Doctor Who: Survival

"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea's asleep, and the rivers dream; people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there's danger, somewhere there's injustice, and somewhere else the tea's getting cold. Come on, Ace. We've got work to do."

It's the end. But the moment has been prepared for.

Sort of.

'Survival' has the unfortunate distinction of being the last Doctor Who story broadcast on British television during its original run. Although always intended to be the finale of this season, it was never meant to be the end for the show itself. The production team was already deep into planning season 27 when word came down from on high that this season would likely be the show's last. So if you've come here expecting some kind of grand farewell to Doctor Who, then I'm afraid you are going to go home disappointed.

'Survival' is a rather unspectacular tale that I'm sure many would overlook if it didn't happen to be the classic series' swan song. Probably the most distinctive thing about it is the setting. This story takes the Doctor and Ace to a very strange and alien new world. Not the planet of the Cheetah people. That's nothing more than your standard disused quarry. Nowt strange or unusual about that. No, I'm talking about a much stranger and unusual place, a place the Doctor has never stepped foot in before - English suburbia.

Doctor Who has a long history of mixing the fantastical with the recognisable. More often than not it did this by having alien invaders stop and pose in front of famous British (well, London) landmarks.  Think Daleks sliding across Westminster Bridge, Yeti in the Underground, or Cybermen stomping in front of St. Paul's. But never before has the show taken us to a place as normal and everyday as Perivale, a mundane London suburb that, judging by all the boarded up houses and 'For Sale' signs, the locals seem to be abandoning in droves.


Might not seem strange now, but at the time it was weird seeing the TARDIS parked outside a house just like the one I lived in, seeing the Doctor and Ace walking up and down the same kind of streets I walked up and down, and seeing them go shopping in the same kind of local shop I used to shop in. Unfortunately, that last part led to an encounter with Hale and Pace, a comedy duo who should be prosecuted under the Trade Descriptions Act.

The everyday setting and agonising celebrity cameos, as well as the reason for the Doctor and Ace's visit (she wants to catch up with those she left behind), make 'Survival' feel like a dry run for Russell T. Davies' 2005 revival. Unfortunately, it's so dry it might as well be the Sahara. Where Davies would squeeze every last drop of drama out of a companion's return home, this story turns Ace's into a complete non-event. Her mother is mentioned, then quickly forgotten about, which feels especially frustrating after everything that happened in 'The Curse of Fenric'. She does manage to get reunited with some of her old friends on the Cheetah People's planet, but her interactions with them are so functionary they might as well be strangers.

'Survival' also has a pretty big Master problem. Despite Anthony Ainley giving one of his best performances in the role, it really feels like the Master was forced into this story so there'd be a traditional bad guy for our heroes to fight. I don't know why they didn't just go with Midge for the main villain. Yeah, Will Barton’s weak acting is iffy at times, but Midge would've made a more interesting villain than the Master, especially if they'd centred the story around him and Ace, explored their history and friendship, and their respective struggles to resist the allure of the Cheetah People's planet. Or in Ace's case, the allure of Karra. That's another relationship that could've done with being explored further, although I bet the BBC would've vetoed any attempt by Munro to make her lesbian subtext actual text.

I feel like I should have something more substantial to say about ‘Survival’, considering its place in the show’s history. But there’s very little that is substantial about it. It is an okay-ish story, with some decent ideas that never reaches its full potential. It is another unsatisfying story from an era that rarely produced anything but unsatisfying stories. The only thing it really had going for it was its status as the last classic Doctor Who story, but it doesn’t even have that any more thanks to the show's revival.


Notes and Quotes 

--The part of Karra is played by Lisa Bowerman, who is now more familiar to fans as the voice of Bernice Summerfield in the Big Finish Productions audio dramas. She is also a director of many Big Finish productions, and also returned to the Doctor Who series proper when she provided voice-acting work for the animated special Dreamland in 2009.

--If the show had continued for another season it would've seen the departure of Ace and the introduction of a new companion named Raine Cunningham. The character, renamed Raine Creevy, later appeared in The Lost Stories range for Big Finish and was played by Beth Chalmers.

--The speech the Doctor gives at the end was written and recorded last minute (two weeks before the episode) to give the whole thing a greater sense of finality.

--If becoming like the Cheetah People gives you the ability to teleport back to your home planet, why couldn't the Master just teleport back to Gallifrey?

--Thanks to the show's cancellation, this would be the last story for Ace and Ainley's Master.

--The final fight between the Doctor and the Master weirdly just sort of ends once the Doctor refuses to fight. Despite the Master landing a killing blow, the Doctor gets zapped back to Earth without explanation and that is that. This story doesn't so much conclude as suddenly hit the brakes and expect us to just accept it.

--Munro wasn't happy with the Cheetah People costumes. She felt they limited the actors' facial expressions and looked too Puss in Boots.

--I don't know what is more absurd about Midge and the Doctor's game of chicken, how both of their bikes instantly explode when they crash into each other or how the Doctor miraculously survives in the most Loony Toon way possible?

--Where did Ace get the wire for her trap in episode 2?

--I have a sneaky suspicion that the fake cat in this story was later cast as Salem in Sabrina the Teenage Witch.

--The most dated thing about this story is probably all those guitars on the soundtrack. Dominic Glynn was certainly channelling his inner Michael Kamen.

Ace: "Do you know any nice people? Y'know, normal everyday people, not power-crazed nutters trying to take over the universe?"

Ace: "Where have they gone?"
The Doctor: "They've been taken back to the wilderness. The place is different, but the hunt goes on... you know all about the hunt, don't you Ace?"
Ace: "I felt like I could run forever, like I could smell the wind and feel the grass under my feet, and just run forever."
The Doctor: "The planet's gone, but it lives on inside you, and it always will."
Ace: "Good."

The Doctor: "He doesn't have to outrun the lion, only his friend. Then the lion catches up with his friend and eats him. The strong survive, the weak are killed: the law of the jungle! ... Yes, very clever, if you don't mind losing your friend. But what happens when the next lion turns up? I think you'd better get your running shoes on, gentlemen."

The Doctor: "If we fight like animals, we die like animals!"

Ange: "That's what they said, either you were dead or gone to Birmingham."

The Doctor: "Where to now, Ace?"
Ace: "...Home."
The Doctor: "Home?"
Ace: "The TARDIS!"
The Doctor: "Yes, the TARDIS."

Two out of four mundane London suburbs.


Mark Greig has been writing for Doux Reviews since 2011 More Mark Greig

5 comments:

Billie Doux said...

I know there is still the TV movie to go, but big, big congratulations on finishing the original series, Mark. One hundred and twelve excellent reviews over seven years. It's a genuine accomplishment.

sunbunny said...

I think once he finishes the movie we should throw him a party.

All I remember about this one is IF WE FIGHT LIKE ANIMALS WE DIE LIKE ANIMALS. Which I guess is a sort of indictment of the episode in and of itself.

Mark Greig said...

112? Has it really been that many? That's like five seasons of a US drama. Does that mean I get syndication money?

Billie Doux said...

These are multi-episode adventures, so it's a whole lot more than 112. Much longer than five seasons, too. It's a huge deal. When you first joined Doux back in 2011, I honestly didn't think you would finish simply because it was just monumental. I'm happy to be wrong.

Billie Doux said...

And yes, let's have a party!