Thursday, April 24, 2008

Apocalypse Then

You know how it is: there you are, working away in your biological warfare lab and whoops! you drop your test tube. A few days later, you travel the globe, getting your passport stamped in all sorts of exotic locales, suddenly you start to feel a bit piquey, then everyone drops dead and before you know it civilisation as we know it is wiped out in the space of a couple of weeks. Bugger.

But you see, I have to make light of it, because the scenario is so utterly chilling. And so dramatically and effectively summed up in the opening credit sequence, that Survivors barely needs a pilot episode to tell us how it all happens. It can cut pretty quickly to the grim post-Apocalyptic business of survival.

We've only just started to watch the series - we're a mere three episodes in - and I'm just hoping our DVD rental people will keep the discs coming promptly because it's, frankly, gripping stuff. And the thing is, I'm trying to recall whether I'd watched any of it before. I don't think so. Where I get a slight buzz of nostalgia is in the opening credits, and I remember it vividly - but I also remember being packed off to bed at that point (I was eight). Good thing too. Because god knows, if I'd been allowed to stay up and watch, here is a show that would surely have given me nightmares. And not the inspiring imagination-sparking type of nightmares Doctor Who used to generate.

The Doctor Who credentials are there, for sure: Terry Nation scripting, Pennant Roberts directing the first episode, Talfryn Thomas giving it some great character actor welly. And that opening sequence that inevitably reminds me of the spread of the alien plague in Doctor Who And The Silurians. Back then, this is what adults got instead of Torchwood, I guess.

If I had one gripe with it, I'd only grumble slightly at the fact that most of the central characters so far appear to be of the crisply spoken RADA set, who will probably maintain their stiff upper lips in the face of world's end but that was a feature of a lot of TV drama back then and in any case they are at least interesting characters, whose survival you find yourself very readily invested in - even Greg (Ian McCulloch) who's so adamant about not wanting to burden himself with responsibility for others. Yeah, you say that now, mate.

By curious coincidence - you know, in the sense of not being a real coincidence at all and just one I'm choosing to see for convenience' sake - we're also at this point three episodes in on the fourth season of Battlestar Galactica, that other tale of the last vestiges of humanity struggling to survive in the wake of a man-made Apocalypse. And it's that show, if anything, that gives me a degree of optimism when it comes to the question of a Survivors remake.

I'm not saying it's the model: the two scenarios are universes apart. But the grimness, the harsh choices faced, the blurred lines of morality are suggestive of the sort of things that could be explored more fully, unfettered by the strictures of 70s era broadcasting. As long as the producers remember that the story they're telling would be about the disintegration of society and, like it or not, one of the earliest things out the window would be political correctness.

They might also do well to remember that Survivors managed, as far as I can tell, to convey grimness without (so far) showing us much in the way of gore. Good composition, less decomposition, I suppose.

Thanks to Stuart for, through no fault of his own, inspiring me to finally get on and rent the series.


Stuart Douglas said...

There are tears in my eyes - another convert to the Survivors cause. That's you, me and Ebbsy so far :-)

I do hope that any return of Survivors is more like "BSG on Earth" and less like "BSG 1980" but I'm not convinced that the Powers That Be in UK television believe that the modern viewer can bear to watch a series which rarely has a happy ending.

That first series of 'Survivors' though - best single season of television ever.

IZP said...

The only bit I remember seeing at the time bar the terrifying titles, end of viewing is a sequence that seemed, to my child's eye, interminable, of a woman in a jumper walking along a grassy bank, possibly by a canal, after which I changed the channel.

One day I'll watch the thing, I promise and the grassy bank jumper scene better be there, that's all I'm saying.

I've got Children of the Stones coming up as a DVD rental order first though. There's a lot of obligatory 70s trauma I seem to have unaccountably missed.

SAF said...

Ah, Children of the Stones. Yes, that was a real creepy childhood memory, and saw that about three years ago - the memory didn't cheat as far as the creepiness goes.

Meanwhile, I'll be sure to watch out for the 'woman walking along a canal' scene as we continue our Survivors journey!

Stuart Douglas said...

The major canal based episode of Survivors which would also be of interest to Doctor Who fans is the Patrick Troughton guest starring episode 'Parasites' from series two. It's quite good and does feature any number of people walking alongside a canal.

'Children of the Stones', like the 'Baby' episode of Nigel Kneale's 'Beasts' anthology series but unlike the Blakes 7 episode 'Time Squad', remains as genuinely unnerving to an adult audience as it did to a child audience back in the day.