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Posts Tagged ‘Parasites’

Following a little jolt of excitement in the thriller A Friend in Need, life at Whitecross returns to a more quotidian vein in By Bread Alone, written by Martin Worth – arguably the series’ main writer from this point on. That said, this is an episode which manages to explore some profound ideas without resorting to especially outrageous plot developments; watching it with my critic’s hat on, I found it to be rather more substantial than I remembered.

Charles and Greg share the spotlight with the supporting cast rather more than usual on this occasion, with the focus of the story being Lewis Fearns (Roy Herrick), a well-meaning but rather useless figure as the story opens. However, he soon comes to an important decision and starts wearing his shirt backwards, wanting to make it clear he is a Church of England vicar (actually, from the sound of things, a curate, but let’s not split hairs here).

Reactions  to this amongst the community are mixed: Greg and Charles can’t see the point, the settlement’s token Italian woman is delighted even though she’s Catholic, young geezer Alan (Stephen Tate) and old geezer Hubert are mildly amused, and Jenny is rather outraged that anyone can still claim they believe in a loving God after a catastrophe in which billions have died. Greg and Charles, once they finish cooing over Greg’s new gadget for turning manure into methane gas, quickly harden their opinion when it becomes clear that everyone is neglecting their assigned tasks in order to indulge Lewis (as they see it) by making him vestments or a lectern, or collecting hymnbooks for a community service.

My memory of this was that it was essentially a rather patronising episode in which Charles and Greg ultimately accept the necessity of letting the people have their opium, although they themselves are much too sophisticated to feel any need for a spiritual dimension in their lives. Well, there is perhaps a whiff of this, but the story has a little more depth to it than that.

Most of this comes from the B-plot, which concerns a carefree young couple who are considering joining the community, but who are ultimately repelled by what they see as the authoritarianism of Charles’s approach: they argue (quite rightly, if you ask me) that for all Charles’ espousal of sound socialist principles, the community still has a definite Boss-class calling the shots, and all that’s happening is that the worst aspects of the old society are being perpetuated. Greg, of course, initially doesn’t think Charles is authoritarian enough, and thinks he’s being irresponsible by not exercising much stronger leadership (although, to be fair, once Lewis seems to help Jenny with her post-natal depression, he softens his position a bit). One wonders just what life was like at the manor between seasons with Greg in sole charge, given what a micro-managing commandant he comes across as here.

In the end it’s pretty clear the episode is about the whole issue of quality of life – just what are the characters hoping to achieve by building a new world? – rather than just the place of religious faith in human experience. Lewis himself is a bit of a stereotype vicar, slightly fey and unworldly (and having met many C of E men I can assure you most of them are nothing of the sort), but his self-doubt and anger when he realises how much he’s disrupted the settlement so much are well-handled, and the supporting cast are much better characterised than has usually been the case up to now (even Hubert is more of a believable character). A solid debut from Martin Worth.

The series goes back onto film for the final time, if memory serves, for Roger Parkes’ The Chosen, an odd episode in a number of ways. This is the first episode not to feature any of the original trio at all, being essentially a vehicle for Charles and Pet, and in many ways it anticipates the third season, in that it looks beyond the confines of Whitecross and considers the wider world and the relationship between the different survivor communities.

Charles and Pet are returning from another salt-collecting expedition when they encounter a young couple on the road; they are clearly troubled, resembling pre-plague homeless people, perhaps the kind of survivor never likely to make it through the secondary kill phase. When the couple fall seriously ill, Charles and Pet do the decent thing and take them to the closest settlement.

However, they find a much more closely regimented, ideologically rigorous community than any they have encountered before, under the leadership of Max Kershaw (the great Philip Madoc). Kershaw’s people view the plague as divinely inspired and are seeking to create a brave new post-viral world, rather than falling back into what they see as the flaws of the old one – they practice euthanasia, have moved beyond the traditional family system to something more collective, and so on (Charles’ standard espousal of sound Marxist principles is met with scorn, not least because at least one of the chosen believes the virus was created by Communists – as it happens, he seems to be right, but one wonders how he learned this). Can Charles persuade the chosen to engage in trade with the other settlements – or is their dislike of outsiders so extreme that they may even struggle to escape with their lives?

As I say, very much a square peg of an episode, completely unlike the rest of the season (except, maybe, Lights of London). The idea of another community with a completely different ideology is an interesting one, but the story Parkes comes up with is not especially engaging and depends on a rather melodramatic climactic scene in which Charles has little agency. The ideology of the chosen doesn’t really feel worked out in complete detail, either – it’s not clear whether they’re meant to be a Fascist enclave, a kibbutz, a fundamentalist religious group, an odd mixture of any of these things, or something else entirely. Philip Madoc is his usual powerful self, but doesn’t quite get the material he deserves (in the same year he made the Doctor Who story The Brain of Morbius, which really does show what he’s capable of given the right script). A curious change of pace, but for all of the pleasures of seeing an episode shot on film, I must confess to missing Greg.

Roger Marshall’s Parasites is much more back in the general vein of series two, and benefits (of course) from a guest appearance by Patrick Troughton, as class an act as ever. He plays John Millen, whom Mina encounters as he takes a barge on a trading expedition between two other settlements. He and Mina hit it off, and Troughton works his usual magic in making Millen a self-evidently decent, gentle, kind man in only a few minutes of screen time.

Millen arranges to visit Whitecross the next day, but when the barge arrives he is nowhere to be seen: instead, the craft is being operated by Kane (Kevin McNally) and Grice (Brian Grellis), couple of brazenly dodgy characters. Suspicions quickly begin to form amongst those Whitecross community members who are present (many of the regulars are off on yet another salt-gathering expedition – the third this series – which leads one to wonder what they’re doing with the stuff, running a chippy?), but without proof, and with the settlement undermanned, what can they do? Then Mina discovers a body in the canal…

Roger Marshall seems to have twigged that Survivors works best with a bit of action and adventure and physical jeopardy stirred into the mix, and this episode certainly has all of that – guns blaze, the kids get kidnapped, and no fewer than four characters meet violent deaths in the course of the story, including poor old Lewis the vicar, whom Kane blows away simply to make a point. All good clean fun, sort of, and there’s an impressively big bang at the climax of the story.

If there’s a problem with Parasites, it’s that there’s not much going on here beyond the action-adventure thriller elements. If there’s an underlying message or big idea to the story, it’s that some people are just plain bad and shouldn’t be mourned. There’s interesting potential in the characters of Kane and Grice – Kane was a prisoner convicted of armed robbery, Grice a prison officer (Charles’ initial assertion that no two people who knew each other survived the plague is looking increasingly shaky), but Kane is now very much the dominant member of the partnership – but Kane is very much a cartoon thug, for all the talent of Kevin McNally.

For the dedicated viewer of the series, it is interesting to note that Greg is not in one of his Exterminating Angel moods this week, initially opting to run the two baddies out of the area rather than have them shot, even though it’s pretty clear they murdered John Millen. But on the whole, for all its efficiency as a violent melodrama, Parasites is really quite vacant upstairs, with no depth or subtlety to its ideas or morality. Very possibly worth watching just for Troughton, though, of course.

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