Monday, 2 April 2018

TV Review - Survivors S1E05: Gone to Angels

Well, we were due a fucking stinker. Actually, "Gone to Angels", again from Jack Ronder, isn't outright bad, just a big step down from the first four. Generally episodes of Survivors concentrate on a single plot line and this works as it allows the subject at hand to be explored thoroughly, and the casting structure largely reflects this in that we only have three fully-fledged regular characters with the rest recurring and hired as needed. However, "Gone to Angels" splits the leads fully and the result is scattershot.

Abby, still hunting for Peter, decides she wants to head back to her old house and Peter's school to check for him there. This in itself feels like a big backwards step and a case of "why now?"; obviously she finds nothing but a minibus with a newspaper in it, which sends her off to the hills to meet with the titular angels - three gentle religious men. The "what does religion make of the death?" thing feels a bit like it's ticking a box rather than something that really needs discussing, though top marks for portraying them as three blokes who just believe in God and the bible and are just understandably fitting the death into that; it would have been very easy to make them into a cult.

However, it's all a bit lightweight. The angels - Jack, Matthew and Robert - lay out their views that the plague was part of God's plan and that it's hard to take it personally as a result, and that the events have if anything reaffirmed their faith. Any deeper discussion beyond a couple of conversations with the skeptical Abby is basically forestalled by the three angels contracting the plague, which she is still carrying despite surviving it. It's difficult to tell if this is meant to mean their pious morals are meaningless in the face of the death or that Abby's a stupid bitch for not thinking it through. Or whether it's just plot expediency, though why anyone particularly bothers setting up this thread just to shut it down is up for debate. The whole thing seems to think it's a bit more profound than it is.

Greg and Jenny meanwhile sit that one out, commandeering the school's old minibus as transport - which turns out to be fortuitous as seconds after Abby goes out of shot the pair are adopted by a couple of children. Yes, it's the kids. I actually don't mind them; child characters are sort-of a necessary as part of the make-up of a settlement and is a more salient point to assess than what some bible-thumpers make of the whole business. And the child acting pool for a mid-budget BBC drama series in 1975 was probably shallow and Tanya Ronder (daughter of Jack) and Stephen Dudley (son of producer Terence) aren't all that bad. They're a little blank and not as naturalistic as the experienced pros but it's not like you cringe every single time the pair are on-screen. Most of the time the biggest problem with the two is that they act like children, and children can be very annoying in the wrong situation.

At the same time they are still very annoying. The problem is what exactly happens to children during the death - any who survived the disease would logically be less likely to survive the aftermath than adults through having fewer life skills and less knowledge than adults - only gets a cursory examination simply because it would be a brutal and upsetting way to while away fifty minutes. So basically the occasional numb moment aside (John's laconic reaction to Matthew's imminent death, which shows a kid who's been living in a house with his grandmother's corpse) beyond the pair latching onto Greg and Jenny immediately as surrogate parents (entirely believable that they'd throw in with what seem to be the first living people they've seen apart the minibus' original driver Glyn, who presumably met his end somewhere on his mission).

The meet of the secondary plot is these four finding a seemingly abandoned house which is actually inhabited by the extremely jittery Lincoln, played splendidly by Peter Miles. It's obvious he's off in the deep end even before he shoots Greg in the arm and this coupled with his clearly fantastical plans for turning his random house into a settlement means it's more of an obvious dead end than some of the seemingly safe harbours our heroes have been in. But it's well-acted, with Greg and Jenny a couple now in all but name, with John and Lizzie basically turning them into a standard seventies nuclear family - complete with a dog, and a dog that fucking bites Lincoln when he's got scissors on Lizzie. Greg's not given a gigantic amount to do after his opening attempts to talk some sense into Abby, though it's interesting to note he's actually less immediately pissed off with Lincoln than he is meeting any other male character even though he gets shot by him. The stuff about the British Government is also interesting; considering the distance they apparently travel it can't be Wormleigh's group so there are clearly a few councillors and rotarians with the same idea. However, the geography for this one does feel wonky, it seems to take no time at all to go from the school to the house where they find Lincoln.

Jenny again is just sort of there. I didn't actually have strong feelings about the character one way or another until writing the reviews but it never really occurred to me how little she actually contributes to the episodes as they go forward. She's clearly meant to be something of an audience association figure without Abby's forthrightness and Greg's gregness but it does make her a bit bland. And here the self-declared independent sort of person slots into the role of mother to John and Lizzie with absolute ease. So of our two progressive female leads we've got one being a mum and the other dragging people all over the country looking for her son.

The episode basically doesn't tackle anything it brings up with any particular conviction. As such it's more of an obvious case of treading water than "Corn Dolly" while lacking the central focus and interesting issues. The return to the school and the red herring of searching for Peter hardly help and while it's not outright bad it's certainly very dispensable, and maybe the weakest episode of the first season.


  1. You're getting through these fast as well!

    Don't know this as back to front as B7, so you've mentioned a lot of things I'd forgotten (like Peter Miles being in it).

    Always felt sorry for the boy that he was gotten rid of the second his dad left the show. That's got to have killed any hope he had he was actually good.

    1. I known the first season very well from the VHS releases, which helps a lot; the second and third I didn't actually watch until I downloaded them later and I have a) much less working knowledge of and b) a lot less interest in, so it will be interesting to see how well I last, especially for the Season 2 ones which are just about crop rotation or whatever.

      Whether it's because I had years to get used to them or what but I've never particularly minded the two kids; it's clear neither are professional but at the same time I think they stand out because the show is otherwise so well acted, especially at this stage. The show really does stand up very well production-wise.

    2. Yeah, quickly going to majority location filming (a lot of it done in my neck of the woods. Brian Blessed was camped not so far from where I am right now) gives it a solid verisimilitude. I think it was one of the first beeb shows to do OB so extensively, including for interiors.