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Posts Tagged ‘Adrian Hodges’

Well, readers, I think we’ve had more than enough cooling off time, and we should direct our attention to the remake of Survivors broadcast by the BBC in 2008 and 2010. I’m a huge fan of the original show, obviously; you don’t want to read endless complaining about how the new show isn’t as good; and so I’m going to try and avoid comparing the two in terms of quality. That said, making comparisons does seem to me to lead us into some interesting places.

You know, I can’t decide between the captions ‘Two of these people are not like the others’ and ‘This picture isn’t at all awkwardly posed and obviously photoshopped, dearie me no’. Decisions decisions…

Let us begin with episode one. There are obviously quite a few similarities between the beginnings of the original show and that of New Survivors (as I fear I’ll be referring to it; sorry) – a couple of the characters are reasonably close in conception, some key storytelling beats are repeated, and one line of dialogue survives unchanged. Needless to say, of course, there are also lots of changes. Some of these you could have predicted – the new show is more diverse, of course, and the production values are rather better. (One aspect of the diversification of the show is the way in which Abby has gone from having a very post-Roedean RP accent to being from… to being from… well, I must confess that while it’s obvious that Julie Graham has a regional accent, I can’t actually work out what it is, which is particularly awkward as I suspect she’s using her natural voice.)

However, the one change that really jumped out at me is the fact that New Survivors has a proper symphonic score to it, where the original series barely used incidental music at all. There is crisis music when serious events are happening, and sadness music when characters are having a tough emotional time. The audience is basically being cued as to what to feel. You could say this was evidence of the same lack of subtlety which informs most mainstream drama nowadays, but on the other hand you could argue it reflects a more fundamental shift in approach.

British society in general has become more emotionally articulate over the last few decades – people talk about 1997, and particularly the outpouring of public emotion after the death of the Princess of Wales, as some kind of watershed, but it seems clear that this is just one sign of a wider shift. Where once we looked to more objective external sources to validate our lives and experiences – religion, traditional, social authorities – it seems to me that its our own emotional responses which have taken on this role. You can see this in a general shift towards popularism and sentimentality in most mass media, and also the tenor of our politics – the British people really do seem to have had enough of experts (figures of objective social authority), choosing instead to make major decisions based on half-articulated feelings.

I’m probably sounding very critical and traditionally British and uptight about this, and I suppose that to some extent it’s a change I don’t necessarily feel is a positive one (note how I myself frame my answer in terms of feelings rather than by appealing to an objective source of authority). In the end I suppose it’s one of those unsolvable questions – which set of standards is better? How you decide is based on whichever standards you yourself have adopted.

What is clear is the influence this has on New Survivors. Not only is everyone is much more emotionally articulate and open about their feelings, they are largely defined in terms of whatever emotional arc has been plotted out for them – the key character traits of New Greg and New Abby are made very clear soon after we meet them, often through dialogue where they basically state their personal agendas. (Plus, where original Abby was essentially an idealist, new Abby is positioned much more as a matriarchal figure – you couldn’t really envisage Carolyn Seymour playing Big Momma to the group in the way that Graham does.)  What’s particularly telling is the sequence in which Abby has her eyes opened to the reality of the post-virus world and the need to become self-sufficient if society is to be reconstructed. Frankly, I was a bit surprised this bit of original Survivors survived at all, as it’s steeped in 1970s concerns and openly philosophical in a way modern TV shows usually avoid like the plague. In 1975 this bit of speechifying is delivered by a wise old schoolteacher in fairly abstract terms. In 2008, the same speech comes from an outdoor activity instructor, speaking in terms of the personal nature of human experience. The implication is that this man is a source of wisdom not because he knows a lot, but because he is in touch with the important elements of existence. Ideas are of less significance than the emotional context they are couched in.

As I mentioned, the first episode of New Survivors sticks reasonably close to its 70s counterpart, although the coming together which took half the first season in 1975 occurs here by the end of a feature-length first episode. In addition to New Abby and New Greg, we have a couple of brand-new characters, Al and Najid, neither of whom seems especially interesting at first glance, and… well…

Well, I have to say that one of the things which reflexively put me off the series when news of it first reached me (I was living in a central Asian republic at the time) was the way it handled some of the classic characters. Playing New Jenny is Freema Agyeman – who at the time was reasonably fresh off her stint in Doctor Who, and had a bit of a profile. But, of course, this is stunt casting, for in this version of the show Jenny is not immune to the plague and dies in the first episode. This is, essentially, playing games with audience expectations, or so it seems to me: the revelation that Jenny is dying of the plague is written and directed as an unexpected plot twist, that only makes sense as such if you’re familiar with the old show. As I say, a cheap stunt.

Taking Jenny’s place is a character named Anya (played by Zoe Tapper), who is effectively a new character but seems to me to be based on the Christopher Reich character from the 1975 version of the story (Andrew becomes Anya). Presumably as the story continues she will take on some of the plot functions of Ruth (a character not in Terry Nation’s novelisation of the series, and therefore not covered by the BBC licence).

Also still around is Tom Price, although he is effectively brand new – no longer the useless vagrant of his previous incarnation, as played by Max Beesley he is a psychopathic ex-convict (some of his sex pest tendencies seem to have survived, though). Beesley does a good job of portraying new Price as a genuine enigma – does he genuinely mean what he says after knifing a prison officer to death in order to escape, when he makes a vague show of regretting what looks to me like an unnecessary murder? Or is he simply justifying it to himself? Is he the ruthless predator he sometimes appears to be or genuinely looking for a fresh start? This piece of reimagining at least is interesting.

As I say, this is the 21st century and so subtlety is thin on the ground, but you can’t fault the production values (even if these do extend to a bloomin’ big explosion which serves no real plot function). Generally, the further Adrian Hodges’ script departs from the spirit of Terry Nation, the less engaging it gets – good grief, I’m actually saying nice things about Terry Nation’s writing. Certainly Nation never let the desire to include a big moment or sequence override plot logic in the way Hodges’ sometimes does – the most jarring example being Al waking up in bed with a corpse, which only makes sense if you accept that a) a person with the virus would go out clubbing and b) nightclubs would still be open at the height of a major pandemic. But hey ho.

To be perfectly honest, the first episode of Survivors is not quite as gruelling as I feared, although my expectations were ankle-level low. Enough of Terry Nation’s original ideas have survived, in this episode at least, to make this an interesting alt-reality version of the story. I’m curious to see if this continues to be the case.

 

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