Survival: Doctor Who: Season 26
At Ace's request the Doctor has taken her back to Perivale so she can catch up with her friends, only to find most of them missing. The Doctor's interested in pursuing an alien species of cat and his antics get noticed by sergeant Patterson of neighbourhood watch. Ace is captured and transported to the planet of the Cheetah people, the doctor and Patterson soon follow taken there by a kitling.
The Doctor finds the Master is behind the kidnappings, getting humans as food and sport for the Cheetah people. However the Master is infected and slowly becoming a cheetah person. He brought to the Doctor to the planet as he knows the Doctor always finds a way out. Ace finds her friends Midge and Shreelah they all fight their way out from a hunting party of Cheetah people.
However transforming into a Cheetah person is the side effect of fighting or killing cheetah people on their planet. The Doctor realises Cheetah people and the kitlings take their prey home allowing them to jump instantaneously between worlds. As soon as one of the captured group is infected they can use them to get back to Earth.
The Master realises the Doctor has found the answer and escapes to Earth with the infected Midge who becomes his mind enthralled pawn. Associating with Cheetah person Kara, Ace becomes infected to however the Doctor realises if she uses her new found power Ace may become a cheetah forever and is aware the Master is awaiting him for their final showdown on Earth.
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Survival CAST & CREW
Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor)
Sophie Aldred (Ace)
Anthony Ainley — The Master
Lisa Bowerman — Karra
Julian Holloway — Paterson
David John — Derek
William Barton — Midge
Sean Oliver — Stuart
Sakuntala Ramanee — Shreela
Gareth Hale — Len
Norman Pace — Harvey
Kate Eaton — Ange
Kathleen Bidmead — Woman
Adele Silva — Squeak
Michelle Martin — Neighbour
Production Staff for Serial 7P:
Writer - Rona Munro
Director - Alan Wareing
Script editor - Andrew Cartmel
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
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The classic series draws to a close and not on the coast of south east England or on the planet of the cheetah people but in desolate 'ol suburban Perivale....and a tale of Survival.
....not dissimilar to drab suburbia where we all grew up watching this show. Who would've thought Survival was the end, was a shame they didn't have a 'planned' final season as Grob said to wrap up the character's story arcs and give the series the proper ending it deserved, plus McCoy was quite happy to do a 4th year which would've meant only the third actor to break the 3 years only rule of the role. They all seem quite peeved about it on the documentary you'll find on Survival's DVD. Season 27 sounded an intriguing 'lost' season.
But to the episodes themselves, Survival is a nice little tale from the pen or word processor of Rona Munro, a fairly dark story dealing with the ideas of loneliness, possession and giving in to our animal instincts and how destructive the force of nature is when it takes hold. Here's a bit of useless trivia a friend told me recently. If civilization stopped today it would take only 20 years for the planet to totally reassert itself and 40 years for all traces of the cities to be completely overran. But anyway back again to Survival, it's really mature themes are brought across very well. The dullness of everyday Perivale on a Sunday contrasts nicely with the burning, erupting and wild excesses of the Cheetah planet with all it's red and purple skies and volcanoes we finally have a convincing alien planet!
Alan Wareing again demonstrates he's a classy director for Who as he contrasts his direction and shots between each setting and really gives both a distinct atmosphere. Dominic Glynn's music and sound effects perfectly tie up the feeling of the episodes - the Spanish & electric guitars really give Survival feeling.
Plus we have a sense of hopelessness when everyone is trapped on the Cheetah planet and there is no way out. The Tardis is back on Earth so we have to depend on the Doctor's brains to get them out and it's by again manipulating Ace as she falls under the influence of the Cheetah people and starts to become one of them. All the performances are top shelf, Sylvester - all credit to him - really is the Doctor now never thought he could be, though he is looking shabby appearance wise. Sophie has matured as Ace and like her better here than Fenric as she seems genuinely conflicted between saving her friends and the lure of the Cheetah people represented by her kindred spirit in the form of cheetah person Kara.
As for the Cheetah people they do look good and look cheap and naff on occasions. To make them more human with feline characteristics would've been better but JN-T said NO, we have to have big cats! Although the masks in close up are well done.
The incidental characters are served well, Ace's friends, rebel Midge, level headed Shreela and scaredy pants Derek are played realistically and Midge gets creepier as he first starts transforming into a Cheetah person and then as the Master totally dominates his possessed will to the point of him becoming a walking hand puppet. Sgt Patterson is also arrogantly well done.
The Master himself is much more a 3 dimensional character, as he's obviously been living in exile on the Cheetah Planet since the Time Lords dumped him there and has been fighting off turning into an animal for a while. A nasty fate, so while he tries to control his new powers and prevent them from controlling him, he seems more grounded, ruthless and believable as a villain than what he did on his last two appearances. He knew if he ever met the Doctor again his arch enemy would get him off the planet and he'd have to repay him by killing him, he seemed intent on it this time as if this would be his final chance at doing it before losing his mind to the Cheetah powers.
If anything they're final confrontation was good, but still would've liked to have seen the original ending where they both came back to Earth. Felt ripped off when that scene wasn't included on the Survival DVD. There were a few things unexplained such as the bike collision, how the Doctor manages to survive a head on collision and is just shown lying in a pile of rubbish with no marks on him after a massive explosion makes no sense. Why Midge dies,surely an accident like that would only injure him and how they were controlling the other defense class students??? Why did the bikes blow up anyway and why didn't Ace just run rather than waiting for the students to surround her? What was with Hale and Pace showing up basically playing themselves, that added nothing to the plot. Those are the only niggles in Survival. Ah well...
Ainley and McCoy bounce well off each other and the rest of Survival is an entertaining romp, pity it didn't end more dramatically due to the series premature end (after 26 years?) and the final speech by the 7th Doctor really doesn't cover that but least Cartmel tried to add something of a finish to the series even if it wasn't very memorable. But still for the final Who: 8/10 It was starting to return to greatness just as it met it's end.
Ironically the first story was one episode with a 3 parter tacked onto it. Goodbye classic series! M*A*S*H* was good but for some great series enders Grob also check out Blakes 7, Black Adder Goes Forth and The Office.
Hindsight is once again a wonderful thing. Not that anyone really knew at the time (although JNT had a small inkling, and its obvious that Andrew Cartmel never has a clue about anything) that Survival was going to be the last Who story for a long, long time. Imagine what it would have been like if the production team HAD known and planned a story that summed up the end of an era? Apparently the final episode of CHEERS is one of the best final episodes ever written, but since I never watched that show I will offer up the final episode of MASH as perhaps the finest final episodes I had ever watched. However, we will never know what the end of the classic series would have been like if it was planned all along. So instead we have a final episode that was written without that knowledge, until the last fifteen seconds.
SURVIVAL is written by Rona Munro who is perhaps the most successful writer to come out of the Cartmel era, certainly she is the one with the most ability to capture both realism and fantasy and blend the two so effortlessly. Drawing on her own personal background, Munro captures the atmosphere of an urban place like Perivale that is full of single parents, misfit youths and teenage gangs. Also, as with another female Who writer - Barbara Clegg (Enlightenment) - Survival has a lot of feminism, poetry and also quite adult. It also has some powerful imagery as well such as Ace feeding the Cheetah person at the river and also her transformation into one when she runs off and joins the pack. Very powerful. In some ways I am not surprised that this is the story that actually does some justice to the character of Ace and the acting abilities of Sophie Aldred due to Rona Munro having such a good ear for dialogue and an eye for such striking detail.
Another detail that Rona wrote very well is the Cheetah planet itself. It actually feels ALIVE and has a life all of its own. It has a reason for changing people the way it does and has a function as well. In addition to this, the production team actually made the planet look alien. Yes; its filmed in another quarry but its what they did with it that counts. There are fires, stone walls, and - with the clever use of electronic effects - an alien sky with a moon, smoke and volcanoes blowing up.
Rona Munro also must go down as the one person who was able to write properly for the Master since the character was brought back in 1981. He is written as a proper character with raw motivations and emotions and is deadly serious and totally evil and ruthless. Anthony Ainley plays the part without the need for pantomime and is terrific as a result. Full kudos to the director for reigning him in too.
Speaking of the director, Alan Wareing does a sterling job with Survival although I felt the scenes on the planet were more effective than the scenes on Earth. You really get a feeling for an alien environment through Wareing's camera with his hand-held camera movements as he follows the action with the fights of the Cheetahs against the humans. He also maps out a nice location for the Cheetah home base with the Master at the centre of it.
On Earth its a bit different and (for me) a bit too pedestrian looking. Maybe that is the look the director wanted to give everything in Perivale a bit of a "mundane, everyday" kind of feel to things. Its not Chris Clough direction but its lacking a bit of pace in places. Some scenes are also bordering on cringe worthiness such as the Doctor spooning cat food about the place and the scenes with Hale and Pace at the supermarket. Seriously, what the hell were they doing there?
There are some nice performances in Survival. Aldred I've already mentioned and McCoy is okay although not as good as his turn in Fenric. He also looks a bit shabby in this story as well like he needs a shave, a haircut and his costume in need of a dry clean. Sergeant Patterson is good although at times a bit over-the-top and one dimensional (maybe its him). My favourite character was the sniffling Ange who is rattling the tin outside the supermarket. She would have been a great companion. And I'd definitely do Lisa Bowerman who plays Kara.
A couple of negatives to Survival, I can't work out how anyone can survive a motorbike crash like that, and I thought that shot of the Doctor arse-up in the rubbish tip was really tasteless - c'mon people, give the lead character some bloody dignity!
The final line spoken by the Doctor about burning skies and seas that are asleep was hastily written by Cartmel himself as a final curtain to the show. I wouldn't say its a great piece of Shakespeare, hell it doesn't even make any bloody sense! But at least its, well, something. I think dear old Andy is trying to be poetic and failing miserably. Still, you gotta say something.
Anyway, Survival is the final episode and it all ends rather abruptly so before this review does I better give it a sco...
Not part one though. Part one is excellent. The kind of ghost town feel of it brings back memories of one of the greatest opening parts - Invasion of the Dinosaurs... and this time it doesn't finish up with a dodgy plasticine model! It has the perfect level of "something's not right" going on, all the while we know that people are being zapped away to somewhere, and we know that the Doctor and Ace are inevitably going to be next... and nothing can stop it from happening... not even an excellent cameo from Hale and Pace!
But Survival kind of goes off the rails a bit for me in part two. It gets a bit slow and boring - for two reasons. One, we spend way too much time watching extras in dodgy cat suits running around and riding horses in a quarry... I know that this adds to the story as their hunting is leading to the destruction of the planet (and the destruction of the planet is leading to them hunting), but there's just too much of it. Maybe more time could have been spent on making more sense of the Master's reason for being there... and that's my second problem... which I guess is a pretty standard in Master stories.
Although this time around it's not why the Master's there - it's more why he needed the Doctor to be there. So he's been trapped there and he's been able to work out how to control the cheetah people and he's worked out that the planet's stuffed, and he can work out how they can get between the cheetah planet and earth with the Kitling, and he can even see what the kitling sees... but he can't work out how to get back? And he thinks the only way he can get back is to get his archest of arch enemies to come and get him?? And where's his TARDIS gone?? Unfortunately it kind of reeks of "we've got this great premise for the season finale... what's that... looks like being the last one for a long time... hmmm... anyone know what Ainley's up to.... he's free... excellent, whack him in there!"
But despite that it kind of does still work. His reveal at the end of part one is excellent - and his cheetah people dilemma coupled with him being trapped on the planet and seemingly becoming a cheetah person is good... there's just something muddy with the way it all ties in. Which I guess leads us towards Grob's big problem with the Cartmel years... Cartmel. Does the blame for another story that's bulging with great ideas but doesn't quite gel together lie with him, or should he be commended for finding another unknown writer that seems to have brought some great new ideas and originality to the series? Or is that something that JNT should have been doing? Was Cartmel too busy doing JNT's job to do his own?
Anyway, there's enough going on in part two to cover both the boring and the unexplained bits - well maybe not enough - but the cliff-hanger is certainly a corker, and is almost enough to make you forget about the bad bits. The Master's back on earth to create havoc, and he's got a crazy cat mate who's nasty as... and not only is the Doctor not there to help, his trusty assistant is turning into a nasty cat too... nice stuff!
And we also get a great part 3 full of some excellent drama... and it's very dark too... something I remember very well from the first viewing. I'm certainly glad we got to go out on a high... imagine if we'd finished at the end of series 23 or 24!
Watching Survival back though, part 3 is kind of flawed. The setup is great - they all get back to earth and then have to stop the Master - that's all great. But I still don't understand why they had a joust on motorbikes. And why did the Master and the Doctor get zapped back to the Cheetah planet to have their fight? And why did the Doctor get zapped back because he didn't decide to fight like an animal? In the moment though it works really well.
For that I guess more kudos go to Alan Wareing... although a pattern is developing in his stories... they look great, the performances are great, they sound great (there's a non Keff nod for you Goldby), but parts of them just don't make sense! Maybe he could have been asking some of these questions of the script writer and the script editor too? Maybe he couldn't cos by the stage he comes in there's no time for that, the script editor should have handled all of that? Either way, he does a great job of bringing to life a tough script - realising the dull and empty Perivale and the lively jungle like Cheetah planet (which was a couple of miles down the road), was a great effort, and well achieved.
Anyway, it's a good thing that for the series to go out on a high we had a full quota of good performances. Ainley probably puts in his best ever performance as the Master, as he finally uses the "less is more" approach and comes across more menacing for it... although his fighting scenes are more pantomime than Puss in Boots. Ace is fine too - probably would have worked if she'd stuck around with her friends to help them through it at the end and her story would have come full circle... but I think the plan was to have her become a time lord... maybe it's a good thing it didn't go on hey! The other performance of great note (OK, other than Hale and Pace) is Paterson. I think he's great - full of all the bluff and bravado that he should be, but at the same time embodying the whole message of the story - survival of the fittest.
And finally, McCoy really nails the Doctor here... especially in the last part. I'm sure that it's Survival that really gave me a long lasting impression of McCoy's Doctor, that maybe wasn't as consistent across all his episodes (especially earlier), but here it's brilliant. It's dark yet caring. It's conniving yet energetic. And the final message (the one about not being violent, not the one about tea being ready) is really what Dr Who is about. This performance left me wanting more then - and still does now.
So there are some massive highs here... but some unfortunate lows... but I really love the highs... but I really don't like the lows... I want to give Survival an 8... but...