It’s often been commented upon that Survival was a story that pointed towards the style adopted by NuWho. Like some of the early NuWho stories, there’s a sense that the story is located in a real, definable modern location. Other Who stories of the time (such as Silver Nemesis) were also set on contemporary Earth, but Survival takes us onto the streets and into the tower-blocks of contemporary London, a place where the series rarely ventured.
It’s also possible to imagine the story working very well as a 45 minute story (like the majority of NuWho). Had it done so, then the majority of the first 25 minutes could easily have been jettisoned. There’s some nice moments, such as Ace’s friend Ange who’s surprised to see her as she thought she was dead (“either you were dead, or you’d gone to Birmingham”) but far too much of the episode drags.
The business with Hale & Pace as well as the Doctor faffing around with the cat food is all pretty throwaway stuff. But we do get to meet the arrogant Sergeant Paterson (“Have you ever heard of survival of the fittest, son, eh? Have you ever heard of that? Life’s not a game, son. I mean, I’m teaching you the art of survival. I’m teaching you to fight back. What happens when life starts pushing you around, son, eh? What’re you going to do then?”). The constant repetition of “survival of the fittest” during the first episode is a far from subtle foreshadowing of what was to come.
It’s interesting that Survival is a very episodic story (The Keys of Marinus is another where the location would change from episode to episode, but I can’t think of many other examples from the original series off the top of my head). Episode one takes place on Earth, episode two on the planet of the Cheetah People whilst episode three returns us to Earth.
Episode two is probably the best of the three. The Cheetah People’s planet is very well realised, with subtle video effects used to change the colour of the sky, etc. It’s certainly a good deal more effective that the garish Paintbox effects on Mindwarp. I also love Dominic Glynn’s music here – so it would be nice if SilvaScreen restarted their release programme of Doctor Who soundtracks with stories like this one.
And the Master’s back! Although his interpretation wasn’t to everybody’s taste, I’ve always had a soft spot for Anthony Ainley (and considering how the New Series has treated the Master, Ainley is a model of restraint). Survival is probably his best Doctor Who appearance as the Master (although his best appearance overall as the Master can be found on the links of the Destiny of the Doctor CD-ROM game).
For once, he has no grand scheme – like everybody else he’s just fighting for survival. But once he returns to Perivale, things do fall apart. The sight of the Master recruiting a gang of teenagers from the local Youth Club is bizarre, to say the least, and his motivations at the end of the story seem confused. At one point, he tells the Doctor that he has control over the power and that he’ll use it to destroy him. In the very next scene, the Master and the Doctor are back on the planet of the Cheetah People and the Master’s attitude has completely changed – now he wishes to die, as he doesn’t want to live as an animal. As happened so often, script editor Andrew Cartmel seems to has overlooked plot-holes like this, which would have been easy to fix.
Although it’s not really visible, the Master’s murder of Karra (Lisa Bowerman) is quite vicious and serves as a reminder that he could be ruthless when the situation demanded it. Karra is the Cheetah Person who forms a strong link with Ace. And Ace’s prominent role in the story is another link to NuWho, where the companion is often more important to the story than the Doctor (although Survival is not unique in this respect – and in fact this is the last in a loose trilogy which put Ace to the fore).
Whilst Ghost Light was the last story from the original run to be recorded, Survival was the last to be transmitted and it’s really the end of an era. Doctor Who would survive – initially as books, then a one-off TVM, then audios and then finally the relaunched series in 2005 which achieved levels of success (in the UK and also worldwide) both commercially and critically that the original series only enjoyed somewhat intermittently.