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Reviewed by Will Harris
fter the BBC experienced such huge success with the revival of “Doctor Who,” network executives began scouring through the archives to see if there might be any other series worth updating for a new generation. What they came up with was “Survivors,” which ran for three seasons and 38 episodes during the mid-1970s. But was it worth remaking? To answer that, we must take a look at both series, but…what’s this? You say that they’ve just released both the old and the new “Survivors” on DVD? What an amazing coincidence!
The premise of both series is the same: a devastating virus sweeps across the planet, leaving alive only the handful of individuals who were fortunate enough to be immune. But is it really fortunate? With the majority of the world’s population dead, the governments fall apart, leaving humanity to fend for itself until such time as they can reorganize themselves into a cohesive unit once more. Similarities to Stephen King’s “The Stand” would seem to apply, but there’s nothing strange or mystical about the goings-on in “Survivors.” Indeed, both incarnations of the series make a point of trying to stick as close to reality as possible, instead preferring to consider what life might be like if, God forbid, such an event truly did come to pass.
Given that the original “Survivors” looks its age at every turn, thanks to the blend of film and video that was the style of the time, it may surprise you to find that it actually makes for better viewing than the updated take on the series. It’s easy enough to explain the difference in feel between the two series – times change, and so do the tastes of the masses – but sometimes it’s a case of fixing something than isn’t broken. In the original, Jenny (Lucy Fleming), Greg (Ian McCulloch, but not the one from Echo and the Bunnymen), and Abby (Carolyn Seymour) roam the UK at a leisurely pace, have lengthy philosophical conversations about the changes that have occurred and the loved ones they’ve lost, and regularly learn lessons about life from the sides of humanity that have come out in the wake of the virus. The lessons aren’t always pretty, though, which is best exemplified in the episode “Law and Order,” a chilling story where one of the survivors rapes and kills a woman and lets a mentally-challenged man not only take the blame for his crime but be killed for it. Rough stuff, to be sure.
With that said, Adrian Hodges, the man behind “Primeval,” was a fine choice to be placed at the helm for the new version, and he’s done an admirable job of making a series that looks good and moves fast without modernizing it to the point of complete unfamiliarity. There are still characters named Jenny (Freema Agyeman), Greg (Paterson Joseph), and Abby (Julie Graham), but while some of them still maintain some of the same storylines as the original characters, others go in completely different directions than they did before – like, say, to the grave. The biggest issue that fans of the original series will have with the remake is that it’s far more about plot development than it is about character development, leaving the core group of survivors to follow the mystery behind the origins of the virus and investigate the scientists and officials behind it. It’s interesting, make no mistake, but it doesn’t make you think the way the original series did.
If you prefer your sci-fi with more action than talk, then the 2008 version of “Survivors” is going to be more your cup of tea than the 1975 version, but both will likely appeal to fans of the late, great CBS series “Jericho.” Those looking for any sort of “hey, you know, I think we’re going to be just fine” type of ending, however, might want to steer clear.
Special Features: It’s somewhat disappointing to find far less in the way of bonus material here than we’ve come to expect from the average BBC sets. The original series offers a photo gallery and a documentary (“The Cult of ‘Survivors’”), while the 2008 version includes a whopping two featurettes (one about the making of the series, one about the show’s special effects), character profiles, and a so-called “Easter egg.” But, really, how much of an Easter egg is it when it’s advertised on the back of the box?