Posts Tagged ‘Survivors’

So here it is: the final episode of the original run of Survivors, Martin Worth’s Power. Whether or not you find this to be an appropriate and satisfying conclusion to the series is probably a matter of taste; personally, I think it rounds off the series better than any of the other obvious candidates, despite the fact it is only tangentially about any of the core characters of the programme.

Charles, Hubert, and Jenny are travelling up to Scotland by rail, trying to catch up with Alec and Sam. Alec is ensuring the power grid is shut down, preparatory to his attempts to restart the generation of electricity at a hydroelectric plant. What he doesn’t realise, of course, is that Sam is determined to stop the restoration of power, believing self-sufficiency to be a morally better way of life for the survivors.

Things get a little more complicated when Charles and Jenny discover, rather to their surprise, that Scotland is not the empty landscape they expected but home to a thriving population of about 150,000 people – outnumbering the entire population of England by about ten to one! The local laird, McAlister (Iain Cuthbertson), is rather cynical in his expectations of English attitudes towards the Scots, and hardly surprised when he learns that Charles has been planning to utilise Scottish-generated electricity exclusively for the benefit of English communities. Even assuming that Sam’s plan to destroy the mechanisms at the power stations can be stopped, can the English and Scottish survivors reach an agreement as to who will control the electricity?

Well, the first thing I have to say about Power is that is does require the dedicated viewer to accept that the nature of the show’s world has fundamentally changed since series one – McAlister’s explanation as to why the plague left Scotland relatively untouched doesn’t really make sense given what we’ve seen and were told in early episodes, especially Gone to the Angels. Isolation is only a protection against the virus as long as you stay isolated, as the angels discovered in series one – as soon as one survivor carrying the virus meets a community which hasn’t been exposed to it, the whole process of infection and death should start all over again. Power is essentially inconsistent with the early series one episodes (not to mention the general tenor of season two, where a running theme was the characters’ awareness of how close to extinction humanity was).

Once you get past this, it’s a decent enough story, I suppose – exactly what power the title refers to being usefully ambiguous, potentially either electrical or political power. The episode stresses that from this point on the two will go together, provoking yet another political squabble between Charles and McAlister. The fact that England and Scotland are basically now engaged in a diplomatic negotiation stresses the fact that nation-states are now back on the scene, and that while things are of course nowhere near their pre-plague state, the essentials of civilisation are no longer in doubt. As someone else has pointed out, the last scene of the episode could well be a call-back to a key moment in The Fourth Horsemen – both depict a couple eating by candlelight, but the important thing is that in Power they are doing so by choice.

Of course, one of the key influences on early Survivors, at least, was George R Stewart’s Earth Abides, which stresses how utterly unlikely the restoration of technological civilisation would be – certainly not within three years of the disaster, starting from such a low base population. The inclination and the resources surely wouldn’t be there, and the survivors of Stewart’s book have basically regressed to being hunter-gatherers by the time it concludes, six or seven decades after the plague. That said, it’s pleasing to find echoes of other classic SF fiction in Survivors, and one key element of Power – the way that, as soon as basic survival is guaranteed, politics once again rears its ugly head – seems to me to recall the conclusion of John Christopher’s Tripods books, where the alliance which has repelled an alien occupation of Earth messily disintegrates into petty nationalism and distrust. This is classic British SF, so naturally it’s going to be pretty miserable.

It seems to me that there is one further intersection between John Christopher’s brilliant catastrophe novels and Survivors, as well. Nearly twenty years later, Ian McCulloch (having finished being a star in Italian video nasties by this point, a gig he apparently got off the back of his Survivors stardom) approached the BBC with a view to reviving the series and seeing what kind of state post-apocalyptic Britain would be in, nearly two decades after the plague. (McCulloch was planning to return as Greg, but has always refused to reveal how this would be possible.) The big idea for the revived show would be that an unspecified African nation had made a much more rapid recovery from the plague than anywhere in Europe, and was now intent on a military occupation – colonisation, if you will – of the continent. The BBC declared that this was racist and declined to produce the new series, and when Survivors eventually returned it was as a remake rather than a continuation. McCulloch’s notion sounds to me to be very reminiscent of Christopher’s The World in Winter, in which the sun’s output declines, resulting in a new ice age and the populations of temperate regions being forced to flee to the equator. The final section of the book concerns a military expedition by an African nation to an ice-bound UK which has fallen into anarchy and cannibalism. The World in Winter is a problematic book in many ways for a reader nowadays – its themes of racial and cultural conflict remain awkwardly potent – but it does anticipate, at the very least, McCulloch’s vision for a new Survivors. Whatever: it was not to be.

Survivors itself may be an inconsistent series, troubled by conflicting ideas as to what it should really be focusing on, but its best episodes still stand up extremely well today, with a capacity for handling big ideas, and including complex, subtle characterisation, that few modern programmes can match. (Of course, most of the time the production values are lousy, but that’s BBC SF from the 20th century for you.) You can see why people have returned to it, in both the 21st century revival and the recent audio continuations of the original series. No end in sight to this vision of the end of the world; as you might expect, Survivors is a survivor.

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The block of three Parkes-scripted episodes towards the end of Survivors series 3 is so focused on one particular plotline – Charles’ increasingly fanatical quest to restore the electric power – that it’s a real wrench when the programme fundamentally shifts gears and tackles a wholly different story – namely, just what has Greg been doing all this time? It’s not just that – The Last Laugh functions on a wholly different level to the rest of series 3, if not the series as a whole. More than anything else it makes you incredibly regretful that Ian McCulloch wasn’t much more central to the creation of the final series, because it certainly seems like he had a much better idea of the potential of this programme than the people who were actually in charge of it.

It transpires Greg is looking for Dr Adams, a leading member of a community near the one Pet and the kids have settled at. On his journey he encounters a group of wanderers, led by Mason (George Mallaby), a former playboy-sheep-shearer turned full-time itinerant sheep-shearer (I kid you not). Greg is initially extremely suspicious of the group, suspecting them to be just another group of raiders, but when they express an interest in his scheme to federate the settlements, he lowers his defences. A bit too soon, as it turns out: he is knifed in the back and left for dead.

Unfortunately, Greg’s notes on the disposition of valuable resources scattered around the countryside are all in Norwegian, and so Mason and his men set off to find Anna, who is at the settlement with Pet, Jack, and the kids. One of them lingers, however, but lives to regret it (briefly) – Greg is not as dead as they assumed, and after a brutal fight the raider gets his head staved in with a rock.

Greg is still in a bad state, though, and makes his way to Dr Adams’ settlement – but there’s no sign of the forty people who are supposed to live there, and the two men who are resident are acting very suspiciously. Someone seems to be being held prisoner, and Greg discovers signs that human bodies have been burned there. Showing all his usual resourcefulness and determination, he outwits his presumed-captors, and breaks in to find Dr Adams (Clifton James)…

…who is in self-imposed isolation, disfigured and suffering from a mutant strain of smallpox that has already wiped out almost the entire settlement. The disease is usually lethal within two weeks and highly infectious. Greg initially thinks he’s cheated death yet again, not initially feeling any signs of infection, but his hopes are cruelly dashed the next morning. He has the virus. Dr Adams suggests the only thing to do is to make his peace and await the inevitable.

What follows, of course, is a tremendously powerful performance from McCulloch in a long two-handed scene between him and James. Lucy Fleming has spoken of the anger which is always at the core of McCulloch’s performances as Greg, and it is of course present. Greg speaks about his feelings for Jenny, and his regrets about the path his life has taken. And then, of course, being Greg, he sets out intent on revenge, determined to find the men who attacked him and share the virus with them as well. Adams is appalled, quite rightly suggesting that this may just lead to the virus spreading across the whole countryside, but Greg doesn’t give a damn. Has the shock of learning he is dying unhinged him? Or has he been less than entirely selfless all along?

Seeing an episode which mixes these kinds of big questions with decently-mounted action and a reasonably tight plot, not to mention one of the series’ most plausibly despicable villains in George Mallaby’s Ed Mason, really reminds you of what a great show this can be when handled properly. You can pick holes in the plot if you really want to – Pet’s settlement does seem rather sparsely populated, given all we’ve heard, and while I’m sure Greg is a bright guy, why on Earth has he learned to say ‘I have smallpox’ in Norwegian? – but this towers above the rest of series 3 on every level, with a thoughtful, allusive script – there are allusions to Shakespeare and Gerard Manley Hopkins – and great dialogue, too. After a raft of episodes which are ultimately hopeful, focusing on the threads of society slowly coming back together, The Last Laugh is shockingly dark and bleak, too. One of the handful of essential Survivors episodes, I would say.

Any episode following The Last Laugh would effectively have been slipped the hospital pass, but the thing about Martin Worth’s Long Live the King is… well, it’s not that it’s a bad episode, as such, it’s such an infuriating one, not just on its own merits, but in the way it epitomises all that makes the third series of Survivors such a frustratingly inconsistent one.

At least the makers of the programme appear to have realised that the death of arguably its central character could not go uncommented-upon by the other characters, and this episode is to a large extent about Greg’s legacy. The journey of Charles and the others up to Scotland is put on hold when he receives an urgent message asking him to meet Greg at an army camp on the east coast of England – Jenny’s response is ‘oh, no, not again’, quite possibly speaking for the viewer by this point. Charles resolves to go there; Jenny and the others press on.

Charles arrives at the camp to find ‘GP’ signs in evidence everywhere, and the place under the control of Agnes, who seems to have turned into a paramilitary version of Rosa Luxemburg. Greg’s most trusted associates from across the country have been summoned to form the new ruling council of Britain – the rebirth of the nation, even. The problem is that the coalition Greg has been putting together since his return from Norway is heavily reliant on his personal authority and charisma, and with Greg now, well, dead, the whole thing is showing signs of collapsing before it is even properly established.

And it turns out there is another problem – the Captain (Roy Marsden), the real leader of the band of raiders from The Last Laugh, has escaped from the farm which was destroyed by smallpox and is heading for the camp, too…

Watching Long Live the King made me realise there’s an element of classic theatre about the last series of Survivors, but only because it’s either very reminiscent of Waiting for Godot (to be more accurate, it’s Looking for Greg) or just Hamlet without the Prince. You get a very strong sense that there have really been two stories happening all season – that of Greg travelling the country preparing to restore the basis of civilisation, and that of the others rather haplessly wandering around in his wake, never quite catching up with him. On the basis of what we see on the screen, the story of Greg is considerably more interesting and involving than the story of the others: I feel cheated!

The plot gymnastics required to tie Long Live the King to the end of The Last Laugh are bizarre, and to be honest not that successful – some weeks have passed since the end of the previous episode, and exactly what has happened in the meantime is never completely clear. Given Agnes is lying her head off for most of the episode, can we really believe what she says about nursing Greg in his last days? What are we supposed to make of her claim that, having had brucellosis, she is now apparently immune to the mutant smallpox which was so terribly contagious and lethal last episode? Something very odd seems to be going on here, anyway – the Captain has had the smallpox but seems to be okay now, and not contagious, but what was he doing at the farm anyway? Did Martin Worth even see the finished script for The Last Laugh before writing this one? As I say, it’s infuriating and frustrating, not least because the Captain is an absurd, cartoon villain – he’s wearing a flat cap, welly boots, and a tie, for crying out loud – and arguably all he contributes to the story is to provide a sign of how much the backdrop is changing: despite having murdered two women in the course of the story, he is not executed out of hand but held as a prisoner at the end. The rule of law has been restored.

The episode is largely about what it takes to run a functioning, large-scale society, and it is impressively cynical about it (this angle is interesting enough that it makes the more peculiar elements of the plot even more annoying, as they’re spoiling a superior episode). The new society Agnes is proposing to inaugurate is essentially a massive scam, based on various deceptions. (It’s quite ironic that it’s Charles who takes her to task over this, given how ruthless many of his own recent activities have been – he does come across as a bit of a hypocrite in this episode.) But the episode makes it very clear that every society is, to some extent, based on exactly the same kind of shared fictions, especially when it comes to things like money. I’ve been reading Yuval Harari’s Sapiens recently, which discusses very frankly how cultures function, and Harari stresses that money, while being essential to a large-scale society, only has any utility as long as people believe in its value. But how do you create money for a society which hasn’t used it at all in years? How do you foster that kind of shared belief in the intrinsic value of bits of paper? It’s a fascinating area, one I’ve never seen dealt with anywhere else, and it’s just a shame so much of the episode is preoccupied with other business.

As I say, a real mixed bag of an episode, and rather infuriating as a result. At least the final irony of the story of Survivors is clear at the conclusion, and it’s one that says a great deal about the differences in how drama is written and produced now, as opposed to 40 years ago. Characterisation in genre series tends to be better these days, I suppose, but characters tend to be defined in very strict ways – they tend not to have space to develop or unexpectedly reveal surprising facets to themselves. Most of the time they just have one or two defining characteristics which they display over and over again. But in programmes like Survivors you do get a sense of the actors and writers learning about the characters as they go along, and often making surprising discoveries along the way. Real people aren’t as flatly and immutably archetypal as they’re usually presented on TV. One of the things that makes Survivors so special, for me, is the authentically human unknowability of the principal characters – their capacity to develop in genuinely surprising ways in the course of the story, while remaining recognisably the same individuals: Charles, the passionate visionary, shows signs of becoming a ruthless political operator as the series nears its end; Hubert, the comedy relief yokel, murders someone in cold blood for the good of the group.

And Greg Preston, the survivor who initially didn’t want to get tied down or take on any particular responsibilities at all, ends up as the man almost solely responsible for recreating his nation, with his initials on the flag. Long live the King, indeed.


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The final chapter of the original run of Survivors, comprising the last six episodes, gets underway with three episodes in a row from Roger Parkes: the only time other than at the very start of the series that one person does so. At least this gives you hope of a little more tonal consistency than is often the case with this series.

The first of the three is The Peacemaker (The Pacemaker might also be an appropriate title, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves). To begin with, would you believe it, Jenny, Charles, and Hubert are still searching for Greg (it’s starting to seem like Jenny’s suspicions that he doesn’t actually care about her or his son may have some truth to them), but almost at once they get distracted when they discover a working windmill under the control of a religious group. These guys initially look like Christian monks of some kind, but it soon transpires they’re not quite as ascetic as they appear (Hubert gets a roll in the hay before the end of the episode – we don’t see this on camera, thank God), and many of their beliefs in fact seem to be vaguely Hindu – an Indian woman, Rutna, has converted them all to vegetarianism, for instance. Hubert is appalled when he discovers curry is on the menu, grumpily complaining (in one of those only-in-1977 moments) about – oh dear – ‘wog food’.

The ostensible leader of the mill settlement, Henry, is in fact very much reliant on his mentor, Frank (Edward Underdown), as indeed is everyone else. Frank was apparently a professional head-hunter (as in, recruitment consultant) before the plague, and has become a kind of counsellor and, for want of a better expression, life coach. Everyone is very protective of him, and the visitors soon sense a little chilliness towards them – but then their horses are poisoned, stopping them from making the prompt departure they were intent on…

This is an interesting episode, for all that Hubert’s mutterings about ‘darkies’ make it a slightly awkward watch 40 years on.  There’s some slightly contrived shotgun-toting action half-way through (it has to be said that neither Denis Lill nor John Abineri is as adroit at this sort of thing as Ian McCulloch usually was) but mostly this is character-based stuff, exploring what it takes to be the kind of mentor Frank has become, and also (once again) the question of what kind of world it is that the survivors are trying to build. The mill setting is somewhat distinctive, as is the religious angle, and there are some interesting moments along the way – Charles criticises Henry for his decision to withdraw from the outside world, viewing it as a desertion of his responsibility, while Jenny gets an excoriating speech, tearing into Charles, Frank, and Greg (in absentia) for being all too ready to set out across the countryside on their various crusades and pilgrimages rather than staying in one place and meeting their more quotidian responsibilities there. And you can’t really blame her, especially when the search for Greg is finally parked, and the trio, joined by Frank, set off in search of an electrical engineer who may be able to help Charles get the electricity switched back on. This is probably not the greatest episode ever, but it’s a big improvement on the last couple, for sure.

Next from Parkes is Sparks, which primarily functions to introduce Alec Campbell (William Dysart), the last major character of the original run of Survivors. I have no idea whether there were ever plans for a fourth series of the show in 1978 (received wisdom seems to be it was canned in favour of Blake’s 7), but if there were, could it be that Alec was intended to become a new male lead? Given the problems that arose when Ian McCulloch and Denis Lill were sharing the male lead role, it would have been a slightly odd choice, given that Alec is, like Charles, a passionate, bearded Celt. Unless the plan was to ditch Charles completely.

Anyway, as the episode gets started, Charles, Jenny, Hubert, and Frank are searching for Alec, as they need his expertise as an electrical engineer to restart the hydroelectricity plants of Norway (the point is stressed that Greg, a civil engineer, is from the wrong specialisation). Alec is living in a settlement based out of an old and rather decrepit church, which reflects his rejection of the technological world and everything it represents. He is a bitter, sombre figure, much given to brooding over his dead wife’s picture (Vincent Price was presumably unavailable for the part).

Well, the main thrust of the episode is about Charles and Frank’s increasingly startling attempts to snap Alec out of it so he can help them get the electricity turned back on. The possibility that Alec has the right to hold whatever views he wants is at least touched upon, but not explored in any detail – one of the things you take away from this episode is how quietly fanatical Charles and Frank seem to have become about federation and the reconstruction, and you’re more inclined to agree with Jenny, who finds it all deeply suspect (and inevitably gets patronised when she raises a dissenting voice).

When Charles’ impassioned reasoning fails to get Alec to shift his position, kindly old Frank’s solution is to get hold of a bottle of pethidine and slip Alec a slug of it without telling him. This appears to trigger some kind of psychotic breakdown, not to mention hallucinations and suicidal impulses, but apparently this is all for the best (according to Frank) as it is breaking through the shell of his alienation and allowing a catharsis of the… you get the idea. Frank and Charles even get Jenny to pretend to be Alec’s dead wife to assist in the ‘cure’. Quite apart from the fact that this is handled in a rather stagey and melodramatic fashion, you have to wonder about exactly what kind of new society these guys are planning on setting up, because (based on their treatment of Alec) it isn’t one that seems to value the rights of its individual citizens very highly.

Oh well. By the episode’s end, Alec has made an absurdly rapid and full recovery from his long-term psychiatric malaise, and is as keen as mustard to switch the power back on – but why go all the way to Norway? There are power stations up in Scotland, after all. (Does this mean all the Norwegians will be left to starve after all? After everything else this episode, I wouldn’t completely rule it out.) So, the quest to meet up with Greg and help establish a trading connection with Norway, has, somehow, mutated into the mission to switch on a hydroelectric plant in Scotland. By this point I suspect most viewers are inclined to just shrug and let them get on with it. Lucy Fleming is making the most of an increasing number of good scenes where she takes the others to task for being ruthless, self-centred, and unreliable, and there’s a decent scene where Charles and Frank consider how they coped with the death of their own loved ones during the plague, but this is a very odd episode and a rather unsettling one. (It also ends on a freeze-frame, which is another oddity for this show.)

Things initially don’t show much sign of improvement in The Enemy, which opens with Charles, Jenny, Hubert, Frank, and Alec (Uncle Tom Cobley and all are presumably travelling just off camera) heading north as fast as they can. This is bad news for Frank, whose pacemaker battery is showing signs of conking out. To allow him to rest up, the party stop at a settlement near an old coal mine – just the kind of resource Charles and Frank want to preserve. Frank doesn’t want to let on to Alec how ill he is, so they have to find a pretext to stay – and, luckily, the settlement has a generator they can’t seem to get working.

There’s quite a long sequence with Charles, Hubert, and Alec getting epically wrecked with the locals. Charles and Frank, coming across even more like a chillingly Machiavellian post-apocalyptic Arthur and Merlin, have figured out that Alec will be easier to keep under control if they use Jenny and her feminine wiles to manipulate him (I repeat: this is Charles, ostensible hero of the series, doing this). Meanwhile, we are also introduced to Sam (Robert Gillespie), a technician and ex-junkie who believes his life was saved by the collapse of the old world in the plague. Sam is concerned that Charles’ quest to restore the electricity will symbolise the resurgence of the bad old ways and the destruction of the new, purer world the survivors have managed to create.

We get another electric scene between Charles and Jenny, where he at one point suggests it’s her moral duty to sleep with Alec, and also reminds her that her dedication to Greg seems to have declined a bit in recent weeks, regardless of how indifferent he seems to her (Greg does seem to have visited every other settlement in the country before finally heading back to his friends; this episode marks one of the few times Charles arrives somewhere Greg hasn’t visited first).  The episode’s big revelation comes later – just what is the enemy alluded to in the title? Is it laziness or boredom, as the settlement leader suggests? Apparently not: the enemy is a true believer with an agenda.

The generator won’t work because it has been deliberately sabotaged. Sam is so terrified of the old world and all its evils – the social workers who he feels enabled his addiction, ‘softness’, corruption – that he is prepared to destroy the surviving technology himself. He tries to persuade Frank of the justness of his cause, believing Charles won’t listen to him, but Frank dies before he can warn Charles and Alec of what Sam believes. Alec fixes the generator anyway, and Charles has visions of a techno dream team to get everything running again – Alec, Greg, and Sam! It’s a properly ominous set-up for the climax of the series, and works quite well because of the strength of Robert Gillespie’s performance – he was equally good in a small part in one of the very early episodes. He’s a convincing softly-spoken zealot, and just sympathetic enough to be very interesting, especially when placed in opposition to characters like Charles and Frank, who seem equally fanatical and ruthless in their own way, and equally unwilling to examine their own motives. Is Charles indeed right to try and bring about his own vision of progress without really having consulted anyone around him? His motives are more obscure now than when we first met him. All in all, an episode with more strong elements than weak ones, I would say.

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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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The third season of Survivors opens with Manhunt, the only episode where the writing credit is given to Terence Dudley, producer of the series. Anyone familiar with the Dudley oeuvre from his time as a regular contributor to Doctor Who could be forgiven for buckling their seatbelt and reaching for a stiff drink, as all of his scripts to that show are eccentric (to say the least) – they’re about giant frogs using androids as part of a plan to go back in time and meet God, or android versions of British royalty being used to try and stop the signing of the Magna Carta. To be fair, Black Orchid doesn’t feature androids at all, but such are the manifold peculiarities and absurdities built into a running time of less than 50 minutes that a DWM writer has largely devoted a column to a detailed exegesis of just how weird this one story is for the last couple of years now.

Despite all that, Manhunt starts promisingly enough, with a reasonably impressive pack of feral dogs. The dogs are pursuing an injured Jack, who is found and taken in by Seth the blacksmith, a minor character from the end of season 2. Most startling for modern viewers is the fact that Seth has, during the inter-season hiatus, apparently shacked up with Dot Cotton (June Brown), who is clearly a real survivor. At once you are aware of how much darker and dingier and grimier everything seems compared to season 2; gritty and frayed around the edges. The post-apocalypse has finally caught up with the series’ tone and design choices, and (as usual) you can’t help but think about how terrific it would look if they could have afforded to make the whole thing on film.

Well, a message is sent to Charles, Jenny, and Pet, who have relocated from Whitecross between series, along with the children – although Lizzy seems to have had a facelift along the way (Tanya Ronder departed to concentrate on her own career as a playwright). It seems that in the six months since New World, Greg, Jack, and Agnes have managed to get all the way to Norway and back. Unfortunately, Jack has been left delirious by his ordeal with the result that Charles, Jenny, and Hubert set off on a rescue mission which may not in fact be necessary…

Their journey takes them to an armed camp under military control, where drugs are being produced. They come across a man staked out on the ground, apparently left for the dogs – severe discipline is enforced, too (it’s all a bit like the settlement in The Chosen). Are Greg and Agnes still being held prisoner here? Or have Charles and Jenny somehow got the wrong end of the stick?

They’ve got the wrong end of the stick. Sorry to break it to you so bluntly, but, well, yeah. I suppose you could argue that the main plot of Manhunt subverts the usual ‘characters arrive at an inviting place only to discover the horrifying secret at its heart’ story structure, by creating a place which initially seems rather grim but which actually turns out to be relatively benign, but novelty value alone does not a great story make; the conclusion is arguably a bit of a let down. (And let’s not even dwell too much on the climax – oh, go on then: Jenny gallops into the camp to rescue Charles and throws him a shotgun, but of course she throws like a girl, hitting him on the head with the weapon and knocking him unconscious. It’s written as farce, but the realisation is even worse – simply primitive and unconvincing.)

The story fiddles about with ideas connected to discipline and law and order – the new settlement is being raided by ‘primitives’ in search of recreational drugs – but doesn’t really have a great deal to offer on these subjects. I suppose there’s an interesting moment where Charles’ plans of federating the country are mocked on the grounds that he’s much too soft and nervous a man to take on such a significant task (well, maybe: it does seem like everyone else is ahead of him, if nothing else). It’s initially quite striking, if only for the change in the look and tone of the series (bleak naturalism is now in effect), but I suspect once you get accustomed to the series 3 ethos this is much more clearly a silly and insubstantial story which is most significant for setting up the new ‘on the road’ format for the show.

It becomes clear that the new look of the show is all-pervasive when we see Greg in the opening moments of A Little Learning, written by Ian McCulloch – even he is looking rather scruffed up following his trip across the North Sea and back. It’s nice to see McCulloch back, as both writer and leading man, but you almost wish they had held this episode back a few weeks in the running order – he’s only in two all series, after all.

That said, this is about as bizarre a story as Survivors ever indulges in. It opens with a weird, presumably-meant-as-comic scene between Greg, Agnes (now Anna Pitt), and an eccentric old bigoted woman (nice to see UKIP going strong even after the plague) who complains about Indians stealing her chickens.

Greg goes off to investigate by himself and discovers an old school which has been taken over by a group of children who are living without adult guidance or supervision. Their leader, Eagle (Joseph McKenna) seems capable enough, but a strange illness is afflicting the children, causing them to suffer from convulsions and gangrene of the extremities (nice pre-watershed stuff this – the past is another country, and 1977 particularly so it would seem).

Mixed up in all of this are the activities of a pair of dodgy traders, Miller and Mackintosh, one of whom has his eye on Jenny. Yes, Jenny is in this episode, but all she does (pretty much) is to ride round and round the fringes of the plot, never quite meeting Agnes or Greg. Is this supposed to be ironic or bittersweet somehow? I’m not sure. It just comes across as an annoying distraction from the main storyline.

The episode’s most effective sequence sees Greg hunted across country by a band of armed children, one that recalls Peter Pan and Lord of the Flies in equal measure (this follows a scene in which Greg shows an alarming tendency to let people who wish him ill sneak up on him, possibly intentional foreshadowing of the end of the season). Based on this and the startling scenes dealing with the disease, this could have been a very memorable horror story of an episode, but instead it ends up going off in all sorts of directions – Greg reveals his encyclopaedic knowledge of folk legends, puts a young girl out of her misery by smothering her to death, discusses juvenile delinquency with a teenage boy, and organises a musical parade, and then right at the end an elephant turns up out of nowhere.

McCulloch and Dudley apparently agreed that the director, George Spenton-Foster, ‘****ed up’ A Little Learning, but there are some effective moments and a very arty sequence where the faces of Jenny and the girl Greg’s about to kill fade into one another repeatedly, and I’m not exactly sure how you could make such an eclectic collection of elements work as a coherent story. Still, nice to see Ian McCulloch again, if nothing else.

Ian McCulloch is basically just now an occasional guest star in a series not previously much known for barnstorming performances from the visiting cast, but one of these does form the centrepiece of Martin Worth’s Law of the Jungle, a more obviously philosophical and focused episode than the other ones so far this series. Again, you wish it was made on film, because as it stands it looks rather like an experimental zero-budget student film.

Jenny meets up with Charles, Agnes, and Hubert again, and together they visit what they previously thought was a flourishing farm. But it is deserted, the family who lived there having vanished. It transpires that the young men of the family have fallen under the sway of Brod, a pre-death slaughterman turned hunter chieftain. Brod has rejected the settled lifestyle completely, and he and his followers live solely by hunting and scavenging, with Brod maintaining his dominance through a combination of sheer personal charisma and brute strength.

(Some sort of not very subtle retcon seems to have occurred at some point, because this is the second episode in a row to apparently feature members of the same family who all survived the plague – a mother and her sons here, and a pair of siblings in A Little Learning. With the possible exception of Abby and her son Peter, there was no suggestion that resistance to the virus ran in families – Paul and Arthur both lost their children to the disease, though it makes sense for the offspring of two resistant parents (like Greg and Abby’s son) to inherit it. The revision of the series’ ground rules does not end here, either.)

On paper, Brod is another one of the series’ small men turned despots, but he’s lifted to a new level simply because he’s played by Brian Blessed (one of his final pre-bearded appearances, I think), who blasts everyone else off the screen with his sheer charisma. Blessed exudes the same kind of jovial malevolence he occasionally displayed while playing Augustus in I, Claudius the previous year, to say nothing of his raw physical presence. If I found myself living in an apocalyptic wasteland with Brian Blessed, I’m pretty sure I’d want to be a member of his tribe, too.

On one level, the episode represents a clash between Brod’s primitivism – never mind trying to hang on to an industrial revolution level of civilisation, Brod’s looking to go back to the iron age – and Charles’ more idealistic conception of survival.  As you might expect, Charles finds himself on the back foot when trying to contend with Brod’s enthusiastic barbarity (in much the same way that Denis Lill is when trying to act opposite Blessed, to be honest), and his espousal of civilised values means he can’t do what everyone is urging him to do and just kill Brod. There’s another level going on too, though, dealing with something a bit more psychological – Brod is such a rampant alpha male all the time, it seems, because his performance in another somewhat more intimate arena is quite simply not up to scratch. (That’s the kind of plotline you never get in Blake’s 7.)

After quite a lot of speechifying and boisterous bullying from Blessed, the plot resolves in interestingly ambiguous style – Hubert decides that if Charles won’t see sense and take Brod out of the picture, someone else will have to, and puts a crossbow bolt in Brod’s back himself, quite cold-bloodedly. Hubert has been threatening to turn into an interesting character for a while now, and this is another important step in his development, as well as being another example of the kind of thing you hardly ever see even in supposedly ‘edgy’ genre TV shows. Everyone is free to go, but the duel of philosophies between Charles and Brod is unresolved at best. The first strong episode of the final series, although it still has that third-season undercurrent of oddness running through it.

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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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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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