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TV: Survivors (BBC1)

Handy if you want to know how to catch a chicken come the apocalypse

Published on December 1st 2008.


TV: Survivors (BBC1)

NEXT time I hear someone get sniffly on the bus, I will remember the virus in Survivors and I will know that the end is, if not nigh, then certainly nigh-ish.

Actually the flu in BBC 1's slick new post-apocalyptic drama Survivors was less of an achy limbs and Lemsip sort of job, more an instant fatigue, sudden lumps and then promptly dropping dead kind of affair.

As the plague swept the country bringing the infrastructure to a halt and wiping out millions, it gave producers the chance to have masses of people expiring in all sorts of inconvenient circumstances: whilst praying in a mosque; during a one night stand; and for imprisoned bad boy Tom (Max Beesley) in the adjacent bunk of his cell.

Is it actually illegal to set a drama in Manchester and not cast Max Beesley? I feel sure there is definitely a statute somewhere. Anyway, here he is, looking all menacing and oddly attractive for a man with a neck that size. Along with Beesley's sociopathic crim, survivors of the flu epidemic include Abby (Julie Graham) who believes her son may have survived the outbreak, rich playboy Al (Phillip Rhys) whose only concern is where he's going to get a new jacket, and Greg (Paterson Joseph), a reluctant member of the gang who seems to be grimly relishing a stripped down future of working the land and communicating via semaphore.

A re-imagining of a 1970s TV series, Survivors is a good looking piece of television, although there are a few niggles. For one, all those shots of lone vehicles driving through majestic scenery give it the look of a car commercial. Also, several scenes appear to have been taken from the giddy boys list of top ten things you'd do if no-one could stop you - driving a car through a plate glass window, playing football on the motorway and such like.

But while the series was not entirely gripping at first - it's hard to feel a shiver of dread when faced with a sign saying "All trams are suspended" - the tension grew steadily, with the first episode getting a bit Twilight Zone before culminating in a rather Lost-esque twist in the form of a bunch of secret scientists in quarantine gear who may or may not have engineered the whole thing.

By Episode Two the disparate survivors had banded together and found a place to live. Going shopping - or looting as it is now known - they also discovered that rival gangs had lain claim to the local food stocks and were guarding it with murderous ferocity.

In an instance like this, it's handy to have Beesley's character on board.

Tom is quite an ambiguous character. He started out as a very sinister chap; in the first episode we saw him knife a prison guard to death and make a move on a young traumatized girl. But there seem to be signs that the apocalyptic plague may have had a positive effect on Tom's idea of morality and, by Episode Two he was rescuing his fellow survivors from certain death, reflecting on the breakdown of civilization and baking everyone scones. Okay, perhaps not that last bit but only because there is no electricity to cook them with.

All in all, it's mounting up to be an engaging, if not exactly groundbreaking, series, with lots of implicit warnings that our childlike dependence on technology and our increasing separation from nature is leaving us dangerously vulnerable in a world which, stripped of its conveniences, we don't really understand.

I like to think I could grow a turnip, if it came to it and so I am officially gripped. Will Abby find her son? Will the survivors discover Tom's psychopathic streak? How long will it take for a Tesco Metro to open? There's only one way to find out.

Survivors, Tuesday, 9pm, BBC 1 Nicola Mostyn

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