Survivors – A Beginning

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There’s yet another crisis at the community.  The seeds that they received in exchange for the petrol turn out to be useless and this disappointment is another blow for Abby and Greg.  The pair of them are clearly finding leadership to be a tiring and thankless task and when Abby learns that Jenny is pregnant it causes her to pause and reassess her own life.

But there’s another problem to deal with before Abby can consider her next move.  A group of new arrivals turn up – they’ve been driven from their own settlement and plan to find another, but ask that they leave one of their party (a sick woman) behind.  The community decides that it’s too risky to take her in, so all the strangers leave.

But when they discover the woman has been left behind anyway, they’re forced to accept her (although Greg and Abby still argue the point).  Afterwards, Abby slips away to be by herself and encounters Jimmy Garland – who’s now back in control at Waterhouse.  It seems inevitable that their destinies are intertwined – but when she returns back to the Grange she also has to deal with some unexpected news ….

A Beginning is a somewhat bitty story, since it concerns itself with tying up some loose ends as well as looking ahead to the second series.  The arrival of the strangers at the start reminds the community about the story told to them by Robert Lawson in the previous episode.  He painted a picture of small communities who were becoming increasingly isolated and insular as they begin to jealously guard themselves against all “outsiders” whether they be friend or foe.

The Grange community are convinced that the only hope of long-term survival is to establish a federation of communities – each one independent, but able to assist the others as and when required (we’ll see how Charles Vaughan attempts to make this dream a reality in the second series).

The arrival of a sick woman is yet another example of how society has changed. Prior to the death, she wouldn’t have been turned away – but now, it’s understandable that Abby, Greg and the others are reluctant to accept her (she could have illnesses that would kill them all).  The irony is that when she recovers she’ll prove to be one of the most important and useful members of the community.

Her name is Ruth Anderson (played here by Annie Irving, although she’d be replaced by Celia Gregory in series two).  She was a medical student and although she never qualified, her knowledge, in a world where only a handful of doctors and nurses have survived, will prove to be invaluable.

She also has other news.  On her travels she met a group of people living on a houseboat.  One of them was Dr Bronson, who Abby met earlier in the series, and another was Abby’s son, Peter.  This provides an unexpected happy ending to the first series, as Abby and Jimmy Garland set out to find Peter.

We’ve already been told of the unlikelihood of people from the same family surviving and even if we accept that, it does seem a remarkable coincidence that out of all the places Ruth could have ended up, she arrives at the place where Peter’s mother is living.  Given the decimated nature of the population, it becomes a little more acceptable, but only a little!

This is the last we’ll see of Abby (although she has returned in the recent Big Finish audios).  We have to assume that she did find Peter and that they, and Jimmy Garland, lived happily ever after.  Although if you favour a more downbeat ending, then Terry Nation’s Survivors novelisation is worth tracking down.

So series one ends on an optimistic note.  But as we’ve seen, any happiness tends to be short-lived and the opening moments of the second series plunge the survivors into another desperate situation.

Survivors – Something of Value

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Another stranger, Robert Lawson (Matthew Long), pays a visit to the Grange.  He stays the night and leaves the next day, but before he goes he clearly notices the petrol tanker in the courtyard (left by Donnie in the previous episode, Revenge).

Overnight, a heavy storm has totally destroyed all of the community’s stores in the cellar.  This is serious, as without supplies to see them through the next few months they won’t be able to survive.  Everybody agrees to trade the petrol for goods with another local community, Little Barton (the first time they’ve been mentioned).

Greg and Jenny set off in the tanker, but Lawson and his friends are lying in wait.  They want the petrol and are prepared to use any means necessary to get it ….

It’s possibly not a surprise that Something of Value is a Terry Nation script since it’s strong on action and low on philosophy.  Although that might be a slightly back-handed compliment, it’s still a very decent story and exactly the type of tale needed to slot between some of the more talky, self-contained community stories.

One of the more pleasing aspects of this one is that it pitches Jenny right into the middle of the action.  Even in this new world, male chauvinism has been seen to be present and correct – with the girls (especially Jenny) often sidelined.  Given this, it does seem slightly surprising that Greg would elect to take Jenny, rather than Paul, but it’s a chance for her to get out and about (and it’s true that when she’s threatened it does matter to Greg, due to their continuing relationship).

Ian McCulloch’s preference was always for episodes like this, so it would be a safe bet that it ranks amongst his favourites.  Greg’s central to the action and whilst he’s outnumbered he still manages to win through.  It’s not without cost though, as all of their attackers die.  He later wonders if “that what life’s worth nowadays. Fifty gallons of petrol? God help us all.”

Something of Value has a straightforward, brutal narrative that indicates clearly how the death has changed the motivations of some people.  Now that people are prepared to kill for a tanker of petrol, it shows that danger lurks everywhere.  After a few episodes set in and around the Grange, the return to the violent world outside is quite a jolt.  Series two would have a similar vibe as the community stories generally (although not always) have a safe feeling, in contrast to those set in other locations.

Survivors – Revenge

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Vic’s been in a depressed state for a while and this culminates in an apparent suicide attempt (although Greg isn’t convinced – he believes that if somebody wants to shoot themselves then they don’t miss).  But if it wasn’t a genuine attempt, maybe it was a cry for help.

The crippled Vic regards himself as a useless encumbrance, but Greg has a plan which involves stressing how important it is that Vic continues to teach the children everything he knows.  If Vic feels that his teaching is of value then hopefully this will help his shattered self esteem.

But the return of the spoilt Anne threatens Vic’s sanity and stability.  Anne was the woman who left him for dead and he’s vowed his revenge ever since Greg rescued him from the quarry.  Now that fate has thrown the two of them together again, the outcome is far from certain.

Revenge was the third story in Vic’s trilogy (which began with Genesis and continued with Spoil of War).  Given that he’s the key figure in the story, the production was dealt a major blow when Terry Scully was unable to continue in the role (he suffered a nervous breakdown).  A replacement had to be found at the last minute and Hugh Walters managed a very credible job of filling the void.  Vic’s suicide attempt was written in at the start of the episode.  It was a useful device which enabled his face to be scarred and this helped to disguise the change of actor.

Survivors started shooting in the middle of winter, which was of was of benefit to the early episodes as the bleak weather suited the mood of the initial stories.  But by now the survivors are beginning to get organised and the bright sunshine we see here (and in the previous episode) are a subtle reminder of rebirth and renewal.

The opening moments are particularly nice as most of the community set off to make hay.  There’s something rather idyllic about this (although given how we’ve seen most of the characters suffer during the course of the series, you know that any happiness is going to be short lived).  But there is a twist to this apparently innocuous scene – Vic’s inability to help is the trigger which pushes him over the edge.

And the arrival of Anne, along with Donny (Robert Tayman), obviously doesn’t help.  Donny has a tanker of petrol, which the community desperately needs, but how can they offer shelter to Anne after the way she treated Vic?

Hugh Walters gives a cracking performance as Vic. Scully’s take on the episode would have been interesting to see, but Walters is a more than adequate subsistute.  It would have been easy to overdo the melodrama, but Walters is restrained and focussed, managing to express Vic’s constant anger in a very subtle way.  Myra Francis’ Anne is just as objectionable as ever.  She’s also still clearly desperate to hang on to any shred of civilisation she can – even going so far as to wear a fur coat in the middle of summer!

Their eventual meeting is the key to the episode, but it’s wisely held back until the last ten minutes or so.  It gives another chance for Walters to shine as he pours out the story of Anne’s abandonment of him to the whole community (whilst Anne sits there silently).  If he’s expecting contrition or compassion from Anne then he’s sorely mistaken.  She tells him that “I thought you were finished.  If you’d have been a horse or a dog, I’d have shot you.”

One of the problems with series one of Survivors is that a large cast of regulars were added to the second half of the run – this influx meant that many of them remained rather undeveloped.  Vic does get a chance to take centre-stage here, but afterwards he moves into the background again (and then dies off-screen in the series two opener).

Thanks to Hugh Walters and Myra Francis, Revenge is a compelling episode.  The shot of Anne walking away from the community (as the credits play) is a very effective visual way of bringing this part of Vic’s story to a conclusion.

Survivors – The Future Hour

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The arrival of Laura (Caroline Burt) and Norman (Denis Lawson) spells danger for everybody.  After the death, Laura formed a relationship with a man called Bernard Huxley (Glyn Owen).  Laura, already pregnant, was told by Huxley that she couldn’t keep her baby once it was born.

Laura, by now only days away from giving birth, seeks refuge at the Grange.  Huxley’s not prepared to give her up easily though.  As a trader he appears to view Laura as just another commodity and is clearly willing to use force to reclaim her.

Another Terry Nation script, The Future Hour sees a tense stand-off between Huxley and the Grange community.  And we once again see Abby and Greg lock horns.  Greg insists that Laura leaves (having met Huxley, he’s well aware of how dangerous he could be) whilst Abby won’t turn her out.  Had Carolyn Seymour stayed for series two, it’s interesting to wonder how the Abby/Greg power struggle would have played out.

Is Huxley mad or stupid?  At different times in the story both viewpoints are expressed.  It does seem bizarre that after obtaining a considerable stockpile of every product imaginable (food, hardware, etc) he’s asking for gold as payment.  As Greg incredulously asks, what use is gold?  Huxley, like some others we’ve met, is convinced that eventually society will get back on its feet and therefore the man who holds a decent supply of gold will be in a powerful position.

Nothing we’ve seen so far supports this viewpoint, so it does seem to be a character beat that’s designed to flag up to the viewers that Huxley’s maybe not the most rational of characters.  His pursuit of Laura is odd as well – since they’ve only known each other for a few months, why is he so determined to get her back (including terriorising the Grange community)?  An extra reason for his pursuit is added after it’s revealed that Norman stole two bags of his precious gold.  But once that’s returned, surely he would be wiser to cut his loses?

Shortly after they arrive, Laura and Norman leave, which gives us another tense scene between Abby and Greg.  Greg tells Abby that she made her own mind up (although he admits that he told her about Huxley’s ultimatum).  An incensed Abby slaps Greg (although it’s a bit of a feeble slap).  Paul’s face, as he follows Greg, is a picture!

Laura and Norman don’t make it back to Huxley as she goes into labour en-route.  She’s taken back to the community where she gives birth to a baby girl.  And as befits a Terry Nation script there then follows some action as Huxley and his men step up the attacks and also engage in a brief gun battle.

Tom shoots Huxley dead and is shot dead himself.  Given that he murdered Wendy in the previous episode, Law and Order, it’s possibly not a surprise that he’s killed off here (especially after he’s earned a degree of redemption – Greg’s epitaph for him is that “he’s done worse things”).  Series two would see a similar character (Hubert) introduced, so it’s a pity that Tom couldn’t have been kept on longer – perhaps the thought of having a murderer walk around unpunished wasn’t acceptable?

Apart from Abby and Greg, character development amongst the regulars is quite thin here.  Considering it’s his last episode, Tom has very little to do (which makes his sudden death all the more jarring).  Jenny is also pretty anonymous, fading into the background somewhat.  On the plus side, Paul does have a few nice moments, especially when he’s tied to a tree by Huxley’s men and threatened with death.

Glyn Owen’s very solid as Huxley, which makes up for the fact that the rest of his men are quite faceless.  Overall, it’s a decent yarn, but it’s hard to feel that invested in the fate of either Laura or Norman since neither are particularly interesting or well-drawn characters.

Survivors – Law and Order

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A number of small niggles are affecting the morale of the community. None of them are particularly important in themselves (Arthur is hoarding supplies and prefers to eat by himself, the pigs escape from their enclosure, destroying the cabbage patch) but added together they help to create a dangerous tension.

Abby realises that they need something to focus on and suggests a party. Everybody reacts enthusiastically and it’s a great success. But there’s a tragic aftermath which throws the community into crisis – the next morning, John and Lizzie discover that Wendy is dead (she’s clearly been the victim of a brutal attack).

Barney had spent some time with her at the party the previous evening, so he becomes the prime suspect, meaning that the others have to act as judge and jury. And when a verdict is decided upon, they have to be the executioner as well.

Barney, of course, was innocent – it was Tom who killed Wendy (his interest in her was established right from their initial meeting). For those who have an issue that Survivors tends be dominated by white middle-class characters, the reveal that the murderer was drawn from working class stock is an obvious problem.

Jenny, Emma and Tom declare that he’s not guilty and Charmain, Paul, Arthur, Vic, Abby and Greg vote that he’s guilty.  The question then turns to what his punishment should be.  Four votes for banishment and four votes for execution – leaving Abby with the deciding vote (after much deliberation she votes for execution).  Out of everybody, Greg is by far the most vehement that Barney should pay the ultimate price – had he not been so insistent, it’s unlikely that the others would have ever taken this step.

The fact that we witness a monstrous miscarriage of justice seems to be very much the point of the episode – especially if we accept that Law and Order is essentially a debate about the value of capital punishment. None of the characters, especially Greg, emerge from the story with a great deal of merit – unlike some series, the regulars are fallible and can’t always be relied on to do the right thing.

Although series one of Survivors had a female lead in Abby, there’s still a whiff of male dominance as only the men draw lots to decide which of them has to kill Barney (it falls to Greg). The bitter irony is that shortly after Greg does the deed, a tearful Tom confesses to Abby that he killed Wendy. Abby shares this information with Greg, but it doesn’t go any further. Abby wants to let the rest of the community know but Greg violently disagrees – and he threatens to challenge her leadership if she tells them. So Abby reluctantly concedes. This power struggle is a key part of the episode. Up until now, Greg has been content to follow Abby’s lead, but the balance between the two of them has now certainly shifted.

Law and Order is an uncomfortable watch, because it’s clear very early on that an innocent man is going to suffer. In a way it harks back to Genesis, where we saw a horrified Abby witness Wormley’s men shooting an unarmed man. Wormley was convinced he was in the right – the man had broken the law (as defined by Wormley) so he had to pay the price. Now that Abby and the others have a community of their own, they have a similar dilemma to face.

The vast influx of new characters over the last few episodes has meant that it’s been difficult to get to know them in the same depth as Abby, Greg and Jenny. So Wendy’s death lacks a certain impact – had she featured for longer then the viewers may have invested in her more. As it is, she remained rather undeveloped and the story tends to concentrate more on Barney’s punishment than her death.

The fact that everybody is keen to believe Barney’s guilt (based on the slenderest of evidence) is disturbing.  An unanswered question is why Tom Price is never considered a possible suspect, since the less savory aspects of his character are well known (and he pestered Jenny at the party, something which isn’t mentioned).  It’s very strange that they don’t make any effort to question everybody – once a suspect has been found, that appears to be good enough.

Talfryn Thomas is once again excellent as the guilt-ridden Tom (who becomes increasingly haunted and haggard as the episode wears on) and the rest of cast rise to the occasion as well.  It’s a self-contained, obviously talky story, but thanks to the stakes it never feels dull or drawn out. Although there were behind the scenes problems (Clive Exton requested that his name be taken off the script and a pseudonym used) they’re not visible on screen and Law and Order is a highlight of the first series.

Survivors – Spoil of War

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Spoil of War adds another four characters to the growing community at the Grange.  At times it does feel like new people are just being added into the mix for the sake of it but some initially unpromising arrivals, such as Arthur, do later turn out to be useful people.

First to arrive is Paul Pitman (Chris Tranchell).  He’s previously lived in a commune and is an expert on self-sufficiency.  He can’t resist telling Greg that he’s doing everything wrong (which obviously doesn’t endear him to Greg, who resents his interference).  Paul is self-aware enough to realise this.  “I know what you’re all thinking. Who’s this long-haired git, coming here, telling us what to do. What does he know about it?”

But it doesn’t alter the fact that he talks a lot of sense, especially about how they need to rotate their crops.  It’s clear that the others, although they’ve started with a great deal of enthusiasm, lack specific knowledge and Paul will be (if they can persuade him to stay) a valuable asset.

At first, it doesn’t seem that the next arrivals, Arthur Russell (Michael Gover) and Chairmian Wentworth (Eileen Helsby), have a great deal to offer.  Neither seem cut out to be survivors – Arthur was a businessman and appears to lack even the most basic of practical skills, whilst Chairmian was his secretary before the death and is content to still tend to his every need.

Whilst Chairmian would remain undeveloped (she would be one of the surplus characters to perish in the fire at the start of series two) Arthur would over time transform into a wise and resourceful man who would remain until late in the second series.

The fourth new recruit is by far the most unlikely.  Greg’s been working on a tractor with little success and this reminds him of the tractor at the quarry, where he met Vic and Anne. In addition to the tractor, the pair had gathered a substantial amount of supplies. He sends Tom and Barney to find out if the supplies are still there – but when they don’t return, Greg and Paul venture out to find out what’s happened to them. When they arrive they’re pinned down by what seems to be several gunmen.

In turns out that Vic’s still alive and has rigged up a number of guns to defend himself.  Initially suspicious, Vic eventually believes Greg when he tells him that he thought he was dead.  Due to his useless legs he’s been unable to leave the portakabin in the quarry, but the plentiful food supplies have kept him alive.  He’s reluctant to leave since he still believes that Anne will return and he wants to extract his revenge on the woman who abandoned him.  Greg is eventually able to persuade him (and you do get the feeling that Anne, like so many other characters, will be irresistibly drawn towards the Grange anyway) so this swells the community even more.

Returning to discover Vic’s fate, who we haven’t seen since episode two, is another sign that Survivors has a strong serial element – which is something that rewards regular viewers.  Also, Chris Tranchell as Paul is a strong addition to the series and it’s a pity that his unhappiness with the scripts ensured that he left early in series two.

As with the next story, this was written by Clive Exton (under the pseudonym M.K. Jeeves).  The use of a pseudonym indicates that Exton was unhappy with the way his work reached the screen, but there’s nothing obvious to indicate why.  Spoil of War is another solid character-led episode that may not be too significant in itself, but does lay the ground for events later on.

Survivors – Starvation

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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.