Sunday, 1 February 2009

DVD Review: Survivors - Series One boxset

Whilst opinion remains somewhat divided amongst the 'Survivors' fan community (yes, there is one and it's...well, a bit stuck in the past, it has to be said) about the merits or otherwise of the BBC's recent 'reimagining' (and I'm getting a bit tired of that word now) of Terry Nation's classic 1970s post-plague thriller series, the fact is that the new six-part series was a pretty decent hit, its first episode pulling in 7 million viewers and the rest of the run settling at just under 6 million. The show was also increasingly- popular on the BBC's iPlayer viewing platform so it's no surprise to hear that a second series has been commissioned, due to start filming shortly. Now, just over a month after the first series finished, here's a 3-disc DVD release to get stuck into so you enjoy the whole thing all over again at your own leisure. That's what I'll be doing.

As a massive fan of the original show, I had my reservations about the new series (you can find those reservations posted in my Blog archive) but fortunately the new show far exceeded my expectations -mainly because I was able to set aside my devotion to the original and enjoy the new show as a series in its own right, living away from the shadow of the 1970s version. 'Survivors' 2008, at just six episodes, had a lot to do and did it, on the whole, remarkably well, setting up the disaster scenario in the brooding, doomy extended first episode and then building up its cast opf characters throughout the rest of the run. But five full episodes really wasn't enough to do justice to the cast or their characters and one or two were left a bit under-nourished, particularly Greg Preston (Patterson Joseph), a mainstay of the 1970s version for its first two years and pivotal in the third despite his absence from most of it. The 'new' Greg only started to find his depth of character in the final episode where the audience gets to learn a bit about his life pre-plague. Otherwise Greg's a fairly mono-syllabic presence lurking in the background, a man who's supposed to be a loner but who can't seem to pull himself away from the strangers he finds himself living with. The stars of the show are undoubtedly Julie Graham as Abby Grant and Max Beesley as Tom Price. Abby is a strong and determined woman who, for much of the series, just wants to find her missing son. Abby exerts a huge pull over the others in the group, keeping them together when all hope is lost and trying to encourage them to try to forge a new life in a new world. Beesley's Tom Price is a ruthless, self-centred killer, free from prison and with his own agenda. He's strong, powerful, resourceful and utterly untrustworthy. This makes him captivating to watch and Beesley captures his intensity brilliantly. Kudos also to Phillip Rhys as former playboy Al and Zoe Tapper (scratch 'Demons' off the CV, Zoe) as Anya.

One of the sticks so often sued to beat the original 'Survivors' was that it was relentlessly middle-class. Ironically, the same (and possibly worse) could be said of the new series - Abby and co are generally well off, well-bred, well-spoken. The lower classes are depicted as greedy, vicious, gun-toting ne'er do-wells - plus ca change as they say.

The whole series is taut, gripping and exciting - episode six, in particular, with a good half-dozen plot threads jostling for attention, is one of the most energised pieces of TV I've seen in years (and I've seen all the new Who episodes, remember) and by the end of it, with its multiple cliffhangars (and I won't spoil them here in case you've not caught up with it yet) had me right at the edge of my seat begging for more.

Adrian Hodges has taken the bones of Nation's original idea and refashioned it for the 21st century. I'm cool with that. I've got the old series boxsets on my shelves for when I need a shot of slow 1970s nostalgia. I'm more than happy with the new series - my only real misgivings being the unmemorable theme music and the dreadfully inappropriate pounding incidental score (a post-plague world of silence needs an atmospheric quiet ambient backdrop, not great drum rhythms and dramatic stings reminding us that this is just a drama). The success of 'Survivors' can only lead to more great fantasy dramas on prime time British TV ( a remake of 'Day of the Triffids', my favourite ever novel, is up next - now that's what I call an exciting prospect!) and after the barren years of the 1990s when SF might well have been a synonym for hard-core porn on British television, that's got to be something we can only rejoice at.

The DVDs: A chunky, nicely-packaged 3 disc set with that misleading publicity picture suggesting that Freema Agyeman's Jenny and Shaun Dingwall's David are 'survivors' when we all know they're not on the cover, the disc themselves are beautifully presented with a great 5.1 surround sound mix. Don't get too worked up about what sem to be generous extras, though; 'A New World', the 'making of' documentary, is made up of loads of clips, a few talking heads comments from Hodges and the cast and not much else. Old school fans will find themselves irritated by the fact that Hodges doesn't reference the fact that the series is a remake and even states how "determined" he was that there should be a strong female lead in the series and that it was one of his earliest ideas for the show. where it's overdue, I think, Mr Hodges? Elsewhere a few short character profiles telling us nothing we didn't glean from watching the episodes and a brief but interesting FX feature. There's also an 'Easter egg' on disc one but I'm damned if I can find it. The episodes themselves make this a worthwhile purchase as it's a series you're sure to want to return to.

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