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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Survivors: Complete Seasons One & Two
Survivors: Complete Seasons One & Two
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // April 27, 2010
List Price: $59.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted May 11, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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The Show:
 
The original version of Survivors was broadcast on the BBC for three seasons between 1975 and 1978.  It was an excellent show, created by Doctor Who scribe Terry Nation, which explored what life would be like if suddenly 99% of the human population died out.  (Read my review of the original show here.)  In 2008 the BBC decided to remake the series and the results were... not that great.  The show lasted for two six-episode seasons, and while the first half dozen were okay, in the second year the program took a nose dive in quality and quickly became wretched.  It has been cancelled by the BBC so this is the complete series.
 
A mysterious flu breaks out, starting in Europe according to the news reports, but soon sweeps its way across the globe.  It's incredibly contagious and very, very deadly.  24 to 48 hours after the first symptoms appear anyone infected dies.  In less than a week over 99% of the world's population is dead. 
 
Not everyone though.  There are a very small number of people who are naturally immune from the disease.  These lucky few, or unlucky depending on how you look at it, find themselves living in a strange world where the rules that they used to know no longer apply.  With no utilities, police, or government, civilization has been thrown back to the Dark Ages, where the strong dominate the weak.
 
The series focuses on one group of people who made it, all of them young and attractive as luck would have it.  (That's one of the great things about the original series... some of the characters were old, and others were thoroughly unappealing visually.  Just like the real world.)  There's Abby, a housewife who is certain that he son, Peter, is still alive (he was off at boarding school when the pandemic hit), Tom, a tough criminal who was in prison when the plague started and killed a guard to get out, Greg, a black engineer, Al, a rich playboy, Anya, a young pretty doctor, and Najid, an 11-year old Muslim boy.  In the first couple of episodes they come together to form a rainbow coalition of survivors and bicker amongst themselves. 
 
The first season, especially the beginning, plays out a lot like the original series.  That's fine, there's really not too many ways you can realistically have society react to having just about everybody die.  Right from the start the show throws a curve ball at viewers by subtly changing what happened from the first series to keep people familiar with the original guessing (and surprised.)
 
One major addition to the new series that works very well is the character of Samantha Willis.  She was a junior minister in the government and the only official at the national level to survive.  She makes her way to an ecologically self-sufficient government research center and tries to rebuild civilization.  She starts off with high hopes and big plans, but as problems arise she finds herself having to compromise her morals in order to keep the vision alive.  She presents an intriguing case of rationalizing that the ends justifying the means.    
 
The bulk of the first season is taken up with the group just managing to survive.  To find food, water and shelter, and fend off attackers.  Unfortunately, that's where the series starts to go wrong.  While in the original series people may have done things differently than I would have, I could at least see their rationale for their actions.  Not so in this case.  Even months after the death of humanity some of the main characters are acting like nothing has happened.  They are attacked FOUR TIMES before anyone thinks to get a gun, and even after that only one person goes around armed.  Even if rifles or shotguns are hard to find in rural England (something I find hard to believe... you'd think there'd be a fair number of hunters) even a group of kids managed to scavenge up a bow, crossbow, and some nasty looking knives.  Why couldn't the main characters? 
 
People also have a tendency to go wandering off alone, something that causes trouble enough times that you'd think they'd start going around in pairs.  But no, even at the end of the series they act like idiots wandering off by themselves.  My favorite eye-rolling moment is a sequence near the end of the second season when Abby thinks she may have seen her son run into a trailer park.  Tom goes in, armed with a gun, calling for the boy by name to come out.  He doesn't say "Your mother is alive and looking for you" or anything like that, just "Peter!  Come out!"  Even a young kid isn't going to come out of hiding because an armed stranger asks him to. 
 
Having said that, I mostly enjoyed the first season.  It was fairly suspenseful and presented some interesting problems for the group to handle.  What do you do with someone you catch stealing from you?  The only options are really to kill them or let them go.  There are also some mysterious scientists who seem to be connected to the virus in some manner.  They only appear for brief scenes, usually at the very end of an episode, and the questions that they raise make the series pretty interesting.
 
Then comes season two.
 
The second season was a huge disappointment.  Instead of focusing on how the main characters live and survive in the new world, the show turns into an action/adventure program where they repeat the same plot devices over and over.  Oh no!  Najid has run off we have to find him (this happened at the end of season 1)  Oh no!  Abby's been kidnapped, we have to find her!  Oh no, Tom's been kidnapped, we have to rescue him!  Oh no, Tom and Greg have been kidnapped, we have to save them!  (Those are actually the plot to the first 2/3 of season two.)
 
Added to that, the plots are propelled forward by an amazing series of coincidences.  Abby is in a building where all the lights are off, but there happens to be an external camera that's still operational that is hooked up to a monitor that just happens to be on.  She just happens to glance at the monitor when someone who looks like her son walks by.  Wow!  Good thing those lucky events all happened to coincide or else the series would have ground to a halt.  Things like that happen over and over again. 
 
The group doesn't worry about food much this season either, it just comes to them automatically.  When they're low on food, they walk into a random office in a high rise building and discover a huge cache of food that no one has laid claim to.  What luck!  When that runs out, they get a semi full of food and supplies!  Then the series ends with one of the most ludicrous standoffs in TV history.  On one side you've got the bad guys who have a fully loaded machine gun AND a sniper on a nearby building.  (Granted he's the world's worst sniper, but still...) On the other side (over a dozen yards away) you have the members of the group, totally unarmed (they still haven't managed to find a knife apparently) possessing something the bad guys want.  So what happens?  The bad guys negotiate and play for time.  What?!!  Just shoot them all, take what you want and leave!  Where did you go to evil villain school? 
 
The one good thing about the second season is though it leaves room for more stories, it doesn't really end in a cliffhanger.  It's implied what happens next, and most of the major plot lines have been resolved.  That's about the only good thing I can think of though.  
 
It's no wonder the rating plummeted during the second season.  The first season had a pretty stead audience of 5 - 5.5 Million people (in the UK), and while season two started off with over 5 million viewers, it quickly fell to less than 4 million.  
 
The DVD:

 
This set contains all 12 hour-long episodes (the very first episode runs 90 minutes) of the series.  (6 for season one and 6 for season two.)
 
Audio:
 
The show comes with a DD stereo soundtrack that fits the show just fine.  The dialog is clean and clear and the music has a nice amount of range.  The main complaint I have is with the mixing of the sound, not the transfer on the DVD.  The music is mixed way to high in some scenes, especially in season two.  It's really intrusive and overbearing, telling viewers aurally what they should be feeling.  If you have to resort to spooky music when someone's walking down a corridor towards a closed door with someone hiding behind it, someone's not doing their job correctly.  
 
Video:
 
The widescreen (1.78:1) anamorphic image looks very good.  The colors are sufficiently strong and the blacks are nice and inky.  The level of detail was very good, better than I was expecting, though fine details weren't as strong in dark areas.  On the digital side of things I have no complaints.  Overall this is a nice looking set.
 
Extras:
 
There are only a few extras, all of them dealing with the first season.  A New World - The Making of Survivors is a featurette that goes behind the scenes and talks with the cast and crew about the show.  It was recorded early in the first season, but it's still interesting.  There's also a featurette on the special effects (which is odd since this isn't an effects heavy show) and a series of character profiles.
 
Final Thoughts:
 
This is a hard one to rate.  Though it was flawed, I enjoyed the first season and would recommend it to fans of post-apocalyptic SF.  I really disliked the second season, and would give that a 'skip it' if it was a stand alone series.  The set retails for nearly $60 for only 12 episodes too, and that's pretty expensive, especially given the lack of quality in season two.  I think you'd be best off just renting it.  
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