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Category:    Home > Reviews > Science Fiction > Action > Outbreak > Drama > British TV > Survivors: The Complete Original Series (1975 1977) + Survivors: Complete Seasons One & Two (New Series/2008 2010/BBC DVD Sets)

Survivors: The Complete Original Series (1975 1977) + Survivors: Complete Seasons One & Two (New Series/2008 2010/BBC DVD Sets)


Picture: B- Sound: B- Extras: B/A Episodes: A+



Terry Nation created a lot of memorable material in his long career as a writer for the BBC (Blake 7 and Doctor Who's Daleks come immediately to mind), but Survivors stands out among his efforts for its unflinching exploration into human nature and mankind's struggle against death. From 1975 - 1977 Nation's Survivors enthralled and shocked BBC viewers. Over the course of three series (seasons) and thirty-eight episodes, Nation's character's scratch and claw their way through a world depopulated by a virus so virulent that less than a scant 10% of them remain. Most of the action in this original Survivors takes place in the rural British countryside, where the lonely remains of the population try to make a go of life after a worldwide catastrophe.


Although slow to develop in the early episodes, Survivors draws the viewer in by degrees on the strength of compelling stories and brilliantly acted characters. Carolyn Seymour's Abby Grant acts as the anchor for the show's core cast, interspersing a desperate search for her missing son with leading the group to form a commune of sorts. Ian McColloch gives a strong performance as Greg Preston, Abby's right-hand man. Lucy Fleming's character states most everyone's situation most succinctly when she says at one point, "I just don't want to be alone." And indeed, loneliness and isolation are recurring themes in the plots of these wonderful episodes, which include some positively gut-wrenching moments. Special mention should also be made of longtime Welsh character actor Talfryn Thomas' performance as scabrous survivor Tom Price. You never quite know where you stand with his character until he irrevocably crosses the line, proving that even in the post-apocalypse, there will still be bastards.


The characters from the original series go through so many trials, tribulations, and setbacks, that the moments of triumph they do enjoy seem all the sweeter.


Rabid fans of the old show might have viewed the announcement of the modern version with some trepidation, but just as when the BBC resurrected Doctor Who with such care and consideration, the same was done with Survivors. The new version bases its story and some of its characters off of Terry Nation's great work of the 1970's, but with many modern improvements. Most notably, the cast is far more representative of the population of the world, and indeed, Great Britain's multicultural mix of Africans, Asians, Arabs, and Caucasians.


Despite its modernization, the show retains its bleak roots, and what good are cell phones and computers when no infrastructure exists to see that they keep working? In the end, the same conditions of survival apply in the 2010's as did in the 1970's--food, warmth, companionship, and safety are what all survivors seek. Many of the old characters return in this version, and Julie Graham's Abby possesses all of the same inner strength and drive to survive as Carolyn Grant's. Although similarities of character exist, there are some differences too. Max Beesley's Tom Price appears immediately more sinister than Talfryn Thomas's bumbling bastard of a Welshman.


The older series is 1.33 X 1 PAL analog video and looks really good, while the new show is an HD shoot in anamorphically enhanced 1.78 X 1 presentations that are among the best such showings to date from BBC DVD. Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono sounds good for its age on the older shows, while we get Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo for the new show (and not 5.1 for whatever reason) but it is very well recorded. The latter may come to Blu-ray and it should be impressive if this set is any implication.


Extras on the 1970's box set include a documentary on the show's devoted fans and some photo galleries. The new series offers a bit more, with a "Making Of..." feature, character profiles, other added content. What makes both of these boxed sets desirable is not the packaging or the extras, but the episodes themselves. The 1970's Survivors is gut-wrenching and addicting television. Its successor somehow manages to live up to the almost impossible legacy of the classic show. It's obvious the writers stuck closely to the spirit of Terry Nation's original work, but they went their own way where and when they needed to.


These shows make you think about what is valuable, about what really matters. They may even prompt you to buy a gun, or stock up on some extra canned goods or kerosene. Both of these boxes ought to come with some kind of addiction warning label. That being said, you can't watch a full season in one go (you'll need a break from the bleakness), but you'll come back for more until it's done. If you can survive watching television this compelling, you may have learned a lot about human nature, and that should alternately give you hope, and scare the hell out of you.



- Scott Pyle


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