The Spectator observes Survivors on Britbox

The Spectator - Survivors feature - 21 August 2021 edition

THE LATEST EDITION of the UK political weekly The Spectator (21 August 2021) includes a feature reflecting on the availability of Survivors on the Britbox platform.

The inclusion of all three series of Survivors on Britbox has led to renewed media interest in the show, of which The Spectator‘s TV review is one of the latest examples.

Reviewer James Delingpole relies on many of the familiar ‘isn’t old TV funny, and wasn’t everything gentle and innocent in the old days’ tropes that afflict many contemporary press reflections on Survivors and other shows from the same decade.

He misrepresents Brian Aldiss’ conception of the ‘cosy catastrophe’. Whilst skimming through series one, he’s clearly skipped Corn Dolly (and he has not ventured beyond A Beginning at all). His understanding of 1970s’ Outside Broadcast production techniques is also pretty limited.

However, he does resist the temptation to use any of the tedious comparisons between Survivors and other shows that many of his contemporaries sucuumb to. He also concludes that, from his observations so far, he’d “much rather live in post-apocalyptic 1970s Britain than the much uglier and more freedom-deprived modern one.”

James Delingpole. 2021. ‘Apocalypse, Seventies-style: BritBox Survivors reviewed’, The Spectator, 21 August.

* The online version of The Spectator allows guest access to a small number of free article views without subscription.

Bid to reinstate rail line through Monsal Dale meets opposition

BBC East Midlands Today - report on lobby group aiming to secure funding to reinstate the rail line between Matlock and Buxton - August 2020

A CONTROVERSIAL BID to secure millions of pounds in government funding to reinstate the Matlock to Buxton rail line, along what is now the Monsal Trail, has run into opposition from the public and the Peak Park authority.

The original rail line, which formed part of the connection between London and Manchester, was closed in the 1960s as part of the infamous Beeching cuts which devastated large section of Britain’s rail network. With the tracks removed and the rail tunnels sealed, the section between Buxton and Matlock fell into disuse.

It was in 1977, during the early years of this period of neglect (and before the tunnels had been sealed), that the Monsal valley was selected as an ideal filming location for the third series Survivors episode Mad Dog.

The Headstock Tunnel as seen in the Survivors episode Mad Dog
The Headstock Tunnel as it appeared on screen in 1977 in Survivors episode ‘Mad Dog’

Monsal trail

In recent years, after attracting extensive funding for rennovation, the rail tunnels along this section of the line were repaired and re-opened, and the Monsal Trail developed as a leisure and tourist attraction for walkers, cyclists and horse riders.

The Trail has proved to be an extraordinarily popular location, attracting large numbers of visitors year round, and has succeeded in becoming an important ‘jumping off’ point for those who’ve been encouraged by their experience to explore the Peak District more widely.

Lobby group MEMRAP (the Manchester and East Midlands Rail Action Partnership) has launched a campaign to secure funding for a reinstatement of the old line.

MEMRAP argues that allowing the Monsal Trail to exist solely as a recreational destination means wasting a valuable resource that could be harnessed to “reconnect isolated communities, provide additional capacity for the national railway network (both for passengers and freight), and help Derbyshire to meet its carbon emissions targets”.

MEMRAP are backing the work of the Peak and Dales Rail campaign, which claims that trains could be running over the Monsal viaduct once again by 2030.

Feasibility questions

The group’s proposals will, the Peak and Dales Rail campaign hopes, persuade central and local government to fund a full feasibility study and detailed construction plan.

If approved, MEMRAP hopes that the multi-million pound costs of the construction of the line (which would include bridge building, flood management, and major earth works) would come from “private investment […] or from national government, or indeed from some combination.”

If the project secured funding, access to the tunnels and to the viaduct by pedestrians and others would face the axe. MEMRAP chief executive Stephen Chaytow said he did not want to see “the Monsal Trail lost” entirely and its proposals would see the Trail retained in “some capacity”.

It’s clear however that, were the rail reinstatement to go ahead, leisure access to the Monsal Trail would be sharply curtailed and the experience transformed out of all recognition by the primacy that a live bi-directional train service would have to secure in the limited space available.

Peak authority sceptical

The Peak District National Park Authority remains entirely unconvinced by MEMRAP’s plans. A 2019 study by the Authority found that the easily-accessible trails available in the National Park played host to “more than half a million visits each year from walkers, cyclists and horse riders.” Of those 500,000 annual visitors, 330,000 made use of the Monsal Trail.

The organisation’s Conservation and Planning Director John Scott insists the railway line and the Trail are simply “incompatible”.

“It’s hard to see how you can have the railway back and have the Trail experience as it is at the moment,” he explained to the BBC.

Save the Monsal Trail petition banner

The proposals have sparked opposition from individuals and groups entirely unconvinced by MEMRAP’s cost-benefit calculations. A Help Save the Monsal Trail petition on the site has already (by 20 November 2020) attracted more than 10,500 signatures.

It’s difficult to tell at present, if MEMRAP’s proposals have any credibility or traction. An application has been submitted to the Department for Transport’s Restoring Your Railway ‘Ideas Fund’, with the backing of two sponsoring MPs Robert Largan (High Peak) and Nigel Mills (Amber Valley).

Train traction

The bid will, however, be in competition with other rail reinstatement proposals from across the country, many of which will not be accompanied with the same kind of eye-watering price tag, unproven economic rationale or impassioned local opposition that the MEMRAP plan will have to confront.

Countless major infrastructure ‘projects’ (particularly those which originate from private organisations and lobby groups) fail to secure funding or official backing and grind to a halt at the “feasibility study” stage.

The proposal can though count on some local rail-enthusiast support. A competing Re-open the Railway between Matlock, Bakewell, Buxton and Manchester petition on has attracted thousands of signatures. Tellingly, the statement accompanying the petition is silent on the fate of the Monsal Trail in the event that the line is brought back into use.

East Midlands Today – 18 August 2020
East Midlands Today (late evening news summary) – 18 August 2020
East Midlands Today – 29 August 2020

Earlier echoes

As the debate continues, it’s impossible not to reminded of the controversy that greeted the construction of the Monsal viaduct and the building of the rail line back in 1863. The celebrated critic and social commentator John Ruskin famously denounced what he saw as the witless desecration of the valley’s beauty in the name of “progress”:

“The valley is gone, and the Gods with it; and now, every fool in Buxton can be in Bakewell in half an hour, and every fool in Bakewell at Buxton; which you think a lucrative process of exchange – you Fools everywhere.”

John Ruskin, 1871. Fors Clavigera: Letters to the Workmen and Labourers of Great Britain.

Once opened, trains ran across the viaduct and through the valley for around 100 years before the Beeching cuts led to the lines being ripped out. Over time, the viaduct that Ruskin had considered such a monstrosity blended into the landscape of the Monsal valley, and became an integral part of one of the Peak District’s most recognisable and acclaimed vistas. Within ten years of the line’s closure, its impressive spans and brickwork had secured Grade II Listed Building status.

Fans of Survivors might well find themselves torn in relation to the rail reinstatement plan. While the return of trains to the Monsal valley would almost certainly render key Mad Dog filming locations inaccessible once more, and compromise the gentle tranquility of the valley, there is one other consideration.

Charles Vaughan and Greg Preston were both enthusiastic advocates for the reactivation of dormant rail services across post-Death Britain (admittedly in legacy, steam-powered form). In Survivors, it was Charles and Greg who were most determined to “get a national network going”.

Survivors feature in November SFX

The opening two page Survivors spread from the November 2020 edition of SFX magazine

A FOUR-PAGE FEATURE on Survivors, that includes comments from Carolyn Seymour, Lucy Fleming and Ian McCulloch, appears in the November issue of SFX magazine.

Written by Steve O’Brien, who’s recently published articles on the 2008-10 Survivors remake in The Guardian and SFX, the piece attempts to summarise the history of the original series forty-five years on from its original transmission.

Those with a reasonable knowledge of Survivors won’t learn much that’s new from the feature, which includes several familiar anecdotes and quotations. There is a tiny bit more on Seymour’s departure from the show, on Terry Nation’s relationship with Terry Dudley, and on McCulloch’s abortive remake attempt, but no major new insights.

O’Brien does introduce what might be a new example of the third journalistic faux pas listed in the How to Annoy a Survivors Fan spotter’s guide (‘Make lazy, repetitive and ill-informed comparisons between Survivors and other shows’) . He describes the Whitecross era as pulling the series ‘more in the direction of Countryfile than Mad Max.’

In a short interview with David Richardson, the producer of the Big Finish Survivors audio range confirms that there are currently no plans for further instalments. With Big Finish’s run of full-cast Survivors audios coming to an end with the ninth series, there were some hopes that the show might continue on audio in the form of single-voice audio books – a transition that some other properties in the Big Finish range have made. That possibility now appears to be ruled out.

Survivors remake retrospective in SFX magazine

Survivors remake retrospective feature in SFX August 2020, No 329

THE AUGUST 2020 edition of SFX magazine features a six-page retrospective feature on Adrian Hodges’ 2008-10 remake of Survivors.

The article includes recollections and reminiscences from Hodges, Paterson Joseph (Greg Preston), Julie Graham (Abby Grant) and Robyn Addison (Sarah Boyer).

It’s clear from the feature that Hodges’ disappointment at the abrupt cancellation of the show at the close of the second series is still keenly felt. Although he suggests that the Survivors‘ prospects suffered as a result of management changes at the BBC, he concedes that lower-than-hoped-for viewing figures played a key role in the axeing of Survivors. “The show had probably not managed to get the kind of numbers the BBC wanted,” he reflects, “it certainly wasn’t a show that had a massive audience.”

As the showrunner Hodges reveals some of the key components of his plans for the show if a third (and subsequent) series had been commisioned.

He also accepts that closing the second series with a (now never to be resolved) cliffhanger left many loyal viewers dissatisfied. “With the benefit of hindsight, I perhaps should have given it a slightly more rounded ending”, Hodges says.

Written by Steve O’Brien, research for the SFX feature also informed the brief retrospective on the Survivors remake published in The Guardian back in May.

Steve O’Brien. 2020. ‘Survivors unseen’, SFX, No 329, August, pp.60-65.

Original series discussed in Guardian article on Survivors remake

“I COULDN’T WATCH that first season again. It’s too harrowing,” says Adrian Hodges of the remake of Survivors shown on BBC One in 2008. “It’s so close to what we’re going through now.”

In an interview in the Guardian, with genre journalist Steve O’Brien, Hodges looks back at the reception and impact of his remake of Terry Nation’s classic 1970s’ original tale of post-apocalyptic survival.

Illustrated with one of the familiar publicity shots of the original three series’ leads from third episode Gone Away, a short section of the article compares the revival with the original.

In doing so, O’Brien only commits three of the regular journalistic faux pas documented in How to annoy a Survivors fan.

When it’s suggested that, in depicting the impact of a global pandemic on screen more than ten years in advance of its real-world arrival, Hodges should be seen as a “prophet”, he disagrees. “I don’t think I am,” Hodges tells O’Brien. “It’s Terry Nation who should be called that.” 

Steve O’Brien. 2020. “‘I couldn’t watch it now’: Survivors was the pandemic drama years ahead of its time”, Guardian, 26 May.

Entertainment Focus enjoys a full rewatch of Survivors

Portraits of Abby Grant, Tom Price, Greg Preston, Charles Vaughan, Jenny Richards and Arthur Russell by artists Tom Bailey - illustrating the critical rewatch of Survivors by Entertainment Focus
Portraits of Abby Grant, Tom Price, Greg Preston, Charles Vaughan, Jenny Richards and Arthur Russell by artist Tom Bailey

TWO JOURNALISTS FROM Entertainment Focus have recently been enjoying a full rewatch of all 38 episodes of Survivors from all three series of the show, and sharing their thoughts, criticisms and observations in a series of linked articles in the online magazine.

Good-humoured, interesting, sometimes contentious, but usually well-informed, Greg Jameson and Samuel Payne began their journey with The Fourth Horseman several weeks ago and are working their way right through to Power.

The five linked articles published so far take the form of a conversation between the two. As you track their critical rewatch through each of the three series, you’ll find yourself nodding in vigorous agreement at some points, and shaking your head in disbelief at others – but then that’s a key part of the fun in hearing someone else’s perspective on what might well be your favourite TV show.

As well as screen-shots from different episodes, the series includes an original artwork by Tom Bailey – which presents six portrait caricatures of Abby Grant, Tom Price, Greg Preston, Charles Vaughan, Jenny Richards and Arthur Russell (see above).

Series one

Series two

Series three

Portraits of Sam, the Laird, Alec, Agnes, Brod and Hubert from series three of Survivors by artist Tom Bailey

Survivors ‘reaction videos’

There’s a different perspective on the early episodes of Survivors‘ first series in the form of a new set of ‘reaction videos’ available on YouTube. ‘Reaction videos’ are now a common format of fan participation on the platform. In them, fans video their reactions to watching film and TV shows, so the viewer sees their responses to the drama as it unfolds on-screen.

YouTuber medusa cascade produces ‘reaction videos’ exploring a variety of sci-fi, cult and TV shows, and has uploaded her responses to the first nine episodes of series one of Survivors. Each video is a 10-15 minute edit of the highlights of each episode view. Medusa Cascade is new to Survivors so her reactions are those of a first time viewer – and she has a particularly intense and emotional reaction to seeing Law and Order for the first time.

Celebration of Big Finish’s Survivors audios in new Divergent Wordsmiths eBook

A NEW eBOOK published today by the Divergent Wordsmiths team, celebrating twenty years of creative audio work by Big Finish, includes a chapter on the company’s acclaimed nine series of original Survivors adventures.

Written by Rich Cross, the editor of the Survivors: A World Away site, the short chapter recounts the development, release and reception of the 36 new Survivors audio dramas released between 2013 and 2019.

Other chapters in the book focus on Big Finish’s Torchwood, Doctor Who and other related releases.

The Meaning of Big Finish, edited by Alan Camlann is completely free to download from the Divergent Wordsmiths site.

Alan Camlann (ed). 2019. The Meaning of Big Finish. Divergent Wordsmiths.

Divergent Wordsmiths - The Meaning of Big Finish - front cover
Divergent Wordsmiths - The Meaning of Big Finish - Table of Contents
Divergent Wordsmiths - The Meaning of Big Finish - extract from Survivors chapter

Survivors series eight audios – Cultbox review published

Big Finish - Survivors - series eight - cover art

A FIVE-STAR REVIEW of the eighth series of Big Finish’s Survivors audios, written by the editor of the Survivors: A World Away site, has been posted on Cultbox.

The review explores some of the distinctive elements of this penultimate series in the current Survivors audio run:

As well as introducing a key new protagonist whose fate becomes entangled with Abby Grant’s and Jenny Richards’ own, series eight also makes good on the much-trailed reunion between Abby and the son she has been searching for since the outbreak of The Death some four years earlier: Peter Grant. It’s a gambit that pays off brilliantly, with each of the four stories offering fresh perspectives on the world that the survivors of Britain now inhabit – as the plague recedes into recent history.

After revisiting the storylines and the in-studio realisation of each of the four episodes, the review concludes by acknowledging the sense of anticipation that now surrounds the upcoming finale.

With series nine confirmed as the end of the line for the current run of Survivors audios, Big Finish can focus on delivering a fitting final reckoning for what is indisputably one of the most compelling, insightful and thought-provoking audio series that the company has yet produced.

The ninth and final series of Big Finish’s full-cast Survivors audios is released in June 2019 and is available to pre-order in both download and CD formats, direct from the Big Finish web site.

Rich Cross. 2019. ‘Big Finish: Survivors series eight review,’ Cultbox,
26 February

The ninth and final series of Big Finish’s full-cast Survivors audios is released in June 2019 and is available to pre-order in both download and CD formats, direct from the Big Finish web site.

Series one to series eight of Survivors audios are still available for purchase from the Big Finish site, along with the audiobook version of Terry Nation’s 1976 Survivors novel, voiced by Carolyn Seymour.

‘Gone Fishing…’ in the Monsal Mad Dog valley

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - title plate

THE MONSAL VALLEY filming locations used in the classic third series Survivors story Mad Dog featured in an episode of Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing shown on BBC Two earlier this month.

The BBC’s cameras (at both ground and drone level) took in shots of the valley floor, the valley’s bridges, the viaduct, the weir and (of course, given the subject matter) the river Wye as it meanders its way through the valley.

The series shows the efforts of comedians Bob Mortimer and Paul Whitehouse to fish in a variety of locations (with Whitehouse as the expert and Mortimer as his apprentice). With both of them having to adjust their lives after recovering from major heart surgery, the pair spend as much time joking, teasing one another and reflecting on their lot as they do attempting to catch-and-release fish.

Episode three “Rainbow Trout – Derbyshire Wye” was first shown on BBC Two at 22:00 on 4 July 2018, and will be available on the BBC’s iPlayer (for viewers in the UK) for thirty days following transmission.

A fully-illustrated guide to all of the Monsal Valley filming locations used in Survivors can be found on the Survivors: Mad Dog site.

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - the bridge close to Netherdale Farm

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - Paul Whitehouse and Bob Mortimer

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - the Monsal valley

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - the Monsal valley floor, looking towards the viadcut

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - the bridge near Upperdale House

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - Bob Mortimer shares the Wye with a farmer's cow

Mortimer & Whitehouse: Gone Fishing - the Weir in the Monsal valley

‘British Invaders’ sci-fi podcast discusses Big Finish Survivors audios

British Invaders - podcasts

THE BRITISH INVADERS sci-fi podcast team have dedicated the two most recent shows (episodes 270 and 271) to discussing the first six series of Big Finish’s Survivors audio dramas.

The podcasters, who previously discussed the original Survivors TV series in a 2011 edition, turn their attention to the audio incarnation of Survivors, discussing themes, characters, realisation, sound design, plot and more. Each instalment addresses three series (Part 1 – series 1-3; Part 2 – series 4-6).

Spoiler alert: both instalments are highly complimentary and enthusiastic about Big Finish’s Survivors imprint. Although some key plot points and character developments are revealed along the way, this is more of an introductory overview. For detailed synopses and reviews of all of the episodes released so far, head over to the Episodes section of the Big Finish: Survivors mini-site.

Listeners can stream or download the content; and subscribe to the podcast series on iTunes or through another pod capture service.

British Invaders 270: Big Finish Survivors (Part 1)

Survivors was Terry Nation’s post-apocalyptic drama from the 1970s. Big Finish Productions is now producing brand new Survivors audio dramas with original cast members and some new characters. This time, we discuss these audios (10 September 2017). [Listen to the episode on the British Invaders site]

British Invaders 271: Big Finish Survivors (Part 2)

Survivors was a 1970s BBC post-apocalyptic series created by Terry Nation. Big Finish Productions is now producing Survivors audio dramas with new characters along with some of the originals. We are discussing the audios (24 September 2017). [Listen to the episode on the British Invaders site]