A flu wipes out 90% of the UK in this BBC series, which hones in on a handful of survivors to smartly compensate for a lack of big budget effects.

It takes just days for the ‘European Flu’ to reach every living human being in the United Kingdom in Survivors. But it takes over a year for the show to reach an Australian television network.

For this ambitious, apocolyptic miniseries, the BBC looks to the work of writer Terry Nation, who created a series of the same name in 1975. He later published a book in which he continued his tale of a plague wiping out the UK. Now with screenwriter Adrian Hodges (Primeval) the novel has been updated for this series.

Survivors aired in the UK in late 2008 as a six part series, with another 6 episodes airing this year. That puts it into the universe post-Bird Flu but predates the Swine Flu -both of which help one to believe the premise when watching this 90 minute premiere (2hrs with ads).

Whether in 28 Days Later, Dead Set or here in Survivors, the image of an empty British city is a remarkable sight. There are aerial shots of vacant streetscapes, devoid of traffic, people and life as we know it. Even filmed at dawn with street closures the scenes are captivating.

In Survivors it is a killer flu that devastates a nation. It strikes 90% of the country, from the Prime Minister down. Our story hones in on several disparate characters in Manchester: a mother, a prisoner, a Muslim child, a wealthy young man, a doctor and more. They are all impacted in varying ways and each finds themselves alone when loved ones expire. As the story unfolds it shifts from subplot to subplot as swiftly as the virus.

In key roles are Julie Graham (Casualty, William and Mary) as Abby Grant, the mother whose husband and neighbours are dead, but is determined to find her teenage son; Max Beesley (Hotel Babylon) as Tom Price, a prisoner who is immune to the virus that has killed his cellmate; and Phillip Rhys (Nip / Tuck, 24) as Al Sadiq, a wealthy lad who awakens to find his one night stand, and everyone else, has died. Doctor Who‘s Freema Agyeman also makes an appearance.

Government is represented by Nikki Amuka-Bird as the Health Minister, struggling to comprehend the enormity of the rapid virus. She tries to upkeep a lie to the nation for its own good, but will soon buckle as it becomes impossible to contain. Police and army are all but absent from the first episode, presumably having been just as decimated as the population.

There’s something rather sanitised about Survivors, which thrives on lots of lifeless bodies scattered across its scenes, but almost entirely avoids anarchy, lawlessness and gore. Only on occasions does it nod to the stench that must necessarily inhabit every location. Instead it focusses on the small-scale stories of its ensemble characters as they come to terms with the reality of being the only humans left standing. None understands why. Some react in desperation, others confusion, and one seems to be revelling in a new lease on life. All face choices.

As a TV drama it works rather well, narrowing in on ordinary heroes to compensate for the fact it doesn’t trade in big screen effects. It’s also refreshing to see a female protagonist in Julie Graham, while the usually charming Max Beesley turns bad boy as a criminal who breaks free from a crumbling prison.

At least in the hands of the Brits the story doesn’t yet descend into earnestness, even if it does require the suspension of disbelief. Hopefully it keeps it up in coming episodes.

Survivors premieres 9:30pm Sunday March 21 on Nine.

27 Responses

  1. This was my favourite program, why has it stopped? it is inconceivable that with all the utter senseless crap we have to put up with with its stupid canned laughter – that when finally a really good program comes along it is dropped. We have all these extra channels – surely there has to be room for a wonderful show like this, I saw the original one when I lived in the UK, and I was really enjoying this remake – I could have wept when it disappeared .

  2. To stop screening this is ridiculous by Ch 9. No wonder people are downloading and buying DVD’s, and free to air TV is struggling. I was enjoying this, and had not watched a series for a while. I won’t bother again!

  3. Hmm, Minister for Health plays judge for trail of intruders, pronounces defendant guilty then whips out a pistol and shoots prisoner stone dead with a hot-shot directly through the forehead from what looked like 30 metres away !

    Oh pahleeeese !

  4. Why did Ch9 start this in series two – who could possibly guess what has happened before? But then it is Ch9 (no hope). So now the new producers are trying to cram six old episodes into one and taking huge liberties along the way, assuming the audience will follow, and yes they might figure it out – but why not tell it like a normal classic story e.g. logical timeline, with linked sequences, characters that build etc. The new producers are trying to be way too clever. The original series had its faults but i watched it again recently in 2009 (from a BBC DVD) and it still has originality and characters of integrity, tension and intrigue. This new series is made by much more savvy producers and screenwriters But do they have the heart of Terry Nation and his 19870’s team? I think not.

  5. @MarkC – yes I watched the original 70s version in NZ as a kid – loved it then, and the updated version is also good – if quite different. Obviously it needed a lot of updating, it sure as hell isn’t 1975 any more!

  6. Anybody here ever see the original, 1970s version, which ran for three seasons? The reason I ask is that it screened here in Canberra in the late 70s-early 80s ( on what was then the only local commercial station, CTC-7), but as far as I know it wasn’t shown in major centres like Sydney or Melbourne. In those pre-aggregation days, when each regional station had its own mix of programming, this sort of thing used to happen every once in a while.

    The whole three series were released locally in a single box set late last year. If you get an opportunity to check out a couple of episodes, it’s worth doing so.

  7. Heavily serialized drama, will debut somewhat big, depending on timeslot, but in the end people won’t be able to keep up with it and it will die eventually. Doesn’t help that it’s British either.

  8. Wow, this has been sitting on Nine’s shelf for a long time!

    The first season (six eps) is quite good, but the second season is even better, so it pays to keep watching… hopefully Nine will show all 12 eps in one go, as despite an obligatory end of season cliffhanger, the story flows on seamlessly.

    The airing of the second season was delayed in the UK because of the swine flu epidemic, apparently.

    BBC has not decided whether to make a third season, but the second season still ends in such a way as to continue intrigue and storyline into a third. The biggest pity about this show is that each season is only six eps.

  9. As others have said: if it’s on Nine, I’ll pass. None of the commercial networks know how to program sci-fi, i.e. this will inevitably get ditched for repeats of CSI or something, so why should I commit to it? Hopefully the ABC will get the repeat rights and it will turn up on ABC2 in the next 12 months or so.

  10. One’s called Survivor, the other’s called Survivors. Easily distinguishable. If anything it might accidentally bring a few extra viewers over who were expecting a new episode of Survivor!

  11. I’m with chk chk. It’s ridiculous to have two shows with almost identical titles running at the same time on the same network. The Brits and Yanks changed Prisoner to Prisoner Cell Block H, because it was too similar to a show called The Prisioner. The same should have been done with this show.

    Isn’t the reality show Survivior big in the UK?

  12. chk chk: I wish they’ve chose a different title so as not to confuse it with Survivors the reality game show.

    Terry Nation came up with Survivors in the 1970s long before the reality show. Therefore it is the reality show that should have come up with a different title instead.

  13. I watched the pilot of this a while back and it was okay but again I’m not sure if it will work on Nine, even at 9:30 Sunday. First the pilot being 2 hours means people have to stay up until 11:30 (more like 11:45 knowing Nine) on a Sunday before work. IMO it would be better suited to ABC, they can show it in 90 minutes and the other eps in 60 and not 80-90.

    I guess we’ll be getting promos for this any day with the tired out ‘coming soon’?

    David do you know if Nine will be showing the 2nd series right after the first?

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