Posts Tagged ‘Spoil of War’

As we hit mid-season of the first series of Survivors, something significant happens – namely, the show switches from peripatetic mode to something more sedentary (by which I mean it stops being about a group of people travelling around a post-apocalyptic world, and becomes the story of some people running a post-apocalyptic farming collective). By and large I think the programme is generally immeasurably better when it’s in travelling mode, but the switch does make a kind of sense from a budgetary and narrative point of view.

Before that, however, Terry Nation returns for Garland’s War, which is basically another thriller with some political chewy bits sprinkled on the top. The stalwart character actor Dennis Chinnery turns up, pretty much solely to deliver the information that some boys about the age of Peter Grant are living at Waterhouse, a large estate which has been taken over by a group of survivors. As soon as she hears about this, Abby rushes off to investigate (this is basically a solo adventure for Carolyn Seymour, with the other leads left looking after the kids).

She finds herself dragged into the struggle between the rightful owner of the Waterhouse estate (indeed, the Earl of Waterhouse), Jimmy Garland (Richard Heffer), and the men who he sees as having usurped it from him, led by Knox (Peter Jeffrey – this episode is a treasure-house of a certain kind of rock-solid character acting). Garland is a very experienced soldier and survival expert – sort of like Bear Grylls but with a plummy voice – and sees himself as the only rational choice of leader for the group, regardless of whatever moral claim he has on the property. Knox, on the other hand, claims that Garland refuses to consider any compromise with the other survivors and aspires to become a kind of feudal overlord.

There is potential here for an interesting both-sides-are-kind-of-in-the-right conflict, but – as the seasoned viewer might expect – Nation comes down firmly on the side of Garland’s muscular libertarianism. Not only is he a bit of a hunk who gets Abby all a-fluttering, but his adversaries quickly reveal themselves to be dishonourable shotgun-toting prole thugs, with Knox another small-man-turned-despot. This is a watchable episode, but doesn’t have much in the way of depth, or move the series on much.

Jack Ronder takes over again for Starvation, which I would suggest is the first real dud of the series. This is partly because it functions almost entirely on a procedural level – its sole purpose is to get all the characters settled down in their new home and set up the new format for the rest of the series – but also because there’s a very strong sense that the series’ budget has been slashed. Primarily this is because the programme switches from the mixture of film-and-VT which was standard for the industry in the mid 1970s, to being all VT, which means it looks like an episode of EastEnders.

Following an off-screen discussion (really, Jack?), our heroes have decided to settle down, but before they do so they encounter a pair of women (Hana Maria Pravda and Julie Neubert), who have run out of food and are being preyed upon by what is almost certainly the least convincing pack of savage feral dogs in screen history, and also Tom Price, who (when written by Ronder) is less of a comedy relief Welshman and more of a repulsive sex pest.

Well, needless to say Abby manages to get the upper hand with Price, the dogs wander off, and Jenny and Greg discover a stately deserted manor just ripe to be occupied. (The children are consistently irritating throughout – even to the other characters, which is a nice touch.) Hiding out in the manor they find Barney (John Hallett), a young man with learning difficulties, and he joins the suddenly rather bigger community too.

By the end of the episode there’s a big change in the status quo, so it’s just a shame it’s all so tepidly written – though Hana Maria Pravda gets some good dialogue and delivers it well. Watching it again, though, I can’t help noticing how much this episode is foreshadowing one which is still a few weeks off, the peerless Law and Order: there’s Price’s rather disturbing fixation with Wendy, Julie Neubert’s character, and at the end of the episode Barney declares he ‘couldn’t kill anything’ when sent off with Price to set some rabbit snares. All of this only applies with the benefit of hindsight, naturally. It’s still a bit of a dud.

The recurring cast continues to balloon in Spoil of War, a so-so title for a so-so episode, scripted (under a pseudonym) by veteran screenwriter Clive Exton, perhaps best known for his adaptations of PG Wodehouse and Agatha Christie. First on the scene is self-styled long-haired git Paul (Chris Tranchell, a former flatmate of Tom Baker and apparently the real-life inspiration for Baker’s boho look in Doctor Who), a survivor of a hippie commune near Winchester. As an experienced farmer, he is just what the group need, as Abby and Jenny are taking to the agricultural life like rhinos to water. Much talk about seed potatoes and drainage follows, along with the problem of a tractor that Greg can’t get started.

Then Greg remembers the fully-operational tractor which crushed Vic back in Genesis, and the huge hoard of stuff he and Anne had amassed in their quarry hideout. Price and Barney are packed off to see if the supplies are still intact, but do not return. Instead, two more people turn up, and for the first time Charles Vaughan’s conclusion that no two people who knew each other survived the virus is disproven: they are businessman Arthur (the somewhat unfortunately named, these days, Michael Gover) and his secretary Charmian (Eileen Helsby), and given the fact that at least three months have passed since the plague her continued deference to him, and his general sang-froid, stretch credibility rather. They make no significant contribution to the episode other than turning up.

Well, anyway, Greg and Paul eventually go in search of Price and Barney, and the prospect of doing something seems to cheer Greg up a bit (Ian McCulloch’s performance has been particularly surly all episode so far). Some low-octane action and jeopardy ensues and it eventually transpires that, again somewhat incredibly, Vic did not die after Genesis, despite being severely injured and left to his own devices. Instead he is still holed up in the quarry, from which the others rescue him – he also joins the community.

Well, it’s better than Starvation I suppose, but despite some well-mounted stuff in the quarry it all still feels a bit procedural. Of the new characters, Paul makes the best impression, not least because he actually has a sense of humour (Abby, Greg and Jenny can all come across as a bit dour sometimes), and also because he is a rare example of a non-middle-class Survivors character who is a rounded human being, rather than a thug, a sex pest, or comic relief. There are some nice touches in the writing – Greg can’t actually remember Vic or Anne’s names when he first finds Vic alive – but on the whole you really get a sense of a series still trying to work out just what it’s supposed to be.

(And there is one curious geographical mystery: Greg tells Abby that Vic’s cache of stuff is ‘in a quarry near Apcaster’, and apparently this is well outside their usual foraging range. Fair enough, made-up towns are a staple of TV drama, but then at the end he tells Vic that they have a commune which is ‘near Apcaster’. Either Apcaster is extremely big for a made-up town, or Greg’s grasp of geography is uncharacteristically vague, or someone cocked up. I know which my money is on.)

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