“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.
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.”
TODAY MARKS THE twentieth anniversary of Survivors‘ last appearance on British TV.
Beginning in 1993, the entire three-series run of Survivors enjoyed several repeat showings on the satellite-cable channel UK Gold. As the BBC never ran repeats of Survivors, this was the first time that the programme had been seen on British television since Survivors‘ original transmission on BBC 1 between 1975 and 1977.
The final transmission on UK Gold concluded, with the broadcast of series three finale “Power”, shortly after midnight on Monday 27 April 1998. This concluding episode was preceded by an episode of the satirical puppet show Spitting Image and followed by an instalment of crime drama The Equalizer.
Today (9 March) is the twentieth anniversary of the death of Survivors‘ creator Terry Nation, who died from emphysema in Los Angeles, US on 9 March 1997 at the age of 66.
Nation enjoyed a long and varied career as a scriptwriter and show creator, notable for his contributions to Doctor Who and his work on numerous other TV series throughout the sixties and seventies and into the eighties. As well as creating Blake’s 7, Nation also devised the small-screen post-apocalyptic classic Survivors.
After he relocated to Los Angeles in 1980, Nation tried unsuccessfully to convince a US TV network to remake Survivors for the American TV market. Nation could hardly have imagined what would have become of Doctor Who in the last two decades, but the story of Survivors has also continued to evolve in ways the series’ creator could not possibly have anticipated, including:
The release of Survivors on DVD in different formats and packages, and for different regions, in the UK, America, Australia and Italy
The release of the first ever audio-book version of his Survivors novel by Big Finish in 2014, voiced by Survivors actress Carolyn Seymour (Abby Grant)
The release of a series of new and original audio-adventures, set in the time and place of the original Survivors TV series, and involving the three original core stars of the show: Carolyn Seymour, Lucy Fleming (Jenny Richards) and Ian McCulloch (Greg Preston). This audio series will result in, at a minimum, 36 new original episodes, with releases (which began in 2013) now confirmed to continue until at least the end of 2018
The publication of two book exploring Nation’s talents as a scriptwriter (including his work on Survivors) – Jonathan Bignell and Andrew O’Day. 2004. Terry Nation, Manchester: Manchester University Press; and Alwyn W Turner, 2001 Terry Nation: The Man Who Invented the Daleks, London: Aurum
The cover design of the forthcoming Doomwatch DVD box-set has been published by Simply Media. The title is not yet listed on the Simply Media site, but is available for pre-order on Amazon and other online retailer sites. The Doomwatch DVD boxset (containing all of the remaining episodes from all three series and the 2006 BBC documentary The Cult of… Doomwatch) is released on 4 April 2016.
Celebrated edge-of-the-apocalypse drama (and Survivors pregenitor) Doomwatch will secure its first full DVD release in April 2016, when a boxset of all remaining episodes is released by Simply Media.
Doomwatch was produced by Survivors producer Terry Dudley, and several of its scriptwriters (Don Shaw, Roger Parkes and Martin Worth), and directors (including Eric Hills and Pennant Roberts) would go on to work on Survivors. Numerous Survivors cast members (including Stephen Dudley, Talfryn Thomas, Julie Neubert, Eileen Helsby, Lorna Lewis, Robert Gillespie and many others) appeared on-screen in Doomwatch.
With many Doomwatch episodes long-since lost from the archives, the Simply Media boxset will include all twenty-four of the surviving stories (across all three series of the show), including the infamous and never-transmitted Sex and Violence. Released on 4 April 2016, the new boxset will also include the 2006 BBC Four documentary The Cult of… Doomwatch. Says Simply Media:
Doomwatch was devised by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, who had previously worked together on the science-fiction programme Doctor Who, and who were responsible for creating the part-human, part-machine race known as the Cybermen. The Department of Observation and Measurement of Scientific Work – nicknamed ‘Doomwatch’ – is a section of the Ministry of National Security whose remit is to act as a watchdog group investigating current scientific work, and ensuring that the welfare of the general public and the environmental is not compromised. It is led by Doctor Spencer Quist, a gruff and no-nonsense Nobel Prize-winning mathematician who is assisted by Doctor John Ridge, a chemist in his late thirties who is not only a ladies’ man, but who also has a shady past and connections to MI6 and Toby Wren, a physics postgraduate from Cambridge played by Robert Powell.
In an October 2014 edition of Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast, which features guest Mark Gatiss, the pair (briefly) discuss their shared 1970s’ obsession with Terry Nation’s Survivors, with Gatiss recalling his memories of series one episode Corn Dolly, which introduces Denis Lill’s character Charles Vaughan.
It’s gentle and largely dignified, as one would expect from two middle-aged men with colds and bad backs.
The current issue of Wargames Illustrated magazine (Issue 333, July 2015), contains a four-page illustrated feature by Gary Mitchell which presents “some gaming ideas based upon a very British post-apocalypse world, complete with campaign and scenario ideas and character archetypes still to be found in similar works today.”
Mitchell suggests that Survivors “is gritty, realistic and bleak. It reflects technological meltdown, social collapse, nihilism and the prevailing pessimistic view of the future.” To explore the many gaming conflicts this scenario offers, Mitchell has designed “a campaign for a number of players. Although based upon the UK, Survivors could easily be adapted for any post-apocalyptic situation”.
The resulting game outline is not based on the characters or plotlines of Terry Nation’s original conception of Survivors, but draws inspiration from its setting. Those familiar with the culture and practices of wargaming will be able to distill the gaming opportunities outlined by Mitchell.
Today (16 April 2015) is the fortieth anniversary of the original broadcast of “The Fourth Horseman” (the opening episode of the first series of Survivors). The first ever episode of Survivors was shown at 20:10 on Wednesday 16 April 1975 on BBC 1, and was seen by just over 7m viewers. “The Fourth Horseman” was written by Survivors‘ creator Terry Nation, directed by Pennant Roberts, and introduced the characters of Abby Grant (Carolyn Seymour) and Jenny Richards (Lucy Fleming) – the character of Greg Preston (Ian McCulloch) was introduced in the second episode (“Genesis”).
In The End of the World? The Unofficial and Unauthorised Guide to Survivors, the authors introduce their review of the episode as follows:
“The Fourth Horseman” must rank as one of Terry Nation’s finest single scripts, and sets an incredibly high standard for the drama that will follow. The opening episode of a new drama series imposes multiple challenges for the television writer: the series’ premise must be established; key characters introduced; and audience interest in the fate of the programme’s central characters secured. In the case of Survivors, Nation is required to achieve all that, whilst at the same time evoking a plausible picture of a global catastrophe using only the personal experiences of a few disparate individuals. In doing so, as Anthony Brown observed in DWB in 1993, he ‘avoids all the clichés of disaster fiction.’
Tony Robinson’s Channel 4 show Walking Through History is the latest documentary series to revisit the Monsal Dale filming locations used in the classic third series Survivors episode Mad Dog.
New episode ‘King John’s Ruin: Peak District‘ sees Robinson visiting Monsal Dale to discuss the king’s troubled reign with historian Lauren Johnson. The episode includes impressive aerial views of the viaduct and valley.
Monsal Dale also featured in recent installments of BBC Four’s Tales from the National Parks and BBC Two’s Ian Hislop’s Olden Days.
The very wonderful 1981 BBC screen adaptation of the John Wyndham classic The Day of the Triffids is enjoying a repeat broadcast on BBC Four in November and December, as part of the BBC’s Science Fiction Season. The first two episodes of this six part series were shown on BBC Four at 20:00 and 20:30 this evening (23 November), with episodes three and four to follow at the same time next Sunday, and the two concluding episodes wrapping the story up the following week. All of the episodes will be available (after transmission) through the BBC iPlayer until 23 December 2014.