aspects of their new lives. It’s another chance for Terry Nation to outline his own philosophy (several other examples can be found in The Fourth Horseman).  It’s interesting how Abby’s speech is a refined version of the one that Dr Bronson gave to her. Clearly what he told her has sunk in.

“Don’t you see the point we’d reached in our civilisation? Now look around you, anywhere you like, in this house in this room. I doubt if it contains a single artifact that was the exclusive creation of one person. This table, this simple wooden table. Could you knock up something like this, right from scratch? You’d fell the timber, with what – an axe or a saw? The steel for the saw has been made in a foundry. The iron-ore has been dug from the ground and the fuel to smelt it with has been mined. Now what happens when the last axe-head cracks and the last saw breaks?

Wormley isn’t the only one to have visions of how society needs to be rebuilt. Anne tells Greg that they should scavenge as much food and other provisions as they can, working throughout the winter. They can then use this stockpile to their benefit – employing people to work for them and using the goods as payment. The privileged Anne sees nothing wrong in this – she had a comfortable life in the old world, why should her life in the new one be any different?

Naturally, Greg isn’t convinced and the next day he leaves, telling her that he may be back or he may not. He does, but before that happens he runs into Jenny.  Jenny tells him that she needs to be with people, despite being (or so she considered) an independent person – she simply couldn’t cope on her own.  Greg tells that there’s bound to be groups setting up, so they’ll find something for her.  At this time, it’s plain that Greg is considering moving on by himself.  Or does he need people just as much as Jenny, but his stoic personality won’t admit it?

When Greg returns to Anne with some drugs he’s scavenged for Vic she tells him that Vic’s dead, so the three of them leave. Before this, Greg gives her a long, hard stare but doesn’t question her. Given that he’s already had plenty of opportunities to see just how unscrupulous she is, it’s surprising that he doesn’t check (which leaves poor Vic stranded).

A light in the middle of the night brings Greg and Jenny into contact with Abby and now the three sides of the triangle that create the dynamic during series one are complete.  Jenny is delighted to have found another friendly person (and with the prospect of more to come) whilst Greg’s expression is a lot harder to read.

Survivors – The Fourth Horseman

fourth 01

The opening scene of The Fourth Horseman makes it quite clear that Abby Grant (Carolyn Seymour) has led a privileged life.  Not only does she live in a large house, but there’s also a tennis court (complete with an automatic serving machine).  And when she enters the house, Abby thinks nothing of asking her housekeeper Mrs Transon (Margaret Anderson) for a cold drink – the notion of fetching it for herself would presumably never have crossed her mind.

Jenny Richards (Lucy Fleming) on the other hand, seems to live in much more modest surroundings – if we assume she shares a flat with her sick friend Patricia (Elisabeth Sinclair).

What is established early on is that the two women (although they’ve yet to meet) have very different outlooks and attitudes.  Abby has a strong and independent personality whilst Jenny seems to rely much more on other people.  After the virus has burnt itself out, we’ll see how this works in the context of the series.

The increasing seriousness of the virus epidemic is drip-fed through the opening part of the episode in various ways – Abby listens to a radio report in her car which discusses how the crisis is being dealt with in other countries, Jenny visits the hospital to get help for her friend and is told that there’s nothing to be done, etc.

Other signs that the delicate infrastructure of society is slowly breaking down are also threaded through the opening twenty minutes or so, such as problems with the telephone and radio and reports of long delays on the trains.  Although issues with all three in mid seventies Britain was not exactly unusual!

The question of information, or mis-information, is dealt with.  Up until now, nobody has really taken the epidemic seriously (mainly because the news reports have greatly downplayed its effects).  In the pre-internet age, the flow of information would have been greatly restricted, so this is quite credible.  Abby and her husband David (Peter Bowles) therefore begin to slowly understand that it may take more than “a few days” (as David originally believes) to put things right.

The symptoms of the illness (sweating, pains under the arms) are quickly established (Patricia and Mrs Transon both exhibit them).  Abby is also later infected, whilst David seems to be quite healthy – so it’s reasonable to assume that Abby will die whilst David will live.

Of course, the reverse happens – Abby awakes after six days or so from the fever to find that she’s one of the few to have had the illness but not died and then discovers her husband’s dead body.  She walks through the village and doesn’t find another person alive.  “Oh god, please don’t let me be the only one.”

At the end of the episode she enters the bedroom and cuts off her long hair.  The unspoken inference is that she knows her old life is over, so now she has to start a new one (beginning by locating her son, Peter).  Symbolically, cutting her hair could be said to be part of this.

Earlier, Abby discussed with David what would happen to a city “if it all breaks down, all at the same time. There’s no power, no lighting or cooking. And food, even if you get it into the city you can’t distribute it. And there’s water, sewage, bleugh. Things like that. You know it just never occurred to me when I lived in London. The city’s like a great big, pampered baby with thousands of people feeding it and cleaning it and making sure it’s alright.”

Dialogue like this, as well as the radio and train station announcements all help to quickly establish what the problem is and how it can and will accelerate.  Immediately after Abby describes how a city is essentially a living thing, we see Jenny urged by her doctor friend to get out of the city and into the relative safety of the country, which she does.

It’s clear though that her solo adventures are a great deal more uncomfortable than Abby’s.  Jenny (whilst a resourceful person in many ways) is possibly not someone who would be able to survive on her own, so it’s fortunate that she later meets Abby and Greg.  Before that though, she briefly runs into Tom Price (Talfryn Thomas).  From their one scene here, you wouldn’t necessarily guess that he’d reappear and become a key figure in a number of early episodes.  From this appearance it might be thought he’d be the series’ comic relief character, but we’ll see later that he also has his darker side …..

With only limited resources, it’s quite tricky to create a London that’s virtually empty of living people (but this is achieved by shooting at night and the night-time filming does also help to increase the sense of unease).  The Fourth Horsemen benefits from being shot in the normal way for BBC drama of this period – VT for the studio scenes and film for the location scenes.  The majority of the later episodes would be all VT, which does actually work quite well, but the film night shooting in this one is very evocative.

We’re told that the virus is a mutant strain and is quite unstoppable.  In a few days, the dead will outnumber the living and all the major cities will resemble cess-pits.  The question now must be, what will the survivors do next?

When Abby reaches her son’s school she finds that he’s no longer there – together with a party of other boys they left before the worst of the sickness.  Dr Bronson (Peter Copley) tells her that her son may already be dead, although Abby still clings to the hope that he’s still alive.

Dr Bronson also acts as the mouthpiece for Terry Nation as he describes what has to happen once the virus has done its work.  Abby doesn’t, at first, believe that the immediate problem is too serious, since there must be an enormous stockpile of food and machinery.

Dr Bronson tells her that “they’ll be enough for many, many years  but that would be simply scavenging, wouldn’t it? And a constantly diminishing supply. What is important is learning again. Things you’ve never even needed to consider before. For instance, could you make that candle? Where does the raw material come from, do you know? Could you make something as simple as a candle from scratch? A book will tell you how electricity is generated, but could you do it, right from the very beginning? Find the metal in the earth, dig it up, refine it, turn it into wire? Could you make and cast glass for a light-bulb? You’ll need to know every part of every process.”

This is one of the mission statements of the series.  Everything has to be learnt again, otherwise the human race will face total obliteration …..

fourth 02