Posts Tagged ‘New World’

One of the odd things about the 1970s version of Survivors is the slightly arbitrary way that the series reformats itself on a fairly regular basis, and generally it doesn’t do it by halves – supporting characters go under the scythe by the handful, the setting and emphasis of the series change completely. This is by no means uncommon in other series, of course, but this sort of thing usually happens at the start of season – Survivors seems to do it almost at random.

Roger Parkes’ New Arrivals almost feels like it should be the first episode of a new season, for all that it continues some long-running plot threads from earlier in the second year. An outbreak of what seems to be flu has caused the collapse of another settlement, and a group of young people from it arrives at Whitecross, led by Mark Carter (Ian Hastings), an expert in farming techniques who is very happy to share his expertise with the community, but whose interpersonal skills are possibly even worse than Greg’s (needless to say Greg is virtually the only Whitecrosser who Carter is at all impressed by). The stage is set for a power struggle between Genial Charlie Vaughan and the newcomer – Whitecross needs Carter’s followers to stay functional, to say nothing of Carter’s agricultural knowledge, and Carter’s plans mesh well with Greg’s ongoing efforts to reintroduce methane power. But what kind of loyalty does the community owe Charles?

Meanwhile, the flu has reached Whitecross, and mainly seems to be a plot device to facilitate killing off various older and less attractive members of the ensemble cast: Mina and Peggy die off screen, poor old Arthur finally cops it, and Jack almost succumbs too, before hallucinating an old episode of Match of the Day snaps him out of it (this is the only episode of Survivors to feature a cameo by West Ham United FC). The make-up of the series skews significantly younger as a result, with Stephen Tate, Peter Duncan, June Page and Heather Wright much more prominent. There is a game attempt to tie the two plots together by suggesting that the flu is particularly dangerous to low and unfulfilled people, and that it was Carter’s divisive and uninspiring leadership which made the old settlement so vulnerable, but it still feels slightly contrived.

An episode which is effectively about a political power-struggle within Whitecross itself is an interesting idea, but the drama is relatively low-octane stuff despite the regulars doing their best with the material – the fact that Ian Hastings does not seem to be an especially skilled performer is probably not to the episode’s advantage, either. By no means a bad instalment, with some reasonably good character bits for those regulars who make it through to the end, but it works very hard to institute a change in the status quo which only lasts for another two episodes, and you have to wonder if it was worth the effort.

That said, the influx of young people is central to Martin Worth’s Over the Hills, one of the best episodes of the season. It bears comparison with the best of Jack Ronder’s writing on the series – a pertinent comparison, as this is very much a thematic sequel to Ronder’s Corn Dolly from near the beginning of season one. It’s certainly the closest Charles gets to the characterisation of his first episode, anyway.

Greg’s manure-into-methane plan is finally nearing fruition, and the return of some kind of mechanised power to the settlement. Charles is dubious about the value of this, as he thinks their emphasis should be on self-sufficiency, but some of the younger members of the settlement view it as the first step on the road back to easy travel and a bigger world. What Charles is unreservedly delighted about is the fact that one of the young women, Sally (June Page), has become pregnant by Alan.

The problem is that June doesn’t really want the child, certainly not if Alan won’t marry her (so to speak; no-one’s officially married at Whitecross, after all) – and Alan’s more interested in Melanie (Heather Wright). Charles is further dismayed to learn that most of the women at Whitecross share her lack of enthusiasm for motherhood – or at least the lack of reproductive choice inherent in their existence in the new world. It’s not just a case of contraceptives not being available, but Charles’ insistence that the survival of the community depends on everyone having as many children as they can.

The episode is basically about the clash of pre- and post-plague values, with the issue presented relatively impartially – you’d expect it to be firmly on the side of Charles and Greg (or at least Charles – Greg seems fairly indifferent to everything but his promifer), with their logical point that if the world’s to have any future at all, there needs to be another generation, but the reluctance of characters like Ruth and Melanie to basically become baby factories also seems quite reasonable.

It has the strong characterisation of Worth’s earlier script, and some interesting scenes for all the regulars (those who aren’t off collecting salt, again, anyway): Greg gets hammered on gin (which at least stops him playing the guitar) and Pet tries to seduce him, while Charles is forced to come clean about his activities in the first season. June Page gives a very affecting performance as Sally, and Heather Wright gets to show a bit more depth as Melanie (who comes across as very much a second-season version of Anne Tranter, albeit a slightly less objectionable one). Also hanging around the fringes of the plot is sometime Arborian, sometime Blue Peter daredevil, sometime Chief Scout Peter Duncan, not that he’s terribly important (he has a drum kit, and you can’t help wondering where they got it from). Not an episode with a huge amount of crash-bang-wallop, but one which handles some fairly deep issues without beating the viewer about the head with them – another superior piece of work, and you can see why Martin Worth became the series’ lead writer.

Worth sticks around for New World, which once again busts up the format of the show, and practically inaugurates a couple of Survivors traditions: the last appearance of a lead character (well, sort of), and the appearance of a new character who becomes a regular in the following season, once they’ve been recast. The episode opens quietly enough with everyone hard about their work at Whitecross, only to one-by-one become arrested by the sight of something in the sky overhead. What could it be? Have the aliens arrived? (Hmmm, aliens arrive intent on plundering the technological and natural resources of Earth only to find a planet which has been accidentally devastated by human stupidity, much to the consternation of everyone concerned – that’s not a bad idea for a story…)

Well, it’s not aliens, at least not in the usual SF sense: it transpires that the balloon belongs to a couple of enterprising Norwegians, who have been travelling the UK charting the production capacity of various regions with a view to setting up full-scale trade and specialisation. There are only about a hundred people left in Norway – apparently only 1 in 20,000 of the population have survived the combination of the plague and the secondary kill – and they are on the verge of starvation. Norway’s light industry capacity remains largely intact, and they are willing to trade manufactured goods for food. It sounds like exactly the sort of thing that Greg and Charles have been dreaming of all series, but Agnes the Norwegian has some uncomfortable truths to offer them – she suggests that Whitecross has no future, as it’s not specialised enough, and various community members should be packed off to other parts of the UK where their talents can be put to better use. Greg has been thinking along similar lines, and realises he can make a much better contribution to the reconstruction of the world by going to Norway himself…

Apparently the end of the second series of Survivors was largely shaped by two main issues: Terence Dudley’s decision to mitigate a personality clash between Ian McCulloch and Denis Lill by splitting up Greg and Charles, and the rather embarrassing fact that the descent of the film unit on the real-life Whitecross (a genuine attempt at a self-sufficient community) caused the dissolution of the community, making it unavailable as a third season filming location. The solution to this – packing Greg off in a hot-air balloon and effectively taking the show back on the road- is not especially subtle, but Worth milks it for all it’s worth in terms of the character drama between Greg and Jenny. Watching it, you’re suddenly aware of how much their relationship just seems to be something they’ve drifted in, and how, well, lukewarm Greg has seemed towards Jenny and his son throughout the season – affectionate, and aware of his responsibilities, but hardly loving or especially warm. The only time he’s really seemed happy is when he’s been working on his methane promifer. Good performances from both actors, obviously, but you wonder just how much of Greg’s spikiness and refusal to compromise or suffer fools gladly is a performance, and how much is Ian McCulloch’s own personality coming through – you have to wonder why Dudley decided to banish Greg rather than Charles from the majority of the third season.

This is essentially a procedural episode, but the way it opens up the scale of the series and anticipates season 3 makes it never less than interesting, and the strength of the performances does make you realise what a strong unit the original regulars were, and inevitably inspires a little regret. If Survivors does generally tend to get weaker as it goes on, it’s because the elements of the original format are gradually discarded one by one, with not much introduced to replace them. New World marks the end of more than just the season.

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