Survivors (2008)
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Survivors (2008)

Thanks to DVD and BBC America many excellent television programs from across the Atlantic to entertain us former subjects of the Crown. At one time the only source for British TV shows was on our Public Television Networks, especially during one of their many pledge drives. That is where many of us became fans of everything from ‘Doctor Who’ to ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’. Now with BBC broadcasting directly to our local cable networks Anglophiles can get their regular fix of excellent programming that in many cases surpasses the faire produced locally. One more recent example is a program that lasted only two series, as they say over there, but lefts its mark on the science fiction fan community, ‘Survivors’. It is a post apocalyptic thriller which may not technically be Sci-Fi but that has usually become the bucket for this particular sub genre. Traditionally, there is a fascinated with post apocalyptic fiction. It provides the perfect crucible to strip bare the façade of civilization depicting human beings under the most primitive of motivations. The basic question presented here is what happens if our society fell apart literally over night. Without the protection of our laws and law enforcement officers’ mob rule is certain to take over. The task of rebuilding civilization is critical but first there is the all consuming and arduous task of just living through each day. Over the two seasons ‘Survivors’ was on the air it was one of the tightly written and well produced shows of that sort on television in quite a long time. The elements that make this type of story are the very fundamental fears prevalent to a civilized man are the complete loss of the protection and creature comforts afforded by society. What is truly amazing is how precarious civilization hangs. A seemingly insignificant event of an infinitesimally tiny virus can topple the mightiest of cultures in an exceptionally brief amount of time’. Survivors’ initially follows how England, along with most of humanity, is swept off the face of the globe. This tiny speck of proteins and nucleic molecules does in the matter months what even the most powerful armies mankind has ever formed could not; it destroyed the world. This microscopic invader toppled humanity as the dominant life form pushing back in time to a preindustrial setting.

The series reviewed here is a remake of one first produced in the seventies. If anything the fear of a pandemic has greatly increased over that forty year gap. It seems that the news is full of stories about devastating infectious diseases like bird flu or SARS with the potential to making this story a reality. The first episode is naturally enough used as the foundation, letting the audience witness the normal lives of the titular survivors. This economically establishes the required archetypes as we move into the main body of the series. Abby Grant (Julie Graham) initially displays sings of the infection but manages to avoid the lethal results. She is one of the few people in the world without a preexisting immunity that could survive infection. She is certain that her missing son, Peter (Jack Richardson), has inherited this trait and is also alive. Her search is general futile in series one but the boy is located as part of the second series. Just as Abby is the good person who will ultimately anchor the band of survivors Tom Price (Max Beesley) is self serving and potentially dangerous. Just as the plague hit Britain Max was serving time in a maximum security prison. He murders the only remaining guard in order to affect his freedom. The juxtaposition of Abby and Tom provide the standard dichotomy in a post apocalyptic story, the contrast between the higher human nature and our primitive almost animalistic disposition to survive. In psychological terms the eternal war between super ego and id. Greg Preston (Paterson Joseph) offers insight to another trope, self sufficiency versus the need for socialization. Greg wanted to ride out the aftermath of the pandemic by finding an isolated parcel of land and relying only on what he can do on his own. He soon becomes an integral member of this band of survivors. Next is someone who has to reinvent their profession to cope with the sudden loss of technology; Dr. Anya Raczynski (Zoe Tapper). As a physician in a metropolitan hospital she was accustomed to the technology typical of the medical profession. Now she has to learn to rely on the old ways of healing. To demonstrate a virus has no regard for status or the flimsy protection of financial power we have Al Sadiq (Phillip Rhys). Born with the proverbial silver spoon he never had to work or struggle in any fashion. He finds it difficult to cope without the trappings and convenience that defined his pre-plague life. His one redeeming quality is how he quickly developed a protective bond with an eleven year old Muslim boy, Najid Hanif (Chahak Patel), orphaned by the virus. Finally there is the romantic interest for Al, Sarah Bowye (Robyn Addison). She lived largely by cajoling men to provide anything she wanted.

Any good thriller needs a sinister antagonist that the heroes must rally against. While it is normally sufficient for survival alone to serve this purpose the creative minds working for ‘Auntie Beeb’ had something a bit more tangible in mind. At the very end of the first episode the viewers are introduced to a high tech biological warfare ready laboratory. It becomes clear that these scientists are in some way responsible for the collapse of humanity. This plot device allows for a contrast between the typical in-fighting within the group and the more important and covert danger looming in a secured lab. This infuses the drama with a touch of political intrigue and conspiracy theory alongside the laid bare depiction of the human psyche. It may seem like this series ended prematurely but in typical BBC fashion they think more in terms of limited run series, something that has saved a number of their recent shows. The last moments of the series did leave it open for a continuation had things turned out differently. Even with that the series as a whole was excellent and well worth it.

Posted 05/04/12

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