Friday, 26 December 2008

Dr Who Christmas 2008: The Next Doctor reviewed...

Incredibly, it’s now three years since the BBC broadcast its first 'Dr Who’ Christmas Special, a primetime treat quickly commissioned when the critical and public success of the first Russell T Davies-powered series in 2005 became pretty much inarguable. The BBC, desperate for a new ‘Only Fools and Horses’ or even a new ‘Morecombe and Wise Show’ around which to build their Christmas Night TV schedules, suspected that the family-friendly adventures of the Doctor and his chums might just become the new must-watch TV show for the one night of the year when the whole family is pretty much guaranteed to be sitting down in one room watching the same television. The Beeb’s instincts were pretty much right and the viewing figures seem to show that the annual ‘Dr Who’ Christmas episode has now cemented itself as an institution in much the way the series itself has generally.

But ‘Dr Who’ at Christmas is a curious beast. Russell T Davies himself writes the thing and he ahs very distinct, specific ideas about what makes a Good Christmas TV Special. It’s got to be Christmassy – so we get Christmas decorations, snow, trees and plenty of festive good cheer. But because it’s Christmas we also get compromises; we get a show which sets out, whatever the story, to be fun. Christmas is no time for a fiddly concept story like ‘Blink’ or ‘Midnight’, nor is it time for something head-scratching like ‘Silence in the Library’ or innovative like ‘Love and Monsters’. Davies crafts his Christmas specials very specifically; they’re big, brash, loud, desperately unsubtle and generally leave you feeling a bit breathless. There’s also a sense, in certain areas of fandom where expectation always outweighs reality (in every sense of the word) and no matter how many romping Christmas ‘Dr Who’ episodes are wheeled out, some fans always expect that this one will be different, this one will be more like the series itself. But the fact is that ‘Dr Who’ at Christmas isn’t meant to go deep, it’s not meant to be a huge high-concept science-fiction mind-boggler; it’s flagship Christmas TV, it almost always has a big USP (a new Doctor! Catherine Tate!! Kylie!!! The Next Doctor???) and it’s meant to be fun for all the family, a family invariably bloated on turkey, mince pies, chocolates and one too many of those little bottles of lager. You’re supposed to just watch it and enjoy it without straining your grey cells too much. Just sit back and go along for the ride. Normal service will be resumed…well, at Easter in this case.

So here we are with ‘The Next Doctor’ and, with viewing figures touching 12 million, it looks like Davies had done it again and created an hour of TV which did what it set out to do – it pulled in a huge audience (50% of the TV audience) and it left them thoroughly entertained. How couldn’t it? The story’s pre-publicity carefully built on the rumblings which have grown since David Tennant’s teary NTA announcement that he won’t be back after 2009’s run of special episodes – Who Will Be The Next Doctor? The strategically-placed broadcast of the first two minutes of this Christmas episode in November’s ‘Children in Need’ and the revelation that its title was ‘The Next Doctor’ managed to make this episode just about unmissable to anyone with even a passing interest in the show and its mythology. David Morrissey!! He’s the next Doctor, then…except, as it turns out, no he isn’t…

The Doctor pitches up in Victorian London on Christmas Eve. Within seconds he meets up with a striking frock-coated fellow who claims that he’s “the Doctor” and soon the pair – and the nw boy’s fetching assistant Rosita – are battling hostile Cybermen clanking through the snow and the machinations of the sinister Miss Mercy Hartigan. At first the Doctor – our Doctor – can only conclude that he’s stumbled upon a future incarnation of himself and it’s rather startling to watch David Tennant portraying a man who suddenly has to face up to the inevitability of his regeneration, a moment which may be sooner than he’s thought. But as the story rolls on and the Doctor stumbles across some Cybertechnology, our boy realises the tragic truth…

Unlike previous Christmas episodes ‘The Next Doctor’ has more to hang its hat on than just its guest star. Here there’s a mystery; who is this man who really seems to be the Doctor? Why has he lost his memory? And why on Earth is his TARDIS a grounded hot-air balloon?? This is what draws the audience in and keeps them in; the antics of the Cybermen are just a bit of silver icing on already rich cake. And it’s the two Doctors – our Doctor and the new Doctor who turns out to be a man called Jackson Lake - which really makes ‘The Next Doctor’ more than just a Christmas ‘Dr Who’ romp. Because even though the episode, because it’s Christmas, has to have a CGI-powered climax and lots of bangs and flashes, what really makes the episode tick and what makes it work are those moments of humanity between two men, one of whom isn’t even human.

Jackson Lake (Morrissey) is a man who has lost his memory because of a terrible trauma on arriving in London with his family to take up a new job. An encounter with skulking Cybermen caused the death of his wife and the abduction of his young son. But Jackson remembers none of this; an encounter with a piece of Cyberkit has chased away his own memories and replaced them with the stored knowledge of the Cybermen of a man who has confounded them again and again – the Doctor. Jackson Lake believes he is the Doctor because his mind is filled with Cyberknowledge of the Doctor. Being the Doctor is all he knows. This is tragic and the unravelling of the ‘mystery’ is what makes ‘The Next Doctor’ so compelling. Morrissey plays Lake’s torment beautifully and Tennant, as usual, ticks all the boxes we’ve come to expect of him and then some. Because here and now we have a slightly-different tenth Doctor. Recent events have been too much for him and he’s now travelling alone – his admission at the end of the episode that his friends always end up ‘breaking my heart’ is gut-wrenching. Earlier on the Doctor has had to face up to the very real prospect of his own ‘lie’ ending and there’s a wistful acceptance of it in the Doctor’s behaviour and in Tennant’s powered performance.

This is what lies at the heart of ‘The Next Doctor’ – the agony of Jackson Lake and the tragedy-to-come of the tenth Doctor. This is what resonates with me as an avowed fan of the new touchy-feely style of ‘Dr Who’ – the new show’s at its very best when it’s opening up its hero so we can see what makes him tick. And here we see a raw, emotionally-damaged man who is, we can see, at a crossroads and moving towards a time of change. As, indeed, is the programme…

What brings these two great men together, of course, is a very familiar and very deadly threat. The Cybermen have turned up in Victorian London – they look like the Cybus Cybermen from the new series mythology and yet they seem to know a bit about the history of the Doctor so they may well be ‘old school’ Cybermen, the script’s a bit vague on that one – and they’re in league with Miss Hartigan for their own sinister purposes. She wants to use the Cybermen to start “a new Industrial Revolution” with her at its head; the Cybermen, duplicitous as ever, want to use her to power their giant Cyberdreadnaught hidden beneath the Thames. The Cybermen look great in a Victorian setting, stamping through the snow and crashing through doorways; best of all is the stunningly-mounted sequence where the Cybermen (and their ‘pets’, the scuttling, feral Cybershades, this Who generation’s ‘cybermats’) attack and slaughter the mourners at a funeral in a snowy, foggy graveyard – the stuff of nightmares for the little ‘uns, I’d have thought.

As the episodes bounces along, Davies leads us to the inevitable climactic finale where logic and reason take a back seat to explosions and spectacle and really at times like this you just have to go with the flow, set side those finely-honed critical faculties and just say – ‘Wow.’ The story’s own logic starts to crumble – why do the Cybermen need street urchins for slave labour exactly, Russ? – and as the giant Cyberdreadnaught rises from the Thames and starts stamping over Victorian London blasting everything in its path you can’t help but admire to quality of The Mill’s CGI even as you’re wondering what the Hell happened to the fascinating character study of two tormented men you were watching ten minutes ago. In the end the Doctor – our Doctor – takes to the skies in Lake’s own TARDIS (Tethered Aerial Release, Developed In Style – brilliant, you can just imagine Davies struggling with the acronym and then declaring “Oh, that’ll do…!”) and offers the half-converted Cyber-Hartigan and her Cybermen a chance to sod off to a new, deserted world where they can’t do any harm. It’s a chance they decline, of course, and the Doctor, with his usual mixture of regret and ruthlessness, uses some convenient bit of salvaged Dalek technology to…er…vaporise Hartigan and the Cybermen and eventually to teleport the falling Cyberdreadnaught somewhere safer. Or something. To be honest by now I’d given up trying to get the plot to make sense because I just wanted to see the Cyberdreadnaught stamping over London again. That’s how shallow Christmas Tv makes you.

As usual for a Christmas Who, the best is saved for the last and it’s another quiet, contemplative moment between two people who are worlds apart and yet oddly similar. Here Lake tries to persuade the Doctor to stay for Christmas lunch – he’s not the first to try that one – and the Doctor, having sworn off human company for a while, finally accedes to the invitation and decides that maybe having people around needn’t always be such a bad thing after all. The two men stride off through the snow towards lunch, Merry Christmasing as they go. Awww…

‘The Next Doctor’ does what a Christmas ‘Dr Who’ will always do whilst Russell T Davies is around. It may be sickly, it may be obvious, it may be as subtle as a bag of giblets, but it’s pitched just right for its audience and once again, in context, it barely puts a foot wrong. The production and effects are faultless, there’s a crowd-pleasing flashback sequence featuring all previous nine Doctors, and the small guest cast acquit themselves superbly – the feisty Rosita (Velile Tshabalala) is a gutsy foil for both Lake and the Doctor and Dervla Kirwan is iciness itself as Hartigan – and the Cybermen, while a bit underused and easily-zapped, always have a striking visual presence.

Of course it’s not the best ‘Dr Who’ episode of the new series – it’s probably not even the best Christmas episode – and yes, it does bear a bit of a resemblance to ‘The Runaway Bride’ if you look at it too closely (Doctor faces off against big alien looming over London, dispassionately offs it when it won’t leave the Earth in peace) but viewed as a piece of Christmas TV confection with the name ‘Dr Who’ stamped across it, it more than does its job. If I can make one major criticism of this episode then it’s that we have to wait until Easter to see the next one, the intriguingly-entitled ‘Planet of the Dead’. ‘Dr Who’ – it’s the best Christmas present of all, really…and long may it continue to be.

Those previous Dr Who Christmas specials…

Just in case you’ve forgotten ‘em (and I know you haven’t), here’s a quick’n’handy guide to the last three ‘Dr Who’ Christmas romps….plus one you’ve probably never seen…

The Christmas Invasion (2005)
Still the edgiest – and best?- of the New Who Christmas yarns, this one sees a newly-regenerated Doctor (Mr Tennant) crashland on Earth and fall into a post-regenerative crisis just as the planet is invaded by a huge rock-shaped spaceship full of war-mongering Sycorax who use blood control to dominate the human race. It falls to Rose (Billie Piper) and her mum Jackie (Camille Coduri) to defend the Earth in the absence of a slumbering Time Lord. It’s brave episode but it teases the audience by keeping the new Doctor off-screen for over half-an-hour, ramping up the tension until the wonderful, triumphant moment when he emerges, pyjama-clad and bushy-tailed, from the TARDIS (“Did you miss me?”) and proceeds to engage to Sycorax leader in sword-to-sword combat. Joyous, thrilling and barely sickly at all.

The Runaway Bride (2006)
In which Donna Noble (Catherine Tate) appears in the TARDIS in her wedding dress and teams up with the Doctor to battle the fiersome Racnoss, a giant arachnid creature lurking beneath the Thames and intent on resurrecting her long-dormant offspring. Time’s not been too kind to this one and remains a bit less than the sum of its parts. The wonderful TARDIS/motorway chase sequence remains one of the most thrilling FX sequences in the new show’s history but once that’s done it all becomes a bit low-key but does show us that this newish Doctor can actually be a bit ruthless when he needs to. The story arc which leads Donna from shrill shrew to a more reflective and contemplative woman whose eyes have been opened by something extraordinary (leading to Tate’s triumphant return as Donna in the fourth series over a year later) and her easy rapport with the Doctor are the episode’s most memorable moments. Ending verges on sickly as the Doctor turns down Christmas lunch, turns on some snow, and the TARDIS whizzes off into the night sky.

Voyage of the Damned (2007)
Kylie! Kylieeeeee!!! Davies does disaster movie – and why not, when you think about it? This is, of course, ‘The Poseidon Adventure’ in space as an alien replica Titanic is scuppered by meteoroids. Hundreds dies and the Doctor and a few survivors battle through flaming wreckage, fighting off murderous halo-throwing androids, to make their escape. Loads of great set pieces, a huge production, some great gags – but probably a bit too arch for some fan tastes. Some intense devotees may well have spontaneously combusted when the replica Titanic avoided colliding into Buckingham Palace and the Queen waved her thanks at the Doctor… Kylie (as waitress Astrid Peth) , surprisingly, dies but the Doctor resurrects her, briefly, as stardust. Sickly? You decide. A great big daft romp.

….and the one which started it all…

The Feast of Steven (1965)
Back in 1965, Christmas fell on a Saturday and ‘Dr Who’, starring William Hartnell, was smack in the middle of an intense Galaxy-spanning space opera twelve-parter entitled ‘The Daleks’ Masterplan’. Funny how creative sensibilities don’t change as the production team veered away from the running storyline and pitched the Doctor and his chums in a fun comic runaround involve Keystone Cops, cricket matches and Hollywood film studios. Ends with William Hartnell turning to the audience, glass of wine in hand, and wishing “A Merry Christmas to all of you at home!” Imagine if David Tennant did that today…’fans’ would be burning life-sized effigies of Russell T Davies in the streets… ‘Feast of Steven’ has long been missing from the BBC Archives and, you know, I think that’s probably a Very Good Thing…

Enjoy the rest of your Christmas! More Stuff soon!

Come on, I know you're out there! What did you think of 'The Next Doctor'? A cracking Christmas gift or just another turkey? Post a comment, speak your brains!

Friday, 12 December 2008

AT LAST - SURVIVORS episodes one to four reviewed!

We’re four weeks into the all-new, all-modern BBC reimagining of Terry Nation’s seminal 1970s post-apocalypse drama Survivors and, after several false starts (and a pesky bit of genuine man-flu for distracting good measure), I’m finally able to get down my considered opinion about this new series – a new series which was as important to me, in its own way, as the new Dr Who was back in 2005. Obviously the white heat of public scrutiny wasn’t quite as intensely felt by Survivors as the show, whilst well-remembered and well-regarded by those who were there at the time, is hardly as iconic and culturally-significant as the continuing adventures of the good Doctor and his various chums. But, as a die-hard fan both of the series and of its peculiar sub-genre, the success of Survivors, both creatively and in terms of it finding a decent-sized audience, just seemed important, somehow, especially at a time when British TV drama, thanks to the Doctor, is thinking in broader terms than the detective and Police procedurals which traditionally fill out the schedules. Four weeks in and the show seems to have settled at around 5.5 million viewers per week (considerably more than many other high profile new drama launches this year so the omens for the planned second season must be good) so the interest in the show is there and the word-of-mouth feedback I’ve been getting has been extremely positive. And creatively? Well, to a fan of the old series like me, this was always going to be the biggest hurdle. Fortunately it’s a hurdle the show has been able to catapult over with some ease and in Survivors 21st century-style we have a show which, whilst it uses the original (and more specifically, Nation’s novel of the series) as its launch pad and its inspiration and added a few contemporary elements and plot devices entirely of its own creation to create a series which is part old-school and part something completely new. Survivors is a triumph; it’s great entertainment, great adventure, ripping yarns. But I’m not going to compare it with the old series because that’s not fair on either. The 38 episodes of the 1970s version told their story a different way and to a different audience and, although the name’s the same and some of the characters are similar, the two shows are really so different it’s almost pointless to compare the two series. The old series moves at a slower, more relaxed pace (the first series alone has 13 episodes to play with) and has different narrative priorities thanks to Nation’s own obsessions at the time; the new series, with just six hours of your time, has to move at a faster lick to get its point across and make you care about the characters. Thus it employs plenty of narrative short-hand and many events which formed the spine of whole episodes of the original series, revisited here, are contracted into one-of-many scenarios within episodes or else are manipulated into slightly different situations altogether. I’m not offended by this because I’d expect nothing else from a slick, fast-paced modern television series. I didn’t want the new series to slavishly follow the storylines of the old series; what’d be the point of that, those stories are already told in that fashion and, at the end of the day the old Survivors is out there and available on DVD for those who loved it then and those who may be intrigued by it thanks to the reboot; but playing “which is better?” is pointless and does neither show any real favours.

However, part of the problem I had in trying to write about these episodes over the last few weeks was that, no matter how hard I tried, I found my text peppered with “in the original series…” and “in the 1970s version…” which really isn’t the way I wanted to go in reviewing the new Survivors. But just now, just this once, there’s no getting away from it. The only aspects of the new Survivors which have been a disappointment and which have let it down as a piece of modern drama and not just as a reinterpretation of an old TV favourite, have been its title sequence and its theme music. In the 1970s version (groan, sorry!) Anthony Isaac’s chilling, atmospheric title music, set to immaculate graphics depicting, subtly and succinctly, the cause and scale of the plague virus, combined to creature probably the most iconic and memorable TV title sequence of its time, a sequence which is right up there with the very best title sequences of all time. The title sequence of the new series tries something similar – a forebidding shot of Earth-from-space, people going about their everyday lives, seething bacilli, blending into cast names and a fairly unremarkable logo. It’s all right, it does what it needs to but it’s underpinned by the most mediocre, eminently forgettable piece of theme muzak you could ever imagine hearing. It’s humdrum dramatic, it’s there just because the series needs a theme tine. It’s disappointing. Equally disappointing is the inevitable creative decision to feature incidental music throughout the episodes themselves. A remarkable feature of the original series (stop it!!) was the fact that there was absolutely no incidental music at all throughout any of the episodes. The pictures told the story. The silence of the world spoke for itself. The subtle absence of background noise – whether music, the chatter of life itself – just added to the sense of doom, the very real suggestion that civilisation had just been turned off. Unfortunately today’s audiences clearly aren’t considered to be sophisticated enough to be able to appreciate a dramatic situation without some crashing sting of music in the background or some frantic guitar riff in a time of jeopardy. Yes, thanks, I can see that the nasty man is pointing a gun at Abby’s head, that’s quite dramatic in itself. I really don’t need some frenzied musical clatter in the background ramming the moment home for me. Imagine how much more unnerving dramatic scenes in the new Survivors could be without the distracting background musical accompaniment? The world has ended, it’s supposed to be a bit on the quiet side with humanity all but wiped out. I’d go as far as to say that the incidental music in Survivors does the whole series a bit of a disservice and doesn’t help in any way to make an inherently unbelievable situation any more believable to the audience. I know that Survivors fandom (there is such a thing, it’s quite pleasant) was a bit edgy about the issue of incidental music in the new series; realistically there was no way it wasn’t going to be there but its presence just doesn’t help the show’s cause and risks turning the series into ‘just another noisy BBC drama.’ This is a shame because it’s so much more than that.

These are really the only notable criticisms I have of the new series. I come to any TV drama – especially a genre one – hoping to be thrilled, entertained, excited. Survivors has ticked all those boxes since week one. In creating a new series from the ‘bones’ of the old one, Adrian Hodges (creator, eh, Adrian?) has sensitively taken what worked in the 1970s and updated it for the 21st century. Thus we have the gripping ninety-minute pilot which tells the same story as ‘The Fourth Horseman’ in 1975 but does it with a bigger budget, across a wider canvas, and with a host of new characters. We still get the iconic Abby Grant (played here by Julie Graham who, thankfully, has left her dreadful performances in the risible Bonekickers in a box at home), here the nervy wife of David (Shaun Dingwall) and mother of 11 year-old Peter, recovering from leukaemia and off on an adventure holiday as the series begins; we get Greg Preston, once a wiry, balding, tough-talking hard man, reimagined for 2008 as a tough, black, dour man of mystery who says he wants to be alone but, after four episodes, seems oddly dependant upon his fellow-survivors. Paterson Joseph (hotly tipped to be the new Doctor in Dr Who but I just don’t see it myself) does his best in a role which is a bit under-written so far but there’s a brooding strength there which suggests there may be more to Greg than we’ve been allowed to see so far. The most extraordinary character revision has been in Tom Price, portrayed by Welsh actor Talfryn Thomas back…oh, you know when…as a weaselly , morally-dubious ne’er do well who got what was coming to in towards the end of the first series. Such distasteful stereotypes are off-limits now, of course; the new Tom is a big, strapping convict, the only prisoner to survive the virus and whose bad boy credentials are spelt out quite clearly when he stabs the only surviving warder to death before setting out to explore the strange new world. Tom, played by Max Beesley, is the new series’ real ace card; he occupies the ‘alpha male’ role originally taken by Greg and Price here is so well-drawn and well-performed that he only helps to make Greg a bit redundant. There have been suggestions of conflict between Greg and Tom, two blokes circling around one another trying to work out who’s the strongest, but there’s not been much time to explore these themes due to the demands of the episodes to cram as much incident into each sixty-minutes as possible. Curse you, BBC, for only commissioning six episodes! (Conversely, thanks for commissioning it at all, I don’t wish to appear ungrateful!) The most startling rewriting of established Survivors lore (look, it’s my blog, I can be as pompous as I like about this stuff!) has been in the character of Jenny. Originally portrayed by Lucy Fleming as a somewhat needy secretary in a big hideously-1970s fluffy blue coat, she’s now become a caring teacher. She’s now called Jenny Collins, she’s played by Dr Who’s Martha, Freema Agyeman, and she’s dead halfway into the first episode. Bit of a shock for those viewers who bought into the show’s pre-publicity which featured the actress pretty prominently. Jenny’s role seems to have moved across to the character of Anya (Zoe Tapper), a doctor who has escaped the disease and, like the rest, is trying to carve out a new life in a hostile world. Rather selfishly in a world where medical care must be a bit on the scarce side, Anya doesn’t want anyone to know she used to be a doctor; quite why she doesn’t want anyone to know is a bit of a mystery at the moment. Maybe after a career where everyone was depending on her all the time she doesn’t want that sort of constant responsibility any more.

The new series has also created a handful of new characters who, in truth, are working a bit better than the old crowd. Philip Rhys portrays playboy layabout Al, whose life of fast cars and fast women ends overnight and he finds himself cruising the deserted new world in his flash motor, free as a bird. Until, that is, he comes across Najid Hanif, a young Muslim orphan boy playing football in an empty street. Al really doesn’t want the responsibility but he can’t leave the boy on his own and the two form a rapid bond which pays real dividends in episode four when Al risks his life to reclaim Najid. Young Chahak Patel is a real find; a great little actor full of wide-eyed innocence and a cheeky charm. There’s a heartbreaking moment in the fist episode where, finding everyone dead, Najid goes home and just hides under the blankets as if he can make the nightmare go away by going to sleep.

The episodes screened so far have taken Nation’s original storylines as their inspiration, often combining several old series episodes into one new, snappy narrative. The first episode, of course, extends and expands upon the disease itself and its consequences – broadening the canvas by introducing an authority figure – Government minister Samantha Willis (Nikki Amuka-Bird, she of the very-singular-pronunciation) who has to obfuscate and procrastinate and reassure the public everything’s going to be all right even as, in another striking first episode moment, the lights go out all over London. Episode two combines elements of ‘Genesis’ and ‘Gone Away’ as Abby and her group – who conveniently all met up on a deserted motorway in the last five minutes of the pilot episode – encounter trouble when they attempt to liberate stock from a supermarket and Greg meets Sarah (Robyn Addison), reluctantly living under the protective custody of sleazy supermarket manager Ben (Daniel Ryan) in a sealed-off distribution centre. In episode three Abby, still questing to find her missing son, stumbles across a fledgling community being run under harsh almost para-military terms by Sam Willis who has, herself, survived and apparently taken to trying to re-establish the position of power she held before the virus. Meanwhile, in a much more interesting story strand, Greg and Tom meet up with a father who has been isolating his children in their farmhouse to avoid any risk of contaminating them. This is a poignant and achingly-sad revisiting of themes from ‘Gone to the Angels’ whilst Abby’s experiences in the new community echo moments from both ‘Genesis’ and the memorable ‘Law and Order’ where Sam exercises a very brutal form of punishment against those who cross her. The most recent episode evokes ‘Garland’s War’ and, oddly, an episode from season three entitled ‘A Little Learning’ where Greg encounters a community run by 1970s brats. To episode four’s considerable credit, whilst the Garland thread isn’t as powerful as it was first time around (despite a spirited performance by Joseph Millsom (Maria’s Dad from The Sarah Jane Adventures!) as the disenfranchised landowner Jimmy Garland, it puts Abby right through the wringer when she seems to come within an ace of finding her missing son. Also interesting are the secondary and tertiary plotlines where half of Abby’s group decamp the Sam’s place and Greg and Anya are left alone in the house they’ve already established as their new home. They quickly realise they need to think very seriously about defending themselves in a world of new human predators…

This new series of Survivors has moved at a fair old pace; at just six episodes (Damn you, BBC…but thank you too!) there’s been little or no time for dawdling or introspection. It’d be nice to have a few scenes where the characters actually sit down for a bit and discuss the enormity of what’s happened to the world, how they deal with the trauma of the end of civilisation (because it would surely do your head in just a little bit), their own individual hopes and fears beyond simple survival and finding the next meal. The show’s a bit hazy as far as time and place are concerned too; after four episodes I’ve no idea how long has passed since the virus wiped everyone out. Is it days? Weeks? Months? Sam’s community seems to have established itself and become finely-tuned pretty quickly so we must be talking some time between episodes? And the house Abby and her gang are in? At the beginning of episode two they’re just there, quite content and comfortable. But I’ve no idea where it is, how they found it, what it’s lay out it. There’s no shortage of clean clothes either by the look of it; in the original series (dammit!) the characters seemed to wear the same clothes for three years (ewwww!); now there’s a new T-shirt, jeans and top available for every scene. Nice.

But these are quibbles rather than criticisms. Survivors has been great television, a real triumph and a very sensible and sensitive reworking of themes and ideas which were startlingly original at the time and are still pertinent and compelling for today’s TV generation. And no, I haven’t forgotten the secret underground laboratory with that bloke from Playing The Field conducting secret experiments with someone who seems to have been responsible for the virus in the first place. I’ll reserve judgement on this turn of events until I know what it’s really all about; at the moment it seems to be a bit of a Lost-like conspiracy arc hinting that the disease wasn’t quite the accident we might have been led to believe. Two episodes to go (boo!) and I have to say, as a card-carrying devotee of Survivors from the old days, I’m entranced and captivated by this new series which tells the same basic story with much of the same power and drama as the original and is as good a piece of TV today as the original was in 1975. Job done, I’d say. Ah, but what a shame about all that music..!