Series 1,2 and 3 DVD sets now available from DD-Video.
For details .... check Andy Priestner's site here
Introduction: Survivors - a BBC series which ran for 38 episodes over 3 series from 1975 to 1977 - told the story of a handful of survivors from a devastating plague which decimated the worlds population - and their continuing attempts to readjust to the loss of most 'living comforts' previously taken for granted.
The series was created by Terry Nation, the writer who had hatched the concept of the Daleks in Doctor Who over a decade earlier, and who would devise the BBC series Blakes 7 in the late 70s.
Throughout the three series BBC staff producer Terence Dudley remained at the helm. Of the cast members only one character would remain from the first to last episode - erstwhile secretary Jenny Richards played by Lucy Fleming - and there were to be many changes in style and emphasis thoughout. Even some of the major cast members were played by different actors at different times.
Three overall 'styles' were to emerge - each developed by the three main scripting influences on the series, under the overall supervision of Dudley, himself a writer:
- 1: Terry Nation (the series' creator) described the initial aftermath, the coming together of the main characters and their individual agendas - e.g. Abby's search for her son. He also stressed the threat posed by those keen to apply their will through force - especially the Wormley militia;
- 2: Jack Ronder - who concentrated on the rebirth of community of the smallest of scales and their day to day concerns. This style became predominant in the stories set in the community of Whitecross; and
- 3: Martin Worth - he 'drove' the rebuilding of society forward through trade, transport, power and ultimately the rebirth of the nation. Perhaps a fitting conclusion for the series overall.
Taking a more detailed look at the series structure. The episodes can be 'broken down' into specific sub-sets:
Here is a (not always totally serious) breakdown - (a bit like Jenny who was prone to something similar!)
1:Episode 1: Nemesis beckons! The sickness arrives and we get to know Abby Grant, played by Carolyn Seymour. A necessary 'introduction' - bringing the plague to the middle classes in rural, home counties England. Did Abby switch off the tennis machine? Such things matter! (I think her husband recovered - he was in the next hospital bed to James Bolam!)
2: Episodes 2 - 7: Meeting up, coming to terms and the search for home (and Peter!)
How to cope? Wormley sets up a tyranny, Abby goes back to school (literally and metaphorically). Tom likes his Rolls and any rolls he can find in the kitchen. Jenny and Greg start to become an item. Two (oh so welcome) children, a few monks and a country seat provide diversions. The hunt for Peter finally petered.
3: Episodes 8 - 13: Life at 'The Grange'
A sort of sanctuary! May Day however does not bring Spring harmony (with or without guitar) - and, for one in particular, life is to be more a trial than usual! Tom will pay the price, though too late. Emma Cohen becomes Mother, Arthur agrees to breakfast and the petrol tanker is the runaway (though you may wish that applied to the kids!) Abby finally finds love and makes an exit.
4: Episodes 14,15, 18-21, 23-26: The Whitecross Community
Fire brings the remains of the Grange community into the fold of Charles Vaughan's gathering. A little farming and DIY are seen to (occasionally) interrupt the bickering. Most of the visitors bring hassles (of varying degrees). A child killer, a sniper and two homicidal thugs drop in - as do a couple of Norweigans literally (a sort of Scandinavian Richard Branson without any 'mates' - that should please Charles!). The balloon's going up!
5: Episodes 16-17, 22: Excursions from Whitecross
Lights of London? We all smell a rat! All medical problems can be solved by Doctor Ruth (not that one!) - unless you're a Red Squirrel! Oh Man(ny)! The vegetables on the Foster's Oval are not England's cricket team. On the way to the brine pits - a few more salty characters turn up. A woman called Joy does not bring much.
6: Episodes 27, 29-35, 37-38: Search for Greg/Building of a Nation
The pastoral images have been tweaked! Brod upsets Hubert - who makes a bolt for it. Will he (like William) tell? Charles (who hasn't brought his Pet with him) meets Fenton (who hasn't had a bite in ages), then goes to market. The Peacemaker is really a Pacemaker (a script typo perhaps?) - and slows us all up, Brian Conley wants all the guns, and we all head north on the Flying Scotsman (Sparks sort of fly) with a luddite in tow - electric! Oh dam.
7: Episodes 28 and 36: Greg's tribulations
Greg blushes red with the fake Indians (and is intially tied up) - it's enough to make you blind! The rye brings a sigh then you all die! (Much) later Dr Adams has no family left and Mason has it in for Greg who may have the last laugh, but it's hardly even a giggle. There's No(r) Way the villains will twig though.
The Classic Episodes: Survivors was a series which overall maintained a high standard, despite many trials including cast changes, experimental location video shooting, tensions between the producer and writers (and other members of the creative team) and indeed the limits imposed by the scenario presented. There were some 'stinkers' - my advice would be to avoid 'The Witch', expect very little from 'The Future Hour' that hadn't been presented (better!) in earlier (and later) episodes, and a great insomnia cure is 'The Peacemaker'.
However! To distil the 'Survivors' experience over just a handful of stories, whilst covering the major changes in the series emphasis over the three years, I have no hesitation in recommending the following:
1: The Fourth Horseman: Series 1 Episode 1
Script: Terry Nation
Director: Pennant Roberts
First Broadcast 16 April 1975
An incredible start (or should that be end) and the busiest episode ever. The end of the world (at least as we know it) in 50 minutes. The character of Abby is defined instantly - the scene of despair in the church, the symbolic cutting of her hair. The stark reality of this opening episode is the inability our modern cosseted society to comprehend the enormity of what was really was happening. Has any series had such an explosive start?
2: Corn Dolly: Series 1 Episode 4
Script: Jack Ronder
Director: Pennant Roberts
First Broadcast 7 May 1975
After two episodes of scene setting, getting the main characters together and the 'thugs' coming out of the woodwork to 'organize things' - we meet Charles Vaughan for the first time and his personal vision of post disaster survival - the bigger picture! A clash especially with Abby is inevitable, then further blow of the poisonings hit us. The lasting feature of this episode? - the vision of Charles' (harsh) post plague society - the first (and quite possibly the best) such depiction in the series - if ultimately a failure in reality. This episode gave Survivors life beyond repetition, retribution and restless searching.
3: Law and Order: Series 1 Episode 9
Script: MK Jeeves (Clive Exton)
Director: Pennant Roberts
First Broadcast 18 June 1975
Here are moral dilemmas few could even begin to cope with. The drama could be transcribed to another series but the setting needs the loss of 'the comfort society'. We know Barney in not to blame, but will the script 'cop out' and give us the happy ending? For once NO. The vote scene, the taking of straws, the ending!! No incidental music becomes a positive boon. Theatrical maybe by modern fast cutting filmed drama criteria - but any the worse for that? Up there with the best British television drama has EVER produced - should be in one of those 'time capsules'. Maybe the best Survivors ever.
4: Greater Love: Series 2 Episode 2
Script: Jack Ronder
Director: Pennant Roberts
First Broadcast 7 April 1976
After the re-defining of 'Birth of a Hope' (an excellent episode in itself) witness here an incredible depiction of simultaneous loss and gain - 'the two sides of the same coin'. Paul and Paul junior! Jenny and Ruth. Life and Death. Just show me a better example of personal self sacrifice? The loss of Paul proves the harshest the series would hit us with until Greg - maybe including Greg's demise?
5: Mad Dog: Series 3 Episode 4
Script: Don Shaw
Director: Tristan de Vere Cole
First Broadcast 6 April 1977
Many fine episodes between the above and Mad Dog - though the setting of series 2 did slightly blunt the dynamic - a case of Whitecross familiarity breeding not quite content(ment)! Here though the best depiction of all the horror of rabies on television - bar none - and then some! The early scenes with Fenton, against the snowy backdrop, gives us the bonus of another fascinating vision of post plague society. The later pursuit is just breathtaking. Who would not be as expedient under the circumstances? Humanity though just about pulls through.
6: The Last Laugh: Series 3 Episode 10
Script: Ian McCulloch
Director: Peter Jeffries
First Broadcast 18 May 1977
The first site of Greg for many weeks but it is not to be a happy reunion - the series resists the 'cop out' yet again. The blade in the back proves just a foretaste for a harsh reward for months of effort. Greg regrets his neglect of Jenny (something they will never directly address together) and we feel for them both. A reprieve in the 'dying moments' - just as we begin to hope again, the chances are dashed. A few words in Norwegian presaging revenge - both sweet and tragic. And all this followed three of the most torpid episodes in the series!
7: Long Live the King: Series 3 Episode 11
Script: Martin Worth
Director: Tristan de Vere Cole
First Broadcast 1 June 1977
Despite behaviour from Agnes which seems out of character - (this more a criticism of her portrayal/development in previous episodes) - a crossroads is reached regarding society. Does it collapse and regress? Will Charles and Jenny back the vision of Agnes despite the deceptions? Will the word of a figurehead generate enough trust to 'take us forward'? Jenny is given some very harsh home truths. The self confident Charles may not have ALL the answers and he isn't used to that! The Captain poses seemingly the same threat so many have before, will he prevail? - we all think not - but have we reached the level where he can be justly dealt with? (compare Brod amongst others). At the conclusion, somehow we are at peace! A positive future IS possible.
Viewing the series: For many years post its initial broadcast (on BBC1) little was heard of Survivors - especially in Britain. The series did run on some PBS stations in the US and has also been shown on New Zealand television.
In the 90s, the whole series has been shown a couple of times on satellite broadcaster UK Gold (the second run at rather inconvenient times), although the licence for further repeats on this channel has seemingly expired. Rumours of a screening on SciFi channel in Europe have so far not materialized.
In the mid 90s the first series (13 episodes) were released on 6 volumes by BBC video - these have now been officially 'deleted'. Low sales seemingly precluded release of series 2 and 3. More recently series 1 has also been issued in the UK under licence by 'Sovereign Multimedia' .
UK region 2 DVD by DD-Video release of series 1 now available . If sales are sufficient series 2 and 3 may also be similarly released!
The Survivors Homepage - The main online source for 'all-things' Survivors' here you'll find just about anything you want to know about the series.
An updated web guide to Survivors sites is provided as part of this excellent resource.
Feldbridge Camp (also known as Terry Nations' Survivors).
A second major site, including some pictures from the series, this site is run by Christopher Barker.
There are several other fan pages out there, including episode guides, photos and discussion. Andy Priestner's site for example has some superb screenshots.
See SilverClover links page for more 'Survivors' links
See if you can get hold of a copy of the most detailed book on Survivors - namely 'The Making of Terry Nation's Survivors' compiled by Kevin P Marshall. This privately published tome includes tales from behind the scenes, detailed episode information - with some surprisingly critical reviews -, viewing figures, some rare photos and much besides
For a basic series overview and episode listings do take a look at 'The Encyclopaedia of TV Science Fiction' by Roger Fulton (Boxtree, 4th edition 2000). This volume has excellent coverage especially of all British made series/one-offs shown on British terrestrial television.
Now out of print - but nevertheless invaluable - try and seek out the magazine Timescreen issues 10 (Winter 1987) and 13 (Spring 1989). Both contain detailed plot and series analysis by Neil Alsop. Online Timesceen issues are now available via 'The Mausoleum Club' web pages - see links page for details.
Email me regarding Survivors via the telefantasy page linked below.
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