Posts Tagged ‘Reunion’

You can’t help but get a sense of the third season of Survivors either losing the plot or pulling a slight fast one: at the beginning of the year, everything is straight-forward enough – Charles, Jenny, and Hubert are in one place, Greg is in another, and they set off to meet each other. Of course, they never do. It may just be a realistic depiction of post-apocalyptic life that they all keep missing each other, sometimes by only a matter of a few metres, but my money is on the producer desperately trying to spin things along for as long as possible, not to mention keeping Ian McCulloch and Denis Lill from being on set at the same time.

Greg’s only in two episodes all season, of course, but it seems like there were initially plans for him to do more – apparently Don Shaw wrote the fourth episode, Mad Dog, specifically for McCulloch, and he was quite annoyed when it ended up going to Lill instead, giving Charles his only solo adventure of the entire series. The bleakness of the third season is most obvious here, not least in the settings – it’s actually snowing in some scenes, and one suspects the actors didn’t need to try too hard to look as uncomfortable as they frequently do.

Charles has gone searching for the eldest son of the woman they rescued from Brod in the previous episode, as they can hardly abandon her until he comes home, but runs into another pack of feral dogs and is bitten by one of them. Things look grim for him, but a stranger named Fenton (Morris Perry) turns up and rescues him – Fenton carries a sophisticated semi-automatic rifle, which helps. Charles is initially grateful, but soon becomes repelled by Fenton’s detached cynicism about humanity’s chances of survival. Fenton was a philosophy lecturer before the plague and takes everything very philosophically indeed, trading from his cache of stolen army weapons for food and keeping notes on all the people he encounters. Charles becomes interested in a hurry when he hears about this, especially when he learns of a tall man who claimed to have been to Norway and back…

Before they reach Perry’s home, however, it becomes apparent that Perry has contracted rabies from one of the dog packs in the area and is about to lose it, big time. Charles fetches help from another local, Sanders (Bernard Kay), but Sanders’ only response is to shoot Fenton dead as a potential menace. Seeing the bite on Charles’ arm, Sanders concludes that it’s only a matter of time before Charles turns rabid too, and promises to make it quick and painless if Charles will just stand still and let them shoot him, too…

No big ideas in this one, obviously, unless you count the discussion between Charles and Fenton near the start: it’s not quite the one-damn-thing-after-another non-stop ordeal that some have suggested, but this is still a fast-paced action adventure for much of its length, and you can see why McCulloch was peeved not to be in it. Denis Lill gets some good scenes with Charles at his passionate best (very Welsh he gets, too) and some proper running, jumping, riding, and shooting, too. I strongly suspect the episode doesn’t get its medicine quite right (can you really keep a rabid person at bay by threatening to splash water on them?), but the main problem with Mad Dog is that all the most exciting and dramatic bits happen at the beginning – it doesn’t really have a climax or conclusion, as such, just Charles escaping on a train which he unexpectedly finds in operation.

One of the dramatic high-points of Bridgehead.

I suppose this does mark a bit of a turning point in the series – in only the previous episode, railway carriages were only good as places to sleep, but here there’s an operating railway line. Ever since the first episode of the whole series, the default assumption has been that people have been living in small, isolated settlements, with any wider form of society being limited only to occasional trading or mutual defence agreements. For the first time, the potential of a genuinely national or regional form of civilisation again seems possible, and it’s something that will shape the rest of the series.

As I think I’ve made clear in the course of these pieces, for me, Survivors works best when it’s a mixture of big ideas and good old-fashioned action adventure, which may be why I find most of series three to be fairly disappointing – sometimes it has one, sometimes it has the other, very occasionally it has both, and depressingly often it has neither. We’re in ‘neither’ territory for the next couple of episodes.

Bridgehead is a promising-sounding title from the normally reliable Martin Worth, but I suspect it’s only called that because someone at the BBC realised that Market Day or Brucellosis would be terrible episode titles. The episode is almost completely procedural, concerned with tying up loose ends from the previous couple of episodes – the fate of the farm raided by Brod, and the truth about the railway that Charles escaped on at the end of the previous one. Stirred into the mix to try and pep things up a bit are a storyline about cows going down with brucellosis and the discovery of an expert in homeopathy: neither of them really prime pepping up material, I think you’ll agree. It climaxes – if that’s the right word – with a group of people standing around on a railway platform arguing about trading cheese with each other. I don’t think it’s quite as bad as The Witch, but it’s getting there – it manages to be almost completely unmemorable, too.

Don Shaw’s Reunion is at least about something, but that thing is the stuff of sentimental soap opera. Our heroes still haven’t moved on, when a friend of Hubert’s falls off his horse and breaks his leg. There isn’t a doctor within easy travelling distance, but there is a vet, and so off they go to see her. Janet Millon the vet and her man live in relative luxury, trading their skills for what they need to survive. All fair enough, but then it turns out that Janet had a son, John, whom she hasn’t seen since before the plague. ‘Was your son called… John Millon?’ asks Jenny, thus showing why she’s the brains of the team. Not, by the way, John Millen, as that was Patrick Troughton’s character in series two and that would just be weird. No, John Millon is the full name of  young lad John who Jenny has been looking after ever since early in series one. Now that’s what I call a co-inky-dink. (And why did no-one say something to the effect of ‘What, another John Millon?’ when they heard about Troughton’s character back in Parasites?)

(I’ve mentioned before the abrupt change in the ground rules of the programme in its third series, with multiple members of the same family coming through the plague alive, and I suppose this could be just about plausible if it wasn’t too common – but this is surely pushing plausibility right up to its breaking point. Even more radical amendments to the status quo are still to come.)

What follows is all about child psychology and John reconnecting with his mum, and it may be just me, but I found it thoroughly non-gripping. Much more interesting is a simmering subplot about Jenny, whose feelings for Greg seem to be going through a bit of a change – not unreasonably, given he seems to always be just around the next corner, but is apparently more interested in open-cast mining and methane-powered cars than in actually getting back in touch with his friends (this aspect of the series has become more than a bit ridiculous). Jenny is on the point of concluding that he doesn’t care for her or his son at all, and prepared to give up on the search for him. Charles remains the optimistic idealist, of course. Maybe the production team thought the audience would feel cheated if Greg just vanished or was never mentioned at all, but I’m not sure this is any sort of solution to the problem of Ian McCulloch’s absence. In any case, looking for Greg is about to be replaced as the focus of the show, as it enters its final phase.

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