Friday, 10 June 2011
TV: Survivors (1975-77)
BBC, 16/4/1975-8/6/1977, 3 series of 38 50 minute episodes (colour). Created: Terry Nation. Producer: Terence Dudley.
Cast: Carolyn Seymour (Abby Grant); Lucy Fleming (Jenny Richards); Ian McCulloch (Greg Preston); Denis Lill (Charles Vaughan); Lorna Lewis (Pet); John Abineri (Hubert).
Terry Nation is probably best remembered as the creator of Doctor Who's Daleks but his writing credits also include comedy scripts for Tony Hancock and the creation of Survivors, a drama series set in a post-apocalypse, present day world ravaged by a devastating plague.
Nation's aim was to explore how humanity would cope in a world stripped of modern technology and comforts. His chosen device for achieving this naked state was the release of a deadly virus, graphically portrayed each week in Survivors' opening credits. A shot of a masked scientist accidentally breaking a test tube is followed by footage of international air travel and people falling sick - a series of images that is never explained, leaving viewers to imagine the chain of events.
The show's first season focused on how the handful of people left alive after the plague cope with the shock of being cast into a world without clean water or electricity, and how current social solutions no longer work in an environment where moral considerations are secondary to the more pressing need to survive.
Much of the early action centres on Abby Grant's (Carolyn Seymour) search for her young son Peter, who she believes may have survived the devastation. But Survivors' depiction of an increasingly fractured world quickly undermines any manifestation of optimism. The plague was only the beginning of the end of modern civilisation - in Nation's eyes society still has a long way to unravel.
Survivors ran for three seasons but disagreements between Nation and the programme's producer, Terence Dudley, resulted in the writer abandoning his own show. This echoed the stand-off between Dudley and Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, creators of the environmental drama Doomwatch (BBC, 1970-72), who stormed off their series claiming that their vision had been displaced by a less challenging narrative style. Nation claimed a similar intervention and professed himself unhappy at the ease with which his devastated world was so quickly put to rights.
Survivors' second and third seasons depicted a world in recovery, with the establishment of stable rural communities and even the return of steam trains. This abandonment of Nation's apocalyptic vision was arguably necessary for the show's development, but the speed and ease with which a semblance of normality is restored by a ragtag group of survivors, who only three years earlier were secretaries and bank clerks, is a little hard to swallow.
BFI overview: Anthony Clark
More information here, here and here.