Survivors – Comparing the TV Series, COVID-19 & the Future Part 1 ‘Introduction’

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Reviewed by Tim Bragg

Spoiler Alert: the following talks generally about ideas from the series, with specific information related to Episode1.

Survivors was a successful TV series first broadcast on television in 1975 (with further series in ’76 and ’77). The episodes I have re-watched thus far have been mainly written by Terry Nation, creator of the Daleks (from Dr.Who) among many other credits. When the series first aired I was a youth discovering life and this had an impact upon me. We would wait from week to week to discover the unravelling fate of the eponymous ‘survivors’. I think all (or most episodes) of the series are available on YouTube – I’ve seen a playlist containing 24 episodes, though that would be two short for series one and two (both 13 episodes respectively). Regardless, I shall deal with each series generally and maybe hone in on the themes of particular episodes. Throughout I shall try to marry the narrative of the 70s survivors with both the reality NOW and how we might have responded to a similarly exaggerated situation. In the fictional account, only 1 in 5,000 people have survived – rendering the UK’s population to around 10,000. We are probably looking at a contemporary COVID-19 death rate of between, say 8 and 17 per 5,000 of those WITH the disease. Thus against the survival of ONE per 5,000, we have something like 4,990 – it’s hard to be accurate as we don’t know how many have had (or will have) the virus. The figure could well be closer to 4,995 plus survival rate. Currently, we only have stats for those dying from the virus and even these figures are questioned. In the area I live in in France the death-rate is roughly equal to our previous year (we seem to have the lowest rate of infection in France). Okay – its current speculation set against a fictional creation. But you get the idea. ‘Survivors’ REALLY IS about surviving.

The flavour of the series is interesting in that it marries prescience with a now almost achingly old-fashioned and nostalgic sense of England. For instance, the virus has come from China and is a pandemic/epidemic (as far as is known). The Government response seems incompetent with deliberate lies about the extent of the effects of the virus. Everything we are experiencing now seems to have been considered but obviously highly exaggerated because of the death-rate. The infrastructure of the whole of the UK seems to have quickly shut down, with no electricity and faltering public services. As I respond I’m going to relate my ideas to this fictional account with what we are currently experiencing – and how we might deal with a virus such as that NOW. How would we modern humans cope compared with those fictional mid-70s characters?

The main figures I have encountered thus far are Abby – a middle-class married woman whose young son is at boarding school. She contracts the illness but survives, whereas her husband dies. At least the first half of Series 1 is structured around the search for Abby’s son (who isn’t among the dead boys at the school and is apparently part of a group of healthy students sent camping into the countryside). Contrasted with Abby is Jenny – a young working woman from London. Most of the characters speak with middle-class accents. (On a side note – have a listen to musicians from the 1970s and you will be surprised at how ‘well’ they speak, Roger Waters springs to mind but remember should you watch any music documentaries). The final main character (thus far) is Greg. Greg is resourceful and ‘handy’. Another adult character that crops up and is intertwined throughout is Tom Price – a Welshman. He adds an element of ‘humour’ and represents, perhaps, a typically useless (as well as devious) survivor. Though full of seeming bravado his only real skill is in ‘wheeling and dealing’ and the ability to ingratiate himself into any situation or with any company. I’ll introduce other characters as they occur.

Abby responds to the death of her husband by leaving their house after burning it down. This seems both extreme and odd. This would surely be the place her son would head for if he has survived (and she finds out later that there is such a chance). Though we are constantly, and rightly, told that the chances of ANYONE surviving are extremely low. Abby is later framed as a leader, though I am yet unconvinced. Jenny walks out of London to find herself in the countryside where Abby is from. I’m not going to re-write the plot, but the first major idea of the series is presented in this episode: that society must start again. Everything must be re-learned and that though there is plenty to go round for the moment all of that will be gone in one or two further generations. At that point, humanity would have to stand on its own two feet and not rely on the spoils of previous generations. In this case, Greg is a very useful figure but not the most competent as we later find out when other characters’ skills become apparent. But he is useful and can turn his hands to most things.

My thoughts on what might happen as a virulent virus scythes down a population and how best to make initial responses will be compared with both the series and a modern highly lethal variant of Covid-19. If you were to find yourself surviving amid utter carnage with the collapse of everything around you – what would or what MUST you do? The responses will be as varied as the survivors themselves of course – with both cool heads and crashing emotional reactions. I found Abby to be quite cold emotionally but maybe she was stunned by the lightning changes brought about by the virus. Whereas we have experienced an abstract response perhaps to Covid-19 (unless we have lost someone close or are working on the ‘front-line’). I do recall the gradual sense of ‘awakening’ to what was happening as elements of normal life were shut down and civil liberties curtailed in quick succession. In a quick and total collapse, there would be NO government and NO law. This is something I will discuss later.

What do you do? Where do you go? With dead bodies everywhere diseases would soon spread. Do you get away from humanity as fast as possible or should you attend to local things first? Should you look for babies or children in the neighbourhood who might have survived? Or anyone else? Or as society disintegrates, and people are freed of any moral shackles – would there be an interim of utter lawlessness, chaos, and danger? How would ordinary people behave? The reaction in a village would surely be completely different to that in a metropolis. Jenny is ordered out of London by her doctor friend (who knows exactly what’s going on and the effect of the virus). She encounters some youths on her escape. I found this moment almost touching. The youths were like I was back then – bell-bottomed jeans and long hair. They were not particularly aggressive. Today it might not be quite the same. We have lost the hegemony of culture and depending upon where we live – the surrounding society might not be so ‘high trust’. What we have NOW – low numbers dying but a great degree of fear leading to initially appalling scenes of people fighting for toilet rolls and general looting in certain areas – might have been much worse. In ‘Survivors’ there would have been a brief time of immediate danger – but as the numbers rapidly thinned then the danger would – for that moment – have been different. In other words – the death rate of a virus will mirror both how folk respond and the real danger of immediate groupings. How quickly would some of us turn savage?

Ideally, bodies would be disposed of – but if the numbers became overwhelming the remaining few could do very little. Would pets be kept, or killed (the latter as an act of mercy)? In ‘Survivors’ there is a fear that roving packs of dogs could well be rabid. Would folk remain in their own areas or run? Either way, they would need the wherewithal to note where food could be obtained and petrol – especially if traveling on foot or by car (perhaps ‘stolen’ cars. Jenny had to walk from London as the streets were either congested by folks fleeing or blocked by abandoned cars).

With the whole environment opened-up as it were – then survivors would need clean water (or the means to boil or purify); wood stoves or Calorgas stoves and heating and – though this might not pop into the head of a survivor in a state of absolute shock – to know where a library was and get as many books as possible on HOW to survive. I imagine many would think ‘help was at hand’. In one episode Tom Price goes on about the Americans or Japanese helping – to which he is abruptly shut up. There is no-one to help. All this makes me wonder about the numbers of folk required to survive to maintain any notable infrastructure and I will talk about this later. The first generation of survivors would be the ‘lucky’ ones. Food shops, chemists, cars, petrol, goods of all sorts readily available. Seemingly. Garden Centres might be prized as they contain tools/clothes/poisons etc. as well as plants and seeds. The transition from modern to medieval would be extremely hard. But at least those plunged into darker ages would have modern knowledge.

Tim Bragg is the author (amongst many books) of ‘Lyrics to Live By – Keys to Self-Help; Notes for a Better Life’ available from Amazon

survivorsboxsetSurvivors

  • Starring: Denis Lill , Lucy Fleming , Ian McCulloch and Carolyn Seymour
  • Directed by: Pennant Roberts , Terence Williams and Gerald Blake

You can buy Survivors – Series 1-3 Box Set [DVD] [1975] here

 

 

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