There’s been much made over the years about how much 1989’s Survival was a template of sorts for the New Series when it came back in 2005, which is something I’ve never really been convinced of, bar the superficial similarity of both Rose and Ace being seen on their home turf and in their own time. The story itself is another one of those Cartmelian cockups that’s more concerned with concept and theme than plot and threat. A bunch of subtextually lesbian cheetah ladies are kidnapping and hunting teenagers on an angry planet that’s about to blow up. This particular doomed planet isn’t going to blow up in two dawns time, and there’s not a Rill or a Drahvin to be seen, but there is an awful animatronic cat, lots of faux fur and Anthony Ainley, who in this last one has grown his own rubbish beard instead of sticking on a BBC one…
This is another one of those yawnfests that thinks it’s something terribly clever about evolution blah blah blah when actually it’s dull, it’s boring and I really don’t give a monkeys if any of the characters live or die. Apart from maybe Julian Holloway, a normally posh actor whose Scots accent for Sergeant Paterson is spot on and far better than McCoy’s.
The rubbish one word title gets the chop, as you might expect, and the edit gets the much better title of The Survival Syndrome. The reason I think that’s a better title is it helps to give a subtle shift in storytelling emphasis, that predation is actually a negative impulse, instead of a beneficial instinct. There is always an alternative to “kill or be killed”. Trouble is, too often people can’t be arsed making the effort to find it and so take the easy option of violence and aggression to get their way.
One of the main things that struck me as I watched part one, was that Hale & Pace are pretty much forgotten today, despite their status as semi-famous comic icons when this was made. That’s the fickle, not to mention predatory and consuming, nature of showbiz for you. Ace’s mate with the collecting tin is like a female version of Rik Mayall’s character from The Young Ones which, unlike Hale & Pace, has never been forgotten and will always be funny.
So there’s this planet that turns people into LesboCheetas who then develop the ability to teleport, zip over to Earth and, aided by the aforesaid unconvincing animatronic cat, kidnap some poor bugger and take them back to the planet so the process can start all over again. And every time they do this the planet gets more unstable and liable to blow up. I think that’s it, not that I care because Rona Munro, now a playwright and fave of the trendy leftie Byres Road brigade – she did the recent “The James Plays” at The National Theatre – is more excited about exploring the themes instead of telling a gripping and engaging story. So the fan edit does what it can to make the best of the final confrontation between the Master and the Doctor for another seven years ’til they meet again in San Francisco…
Part one starts with the arrival of the Tardis and then cuts straight to the youth club/community centre and Sgt Paterson’s self defence class. Ace buggers off in a huff and by the time the Doctor catches up with her she’s been zapped by Lesbocheetah Lisa “Big Finish” Bowerman. He tracks down the kitling and then he and Paterson get zapped themselves at nine minutes in. Try as I might, it just wasn’t possible to cut the crap cat or Ainley completely prior to the Master’s reveal so I had to settle for keeping them both to the absolute minimum.
That was for two reasons – in the case of the cat because it’s not at all convincing, and Ainley because even in the dark it’s bleedin’ obvious that it’s him. And was I the only one who thought the cat’s name was “Shomi”? Once Ant has arrived it’s full steam ahead for the end, as from here on in it’s all about The Final Conflict between the two. Apart from anything else it’s about the only interesting thing going on for the final two episodes. Who gives a shit about lesbocheetas or Ace’s old gang when there’s a McCoy and Ainley Face Off to look forward to.
The end of part two arrives at twenty-two minutes in and it’s only when we get to part three that we hit our first major editing challenge – how to get the Dr and Ace from the Tardis and back to the Tardis without having to subject ourselves to all that bollocks in the youth club and the infamous motorbike joust. Solving that particular problem came down to relocating Ace’s line “the Tardis” from the closing scene and using it to replace “he’s at the youth club”. That gets McCoy back to the Tardis for the final face off with Ainley without the need for the rest of the padding that clutters up the episode or the dead cat that’s even more unconvincing than the animatronic one!
The next challenge was getting McCoy back from the planet. That involved a brief four-frame animation, using the return flash as a guide, and overlaying it on top of the shot of Ace just before McCoy steps in and takes his hat and brolly back, neither of which he has when he confronts Ainley at the Tardis, mainly because he lost them in the joust which got cut. It’s not ideal but just tell yourself that the Dr left his hat and brolly with Ace as she took Squeak up to her gran and he went back to the Tardis. That, to me, is still better than the alternative, which was to retain material I wasn’t remotely interested in watching.
It was while I was working on the end sequence that I had the idea of doing something just a little bit different from the original to mark the fact that this was where the Classic Series ended. And so, backed by that music track, the one that closed More Than Thirty Years In The TARDIS, we get one last Whoflix flashback to take us from Perivale in 1989 all the way back to Totter’s Lane in 1963, where it all started. Survival may be where the Classic Doctors’ television travels in space and time stopped, but thankfully it’s not where they ended.