Survivors episode 3 review

The standards remain high as the new take on Survivors builds on its impressive start....

Survivors

Not every Survivor is immune…

If I get a cold, that’s me gone. Seriously – the minute someone coughs, my dinner money’s earmarked for Benelyn. One sneeze from a colleague and I’m bedridden.

And so, should it turn out that people are dropping like flies from killer flu, I’d probably end up like desperate father left with his two kids does here – laid up with something else entirely anyway. I get the chance to hole myself up and try and ride the hell out of it without human contact, possibly only nipping out to raid Tescos for some Fray Bentos pies and Farley’s Rusks. It won’t be too different to life on a wet weekend now, but without t’internet.

Survivors: Episode Three is busily plotted. There are a good four strands here, keeping things ticking over. You’ve got the father, his baby son and teenage daughter, Kate (an impressive turn from young Sacha Parkinson), who disobeys him to go out for a bit, to encounter Tom and Greg. They debate whether they’re still carriers of the disease despite their resistance, and thus risk infecting and wiping out father, son and daughter if they let her go back to her family.

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There is some much needed warmth and a little levity back at the ranch as Naj adopts chickens and the team build a coop; meanwhile, more goings on in the Secret Scary Science Bunker (those Lost-style codas from the first two episodes are starting to appear earlier in the narrative, and even cheekily have the ominous strings and trombones of DOOM over one). Most importantly, Abby happens across an entire community with proper food and electricity, led by Samantha Willis, the MP from before.

Adrian Hodges’ Survivors, (based on Terry Nation’s novel, Survivors, based on Terry Nation’s Survivorsaaaand breathe – I’ll explain later) – is a very confident and crucially, modest piece of work. By which I mean, it writes large but isn’t overpoweringly pleased with itself. The show appeals for what it isn’t, as much as it is. It isn’t showy, it isn’t up itself, it knows what it is. It’s a relief that British television is capable of doing adult sci-fi again, as I had begun to wonder if the frequently risible Torchwood was really the best the BBC could manage. Survivors almost fills the gap for genuinely adult sci-fi – albeit that laser-gunless, alien-less, vanilla-plus breed known as ‘speculative fiction’. It’s potentially got a chance of appealing to audiences for the stories it tells, instead of just pretty people, or celebs, or pretty celebs.

Survivors can do the character stuff that drama is all about, in a way that other genre shows try to do but frequently fail to convince. There’s a noble intent in some, but they so often end up looking stupid simply because they’re trying to have their rice cake and eat it* as plot-driven action adventure stories with ‘real people.’

I’m talking outside the mainstream view, granted, but to my eyes those shows rely on a few reasonably acted cyphers and an all-too-convenient ending, whatever the PR tries to tell me. This is a drama, set up with an SF conceit, rather than the other way round; is that just as much of a cake-possession/cake scoffing scenario?

The story of the Dad and kids is slight, but character-driven, believable in context (the key term to enjoy this sort of thing) and done right. It has a beginning, a middle, and an open end, but an end nonetheless, rather than a hastily-put-together contrivance of convenience. Will they live? Will they die? Will we even know? It works either way, depending on your outlook.

Then, there are all sorts of MPs who’d probably behave just like Samantha Willis, probably not all of them even Tories. Willis, (a better performance from Amuka-Bird this time, given more to do) is shaken by her own brutality at a judicial court for looters that’s more like a kangaroo court, where she plays judge, jury and executioner. Not just because of a heroic moral speech from Abby, either. Will Abby and the gang clash with Ms. Willis and her little empire?

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As before, the writing avoids howlers, the direction’s classy, the acting always at least fair and often great. Minor niggles: well, those mysterious cutaways to the lab tread a fine line, messing about with vaccines. Dramatic though it is, this tease will get a bit dull if it doesn’t integrate soon.

The episode doesn’t do as much with Al and last week’s sexy, hoighty, selfish blonde Sarah (Robyn Addison)… and having championed him last week as a great character, very well played, you see little of Tom/Beesley’s dark side in this episode; but in big-cast ensemble shows, everyone gets their turn to shine, and from a giddily exciting ‘Next Time’ the show will soon put that right. In which Abby may just find someone she’s looking for and the gang… yes, clash with Ms. Willis and her little empire.

Reserved and uncertain appreciation last week has definitely given way to enthusiasm and by the end of the first series, I’ll be over the moon if it doesn’t crumble, and gets a bit of appreciation from others on the way. So with the qualification that Sliced Bread with whole-grain bits and cranberries hasn’t been superseded just yet, I like Survivors. Do you?

Addendum: Nation’s book has been reissued and is in shops now – he wrote for the 70s versions of the characters, while the contemporary cast features on the new cover. Hmm… You can buy it at all good bookshops, and possibly even some rubbish ones. It looks like this:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Survivors-Terry-Nation/dp/1409102645/ref=sr_1_6?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1228512296&sr=1-6

The first edition will set you back considerably more than a fiver or so, mind.

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Addendum-de-dum: The stylish, understated and really rather quite good Official Survivors Website Thing can be located here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/survivors/

Addendum-diddly-dum: One virus. Millions dead. A few Survivors. Shurely, shome mishtake – shurely billions…?

*Digression: wanting to know how you can have your cake and eat it? Simply buy two cakes. You can apply this principle when Survivors action figures with a collect-and-build Land Rover appear and you want to rip the packaging apart and play with them, but fear devaluation upon seeing the ridiculous prices Anya goes for on eBay. Credit Crunch? Bah. What does it matter if we’re all doomed anyway?

Check out our review of episodes 1 and 2 here.