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Posts Tagged ‘Ian McCulloch’

After some reflection, I am going to do something I generally try to avoid, and slap a general ‘Spoiler Alert‘ on these reviews of the Big Finish Survivors audio plays. These are, as I’ve said before, comparatively new pieces of work, unlike the 40-year-old TV show on which they’re based, and there are probably people out there who’d be interested in them who aren’t familiar with the details of the plots yet. Yet it’s quite difficult to write about them without going into at least a little detail concerning the stories and characters. So, be warned: key revelations lie ahead.

The most obvious difference between the first couple of stories on the initial boxed set and the concluding pair (with which we shall concern ourselves today) is that Revelation and Exodus were largely about new characters, with only a comparatively small cameo from Lucy Fleming as Jenny. Episodes three and four (for this does ultimately resolve itself into a single story, albeit a slightly rambling one) feel very different, mainly because they’re largely focused on Jenny and Greg (played, of course, by Fleming and Ian McCulloch). We even get a bookending sequence with a cameo from Carolyn Seymour as Abby.

As Andrew Smith’s Judges begins, we have jumped forward from somewhere in the middle of the first TV episode, The Fourth Horseman, to around the end of episode twelve, Something of Value, and Greg and Jenny are heading to the south-east of England in search of much-needed supplies for the community at the Grange. Abby is dead set against this, of course, but it’s not like Greg to pay much attention to her, is it?

On the outskirts of London they meet another party of survivors looking to get out of the city, led by Phil, a former policeman. Could they be new recruits for the Grange community? Before they can find out, however, they encounter a patrol from the enclave led by former lecturer Gillison, and are taken in for questioning.

By now the listener is well aware that Gillison is a prime example of that prominent Survivors archetype, the small man turned post-apocalyptic despot, but none of the other characters know his capacity for ruthlessness – yet. Gillison quite reasonably clocks that Greg is an extremely handy and resourceful fellow to have about, and ropes him into a plan to survey the area using helicopters from Heathrow and make contact with any other communities they may find. But is that really what he’s up to?

On first listening, my response to Judges was heavily coloured by the simple fact that it has McCulloch and Fleming in it, playing Greg and Jenny again after all these years. As I’ve already said, the recreation of the characters is almost uncanny – it takes no effort at all to imagine Greg’s parka and that little cap he used to wear, even if he probably wouldn’t actually be wearing them (the episode is set in early summer). The script captures the characters superbly – Jenny is perhaps a touch stronger than she was at this point on TV, but that’s no bad thing.

The bulk of the story inevitably recalls Lights of London a little, in that it deals with an encounter with an urban settlement under the control of suspect leadership. Once again, no bad thing, but on reflection you do wonder what’s going on with the whole helicopter plan, given it’s eventually established that Gillison has a paranoid hostility towards any other group of survivors. Presumably he just wants to know where they are so he can move against them later. There’s also a very slight loose end, in that Smith wheels on some shotgun (more likely rifle)-toting raiders at one point, simply to service the plot.

Andrew Smith started his career as the youngest-ever writer on Doctor Who, responsible for the really-not-too-bad-at-all story Full Circle in 1980 (also its equally really-not-too-bad-at-all novelisation a couple of years later), but then decided to pack in writing for a successful career in the police (he has since retired from the fuzz and become something of a Big Finish regular). You get a sense of this background in the scenes with Phil, the ex-copper who still feels a sense of social responsibility even though society is in ruins. At one point there’s a genuinely interesting discussion of what it means to talk about law and order in a post-apocalyptic world, and it’s clearly the work of someone who has devoted serious thought to the concept of justice, as well as one who’s spent serious time at the business end of law enforcement. Unfortunately it doesn’t really inform the plot, which eventually turns out to be a mixture of drama and action-adventure about Gillison being a despotic control freak.

Episode four is John Dorney’s Esther, which continues along the same lines: Gillison is refusing to let Greg and Jenny (or indeed anyone else) leave, fearing they will come back with reinforcements and try to unseat him. The atmosphere in the community is growing more and more fraught as Gillison becomes more openly autocratic and authoritarian. Can our heroes make it out alive in time to get back to the Grange for the final episode of the first TV season?

It sounds like I’m suggesting that Greg and Jenny’s script immunity is the biggest problem in creating drama in Esther, which is not actually the case – you’re interested in the fates of the new characters, too, and they have no such guarantee of survival. The main issue with Esther is that it ultimately turns out to be a bit, well, melodramatic.

If there’s an ongoing theme throughout this first audio series, it’s that of the gradual transformation of Gillison from a slightly irritating polytechnic lecturer to a totally unhinged tyrant. And, largely as a result of the last episode, I’d say this doesn’t really work, because Gillison goes just too mad too quickly for it to feel credible – it’s happening more because the plot requires it than for any other reason. This is particularly awkward because Dorney makes a point of including flashbacks to his pre-plague life in an attempt to explain just why he has turned out in this way. It’s these flashbacks, by the way, that provide the sole pretext for titling the episode Esther – the theme of naming the episodes after books of the Bible is fair enough, but they have to stretch with this one, and it inevitably ends up feeling a little bit contrived as a result.

It’s well-played by all concerned, and you can never find much fault with Big Finish’s sound design, but in the end I would have to say that this is a set which starts off strongly but wobbles significantly towards the end. There are still more than enough strengths here to make me want to stick with this range, however.

 

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The block of three Parkes-scripted episodes towards the end of Survivors series 3 is so focused on one particular plotline – Charles’ increasingly fanatical quest to restore the electric power – that it’s a real wrench when the programme fundamentally shifts gears and tackles a wholly different story – namely, just what has Greg been doing all this time? It’s not just that – The Last Laugh functions on a wholly different level to the rest of series 3, if not the series as a whole. More than anything else it makes you incredibly regretful that Ian McCulloch wasn’t much more central to the creation of the final series, because it certainly seems like he had a much better idea of the potential of this programme than the people who were actually in charge of it.

It transpires Greg is looking for Dr Adams, a leading member of a community near the one Pet and the kids have settled at. On his journey he encounters a group of wanderers, led by Mason (George Mallaby), a former playboy-sheep-shearer turned full-time itinerant sheep-shearer (I kid you not). Greg is initially extremely suspicious of the group, suspecting them to be just another group of raiders, but when they express an interest in his scheme to federate the settlements, he lowers his defences. A bit too soon, as it turns out: he is knifed in the back and left for dead.

Unfortunately, Greg’s notes on the disposition of valuable resources scattered around the countryside are all in Norwegian, and so Mason and his men set off to find Anna, who is at the settlement with Pet, Jack, and the kids. One of them lingers, however, but lives to regret it (briefly) – Greg is not as dead as they assumed, and after a brutal fight the raider gets his head staved in with a rock.

Greg is still in a bad state, though, and makes his way to Dr Adams’ settlement – but there’s no sign of the forty people who are supposed to live there, and the two men who are resident are acting very suspiciously. Someone seems to be being held prisoner, and Greg discovers signs that human bodies have been burned there. Showing all his usual resourcefulness and determination, he outwits his presumed-captors, and breaks in to find Dr Adams (Clifton James)…

…who is in self-imposed isolation, disfigured and suffering from a mutant strain of smallpox that has already wiped out almost the entire settlement. The disease is usually lethal within two weeks and highly infectious. Greg initially thinks he’s cheated death yet again, not initially feeling any signs of infection, but his hopes are cruelly dashed the next morning. He has the virus. Dr Adams suggests the only thing to do is to make his peace and await the inevitable.

What follows, of course, is a tremendously powerful performance from McCulloch in a long two-handed scene between him and James. Lucy Fleming has spoken of the anger which is always at the core of McCulloch’s performances as Greg, and it is of course present. Greg speaks about his feelings for Jenny, and his regrets about the path his life has taken. And then, of course, being Greg, he sets out intent on revenge, determined to find the men who attacked him and share the virus with them as well. Adams is appalled, quite rightly suggesting that this may just lead to the virus spreading across the whole countryside, but Greg doesn’t give a damn. Has the shock of learning he is dying unhinged him? Or has he been less than entirely selfless all along?

Seeing an episode which mixes these kinds of big questions with decently-mounted action and a reasonably tight plot, not to mention one of the series’ most plausibly despicable villains in George Mallaby’s Ed Mason, really reminds you of what a great show this can be when handled properly. You can pick holes in the plot if you really want to – Pet’s settlement does seem rather sparsely populated, given all we’ve heard, and while I’m sure Greg is a bright guy, why on Earth has he learned to say ‘I have smallpox’ in Norwegian? – but this towers above the rest of series 3 on every level, with a thoughtful, allusive script – there are allusions to Shakespeare and Gerard Manley Hopkins – and great dialogue, too. After a raft of episodes which are ultimately hopeful, focusing on the threads of society slowly coming back together, The Last Laugh is shockingly dark and bleak, too. One of the handful of essential Survivors episodes, I would say.

Any episode following The Last Laugh would effectively have been slipped the hospital pass, but the thing about Martin Worth’s Long Live the King is… well, it’s not that it’s a bad episode, as such, it’s such an infuriating one, not just on its own merits, but in the way it epitomises all that makes the third series of Survivors such a frustratingly inconsistent one.

At least the makers of the programme appear to have realised that the death of arguably its central character could not go uncommented-upon by the other characters, and this episode is to a large extent about Greg’s legacy. The journey of Charles and the others up to Scotland is put on hold when he receives an urgent message asking him to meet Greg at an army camp on the east coast of England – Jenny’s response is ‘oh, no, not again’, quite possibly speaking for the viewer by this point. Charles resolves to go there; Jenny and the others press on.

Charles arrives at the camp to find ‘GP’ signs in evidence everywhere, and the place under the control of Agnes, who seems to have turned into a paramilitary version of Rosa Luxemburg. Greg’s most trusted associates from across the country have been summoned to form the new ruling council of Britain – the rebirth of the nation, even. The problem is that the coalition Greg has been putting together since his return from Norway is heavily reliant on his personal authority and charisma, and with Greg now, well, dead, the whole thing is showing signs of collapsing before it is even properly established.

And it turns out there is another problem – the Captain (Roy Marsden), the real leader of the band of raiders from The Last Laugh, has escaped from the farm which was destroyed by smallpox and is heading for the camp, too…

Watching Long Live the King made me realise there’s an element of classic theatre about the last series of Survivors, but only because it’s either very reminiscent of Waiting for Godot (to be more accurate, it’s Looking for Greg) or just Hamlet without the Prince. You get a very strong sense that there have really been two stories happening all season – that of Greg travelling the country preparing to restore the basis of civilisation, and that of the others rather haplessly wandering around in his wake, never quite catching up with him. On the basis of what we see on the screen, the story of Greg is considerably more interesting and involving than the story of the others: I feel cheated!

The plot gymnastics required to tie Long Live the King to the end of The Last Laugh are bizarre, and to be honest not that successful – some weeks have passed since the end of the previous episode, and exactly what has happened in the meantime is never completely clear. Given Agnes is lying her head off for most of the episode, can we really believe what she says about nursing Greg in his last days? What are we supposed to make of her claim that, having had brucellosis, she is now apparently immune to the mutant smallpox which was so terribly contagious and lethal last episode? Something very odd seems to be going on here, anyway – the Captain has had the smallpox but seems to be okay now, and not contagious, but what was he doing at the farm anyway? Did Martin Worth even see the finished script for The Last Laugh before writing this one? As I say, it’s infuriating and frustrating, not least because the Captain is an absurd, cartoon villain – he’s wearing a flat cap, welly boots, and a tie, for crying out loud – and arguably all he contributes to the story is to provide a sign of how much the backdrop is changing: despite having murdered two women in the course of the story, he is not executed out of hand but held as a prisoner at the end. The rule of law has been restored.

The episode is largely about what it takes to run a functioning, large-scale society, and it is impressively cynical about it (this angle is interesting enough that it makes the more peculiar elements of the plot even more annoying, as they’re spoiling a superior episode). The new society Agnes is proposing to inaugurate is essentially a massive scam, based on various deceptions. (It’s quite ironic that it’s Charles who takes her to task over this, given how ruthless many of his own recent activities have been – he does come across as a bit of a hypocrite in this episode.) But the episode makes it very clear that every society is, to some extent, based on exactly the same kind of shared fictions, especially when it comes to things like money. I’ve been reading Yuval Harari’s Sapiens recently, which discusses very frankly how cultures function, and Harari stresses that money, while being essential to a large-scale society, only has any utility as long as people believe in its value. But how do you create money for a society which hasn’t used it at all in years? How do you foster that kind of shared belief in the intrinsic value of bits of paper? It’s a fascinating area, one I’ve never seen dealt with anywhere else, and it’s just a shame so much of the episode is preoccupied with other business.

As I say, a real mixed bag of an episode, and rather infuriating as a result. At least the final irony of the story of Survivors is clear at the conclusion, and it’s one that says a great deal about the differences in how drama is written and produced now, as opposed to 40 years ago. Characterisation in genre series tends to be better these days, I suppose, but characters tend to be defined in very strict ways – they tend not to have space to develop or unexpectedly reveal surprising facets to themselves. Most of the time they just have one or two defining characteristics which they display over and over again. But in programmes like Survivors you do get a sense of the actors and writers learning about the characters as they go along, and often making surprising discoveries along the way. Real people aren’t as flatly and immutably archetypal as they’re usually presented on TV. One of the things that makes Survivors so special, for me, is the authentically human unknowability of the principal characters – their capacity to develop in genuinely surprising ways in the course of the story, while remaining recognisably the same individuals: Charles, the passionate visionary, shows signs of becoming a ruthless political operator as the series nears its end; Hubert, the comedy relief yokel, murders someone in cold blood for the good of the group.

And Greg Preston, the survivor who initially didn’t want to get tied down or take on any particular responsibilities at all, ends up as the man almost solely responsible for recreating his nation, with his initials on the flag. Long live the King, indeed.

 

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After the ructions at the start of the series and the big-budget trip to London, the second year of Survivors becomes rather more bucolic and laid-back with a run of episodes which are more representative of the new format, the first of which is Don Shaw’s The Face of the Tiger.

The community is approached by a man calling himself Alistair McFadden (John Line), who was directed to them by – the survivors assume, based on slightly threadbare evidence – Jimmy Garland. (All these call-backs to first season characters and the building up of the mystery of what Abby’s been doing would make sense if they actually led anywhere, but as they don’t they’re at best baffling, at worst annoying.) Everyone is delighted to learn that Alistair is an expert on herbal medicine, making him a valuable addition to the settlement. Not only this, but he is clearly intelligent, sensitive, and educated.

Also part of the community, of course, is Hubert, who is a very obvious replacement for Tom Price (working class, poor personal hygiene, barely tolerated by everyone else) – producer Terence Dudley killed Price off, feeling it was inappropriate to have an unpunished murderer among the regular characters (especially as the comic relief), and presumably introduced Hubert to take his place. Hubert is a discontent, a trouble-maker, and a pain in the neck to everyone else. Hubert takes poorly to what he sees as the preferential treatment given to the newly-arrived Alistair, which results in trouble when he rummages through Alistair’s possessions and discovers a newspaper clipping. It reveals that before the plague, Alistair was sent to prison for the murder of a child, and now they have a killer living in their midst. When confronted, he claims to have been ‘cured’ – but then John goes missing.

The Face of the Tiger seems like an oddly underpowered episode on first viewing, but a little reflection suggests that it is intended to repeat the success of Law and Order, from the first season, only with some of the more provocative elements of the story removed (the wrongful execution of a man with learning difficulties, that sort of thing) – there’s even a call-back to the earlier episode when Greg darkly says that he’s not going to go through with another murder trial. However, it falls victim to the Baby/Bathwater effect. The new story touches on issues of guilt and punishment in a post-apocalyptic world, but there isn’t an actual crime, and never any real sense of the characters being forced into making a serious or difficult moral choice. John Line does a good job of portraying Alistair as a man who, for all his intelligence and learning, perhaps isn’t quite all there and isn’t really able to function in society, but the contrast between the gentle and thoughtful Alistair, who refuses to stay, and the coarse and objectionable Hubert, who refuses to leave, is not subtly drawn.

On to The Witch, which marks the mid-point of the series’ episode run, sort of (episode 19 of 38), the termination of Jack Ronder’s association with the programme, and also its nadir. Now, some people have attempted to defend this one on the grounds that it was the first episode of the series to go in front of the cameras (Jenny does not appear, as Lucy Fleming was on maternity leave at the time) and the actors were still coming to grips with their characters, but that doesn’t excuse the scripting going on here.

Not a great deal is going on at Whitecross, with several of the characters off on a salt collecting expedition. Charles-and-Greg are trying to get the old watermill running again (we may as well refer to them as Charles-and-Greg as they have virtually no independent existence this week), while Hubert is showing how fully he has grown into the Tom Price niche by becoming a full-blown sex pest, bothering Mina (Delia Paton), the settlement’s slightly eccentric single mother. Not surprisingly, as he is generally disagreeable and smells bad, she is not interested.

Hubert, of course, is not prepared to let it lie, and tries to cover up his stalking of Mina by telling the children she is a witch. A series of odd coincidences actually give credence to this notion, always assuming you are clinically brain dead, and it seems that several members of the community are just that. Well, it’s nice to see that Charles’ plans to restore civilisation are going so well: blindly ignorant prejudice is making a big comeback. And so, it seems, are patronising liberal elites, for Charles-and-Greg and Ruth are smugly dismissive of the concerns of the less-well-educated members of the community, who are naturally mostly working class. That said, nobody comes out of this episode looking particularly good – at one point Mina runs away into the night, and the search party sent to search for a woman upset that everyone thinks she’s a witch is basically a mob waving flaming torches. Hmmm.

You can see that Jack Ronder is once again touching on some of the same themes of Earth Abides: in this case, the retreat of rationalism and the return of superstition. The problem is that the book operates on a timescale of decades, and it’s the first generation born after the plague who really display this: this episode is set less than eighteen months after the disaster. I know we’re all supposed to be only three meals away from anarchy, but eighteen months away from a medieval mindset? Hmmm. The main problem isn’t that the episode is unconvincing, it’s that it’s actually just dull and even somewhat embarrassingly primitive. Given all the good work Jack Ronder earlier did on the series, this is a sorry way for him to make his departure.

There’s a radical improvement in the next episode, A Friend in Need, which was written by Ian McCulloch himself – apparently the actor also felt the second series suffers from losing the action-adventure elements running through the first year, for this is an efficient little thriller with some eye-opening moments.

As it starts, Charles and Greg (they are much better differentiated here) are hosting a conference of local settlement representatives; this is apparently not the mutual defence alliance which seemed on the verge of forming at the end of the first series. Greg is his usual charming self and manages to piss off most of the visiting delegates, making progress limited, but news arrives that a woman at one of the other settlements has been murdered – and by an outsider, using a rifle at long range.

Greg and Charles get all CSI: Post-Apocalypse and discover the killer has something wrong with their legs; further investigation reveals the sniper has been travelling cross-country for months, killing women at regular intervals. Whitecross is next in line for a visit, but Jenny has a disquieting thought – could the crippled, woman-hating killer be their old associate Vic Thatcher, having survived the fire at the manor and finally gone completely insane?

Well, the procedural elements of the story are well-handled, for the most part – the way in which the climax (Greg sets off to confront the killer, not suspecting that his shotgun has been rendered non-functional) is brought about is perhaps a tiny bit clunky, but this may be more down to the child acting involved than anything else.

What makes the story a little more memorable are some interesting character moments – the Greg from Face of the Tiger who didn’t want to see another murder trial is still here, inasmuch as he’s gone into full Pale Rider mode and bluntly advocates a shoot-to-kill policy as far as the sniper is concerned. When the others suggest that trying to work out why the killer appears to have a particular issue with women, he is openly scornful of them and accuses them of caring more about the sniper than his victims. The loss of some ‘civilised values’ is for the best, announces Greg, the implication being that we can all stop worrying about prisoners’ rights and the value of rehabilitation and just put a bullet in the guilty party. One wonders to what extent McCulloch is using Greg as a mouthpiece for his own views – you can’t imagine the BBC broadcasting something like this nowadays, certainly.

Greg does seem permanently angry in this episode, anyway: he gets angry with the visiting leaders, he gets angry with his own people several times, he’s obviously angry with the killer throughout… though he does get one great line, too, when Arthur is rather long-windedly relating an anecdote from his own childhood which may be of relevance, and Greg asks if he wants the children bringing in for storytime. This is very much Greg as the Judge Dredd of post-apocalyptic Britain, a sardonic, self-assured figure surrounded by people who somehow don’t have the guts to do what’s necessary.

Which in this case is to half-garrotte a crippled woman, another scene which has some curious undertones to it. The revelation that the sniper is indeed female is a curve ball which doesn’t quite work, not least because the character is obviously played by a male actor, but also because… well, it just feels inserted for shock value, there’s been nothing to suggest it and it adds very little to the story (we don’t even get to see the killer ourselves). Nevertheless, a superior episode as far as this series goes.

 

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It’s probably an exaggeration to say that all classic British TV from the 1970s is essentially about the class system, but it certainly seems to have been on a lot of people’s minds – sitcoms, in particular, are virtually powered by class differences and relationships between people of different social strata. Drama, too – even if it’s only to the extent that stock characters seem to be partly defined by their class origins.

Survivors sets out to be explicitly about the nature of its post-viral society, so it’s not really surprising that it does touch upon some issues of how people from different social backgrounds respond differently to the post-catastrophe world. On the whole, though, the show is just a bit too much of a product of its time to really make a success of this.

If the first episode, The Fourth Horseman, is essentially about the fall of civilisation, then the next two, Genesis and Gone Away, deal with the immediate aftershock as the characters come to terms with the fact they have survived and try to work out what to do next. There’s a fairly strong procedural element to these episodes, as they partly function to set up the format for the rest of the first series, and in particular the central trio of Abby, Greg, and Jenny.

trio

Genesis opens with Greg Preston (Ian McCulloch), an engineer, arriving back in the UK via a helicopter he has appropriated, thus making clear he is a capable, resourceful, pragmatic individual. However, evidence that he is not your typical SF series hero comes as he returns to his home to find his wife has died of the plague. While Greg doesn’t quite start celebrating, he definitely isn’t overwhelmed by grief, either – this was clearly an unhappy marriage, and Greg so often comes across as harsh, sour, and abrasive that it’s entirely possible this was his fault. Why has he bothered to return? The crack in Greg’s armour is, I suppose, the fact that having taken on a responsibility, he can never quite bring himself to abandon it.

This ties into the Greg-plotline of this episode, in which he encounters a young woman named Anne (played by Myra Frances), who comes across as not being a million miles away from the public perception of the late Tara Palmer-Tompkinson – Anne has clearly grown up in circumstances of great privilege, and is very determined to hang on to as many of the good things in life as she can. Her partner in this scheme was a man named Vic (Terry Scully), but an accident which occurred while he was setting up their refuge has left him with two badly-broken legs.

Greg and Anne grimly contemplate the nature of their new world, and the shortage of medical care, even decent painkillers – ‘God help us if we even get tooth-ache,’ Greg mutters at one point. But he is at least a realist: Anne still has visions of remaining wealthy, in a way – she is depicted rather flatly as a spoilt rich girl. In the end Greg decides to move on, even though this will mean leaving Vic in the care of Anne, who is clearly deeply self-centred.

And, sure enough, shortly after Greg drives away, Anne walks out on Vic, ignoring his desperate cries for help as he crawls, in agony, after her. It’s a shockingly brutal moment, and the beat which follows is nearly as disturbing. Anne encounters Greg again, who has returned to drop off some painkillers, and when asked flatly claims that Vic is dead. Greg is clearly incredulous at this rather convenient (for Anne) development, but does he bother to spend a few minutes checking Vic really has died? He does not. He doesn’t want the burden of caring for an invalid any more than she does.

Running through this episode and the next one is another storyline, which is initially unconnected – while Greg is dealing with Anne and Vic (and Jenny is wandering round a series of film sequences), Abby encounters another group of survivors who are beginning to organise. They are led by Arthur Wormley (George Baker), a former trade union leader, and for all his talk of re-establishing social order, Abby is repelled by the brutal methods he and his followers employ – his Emergency Committee has taken to seizing the property of other survivors for the common good, and executing dissidents. (Abby also gets to make virtually the same speech about self-sufficiency as Bronson from episode one, for any viewers who have either forgotten or missed it.)

Wormley is really an example of a stock Survivors character, in the first series at least: the small man turned post-apocalyptic despot. I think it’s telling that he’s both a trade unionist and played by Baker with a regional accent, rather than the RP which Abby, Greg and Jenny all use. There’s all kinds of social and political coding going on here, with the spectre of a form of communism, spawned in the provinces, being raised. Needless to say Abby runs a mile from Wormley and his crew, and meets up with Greg and Jenny at its conclusion.

Some of the ideas in Gone Away are a bit more thoughtful, but there is still a lot about this episode which is problematic. For one thing, it opens with a long, almost wordless sequence of a farmhouse being looted by the tramp Tom Price (Talfryn Thomas), a minor character from the previous episodes. This looks very much like padding, inserted to fill out a thin script, and – given some of the stories about Terry Nation’s work ethic – I wonder if the title isn’t actually an ironic reference to the fact that the writer had in fact Gone Away on holiday leaving only two-thirds of an episode with the production team.

The main part of the episode deals with Abby, Greg, and Jenny making a trip to get supplies for their proposed community (Greg is hanging around for now, but still insists he’ll be leaving soon), only to find the supermarket they visit has been claimed by Wormley’s Emergency Committee. As chance would have it, a group of Wormley’s men turn up while they’re there, and a tense stand-off ensues, as Abby refuses to accept their authority (but their rivals are the ones with guns). Greg initially remains noncommittal, but eventually throws in his lot with Abby and Jenny, enabling the trio to escape.

goneaway

What’s initially interesting about this set-up is that the argument made by the leader of the Committee men, Long (Brian Peck), is actually quite reasonable: there should be some central authority in place to stop people from looting all the available food supplies for themselves, shouldn’t there? Acknowledging authority is one of the bases of society, after all. Later on, Abby admits to a moment of existential doubt, wondering if they are in fact in the wrong.

Fear not, Abby, for the episode makes it easy for you: whatever moral high ground the antagonists may have claim to, they are still depicted as a gang of brutal shotgun-toting thugs, with unsavoury designs on Abby and Jenny’s persons. It’s not just the toffs who are a rum lot in Survivors, you see: the lower classes are coming to get you, too. (That said, the plot does rather hinge on the fact that one of the group, nicely underplayed by Robert Gillespie, is not as enthusiastically vicious as the others.)

Now, I’ve seen it argued that the fact the main characters of Survivors are all so middle-class is a thematic choice, because these are people who have lost more, materially, in the catastrophe, and for whom things like manual labour and agricultural work would previously have been anathema. This may be so, but it doesn’t explain why so many people from other social backgrounds are depicted in such uncompromisingly negative terms. They are either petty villains, or, like Price, the comic relief – Price is foolish, cowardly, and lazy, and routinely exasperates the other characters.

Abby is initially adamant she won’t be driven out of the area by the Emergency Committee and its thugs, but – courtesy of a rather bleak subplot involving a possible sighting of her son, Peter (suffice to say the Secondary Kill seems to be well under way) – eventually decides that the establishment of a community will have to wait until after she’s made a proper search. With Price seemingly having joined up with the Committee, the trio head off to look for Peter, heralding the start of a slightly more episodic format and the chance for some other writers to do very different things with the series.

There is some good stuff in both of these episodes, particularly Genesis, and the thorough bleakness of the whole thing is engagingly different from most other TV shows (I note that one of the creative directives of the 2008 version of Survivors was to be ‘less depressing’). Gone Away in particular, though, suffers from a fairly thin story and too much one-dimensional characterisation – Nation has a good go at being a writer of ideas, touching on complex and perhaps troubling issues of politics and philosophy, but in the end his instinct to opt for comforting pulp fiction is just a bit too strong.

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