Survivors remake season one review

Posted: October 2, 2013 in Archive posts, Journalism, Reviews

A review of the remake TV show, from Death Ray 16.

Directors: Jamie Payne, John Alexander, Andrew Gunn

Writer: Adrian Hodges

Starring: Julie Graham, Max Beesley, Paterson Joseph, Chahak Patel, Phillip Rhys,  Zoe Tapper, Robyn Addison, Nikki Amuka-Bird

Remake of classic SF series where population is reduced to a handful of serious TV actors continues to deliver the goods.

Flashback to last Death Ray 15: We give the opening episode of the Survivors remake the big thumbs up, with some reservations. We’re going to say pretty much the same thing here, only the thumbs up is more enthusiastic, the reservations fewer.

That’s pretty much the comparison between old and new too. Survivors has surprised us by following the original series plot. Abby Grant (originally played by Carolyn Seymour, now Julie Graham) still contracts the virus yet survives it, finds her husband slain by the bug and sets out to search for her son Peter. As per Terry Nation’s original, she becomes the leader of a small group of survivors along the way, who increasingly find themselves meeting with other, similar groups who have all chosen their own way of living. There are fewer hippies and more selfish bastards as the mores of the times dictate, but the main conflict still comes from government representatives ( though at least Nikki Amuka-Bird’s Samantha Willis is actually from the government). We’re still a bit middle-class, Peter’s on an adventure holiday not at boarding school, no-one bemoans the lack of servants, and there are fewer vast kitchens, but everyone in our group is clean, well made-up and nicely dressed. Outside it, they are desperate urchins or shifty chancers. All are grubby. It’s new classism, professionals versus chavs.

Generally though, and we’ll get a roasting from Survivors‘ fans for this I suspect, the remake is better. And we’re not just talking advances in TV production, or the tighter writing you’ll find in modern scripts. The new version amalgamates elements of the 70s show, bends them, updates them. Survivors succeeds because it intensifies the themes of the first series of the original  – friendship, family, neighbourliness, just doing the right thing. It adds a strand of redemption with Tom Price (Max Beesley), an ex-convict in the new show, and one of faith through the interplay between brand new characters Naj (Chahak Patel) and lapsed Muslim Al (Phillip Rhys). It’s a bit religious on the sly (there’s even an episode about a modern prophet). At the very least, it is highly moral, and occasionally moralising, pointing out all those things the Daily Mail tells us modern society has lost.

The best thing in it is Price. His arc is handled expertly. Beesley is on top form, all glowering looks and violent potential, yet brimming with pragmatism and a certain honour Only Samantha Willis matches him, and that’s because she’s similarly conflicted. Tom Price starts from a dark place and is struggling toward the light, she’s trying to re-establish the rule of law, but heading towards ruthlessness. Great stuff.

Some of the other characters fade a bit round these two, especially supposed lead Abby and second-stringer Greg (Paterson Joseph). She’s too one note, prone to wandering off and having barely convincing solo adventures looking for her son. Greg’s the real disappointment. It was he, not Tom, who was the driving force in the original’s group, but here he’s not had chance to shine, and the finale of the series suggests that he may never.

It’s a chance he should have had, each episode is an hour long, the first 90 minutes, but though the time’s used well, it is not perfectly. An episode of Lost crams in much more (paradoxically, though the episodes are longer than your average US show, the lower episode number of Survivors leads to these under drawn characters. 22 parts gives each member of even a huge ensemble chance centrestage). A couple sag in the middle, especially the last. When the audience is on tenterhooks waiting for the black helicopter of the sinister medicos to come and snatch Abby away, the cast sit down for a nice plate of beans. (They’re looking for the runaway Naj before they flee from Willis’ dodgy new government, which is slightly dull itself). Manchester is nicely dressed and FX’d up to look months-abandoned, better than immediately post-plague – an apartment block smoulders, weeds begin to choke the roads, rubbish from looted stores clutters the half-flooded streets – but the last ten minutes aside, not the thrill ride we were hoping for.

Still, Abby’s been kidnapped, the group’s on the run, Peter’s definitely alive, Greg’s been shot… And we give a damn. Bring it back as soon as Auntie, because this is the best SF treat you’ve given us for years.

Did you know…?

Other parts to watch out for from the original in the new series are the way we meet Robyn Addison’s character Sarah (the bloke she’s exploiting gets a crushed leg, Greg comes to the rescue). There’s a stand-off with thugs in  supermarket under a swinging corpse with “looter” pinned to its chest. Both from the second episode of the new series.

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