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DVD Review: Survivors – The Complete Original Series

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Survivors: The Complete Original Series is a collection of the first iteration of Survivors, which aired on the BBC from 1975 through 1977. Originally written by Terry Nation, and based on his novel of the same name, the story follows a small group of people who are among a remnant who live through a worldwide, cataclysmic virus that wipes out most of humanity. Happening at lightning pace, the outbreak settles in and kills ninety-five percent of the population within a matter of days. The survivors are those who, for whatever genetic immunity, are left unaffected. In the aftermath, these people are then forced to pick up the pieces of their lives in a world that is suddenly without governments, law and order, or basic necessities that are the by-product of our post-Industrial Revolutionary world.

The main characters that we discover are a mother and housewife by the name of Abby, a somewhat pessimistic blue-collar bloke by the name of Greg, and a more naive younger woman named Lucy. Along the way they meet up with other survivors – some adults and some children – and eventually establish their own colony, where they attempt to re-learn the things that civilisation has forgotten to the ubiquitous mass production of necessities, and push reset on their way of life.

The primary thematic distinction between the original series and its more recent remake is that the original really does focus more on survival. The plot within shows and the storyline between seasons is grounded in the actual mechanics of day-to-day life and how a society can start over again from scratch. How do you grow your own food; How do you re-purpose suddenly useless machinery or otherwise fashion your own tools; What about creating grassroots law and order; How do you protect yourself… All of these items factor into the bulk of the three seasons. While the newer series combines some of this with more mysterious shadow forces, the original feels much more nuts and bolts.

Perhaps the greatest thing in its favor (although some may argue it also becomes a bit of a detriment towards the latter stages) is that the original series is able to more or less proceed at its own pace. While the modern remake was cut short at two seasons, those were also very short six-episode seasons. The original has the benefit of three full seasons for a total of thirty-eight episodes. The advantage is that there is time to explore more realistic aspects of rebuilding society, instead of strictly jumping from peril to peril. Little things can become big obstacles, and there is time to explore much more of them with this longer storyline.

The style of the show can take some getting used to for modern audiences. The acting is a bit more melodramatic, on occasion having an almost soap-opera feel. The subject matter and storylines help to shake off that reminder, but it's a more sparse style of '70s television. The sparseness is only heightened by the fact that episodes generally contain no music, save for opening and ending credits. It's a quiet setting, but in a way it works with the isolation of this new world.

The look of the show is not going to bowl you over. Although it probably looks as good as it ever did when it aired, the production handily shows itself to be a result of aged television. Interior shots are generally clean and well represented, but most of the location shooting appears much grainier – as well as sometimes dim and fuzzy – and contrasts starkly. In general it's fine, but it certainly hasn't been given a meticulous scrubbing or restoration. Bonus materials are scant, and aside from some still photo galleries, there is only one main item of interest. "The Cult of Survivors" is a thirty-minute retrospective on the show, and features interviews with the lead actors and production team. It's a good, and honest, look back at the show, and features some genuinely interesting comments from those involved. They discuss the environment of Britain at the time it came out – touching on how the show played into some of the societal interests and concerns of the time – as well as how the setting and challenges of the characters still intrigues audiences today.

The series is literally crammed on to six DVDs. All except the final disc are double-sided flipper DVDs loaded with episodes. Although it's efficiently packaged, some critics of this manufacturing design should be aware of the trade-off.

Survivors – The Complete Original Series is overall a nice set of vintage television. When kept in light of its age, there really wasn't much precedent for a show like this, and even if the style can be a bit wooden at times, the whole is a rather compelling work. Devotees of the show should be happy with the release, but also fans of the newer remake – and the genre as a whole – could find a lot to like here. It's enough of a departure to be an intriguing new tale on its own, and not just another post-apocalyptic entry.

(For a look at the more recent remake of Survivors on BBC, please take a look at this review of the release of Complete Seasons One and Two)

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About David R Perry