Tuesday, November 25, 2008


The BBC has a new (kinda) mini-series about average people surviving a global pandemic that leaves them virtually alone in a depopulated Britain, forced to recreate society in the face of their own human foibles. I say kinda because Survivors is a remake of a 1970's BBC series, created by Terry Nation (who created many of the best bits of Doctor Who). I only saw the first episode of the original series, but I did read Terry Nation's novelization of the first season (his only season with the show) completely by accident, and didn't realize that it was based on a TV show until well after watching that sole episode. The novelization was as good (if not better) than The Stand, The Day of the Triffids, and similar post-apocalyptic treatments, with its violent and downbeat climax (which diverges sharply from the TV series) remaining particularly haunting. The TV series also seemed like good stuff, but, having missed the second episode in the days before DVRs, Hulu, and Netflix, I didn't bother to keep up. So I am really comparing this modern remake to Nation's novel, if anything.

And, after watching the first two episodes, it doesn't really measure up. Having decided to avoid the "dreary" pessimism of the original series, the producers of today's Survivors plan to focus on the hope and triumph of plucky Brits retaining their values and humanity in the face of civilization's collapse. A noble thought, but the truth is that half the "fun" of post-apocalyptic fiction is watching average folks survive through grim efficiency, often requiring them to compromise those modern values to live through the day. Case in point is the second episode, where the survivors are kept from foraging the local supermarket by a tiny gang because their leader is armed with a double-barreled shotgun. Now my first thought would be to find the nearest TA depot or an abandoned Armed Response Vehicle and get something like this or this and take out the wannabe warlord with his Elmer Fudd gun. But then I'm an American, and I can't help but think that the Brit creators of this show would see that resolution as some kind of horrifying failure rather than the upliftingly human "solution" where the survivors flee the scene back to their cozy cottage in the woods, leaving the yobs in charge of the town and the threat unresolved. When much of the attraction is to see how characters use their intelligence to survive, Survivors knee-caps itself by forcing the characters to behave by the same moral sensibilities they owned before the collapse.

It also doesn't help that the lead character has been turned from the "hausfrau turned coldly-efficient tribal leader" of the original series and novel into a shrill soccer mom obsessed with finding her lost child. The original character had the same goal, but the creators there had the good sense to see that it was dramatically uninteresting to have her do this same act every damn episode, and gave her the larger motivation of creating a community in which to raise her child when the kid was found. That said, the other characters of the new series - an escaped convict who is either sociopathic or grimly realistic about the situation (or maybe both); an Arabic playboy forced into caring for a Muslim fundie kid; a lesbian (maybe?) doctor; and the next Doctor Who - are all improvements on the otherwise vanilla characters of the original series.

All in all, Survivors feels a lot like Jericho, another show where the creators thought it should be about something (the strength and spirit of hometown America) when the viewers wanted something else (radioactive zombies snacking on Kansan brains). It's not awful, but it's already so veered itself off the path of "reasonable response to this situation" that I'm strictly hanging on because it'll be over soon (there's only six episodes in this season) and because I'm a sucker for anything with a British accent.


Steven Kaye said...

For reasons best known to itself, GK Films is remaking the 1985 BBC series "Edge of Darkness" with Mel Gibson in the lead:


drclehmann said...

Survivors ( the second version) isn't so bad, mainly thanks to the sociopathis AND grimly realistic character. Do rest assured that yobs with Elmer Fudd games do get their come-uppance in the end. i had seen some episodes of the 1970's version as a kid in GB ( visiting from France) and been haunted by such unusual fare ( at the time). the second version ( two seasons now) isn't bad at all, even if the main female charcater makes me cringe. last thing: the novelisation was brilliant, with an edning that reverberates thirty something years on. There was also a follow-up, by terry nation I think, and believe me, it was quite good, as post-apo books go. If you can find it ( sorry, it's locked in an old trunk and I don't have the name, but I guess the author is the same), it was quite good. better than Lucifer's Hammer, if I recall correctly, and that was a landmark to the adolescent I was then

Gil Trevizo said...

The sequel book to Terry Nation's novel is "Survivor: Genesis of a Hero" by John Eyers. I've got it on one of my Amazon wishlists, but it's going for $147!

The second season of the revamped Survivors was not horrible. The Abby Grant character got a lot less screechy. That said, I can't say I was sorry to hear that it'd been cancelled.