Such a simple, brutal power. Just the power of tooth and claw. Doctor Who – Survival

survival

It’s often been commented upon that Survival was a story that pointed towards the style adopted by NuWho.  Like some of  the early NuWho stories, there’s a sense that the story is located in a real, definable modern location.  Other Who stories of the time (such as Silver Nemesis) were also set on contemporary Earth, but Survival takes us onto the streets and into the tower-blocks of contemporary London, a place where the series rarely ventured.

It’s also possible to imagine the story working very well as a 45 minute story (like the majority of NuWho).  Had it done so, then the majority of the first 25 minutes could easily have been jettisoned.  There’s some nice moments, such as Ace’s friend Ange who’s surprised to see her as she thought she was dead (“either you were dead, or you’d gone to Birmingham”) but far too much of the episode drags.

The business with Hale & Pace as well as the Doctor faffing around with the cat food is all pretty throwaway stuff.  But we do get to meet the arrogant Sergeant Paterson (“Have you ever heard of survival of the fittest, son, eh? Have you ever heard of that? Life’s not a game, son. I mean, I’m teaching you the art of survival. I’m teaching you to fight back. What happens when life starts pushing you around, son, eh? What’re you going to do then?”).  The constant repetition of “survival of the fittest” during the first episode is a far from subtle foreshadowing of what was to come.

It’s interesting that Survival is a very episodic story (The Keys of Marinus is another where the location would change from episode to episode, but I can’t think of many other examples from the original series off the top of my head).  Episode one takes place on Earth, episode two on the planet of the Cheetah People whilst episode three returns us to Earth.

Episode two is probably the best of the three.  The Cheetah People’s planet is very well realised, with subtle video effects used to change the colour of the sky, etc.  It’s certainly a good deal more effective that the garish Paintbox effects on Mindwarp.  I also love Dominic Glynn’s music here – so it would be nice if SilvaScreen restarted their release programme of Doctor Who soundtracks with stories like this one.

And the Master’s back! Although his interpretation wasn’t to everybody’s taste, I’ve always had a soft spot for Anthony Ainley (and considering how the New Series has treated the Master, Ainley is a model of restraint).  Survival is probably his best Doctor Who appearance as the Master (although his best appearance overall as the Master can be found on the links of the Destiny of the Doctor CD-ROM game).

For once, he has no grand scheme – like everybody else he’s just fighting for survival.  But once he returns to Perivale, things do fall apart.  The sight of the Master recruiting a gang of teenagers from the local Youth Club is bizarre, to say the least, and his motivations at the end of the story seem confused.  At one point, he tells the Doctor that he has control over the power and that he’ll use it to destroy him.  In the very next scene, the Master and the Doctor are back on the planet of the Cheetah People and the Master’s attitude has completely changed – now he wishes to die, as he doesn’t want to live as an animal.  As happened so often, script editor Andrew Cartmel seems to has overlooked plot-holes like this, which would have been easy to fix.

Although it’s not really visible, the Master’s murder of Karra (Lisa Bowerman) is quite vicious and serves as a reminder that he could be ruthless when the situation demanded it.  Karra is the Cheetah Person who forms a strong link with Ace.  And Ace’s prominent role in the story is another link to NuWho, where the companion is often more important to the story than the Doctor (although Survival is not unique in this respect – and in fact this is the last in a loose trilogy which put Ace to the fore).

Whilst Ghost Light was the last story from the original run to be recorded, Survival was the last to be transmitted and it’s really the end of an era.  Doctor Who would survive – initially as books, then a one-off TVM, then audios and then finally the relaunched series in 2005 which achieved levels of success (in the UK and also worldwide) both commercially and critically that the original series only enjoyed somewhat intermittently.

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UFO watch (Episode 05 – Survival)

05 - survivalWritten by Tony Barwick
Directed by Alan Perry

A UFO lands on the moon and the alien shoots out a window on Moonbase, killing a SHADO worker.  As so often, the aliens’ motives remain unclear – why travel all that way for such a minor attack?

As the UFO is still on the Moon, Straker is keen to capture it.  New Moonbase commander Paul Foster is more interested in killing the alien in order to avenge the murder of one of his men, but things don’t quite go as expected.

As ever with UFO, there’s some gorgeous modelwork – the lunar surface is particuarly impressive. The full size lunar landscape looks very good too, although some of the rocks do have a tendency to wobble when somebody is thrown against them!

The main plotline develops in an interesting way, Foster leads a party to capture the UFO but it’s destroyed by the interceptors after the Moonbase party is attacked.  Foster is reported as missing, believed dead.  The alien is still alive though, saves Foster’s life and together the two of them begin the long trek back to Moonbase.

It’s surprising that everybody gives Foster up for dead so quickly.  Even if they were convinced that he couldn’t have survived you would have thought that they would have gone back to retrieve his body.  But his apparent death leaves a vacancy which Straker proposes to fill with Mark Bradley.

Bradley is reluctant for several reasons, not least his colour.  Straker is unconvinced by this, telling him that racial prejudice burned itself out five years ago.  This, of course, must stand as UFO’s least convincing predication of the future!  After winning him round with such winning words as “I don’t care if you’re polka dot with red stripes, do you want the job?”, Bradley agrees.

The lunar scenes with Foster and the alien are quite slow paced, understandable in a way because they have to simulate the lack of gravity and also since the alien and Foster can’t communicate.  But they could have done with a bit of trimming, as this section does drag a little.

But it’s a key story as it’s the first to portray the aliens in, for want of a better word, a more human light and not as implacable killers.  But as the series always had a fairly pessimistic viewpoint it’s probably no surprise that Foster’s new-found friendship is very short lived.