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Survival

Review by David Bishop

After the disappointing Battlefield, Ghost Light's dense crypticism and the classic Curse of Fenric, Survival is merely mediocre. Newcomer Rona Munro's three-parter is packed with padding, the whole of the first episode could have been comfortably wrapped up in about eight minutes - indeed the whole story would struggle to sustain two parts, let alone the extravagant three it was given. Ghost Light or Curse would have been much better recipients of the extra episode. The effects are good, the acting adequate and the cat costumes look better on screen than they did in preview photos. Visions of a planet populated by Bungle Bear creatures from Rainbow fortunately did not come true. Anthony Ainley puts in an improved performance as the Master (though that would not be hard after The Mark of the Rani and The Ultimate Foe). But really Survival is nothing special at all and fair to middling at best. The worst story of season 26 if only because it was so predictable.

Review by Paul Scoones

This story couldn't really hope to win any awards or accolades, placed as it is at the end of the season immediately after The Curse of Fenric, and on first viewing it looks pretty silly. This story is heavily padded and the first episode drags badly. Reduced to two episodes (with the spare given to either Ghost Light or Fenric), it would have been a much better production, but Survival is not a dead loss; it never really tries to be anything other than a light-weight tale, and in places it actually manages to be quite chilling.

It was a refreshing change to have the Master more interested in his own self-preservation than any plans for universal domination. Anthony Ainley turned in one of his best performances in the role, and the script gave him the opportunity to flesh out his character a little more, particularly in the last episode where he worries about remaining under the influence of the Hunting Planet forever.

The concept of people turning into animals - the Cat people - was used to greatest effect at the cliffhanger for episode two, when Ace turns to face the Doctor. A shocking scene, and one of several where director Alan Wareing slowed down the film to emphasize the point though I wonder if he was also trying to pad out what must have been three quite thin scripts by Rona Munro. What with the paintbox sky, the Hunting Planet looked an awful lot like Segonax from last years The Greatest Show in the Galaxy - which was of course filmed in the same quarry by the same director. A change of location for Survival might have been a wise move.

Unlike its three predecessors, no one from this story really made any impression on me. I cringed at Julian Holloway's interpretation of Sergeant Pattison, making him into more of an idiot than Munro in all probability intended. Ace's friends were rather two-dimensional, they seemed to be half-dead all of the time - I mean, even when Ace turned up they weren't particularly surprised to see their long-lost thought-dead mate. The comedians Hale and Pace failed to be funny in their short, pointless scene, and seemed to be there just to get people to watch the episode.

But what most disappointed me was a failing that can be attributed to the script editor. At the end of the previous story, Ace reevaluates her attitude towards her mother, but in Survival she makes no effort to get in contact with Audrey and make amends, despite prompting from Pattison. What is the use of developing her character in one story if in the next she reverts back to her old ways. Surely maintaining this continuity is one of the prime functions of the script editor?

The Cat people costumes weren't quite as bad as advance photos led me to believe they would be, but it was still impossible to think of them as anything but people in costumes, which is particularly bad in a story such as this one in which much of the success of the production relies on the impact of the alien race.

Survival is, for all this, better than some of the stories we've seen Sylvester McCoy in. Placed in Season 24, it would come out just ahead of Dragonfire, for instance. But in a season with two brilliant stories and one reasonably enjoyable (Battlefield), Survival tends to fall rather flat. If I were JNT I would have placed Survival mid-season and The Curse of Fenric last, so as to go out on the highest peak possible. Given that it is the last new story for over a year though, it has a nice final scene. McCoy's poetic monologue was delightful in its simplicity and humour, and his final words left me with the feeling that when we see the next story, perhaps in 1991, it will be special...

"There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where 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 is getting cold. Come on, Ace, we've work to do."

Review by Richard Scheib

Survival, the final story for the season, should be appreciated solely for the reason that it is the most straightforward story for the whole season. It is the only one that goes against Cartmel's determination to follow Jean-Luc Godard's theorem that "a story should have a beginning, a middle and an ending - although not necessarily in that order" that became the seeming catch-phrase for the whole agonizing pseudo-intellectual 1960's New Wave cinema movement and seemingly so for all the stories this season. It offers some interesting if faintly ludicrous images such as pussy-cats with inter-stellar teleportational ability; Anthony Ainley returning as the Master in black safari suit and plastic Dracula fangs; a planet splitting up in sympathy to a race of cheetah people's aggressive instincts; a climax between the Master with a gang of feline-vampirized toy town toughs and the Doctor riding into combat on a motorbike. (Season 26 should, if nothing else, should be remembered for its audacious juggling of concepts, even if treading a fine line between the daring and ludicrous). It is not a story that really works; its conflicts and workings being too staidly delivered to match up to its initial conceptions. The second episode is the best where it eventuates into a really weird atmosphere of feline possession and a very odd confrontation between the Doctor and Master.

This item appeared in TSV 17 (January 1990).

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