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24 October 2018 @ 08:32 pm
The Randomiser: Survival  
Survival has a unique place in Doctor Who history. The final story of the classic run, it manages at least to give the show a decent (albeit not spectacular) send off. In many ways it encapsulates both the strengths and the weaknesses of the final couple of years of Doctor Who.

The animatronic cats, of which I recall the production team of the time being very proud, look pretty terrible by today's standards. The story manages not to look cheap in the way, say, The Happiness Patrol does, benefitting probably from its location filming. But it still suffers from being made on a shoestring with, it feels, too little time to get performances and direction really tight. The climatic motorcycle "fight" is easily the weakest part of the story being both poorly realised and largely superfluous to the plot.

The writier, Rona Munro, of course, has the distinction of being the only person to write for both new and old Doctor Who. I was struck on watching Survival to realise that both her stories have featured children (or at best teens) being forced to fight because the adults are absent or useless. I think I possibly prefer Survival to The Eater of Light but I think the latter shows a writer with better control of her material than Survival has. Survival's thematic criticism of the idea of survival of the fittest as a governing principle for human behaviour is laid on thickly with the earnestness of a young writer who doesn't quite trust the audience to figure it out for themselves - a criticism that could be made of many of the stories of this era, several of which are written by talented but inexperienced writers.

In contrast, again like much of the rest of this season, while the themes are being set out very clearly lest we miss them, much of the detail of the plot is omitted. It is assumed that the audience can figure that out for themselves. It gave the stories of this era an energy that earlier stories sometimes lacked, but at the cost of often appearing incomprehensible and a bit garbled. This lack of willingness to actually spell out the plot, and in particular to spell out what the Doctor thinks he's doing, also leads to an inflated sense of the extent to which he is manipulating situations (something many people dislike about this era). At least in Survival, it is moderately obvious that he has no plan and is unaware of the situation in advance, even if he never says as much.

Tame Layman noticed immediately that Perivale, as presented here, is leafy and middle-class (in contrast to, for instance, Rose's Powell Estate) but it isn't really clear whether this is a deliberate commentary - Ace's disadvantaged background is not as she tends to present it: she's a bored teen not an abandoned and disadvantaged delinquant - or just that the production team lacked the time and money to film anywhere other than leafy surburbia.

Survival has the energy and the ambition of much of the Cartmel era and shows how a seventh Doctor story could work when the Doctor is not manipulating events. It would have been interesting to see where the show went after this. At the same time the relative inexperience of the writer and script editor and the lack of money (and time) are all obvious. I'm glad this was the final story (not, say, The Ultimate Foe) since it allowed the show go out with an air of youthful optimism and ambition. I sometimes wish we could have seen what these people would do as they got more to grips with the nuts and bolts of script writing and production (though maybe the full Cartmel Masterplan would have been a mistake) but they definitely laid the foundations on which much of modern Who has been built.

The final lines of the story were written I believe by Andrew Cartmel to put a full stop on Doctor Who's 26 year journey. Like everything else they strive to hit the right note and pretty much succeed, but are rather obviously dubbed over the ending - the show lacking the time and money to reshoot the final scene.

"Come on Ace. We have work to do."

This entry was originally posted at https://purplecat.dreamwidth.org/525193.html.
daniel_saunders: Leekleydaniel_saunders on October 24th, 2018 08:00 pm (UTC)
I've also noted how suburban Ace's background seems. I wouldn't go too far with the 'bored not delinquent' idea, though, as Ghost Light makes it pretty clear that she has some real issues.

I actually prefer Survival to The Eaters of Light. I actually find both of them a bit heavy-handed in places, but the earlier story seems to have more energy to me and is a more interesting and complex story.

Somewhere the tea's getting cold...
louisedennis: Who:Sevenlouisedennis on October 26th, 2018 10:56 am (UTC)
I'd find it hard to pick between them, to be honest, Survival has a lot of rough edges, which is part of its charm in some ways but I can see Eater of Light as similar to what you might have got if it decided to emphasise following the plot more, emphasise the theme, and then tried to fit into 45 minutes...
liadtbunny: Cat upside downliadtbunny on October 25th, 2018 03:05 pm (UTC)
I prefer 'Survival' too! And I like the cuddly cheetah people, oh dear!

They wouldn't stop going on about the animatronic cat on the extras on the DVD and consoled themselves with that the cat in 'Sabrina' wasn't any good either. Cats heads are too small to fit the electronics in apparently.

It's a shame the show was cancelled as it was definitely on an upswing.
louisedennis: Who:Sevenlouisedennis on October 26th, 2018 11:08 am (UTC)
Yes, I agree, it did seem to be finding its feet and a modern identity for itself. I think there is a good argument that the logical progression of the McCoy seasons doesn't lead anywhere particularly good for the show, but there's no guarantee that logical progression would have been followed.

It did need more money though, and maybe we needed the break in order to create the environment where more money would be spent.