In April 1975, a Television series written by Terry Nation (creator of The Daleks) hit British TV screens. It wasn’t like anything I, as a sci-fi-loving 16-year old, had ever seen before. Over three seasons, it told the story of a group of people who had survived a man-made plague which brings humanity to the brink of extinction. I was enthralled.
So… you know what it’s like when you remember a show/film/book you loved as a child/young adult, and you wonder if you should revisit it, or keep it as a fond memory, because just perhaps it won’t have aged well? I decided to be brave and take the plunge, and invested in a box set of all three seasons (thank you, Amazon). No wonky VHS tapes, thank goodness! “We’re re-watching ‘Survivors’,” I told my long-suffering husband. He didn’t argue.
Would it stand the test of time? Gentle reader, I am here to tell you that (mostly) it does! Production values were different in the ’70’s, of course, and I have to say there are a few cringe-worthy moments (mostly involving dialogue), and the pacing is rather slow compared to today’s sometimes frenetic drama. It was also slightly strange without the sometimes omniscient music we are accustomed to (and occasionally complain about), but there is no doubt but that music does help to heighten emotion. Without it, the action can sometimes feel a bit like a fly-on-the-wall documentary!
As I write this, we have watched Seasons 1 & 2 (I have no memory of watching the second series when it originally aired, but I’m sure I must have. My husband is certain he didn’t) and are about to start the 3rd and final season.
Overall I think ‘Survivors’ has aged well – the story is as engaging today as it was then, and still as thought-provoking. What do you do when you think you’ve caught a murderer but there is no legal system, no police, anymore? Should all women of child-bearing age have children to ensure the survival of the species, even if they don’t have a permanent partner and may not particularly want to be a mother? How do you learn survival skills when the nearest library is miles away and in a rat/wild dog-infested state? What do you do with power-crazy individuals who want to set up a protection racket in your vicinity? What do you do without medicines, antibiotics, electricity? An awful lot of people would die; certainly anyone who relies on regular medication for good health (I am one). People living in cities would very quickly run out of food, sanitation would very quickly become a problem.
The one area where ‘Survivors’ fails to be completely realistic (apart from occasionally rather clunky/dated dialogue) is actually the very thing which would have insured a very short series, and throughout our re-watch my husband would make remarks about it. It got a bit annoying! After a year, the survivors are Getting On With It and managing subsistence farming pretty well. Except, as my husband says, in reality they would probably soon be dead or dying of radiation exposure…. Think about it: Britain today has seven active nuclear power stations, and about the same number of inactive ones. All fourteen need constant monitoring to ensure they don’t dry out and explode (as happened in Chernobyl in 1986). In a ‘Survivors’ scenario, where the majority of the population have died of the plague, it would not be more than a year before the UK’s nuclear power stations became instruments of death. Radiation would enter the water table and the atmosphere – after the Chernobyl disaster, sheep in North Wales were found to be contaminated with fall-out which had been carried on the wind. Are you scared yet?
Having said that, I can understand why Terry Nation decided (as he must have done) to ignore the nuclear threat – it would have made for a very depressing drama if his characters survived the plague only to be wiped out by radiation poisoning a few months later!
So if you like post-apocalyptic drama, and don’t mind it being slightly dated (but what fun to be reminded of Life Before the Mobile Phone!) then I would recommend having a box-set binge. You can pick up used box sets on eBay or buy it new on Amazon.
Thanks for reading!
Post Script: It is now January 2019. I wrote this in September 2018, and it has languished in my ‘Drafts’ folder ever since. Oops! So, we did finish the third series, and enjoyed it. Truly a classic.