Posts Tagged ‘A Beginning’

The last episode of the first series of Survivors is A Beginning, another Terry Nation script which is, to a considerable extent, a character piece about Abby Grant. Anyone watching The Fourth Horseman and then missing the next eleven episodes might not find anything especially noteworthy in this, for that’s essentially how the series began – but for anyone who’s been following along, it is a bit of a change of pace, and one that indicates some of the behind-the-scenes tensions which had apparently been developing as the series was made.

It is, we are invited to infer, late June, and not all is well at the manor: the trade Greg has made following the previous episode – petrol for supplies – has gone bad on the community, with the seed they received proving worthless. Greg doesn’t see the point in going back and complaining, as they have no leverage, others disagree; once again the existence of the community hangs in the balance. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown – in this case, the head belongs to Abby, who is struggling with the burden of being a leader of the community. Everyone has some petty issue they bring to her: Arthur asks for guidance about where to graze the livestock, Emma wants the children to help more around the house, Paul complains about where they store the pigswill. It is clearly getting too much for her.

Then a group of travellers arrive – survivors from a community about fifty miles away, driven from their own farm by an organised militia attempting to set themselves up as a regional power. With them they have a very sick young woman, whom they want to leave at the manor as they travel on. With Abby in retreat and not attending the meeting, for once Greg’s brutal pragmatism carries the day unopposed – they can’t risk bringing disease into the community, and the girl will have to stay with the travellers.

As far as the threat of the militia is concerned, the group start working on a plan to create a mutual defence agreement with all the other local communities, which will at least give them a chance of standing off the militia should a confrontation develop, but they are interrupted when it turns out the travellers have departed, leaving the sick girl on the manor’s doorstep (not quite literally).

We get one last great scene between Abby and Greg, as he insists the situation hasn’t changed: they just can’t risk contagion, and the girl should be made comfortable and left in one of the outhouses for nature to take its course. Abby disagrees and overrules him, and their argument threatens to become violent: Greg warns her never to speak to him that way again, she calls him a sanctimonious pig, he physically stops her from leaving. Greg is never less sympathetic than in this scene, and to his credit Ian McCulloch seems quite prepared to play up the sharp edges of the character (Greg comes across as arrogant, even somewhat chauvinist and patronising).

The thing is, of course, that Greg is arguably absolutely correct, and taking the girl in is – while morally the right thing to do – a stupid risk for everyone else (even she agrees with this). But the episode is on Abby’s side, of course, and not only does the girl recover, she proves to be a medical student and thus a fantastic resource for the community – giving Greg medical treatment after he injures himself later in the episode, and doling out one last bit of information to give the series an upbeat climax: she was previously living on a barge with another group of survivors, including Bronson, from The Fourth Horseman, and a boy who may well be Abby’s son Peter (although it seems to me that Greg and Jenny are somewhat guilty of asking leading questions here).

Before we get to that, however, we get a section with Abby going walkabout and ending up being almost literally swept off her feet by Jimmy Garland, now established as a de facto feudal seigneur –┬áhe turns up on a white horse, just to drive the message home. (Another quirky geographical revelation, as it appears that Garland’s estate, Waterhouse, is within a day’s walk of the manor. And, once again, it is tempting to compare this with Nation’s novelisation of the series, where Abby’s only contact with Garland after their initial meeting is a visit to his grave: he dies an ugly, pointless death.) Good-ish character stuff, I suppose, but a bit vague around the edges – the rebirth of Abby’s determination to lead, together with the inauguration of the defence alliance, and the news about Peter, does seem a bit much all for one episode – the series does seem to be stretching a bit in order to provide an upbeat climax to the series.

More than just a climax to the series, of course: this is the last participation in the TV version of Survivors for both Terry Nation and Carolyn Seymour. In both cases the cause of this seems to have been conflict with the producer, Terence Dudley, and in retrospect it is notable that episodes in the second half of the season are much more oriented around other characters, particularly Greg and Jenny (of course). The only real exception is Law and Order, the script of which Carolyn Seymour apparently strongly objected to on moral grounds, leading to more ructions behind the camera. Seymour herself has stated in interviews that Dudley wanted someone capable of playing a strong woman, but who would just do what she was told the rest of the time, and this is why she was effectively sacked. (The fate of Abby Grant is left open as far as the TV show goes: given her strong connection to the others, the way she just vanishes into the wilderness and is never seen again – what little we hear in the second series just invites further questions – does not invite one to draw hopeful conclusions.)

As far as Terry Nation is concerned, it seems that Brian Clemens may have been doing his old colleague a disservice when he accused Nation of just wanting to make a tract about self-sufficiency and smallholding – it seems that Nation was very happy to go down the action-adventure shotgun-toting Wild West Country route, and it was Dudley who was interested in the rather less dynamic agri-soap stylings the series eventually adopts. Then again, as Nation had some, shall we say, quite ambitious plans for how the series should develop (at one point he suggested the characters should abandon the UK, on the grounds of its rotten climate, and head for ‘the Valley of the Indus’ – the beginning of this journey is what forms the climax of the novelisation), perhaps Dudley’s views were more realistic.

Whichever way you look at it, post-Seymour, post-Nation Survivors is a different beast from the original version of the series, with the elevation of Greg to main character not really serving the series especially well. Not that the other episodes are without their moments, of course – but the drama is never quite as consistently interesting as it is in this first series.

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