It seems to be a good time for apocalyptic sci-fi dramas at the BBC with the successful Day Of The Triffids shown over Christmas to praise (well, by me, anyway) and now with the second series of Survivors (try saying that three times over your coffee). On our screen the future looks bleak, in a good way, of course.
For those who saw the last series (which ended in a dramatic cliffhanger, which we’ve reviewed here, along with the prior episodes), this season opener kicks off mere minutes after the critical standoff between Greg, Tom and the sinister Dexter and abduction of Abby by the security forces who are working for the secret cabal of scientists.
With Greg bleeding to death we get a little Lost-style flashback to the past life of this closed character. It seems the simmering angst Patterson Joseph put into the character in the first series was justified, as before his meeting with Abby and the rest of the gang his home life was anything from happy. Flowing in and out of consciousness we find his breakup with his wife and the loss of his children causes something to snap, and what was once a happy family man becomes someone whose anger controls his actions.
Shifting back to the present, Greg’s predicament of a bullet wound to the chest is not helped by the fact there are no surgical instruments to assist Dr Anya in the makeshift operation she is carrying out to remove the bullet from Greg. And with only a handy carving knife, an office table and some tweezers to help with the procedure, it is up to the rest of the team to forage for more medical kit.
Raiding a hospital, Greg, Anya (who really maybe should have stayed with the patient), Sarah and Al try to get the medical kit needed to help Greg. However, this relatively easy smash and grab is made considerably more difficult as the hospital has been set alight by another team of survivors and is slowly collapsing. It’s a jolly old world.
With escape close, the team’s luck runs out as Al and Anya are buried under the collapsing building in an impressive display of CGI. With danger added onto danger, it seems the writers have upped the ante a little with this new series.
Rather than just plodding along with the notion of survival by any means, adding the implications of the fact that, not only the infrastructure of the country but also the morals and societal structure in general are also on the brink offers a lot more than the ‘raising chickens’ scenarios of last year’s series.
The rot, decay, collapse along with people trying to make a living in this new ‘broken Britain’ is quite prominent. Favours, barter and payment in kind has become the new currency as we find out when Tom requires heavy lifting kit to rescue Anya and Al and it is up to the ‘useless’ Sarah to pay a very heavy price to help save her colleagues.
While the tense and superbly written rescue set up is being played out ‘in the field’, as it were, behind the scenes in secret we also get to find out what happened to Abbey after her abduction.
Removed and hidden away by the science team that was introduced last season we get to meet these sinister figures in more detail and find that Abbey is, so far, the only person the team have found that has had the disease and survived. This makes her precious, but also a potential guinea pig for every experiment going. And even with a few helpers and botched escape made, it seems that her predicament will be, for the foreseeable future, bleak and painful.
This cabal of scientists are also not the ‘big bad’ of the series. Behind the closed doors of the secure labs, the busy minds are not only trying to find a cure to the pandemic but are also working for a higher power as lead scientist Whitaker (who has also smuggled his family into the clean labs) is in contact with them to return.
Overall, this change in tact and focus on action and perilous situations has upped the suspense and drama of the entire show. And the occasional nod to recent series like Flash Forward and Lost, with hidden messages, secret numbers and conspiracies within conspiracies, all add to the overall setup and success of the new season. And this, in my opinion, was a really well produced and executed episode of sci-fi drama.
With the writers and series heads knowing that they get six to eight episodes per season rather than 20-odd to resolve these sub-plots, secrets and hidden agendas, I suspect things will move along at a quicker and more active pace than our American cousins’ shows. Expext that the elements will be addressed in a more prompt fashion for all to be resolved in weeks rather than dangling for years.
Finally, it is a bonus for myself and other Brummies to see the ‘landmarks’ of Birmingham (well, when I say landmarks – streets and bits of waste ground, really) dotted throughout the series. And I guess that, while viewers in Manchester got the same thrill last season seeing their town become a desolate post-apocalyptic wasteland, the move down the M6 and seeing the show’s action is now taking place in the sunny (well, actually very snowy at the moment) Midlands is quite a joy.
Good on you, BBC. And we’ll be back for episode two…