The classic 1970s series about a group of survivors trying to rebuild their world after a devastating plague gets a modern reimaging next week as the BBC launches its 21st century of the Terry Nation series. In this feature we take a look back at the original series.
In the 1970s Terry Nation returned to the UK following a stint in America where he had unsuccessfully tried to launch a spin-off from Doctor Who revolving around the Daleks, his creations. Nation had first come up with the idea of a Dalek related show in the 1966 and had tried unsuccessfully to get backing for the idea for several years. Upon Nation’s return to the UK he once again wrote Dalek stories for Doctor Who and at the same time pitched an idea for a new television series to BBC bosses.
The series that Nation came up with was Survivors, a post-apocalyptic drama series about a small group fighting to survive in a world where society has broken down. A virus is accidentally released, having been created in a Lab, and proceeds to wipe out 99% of the world’s population. The early episodes of the series deal with the spread of the virus and the collapse of society and feature some truly unsettling scenes as the drama unfolds. Streets full of people dead at the wheels of their cars are shown and a church full of dead people as a few survivors make their way through the empty streets wondering if they were the only survivors.
The iconic opening titles of Survivors
The main characters of the first series are Abby Grant, a middle class woman, and Jenny Richards, a young woman who works in London. Following the plague Abby tries to find her son, Peter, while Jenny leaves London and wonders around the countryside hoping to find fellow survivors. Early on Greg Preston, an engineer, is introduced. Abbey, Jenny and Greg eventually come together and realise they must work together in order to survive in the new world. In the end the three find a place where they start a new community which will farm the land in order to grow food and bring together other survivors. The first season deals with the travels of the three characters and their founding of the new community.
The second season see’s Abby leaving the safety of the new community in order to continue her search for her son, Peter. Abby has received word Peter is alive and goes off to try and find him. A fire leaves several members of the Survivors dead and the remainder are forced to join forces with another community of survivors, which introduces new characters. Jenny meanwhile gives birth to Greg’s child. The series ends with the revelation that there are more survivors outside the UK as Norwegians arrive. Greg departs in a hot air balloon for Norway.
In the third and final season Greg sends world to his friends, Jenny, Charles and Hubert, that he is alive and back from Norway. The three decide to set out and find Greg and travel across the UK and discover just how much it has changed and how many other people have survived the deadly plague. As the season continues society begins to re-establish itself in the UK with communities coming back together and the reintroduce of the railways. The final episode of the series see’s the return of Greg and electricity returned to the country.
In all Survivors ran for 38 episodes across three seasons starting in 1975 and ending in 1977. Terry Nation left the drama after the first season due to creative differences with the show’s producer Terrence Dudley. Nation wasn’t the only one who had problems with Dudley as actress Caroline Seymour also left the series after disagreeing with Dudley over the direction of the show and her character. Another actor to be written out, although would return, was Ian McCulloch who only appeared in two episodes of the third season. Actress Lucy Fleming was the only actor to appear in all three seasons of the show.
After the debut of Survivors it was the subject of a court case when writer Brian Clemens claimed that Terry Nation had stole the idea for the series from him. The case was abandoned by both sides because of escalating costs but Nation continued to deny Clemen’s claim.
Survivors is often criticised for being too middle class and many of the characters in the series were indeed middle class and sometimes its portrayal of working class characters were criticised for being stereotypical. In the 1990’s there was some attempts to revive the series in the form of a continuation with a rumoured storyline involving the colonisation of the UK by an unaffected African nation. However, this storyline was thought to be too controversial and the proposed fourth season was dropped.
Abby Grant: Caroline Seymour
Greg Preston: Ian McColloch
Jenny Richards: Lucy Fleming
Charles Vaughan: Dennis Lill
Hubert Goss: John Abineri
Stephen Dudley: John Millon
Tanya Ronder: Lizzie Willoughby