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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » Survivors: Complete Original Series 1975-1977
Survivors: Complete Original Series 1975-1977
BBC Worldwide // Unrated // April 27, 2010
List Price: $79.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted May 8, 2010 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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The Show:
I first heard of Survivors through some long lost Doctor Who magazine or fanzine.  The post apocalyptic show (a favorite sub-genre of mine) was created by Terry Nation the brilliant mind behind many of the best classic Doctor Who adventures (he created the Daleks) as well as Blake's 7, and I couldn't wait to see it.  Well, it turns out that I had to wait a couple of decades before I was able to track down the series, but eventually I did and was rewarded with a smart, entertaining, and very engrossing look at what life might be like after 99% of humanity dies.  Now, at long last, the original series (it was recently remade... I'll be reviewing that too in a week or so) has been released on DVD here in the US thanks to the BBC.  While I'm not enamored with the double sided discs that the series was released on, it's still a great program and well worth picking up.

As is related during the opening credits, a scientist accidently drops a flask and breaks it, and gets unknowingly contaminated with an artificial virus.  Traveling to a conference in another country, he soon infects enough people to spread the disease across the globe.  People soon start dying in every country, and though scientists try to come up with a cure or vaccine, there just isn't enough time.  In a matter of days 99% of the world has been killed, only the few who have a natural immunity survive.
For the few survivors, life would never be the same again.  With no electricity, water system, or police people have been reduced to a pre-technological method of living.  Though it's easy to find canned and preserved food in stores and the houses of the dead, which soon starts to run out, and people band together for protection, comfort, and to share the arduous task of surviving off the land.

The series follows one such group.  Abby Grant was a typical housewife who came down with the disease and somehow survived.  Her husband is dead but her son, Peter, was away at boarding school.  She knows in her heart that he's still alive and starts to look for him.  She soon meets up with Greg, an engineer, and a young woman Jenny.  After encountering paramilitary groups, bandits, and a man obsessed with repopulating the Earth (by impregnating every woman he encounters) the group realize that they must band together and find a place where they can farm the land, raise animals, and defend themselves.  They eventually find a large estate house with land, called The Grange, which is more than ample for their needs.
As the first season progresses, other people join the small commune:  The Welsh hobo, Tom Price who is fond of drink, a scheming, selfish, and callous woman named Anne, a retarded man named Barney, and the attractive and kind-hearted Wendy.  They all come from different backgrounds and their personalities sometimes clash, but they have a common goal of scratching out an existence in the new scarcely inhabited Earth.

The second season saw the departure of creator Terry Nation, and there was a slight drop in the overall quality of the show, but it is still a strong, well written program. 
Season two starts out with a disaster:  the Grange burns down.  There are some casualties, but life goes on.  Without shelter the group has few options and they finally decide to join another community several days travel away.  It's another small group, and there are some tensions at first.  Life in the new world is explored as a large group of survivors are discovered in London, and a Parson arrives who wants to start up regular religious services.  The work load is also very high, it takes a lot of time and energy to farm, and that causes some strife in the group as well.  In addition to all of this, there are sanitation problems, and rats, some carrying the plague, cause more than a little trouble.
The series ends with a surprising twist and a main character leaves to investigate the possibility of trade with other counties.
The final season was the weakest of the three but still presented a very good SF story.   The member who left (it's not really a big surprise, but I don't want to spoil it with revealing who it is) is rumored to have returned to England and two of characters set off in search of him.  They meet a lot of different groups of survivors, and it's clear that civilization has not died out, and is coming back.

This is a great series, with a nice overall story arc that's ultimately uplifting.  The brilliance of the show is that it manages to pull the viewer in, especially in the first season, and make them wonder what they'd do in such circumstances.  How would you run a community?  What would you do if you caught someone stealing?
The best episodes in the series deal with moral grey areas, and how hard it would be to make the right choices.  The most haunting installment deals with justice.  After having a party to celebrate surviving the long winter, Wendy is found in her room dead.  She was stabbed to death after being raped.  The last person she was seen with at the party was Barney.  They were dancing together but Wendy left after she got tired and Barney kept pestering her to dance some more.  A quick search is made and Barney can't be found in the house, and when he's tracked down to the nearby woods, he has blood on his hands.
A trial is held but Barney, being retarded and almost totally unable to talk, doesn't understand what's being asked of him and can't defend himself.  He's found guilty, but what can be done with him?  They can't lock him up and keep him fed; they have enough trouble feeding the people who are working.  Exiling him isn't a solution either, as he may rape and kill someone else.  During a fierce dispute that nearly destroys the community, Greg successfully argues that Barney has to be executed.  He is taken out into the yard and shot.
The problem is that Barney is innocent.  Wracked with guilt, Tom eventually confesses to Greg that he's the rapist/murderer.  Barney was his best friend and he can't live with the pain of knowing that he caused his death.  But, if Greg admits that he was wrong and killed an innocent person, the community will disintegrate.  He's left with few choices. 
This is a great series that asks a lot of tough questions.  The show doesn't have anything in the way of fancy special effects, but with a strong script and top-notch actors you don't need eye candy.  It's well worth checking out.
The DVD:

All three seasons (38 episodes) are contained on 6 DVDs, five of them double-sided affairs.  These come in a fold out booklet with two overlapping disc on each of the three pages.  I'm not a fan of double sided discs, and even less so of overlapping cases, but there's not much I can do about the less than ideal packaging.
The show is presented with its original mono soundtrack that sounds very good given the time the show was made.  The dialog is clear though sometime American viewers might have trouble with the accents, mainly with the minor characters.  The range is adequate, thought it was limited by the technology of the time.  There are subtitles for the hearing impared.
The full frame color image looked better than I was expecting it to.  The picture was quite clear and the level of detail was fine.  The colors weren't bright but realistic and the flesh tones looked good.  There weren't any print defects and things on the digital side looked nice as well.  Overall it's a good looking collection.
The set comes with only a few extras.  There are a couple of photo galleries scattered across the discs, and a 2006 documentary on the series, The Cult of... Survivors.  This roughly half hour featurette was a nice, if a bit too brief, look at the show with members of the cast and crew reminiscing about their times on the set. 
Final Thoughts:
This is a classic SF show that has largely been ignored on these shores.  I'm pretty sure it was never shown on broadcast TV here in the states. (Update: I've been informed that it was shown on at least some PBS stations in the late 80's/early 90's. Thanks to Chris K for the information!)   Hopefully this set will bring a new set of fans to this great program.  Highly recommended.
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