Posts Tagged ‘Something of Value’

I believe it was the veteran writer and script-editor Terrance Dicks who observed that Terry Nation was such a nice man that he was obliged to employ the most savage and terrifying agent in the country; certainly, the travails endured by other Doctor Who writers wishing to use the Daleks are well-known. Note, also, the prominence with which Nation’s name appears on merchandising associated with the series he created – Nation’s agent even managed to secure him joint copyright on the Doctor Who episode Planet of Decision, with an eye to the merchandising potential of the Mechonoids, which were introduced therein.

And it seems you’re never far from a rights wrangle when it comes to the various shows and other things created by Terry Nation: the 2008 revival of Survivors was billed as being based on Nation’s novelisation of the original series, rather than the series itself, as the rights to the two entities were held separately, while one of the barriers to a TV revival of Blake’s 7 has been, again, the rights issue.

One curious incident which has become relatively well-known is the fact that there was a court-case over Survivors itself, in the 1970s, when Brian Clemens – another veteran writer, producer, and director – took Nation to court, claiming the concept of Survivors had been originated by him, and that Nation had taken it to the BBC without crediting Clemens. The court case was eventually abandoned by both sides due to rising costs, but Clemens’ vision for the series is interesting – he later said his idea was basically to make it as a pseudo-western adventure programme (his ultimate plan was, after three or four series, to load the main characters into a plane, send them off to America, and sell the format to the US-based Quinn Martin Productions – Nation himself seems to have had an eye on US sales himself, as Ian McCulloch recalls that Greg was initially intended to be American). Needless to say he was not impressed with Nation’s take on the concept – ‘he turned it into a sort of tract on how to survive.’

Of course, it’s not quite that simple, and one of the episodes that suggests Nation recognised Survivors‘ potential as a sort of Wild West Country adventure show is The Future Hour (another one of those oblique episode titles). Greg and Paul encounter Huxley (Glyn Owen), who appears to see himself as a sort of merchant prince, travelling the country with his men, stripping the towns bare of anything useful, and destroying what he can’t physically carry away. His plan is to sell his supplies to the survivor communities in exchange for gold. I suppose you could call it robust free-market capitalism in action, but one wonders what Huxley expects to do with all the gold: this may be why Greg later announces he is a nutcase.

Greg decides it will be better if the group treat Huxley warily, but unfortunately Huxley’s woman Laura has run away, along with one of his men (Denis Lawson, who proves that Ewan McGregor’s not the only one in the family who can do baffling accents). Laura is heavily pregnant, but Huxley has no interest in raising another man’s child and plans to give it away as soon as it’s born. Laura requests sanctuary in the manor.

Needless to say this puts Greg and Abby on a collision course again – Abby refuses to contemplate sending Laura back to Huxley, while Greg is equally adamant that it doesn’t make sense to help one stranger if it means putting the whole community in danger. Good meaty stuff, here, and well-played by the regulars, but the episode sort of runs out of places to go after this, beyond a bit of back-and-forth between Huxley’s men and the regular characters. In the end there is concluding shoot-out most notable for killing off Tom Price, who hasn’t been especially prominent this week.

Any discussion of what it would be like if Survivors were re-made today has been somewhat complicated by the fact that Survivors actually was re-made eight or nine years ago, but anyway: it’s hard to imagine they would kill off Price quite as precipitously as they do here. Surely there would be the climactic revelation of his guilt in Wendy’s murder, thus exposing Greg and Abby as liars and threatening their leadership of the community; perhaps even the prospect of some kind of redemptive sacrifice. But no: presumably someone on the production was uncomfortable with keeping a murderer in the cast of characters, especially when his natural role would be as comic relief. Survivors – it’s just so 1975 sometimes.

A fairly deft switch back into drama mode for the next episode, which also concerns the hold people have other each other. This is Jack Ronder’s Revenge, a character piece which rewards attentive viewers, and also ones with very good hearing. Vic has been getting increasingly depressed and withdrawn, and sort-of attempts suicide – he is only injured, but it does transform him from Terry Scully into Hugh Walters (apparently this was occasioned by Scully having a nervous breakdown – Vic isn’t in the previous episode, but the transition is still a bit jarring).

Vic’s depression dates back to the accident which crippled him, and being left to die by his then-partner, Anne. Naturally, it is at this moment that Anne (still Myra Frances)  and her new boyfriend rock up at the manor, driving a half-full petrol tanker. There is once again the clash of idealism and pragmatism which is coming to be a hallmark of the series – Abby insists that Anne can’t stay, given her history with Vic, but Greg points out that they really do need the fuel. So what’s to be done?

Matters are resolved in an intense sequence where Vic and Anne discuss what happened. The performances are both superb – obviously, one kind of regrets that it’s not Terry Scully playing Vic, but then he never showed any signs of being able to deliver the kind of nuanced performance Hugh Walters does here – and it’s just a problem that the whole thing was shot on location, for a low budget, in echoing rooms by actors speaking in whispers. Thank God the DVD has a subtitles option, is all I can say – I remember trying to watch this on VHS back in 1998, with the TV volume practically at maximum, rewinding every line of dialogue in a desperate attempt to figure out what they’re actually saying to each other.

It’s all a bit talky, and there’s a lot of stuff about the value of education which smells rather of filler (also a moment where Greg seems to be openly contemptuous of Paul’s lack of useful knowledge, which rings resoundingly false on all sorts of levels). But overall, a rather good episode, I think: hard to understand why Myra Frances never became more of a TV presence.

(Also, it’s interesting to compare this episode to the novelisation of Survivors, in which Anne’s only reappearance is as part of a gang of raiders, some years after the plague. Having seen her, Greg returns to the quarry – for the first time, in this version of the story – and finds Vic’s bones bleaching in the sun. The TV show can be a bit bleak sometimes, but the novelisation is often positively grim.)

Incidentally, one has to wonder just what the laundry facilities are like in post-apocalyptic 1976 (or whatever the year is in the series) – people happily turn out in some eye-poppingly bright outfits, none of which seems especially well-suited to life in a farming commune. At least Greg tends to go for the old double-denim most of the time.

Greg, and of course Ian McCulloch, gets another good outing in Something of Value, yet another episode about the hold people and objects can exert, and a bit of a return to the Wild West Country. The community is visited by Lawson (Matthew Long), who presents himself as a simple traveller and fills them in on the wider world situation: settlements are appearing, but also groups of nomads, some of them raiders. What he doesn’t say is that he is the face man for a trio of raiders himself, and he’s delighted to discover the petrol tanker Anne and her new boyfriend arrived in (this series often does a great job of setting up plot elements from week to week).

However, Lawson’s visit coincides with a storm and flooding, which destroy the commune’s supplies, and Abby and Greg decide that if they’re going to survive as a community, they will have to trade the petrol for more food and seeds (they already have a trading relationship with another group we have not seen).

It boils down to a very tense and well-handled stand-off between Greg and Jenny and the raiders, with Ian McCulloch very much in uncompromising action man mode, something which suits him rather well. (Someone should probably tell Greg not to be quite so keen to fire off guns so close to large quantities of petrol, though.) There are no big ideas or themes in this episode, but the raiders are eminently hissable villains and it works quite well. Greg, naturally, refuses to let their eventual triumph cheer him up – ‘God help us all,’ he mutters, reflecting that people are now killing each other over a few gallons of petrol. I remember watching this one during the Great Fuel Crisis of the Year 2000; things didn’t get quite so bad on that occasion, but you never can tell.

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