Survivors, a British television series which ran for twelve episodes from November 2008 to February 2010, is a post-apocalyptic action-adventure yarn about a misfit group who band together when civilization collapses. Survivors shares its name with a prior television series which ran from 1975-1977, and a 1976 novel, all of which were created by science fiction novelist and screenwriter Terry Nation, who is perhaps best known for his work on the seminal British sci-fi television series Doctor Who.
The premise of Survivors is that a super-virulent flu virus wipes out 99% of the world's population in a matter of days. Civilization collapses as essential government services such as police and utilities, as well as ordinary commercial distribution systems, fail for lack of manpower. For the few survivors who were naturally immune from the virus, the post-apocalyptic world is an uncertain, often scary place. In England, and presumably all across the globe, small bands of survivors form; the show's protagonists comprise one such group.
Strangers before the pandemic, the seven characters thrust together by circumstance are nearly as frequently torn by internal strife as external danger. De facto group leader Abbey (Julie Graham), a middle-aged mother, is searching for her son who was at summer camp when the pandemic hit. Tom (Max Beesley), an escaped convict who proves time and again capable of cold-blooded murder is the most morally complicated of the characters. Greg (Paterson Joseph), a computer engineer by training, initially intends to fend for himself but quickly falls under Abbey's sway, but is leery of Tom. Anya (Zoe Tapper) is a young doctor despondent over the pandemic who initially attempts suicide; compassionate and militantly nonviolent, she is both drawn to and repelled by Tom. Najid (Chahak Patel) is an orphaned eleven-year-old Muslim boy preoccupied with being morally just. Al (Phillip Rhys), an egotistical playboy before the pandemic, finds himself guardian to Najid. Finally, there's Sarah (Robyn Addison), a woman accustomed to using her good looks to further her selfish ends.
The first six episodes, which comprise the first of the show's two seasons, sees the group unite and set up a base of operations in a tony villa. The group's adventures during this first season concern run-ins with Dexter (Anthony Flanagan), a local thug who's claimed the area's resources for himself, and Samantha Willis (Nikki Amuka-Bird) a former government minister who'll do whatever is necessary to retain order at a surviving eco-community. The second season (episodes 7-12) sees the group on the road, still facing run-ins with Dexter and Samantha, but also confronting new challenges from ruthless scientists and their corporate overlords.
For American viewers, perhaps the most surprising element of the series is the group's handwringing over self-defense. Even though the protagonists are constantly in danger, and often held at gunpoint by various baddies, nobody but Tom has any stomach for weapons of any kind, and even he can be convinced to forgo a weapon, or at least ammo, much of the time.
When the protagonists aren't arguing amongst themselves over the morality of carrying weapons, they're usually getting abducted or looking for Najid who's run off. Given how much time has to be devoted to looking for abducted group members it's lucky that food, water and gasoline always prove easy to come by, protestations to the contrary notwithstanding. And, though the characters wear the same clothes for nearly all of the first season, the women never lack for makeup, a curling iron or hair coloring, and Tom and Greg's buzz cuts also remain just so.
Though Terry Nation and Adrian Hodges share writing credit for all twelve episodes, there's a noticeable decline in quality as the series progresses, culminating in one of the worst, most clichéd series finales to grace television. After prior episodes of Abbey being kidnapped, Anya being kidnapped, Sarah almost being kidnapped, Najid running away and then being kidnapped, Tom being imprisoned, Tom and Greg being imprisoned, and then Greg, Abbey, Anya, and Sarah being imprisoned, we have Abbey's lost son Peter (Jack Richardson) being kidnapped by evil scientists. This episode is complete with a trigger-happy Peter shooting Tom and a scientist, killing one and wounding the other, and thereby proving that guns really are dangerous. Also tossed into the mix is an airport runway confrontation between our unarmed protagonists and the armed baddies whereby the good guys win and the bad guys beat a hasty retreat without their captive.
Like many contemporary action-adventure dramas, Survivors spends a lot of time dealing with character motivations and group conflicts. However, with the possible exception of Tom who turns out to be stubbornly wedded to cold-blooded murder, everybody else pretty much follows predictable trajectories, and rarely if ever amount to more than thinly drawn caricatures.
Video & Audio:
MI-5 is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The image is anamorphically enhanced, but suffers from a poor PAL to NTSC conversion resulting in ghosting. Removable English subtitles for the hearing impaired are provided.
Audio is available in 2.0 and 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes. Apart from audio levels for the background score which frequently seems too loud, but is probably just as it was engineered for television, the audio is adequate.
The extras are fairly thin consisting of a conventional half-hour behind the scenes featurette, a separate six-minute featurette devoted to special effects, and another twelve-minutes devoted to profiling Abby, Greg and Tom. Each of these extras contain the usual mix of clips and behind-the-scenes blurbs from the cast and creators.
Even at a brief twelve episodes Survivors outlasted its welcome. Too few interesting ideas were drowned in a sea of action-adventure cliché. With predictable character arcs and weak storylines, Survivors can safely be skipped by most viewers, though it may be worth a rental by the most ardent of post-apocalyptic genre fans.