Sunday, November 23, 2008 by Jack Kibble-White
With Doctor Who actors past and (seemingly) future all over the first episode, Survivors is happy to show off its TV sci-fi credentials.
From an opening shot of planet Earth that’s hugely reminiscent of the first moments of the 2005 series of Who, we have entered an age where telefantasy need no longer mount stealth attacks on the television schedules – it is a genre that is currently out and proud.
It’s slightly perverse then, that it’s the traditional sci-fi overtones that slightly let down what is otherwise a fine opening episode, but we’ll come back to that in a minute. With Dead Calm and Spooks: Code 9 not long having left our screens, not to mention cinema releases I am Legend and 28 Days/Weeks Later, the end of the world is a territory viewers are now very familiar with. As such, the extended opening sequence which outlines the scale of the disaster is slightly redundant, albeit perhaps it is setting the groundwork for future plot developments to come.
What’s of more interest is the way in which each of our heroes deals with the unfolding nightmare. Those characters plucked from the original series cope in much the same way as their mid-1970s counterparts (with the exception of Jenny who is killed off Lisa Faulkner-in-Spooks style) suggesting the apocalypse is immune to fads, trend and even technology. The new additions to the storyline though, smack more of a contemporary production, with both Tom (Max Beesley) and Al (Phillip Rys) essaying different studies on the theme of nihilism. Although Al’s function is yet to be clearly defined, Tom’s as the snake in the camp makes for an intriguing addition to the programme, and one which should safeguard against this series developing into The Good Life as per the original version.
However, in the main this version of Survivors surprises by sticking so closely to the original source material. Nation was never the wittiest writer of dialogue, or a particular master of the twist in the tale, but what the 2008 version of his series shows, is that he did know how to lay in a solid plot. Abby’s search for her son Peter, was and remains, exactly the right drive to underpin what otherwise would become simply a drama about staying alive.
Storywise what may be the least successful element however, is the wholly new addition of a plotline featuring as yet unnamed figures working in a top secret laboratory. First glimpsed at the end of the episode, the early signs are that the insertion of this kind of well-worn sci-fi trope may well hamper Survivors. The original series was about how to exist in a world without infrastructure and control, and the suggestion here that some form of Government may still be in operation, threatens to seriously undermine all that lies at the intellectual core of the series.
Still it’s too early to tell, and from the first 89 minutes, Survivors has done more than enough to ensure it’s going to get the benefit of the doubt for now.