BBC1 - 2nd December 2008 - 9.00pm
Is Abby slightly mad? She decides to pop out to do a bit of shopping on her own in a plague riddled post apocalyptic wilderness full of rather dubious people with big guns. Didn't she learn anything last week at the other end of a shot gun? Apparently not.
Whilst she nips out to local Netto again, Tom, a smoulderingly good Max Beesley, and Greg, erm...a smoulderingly good Paterson Joseph, decide to go in for a bit of male bonding whilst out tracking down some petrol. And then throw in the C plot about Najid and his bloody chickens and you've got quite a nicely structured episode that's actually a bit of a relief from the last two episodes which were more or less about introducing the characters and setting up their relationships to each other. What's slightly annoying is that this takes two sub-plots from the original TV series and weaves them together, the fear of contamination from the outside world that featured in Gone To The Angels and the moralising over the reintroduction of capital punishment that made Law And Order one of the best ever episodes of the original Survivors.
The main characters are too busy eyeing each other up for sex, making hen houses and driving around in expensive cars...The drawback here is that when Abby discovers the fledgling community led by Samantha Willis we all know that the idyll it presents - electricity, hot water, communications - will ultimately, and predictably, fall to pieces. In the original Law And Order, what made that episode so moving was that Abby's own community had to decide whether to execute someone and Abby's was the casting vote. Here, Samantha Willis is simply reduced to a fascist who believes she has the right to execute trespassers to keep the group together. It's horrifying to see her turn on a sixpence and shoot someone point blank and Nikki Amuka-Bird plays it extremely well. In the end it is only Abby that is horrified by it all and as a character she doesn't have the responsibility foisted upon her whereas in the original she did. I know, we shouldn't compare the two but what's striking is how this version is pushing much of the 'instinct for survival' onto other peripheral characters. The main characters are too busy eyeing each other up for sex, making hen houses and driving around in expensive cars. It's as bad as accusing the original series characters of being too middle class. At least in the original they suffered and showed some bloody backbone for all of their trials. This lot are carrying on as if most of the population just winked out of existence rather than dropped dead from the plague. Awful, disgusting things should be happening to them. Instead, Abby decides to have birthday party after seeing someone shot through the head. Lovely woman.
Plot B was actually much more interesting and hints at what the series should be saying about survival in adversity. When Greg and Tom arrive at a farm to find petrol and discover that a father and his two kids have isolated themselves from the rest of the world simply out of fear from the virus, then the story does start explore the kind of challenges you would need to face up to. The young daughter Kate, superbly played by Sacha Parkinson, is desperate to get out of the house and feel the wind in her hair again and when she does, and inadvertently faces potential exposure to the virus from Greg and Tom, her father almost seems prepared to abandon her. There are some interesting moments between Tom and Greg that hint at Greg's troubled past. It's a far more engaging and relevant sub-plot than Abby meeting Mrs. Hitler, even if both sub-plots are intrinsically about the right to protect what's yours. Never mind, Najid's got his hen house and nearly given the game away about Al's murder of the newsagent.
So is it really a government conspiracy to do with releasing the virus deliberately...Then we get the D plot. The insufferable and, by now, toe curling awful nonsense with the scientists in their bunker testing out some sort of vaccine. Poor little Ronny Jhutti's vaccine doesn't work and seems to increase the effects of the virus on their chosen guinea-pig, ironically an Asian man. From Samantha Willis' comments it's pretty clear that this lot are the government scientists that were struggling to deal with the outbreak and were left high and dry by its virulent progress. So is it really a government conspiracy to do with releasing the virus deliberately after all or just another dull sub-plot? Adrian Hodges claimed that the original series was more of a science fiction concept. Frankly, that's hog-wash as the fear of bacterial warfare then was just as relevant as the bird-flu scares of today. He's just trying to make it a less grimmer experience and by doing so has drained the idea of its attempt to properly examine fear and paranoia, civilisation and primitivism.
The direction by Andrew Gunn is very good, often having an abstract visual quality to it, and makes good use of the locations. Overall, the acting isn't bad and manages to cover a multitude of pompous and pretentious dialogue sins. And it's engaging, dramatic and entertaining...so why the hell can't I get enthusiastic about it? And it seems I'm not the only one as I note the viewing figures have slipped in a downwards trajectory on a weekly basis. The audience aren't perhaps chiming with this remake, then?
Cathode Ray Tube Survivors Episode Three