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DVD Review: Survivors: The Complete Original Series (1975-77) and Survivors: Complete Seasons One and Two (2008-2010)

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There are two new Survivors boxed DVD sets that have been recently released. One is the original series and the second contains the complete seasons one and two of the 2008 retelling (which has been canceled).

Survivors: The Complete Original Series is comprised of six discs containing “all 38 original episodes.” The show was extremely popular in England, running for three series (seasons). One concern is that it is more than 30 years old; does it show its age? Surprisingly it does not.

Certainly all the bell bottoms and fun fur indicate the '70s, but the acting style does not. The wardrobe is mostly blue jeans and tops—sweaters and such—which age well. However, there is one character, a man, in a hilarious windowpane plaid suit (his character starts out as comic relief, and he brings to mind a vaudevillian) that causes snickers each time he appears.

The premise is simple. There is a pandemic which wipes out 99.98% of the population (one in 5000 survive due to a natural immunity). The few survivors must try to establish some sort of society. One character is in search of her son, another does not want to be alone. An engineer needs to be useful. Various people stumble across each other as they try to get a new start.

What makes the show interesting are the different attempts at jump-starting the human race made by people with their own ideologies. One man sets up martial law and becomes a mini-dictator. Another is set on repopulating the earth. A woman thinks that setting up a plantation and paying people in necessities is the way to go. For the central characters, mere survival is a goal.

This storyline could lead to a host of soap opera developments between the characters, with the reinvention of society taking a back seat to the melodrama. While interpersonal relationships are interwoven with the plot, the emphasis is on the desire to establish a community of people willing to work together, learning all the crafts that most of us take for granted. Maybe we can assemble that table from IKEA, but could we harvest and mill lumber and manufacture tools to assemble a table we ourselves must build? 

Survivors: The Complete Original Series concludes on a hopeful note as the survivors attempt to institute some form of law and order and restore electrical power (hydroelectricity), and establish a society of communities that includes a system of trade.

A talented cast takes on the task of making us care for these characters — and whether or not they succeed — through the course of 38 episodes. The central roles were acted by Carolyn Seymour (Abbie Grant), Lucy Fleming (Jenny Richards), and Ian McCulloch (Greg Preston). Trivia buffs, take note: Lucy Fleming is the niece of author Ian Fleming (of James Bond fame).

Special features accompanying the original series set are photo galleries, publicity stills, and “The Cult of Survivors.” Five of the disks are double-sided.

Does the passing of three decades make a better series? Actually no, it brought a different series.

Survivors: Complete Seasons One and Two (2008-10) is not so much based on the original television program as it is on the novel Terry Nation (one of the creators of the original series) wrote, which he based on the first season of the show.

This edition of Survivors has not enjoyed the same popularity as the first, and was canceled in April after two years. It is handsomely presented in a five-disk boxed set.

Fans of the original series who would like to see a new millennium interpretation of familiar characters will be disappointed. Very few of the characters from the first version appear in the second. Abby Grant (Julie Graham), David Grant (Shaun Dingwall), and Greg Preston (Paterson Joseph) return, as do a character or two who are essential to the plot (but won’t be named here; it would be a spoiler).

This new show starts with a terrible influenza that is gripping Britain, familiar territory for sure, but updated to include changes in society and technological advances. The villains are even more villainous than the evil characters in the original series, finding even more ingenious ways to display their cunning and lack of ethics and morals.

New characters introduce new dimensions to the story, and more modern filmmaking techniques offer a more visually involving production. “The European flu” takes center stage from the start, and things develop rapidly. The central characters find themselves alone in a world gone dead, and the drama and melodrama take off from there.

More intense interpersonal conflicts and a more graphic depiction of the symptoms of the disease set this program apart from the original. Because Survivors was canceled after the second series cliffhanging end, some viewers will be disappointed with the ending.

Included with Survivors: Complete Seasons One and Two are “Easter Egg,” “A New World,” “The Making of Survivors,” “Character Profiles,” and “Survivors FX Featurette.”

Both DVD sets have their merits. The 1975-77 episodes seem more innocent, and clearly define good and evil. The 2008-2010 episodes look better and benefit from special effects and action-film type sequences.

Bottom line: Would I buy/rent either or both of the Survivors DVD sets? Both. Production and story differences make them both interesting, and will not leave the viewer with feelings of déjà vu.

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