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.