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Series / Survivors (BBC)
aka: Survivors

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"Every new person feels like a gift."
Abby Grant, Survivors (2008)

Survivors was a post-apocalyptic drama created by Terry Nation for The BBC. It ran for three seasons (the second and third without Nation's involvement) from 1975 to 1977. In 2008, it was "re-imagined" and re-launched, this time lasting two seasons before being cancelled in 2010. Officially, the new series was based on an original series novelization which Nation wrote. In 2014, Big Finish Productions started producing an audio drama series based on and taking place alongside the 1975 series, including crossovers with the original cast.

Both versions are set in the then-present day and depict the aftermath of a virulent disease that wiped out 99% of the human race. It was generally just called 'The Death' in the original but was identified in the remake as 'European Flu'-being released from a laboratory. A disparate band of survivors is thrown together and must now face the struggle of a dangerous life with no society, police or government. However, in both versions, there eventually appear people who have ideas about re-establishing a form of government.

Well, look on the bright side. Global warming's not going to be a problem any more...

Not to be mistaken for Survivor, which itself also was adapted by the BBC in 2023.

Both series provides examples of:

  • After the End: In the aftermath of a devastating plague, the people who were immune struggle to survive.
  • Apocalypse How: Level One and a high one at that, but the existence of human knowledge in book form keeps it from a Level Two.
  • Celebrity Survivor:
    • In the original series episode "Genesis", Abby meets Arthur Wormley, who was the national president of a major trade union before the outbreak.
    • In the 2008 series, Samantha Willis is the only surviving governmental official, having been the Junior Minister in charge of overseeing the government's media response to the outbreak.
  • Cosy Catastrophe: More so in the first version.
  • Dead Star Walking:
    • Freema Agyeman was heavily involved in the promotion of the remake. She dies halfway through the first episode. To add to the impact, the character she played was, in the original, the only one to survive for the entire show.
    • The original did this as well, casting the well-known Peter Bowles as the husband to Abby (played by relative unknown Carolyn Seymour) who stays healthy while she collapses with the plague. However, towards the end of the first episode, she is the one who wakes up, to find his dead body, after he succumbs off-screen. With no actors listed in the opening titles and some very careful scripting, it was probably a big shock to viewers at the time. This was repeated in the remake, with Abby's husband played by Shaun Dingwall. Paul's death near the start of the second season is also a good one - half the Season 1 cast had just been written out after a big format change and the show seemed settled on a new direction, only to promptly kill off another first series star within a couple of episodes.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Played with heavily. In a world where there is no definitive law or government, most of the human race is dead, and survival by whatever means is the order of the day, normal rules do not apply. Stuff which might normally be considered stealing, applying the death penalty (either for minor crimes like stealing or poaching, or at all), general tyranny justified to preserve safety or law and order, looking out for number one/your own instead of being a good Samaritan, sleeping with as many people as possible to preserve the human race, and all sorts. Often leads to differences between characters and groups, who many have their own ideas and motivations for doing what they do.
  • Depopulation Bomb: Both versions involve a plague that wipes out more than 99% of the world's population. In the original series episode "Corn Dolly", Charles estimates that only 1 person in every 5,000 survived.
  • Determinator: Abby desperately searches for her son Peter. In Terry Nation's novelisation of several Season One episodes of the 1975 version, Peter, a member of a gang of wandering youths, kills Abby as he does not recognise her. In the 2008 version, Abby is reunited with him in the Cliffhanger ending to Season Two.
  • The Immune: In the original, some survivors never got sick, others fell ill but pulled through. In the remake, Abby is the only one whose body managed to fight off the virus. However, we later learn that some of humanity has managed to escape exposure, in the form of a virus research facility.
  • The Plague: As noted, in both versions it is released from a laboratory. In the original, the viewer only learns this from the opening title sequence, and it never becomes significant plot-wise.
  • Survived the Beginning: The first episode involves introducing several characters and then watching most of them die off into the tiny handful that would make up the cast for the rest of the series, as a plague which wipes out 90 percent of the world hits.
  • The Vamp: Both versions feature a woman who plies her seductive wiles to attract and keep male protectors.

The 1975 series provides examples of:

  • The Ace: In "Garland's War", Abby meets Jimmy Garland, an aristocratic Gentleman Adventurer who went on expeditions all over the world before the plague hit. As the the fourth son of the 13th Earl of Waterhouse, he was never expected to inherit the title so he indulged his passion for travel and adventure by going on these trips as well as joining the Army. Abby says that he should have been born 200 years earlier but Jimmy tells her that he is ideally suited to the post-plague world and that he could not have invented a situation more to his liking.
  • Achilles in His Tent: In "A Beginning", Abby is feeling the burden of leadership since everyone looks to her for guidance due to her pivotal role in establishing the settlement. Over the last few weeks, her depression has grown because she misses Peter and she feels that she has no one with whom she can discuss her problems. As such, she decides to leave the community and find Jimmy Garland, whom she previously met in "Garland's War". Her intention is to resume her search for Peter with Jimmy's assistance. However, Abby ultimately elects to return to the Grange as she realises that they need her too much.
  • Anyone Can Die: For just three years on the air, the show had quite the cast turnover. Lucy Fleming (Jenny Richards) is the only cast member to remain with the series throughout its entire run, appearing in both the first and last episodes.
  • Apocalypse Anarchy: In "The Fourth Horseman", Jenny is harassed and almost assaulted by three young men looting shops on a London high street.
  • Baby Factory: In "Corn Dolly", Charles believes that the British Isles' post-plague population, which he estimates at approximately 10,000, is so small that they may all die out within two or three generations. To prevent this from happening, he impregnates four of the women in his community, Lorraine, Isla, Tessa and Florence, and wants to do the same to Abby. Abby, Jenny and Greg are appalled and decide to leave and never come back. Charles tries to convince Jenny to remain and have a baby with Greg or any other man. He is desperate as Tessa and Florence both died from eating diseased fish and he is not certain whether Lorraine and Isla's pregnancies will be viable but his pleas fall on deaf ears.
  • Back for the Dead: Greg in Season Three, essentially. He appears in only two widely-spaced episodes, and in the second contracts smallpox and dies.
  • Black Dude Dies First: The only one who appears in the entire series is introduced dying of smallpox.
  • Bookends: The series begins and ends with scenes of a couple eating dinner by candlelight.
  • Burn the Witch!: A second-season episode gets dangerously close to this.
  • The Cameo: Patrick Troughton makes a one-scene appearance in one episode. His character is then killed off-screen.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Minor characters often disappeared with little or no explanation.
  • Commune: In "Spoil of War", Paul Pittman, a new arrival at the Grange, tells Abby and Jenny that he was a member of a self-sufficient agricultural commune before the plague hit. He uses his extensive knowledge of farming techniques to substantially improve the running of the Grange estate.
  • Darker and Edgier: Season Three may be the most literal example of this ever.
  • Dead Guy on Display: In "Gone Away", while obtaining food and other vital supplies from a supermarket, Abby, Greg and Jenny discover the body of a man who has seemingly been hanged on display. The body has a sign reading "Looter" stuck to it and as such is intended to serve as a warning. Dave Long, a lackey of Arthur Wormley whom Abby previously met in "Genesis", says that they didn't actually kill him, having merely found the body down the road. He notes that it is a more effective deterrent than putting up a "Keep Out" sign.
  • Demoted to Extra: Jenny, as Season One progresses. She begins to come back into prominence in Season Two, then stars in Season Three as she fruitlessly chases Greg around the countryside. Demoted in her place is everyone who carried over from Season Two besides her, Charles and Hubert.
  • Disaster Scavengers: Tom Price is the most prominent example of several in Season One. In "Genesis", he takes expensive clothes from an upmarket shop and a Rolls Royce from a showroom.
  • Downer Ending: In "Law and Order", Barney is executed for the murder of Wendy while Abby and Greg let the actual murderer, Tom, go unpunished as they believe that the truth would destroy their burgeoning community.
  • Feudal Overlord:
    • In "Genesis", the trade unionist Arthur Wormley has established a small community and has declared himself the ruler of the general area surrounding it. His ultimate goal is make contact with other settlements throughout Britain. His compound will be the central hub through which all of these settlements will be administered. Abby compares it to the way in which feudal barons ruled. Wormley counters that feudalism eventually led to the development of the British system of government, which he considers the best in the world. He later claims that the government declaration of martial law gives him the authority to execute a retired colonel who led an attack on his compound, which resulted in the death of one of his men.
    • In "Garland's War", Knox tells Abby that Jimmy Garland has set numerous conditions when it comes to taking back his ancestral home Waterhouse and becoming leader of their community. He wants everyone to move out of the main house, take up residence in the cottages on the estate, pay him rent and swear their loyalty to him as lord of the manor. As she did in "Genesis", Abby compares this to the feudal system. In reality, however, Jimmy merely wants Waterhouse to be a functioning estate again with him as an arbiter as opposed to a ruler. He assures Abby that everyone would have a say in the running of the community. It is later revealed in "A Beginning" that Jimmy got his wish. Knox was killed in an accident one day while out hunting for him. The other members of the community soon came to Jimmy for assistance.
  • The Food Poisoning Incident: In "Corn Dolly", eight of the eleven members of Charles' community die after eating fish that they had caught in a lake the day before. Charles speculates that it may have been caused by industrial waste, bacteria or a new virus created as a byproduct of the plague.
  • From the Mouths of Babes:
    • In "The Future Hour", Bernard Huxley learns that his heavily pregnant common law wife Laura Foster is hiding in the Grange when John tells him one of his men that he felt the baby kicking.
    • In "Revenge", Vic discovers that Anne Tranter (who left him for dead in "Genesis") has arrived at the Grange when John and Lizzie tell him that they had met her. The adults had been trying to keep her presence a secret. Vic then tries to kill Anne.
  • God Is Displeased: In "Gone to the Angels", Jack, Robert and Matthew are three religious men who intended to form a new Noah's Ark in the mountains in the months before the outbreak. They believe that the plague is God's way of punishing humanity for its evil ways.
  • Guilt by Coincidence: In "Law and Order", the Grange has a party in celebration of May Day. Almost all of the adult members of the community, in particular Tom and the intellectually impaired Barney, drink heavily. Throughout the night, Barney is very attentive towards Wendy, which some of the others see as pestering. As she goes up to bed, Tom tries to force himself on her. When she runs away, he follows her into her room. The next morning, she is found dead, having been stabbed. The murderer is Tom, who hides a knife under a floorboard, but the chief suspect is Barney, who is hunting in the forest. Greg, Tom, Paul and Arthur search for him. Tom manages to find him first and warns him that he must get away as fast as possible since the others think that he killed Wendy. However, he is caught by Greg and Paul and blurts out that he didn't do it, which is taken to mean that he did not kill Wendy. As far as any of the others knew, the only way that he could have know that Wendy was dead was if he had killed her. Furthermore, he is found with a bloodied arrow in his possession. He used it to kill a rabbit but the others suspect that the blood belongs to Wendy. The nine remaining adults (including Tom) put him on trial. By a margin of six to three, he is found guilty with diminished responsibility. After the verdict, the community considers banishing him but Greg argues that he must be executed. The group then votes on these two options. Greg, Paul, Vic and Arthur vote for execution while Jenny, Emma, Charmian and the guilt-ridden Tom vote for banishment. Having the deciding vote, Abby votes for his execution. The five men draw straws to decide who shall shoot him. Greg gets the short straw. After Barney's death, Tom can no longer contain his guilt and shows Abby and Greg the knife. Greg nearly kills Tom but Abby stops him. The two of them decide to keep Tom's guilt a secret from the others, both because they think that Tom would be lynched and because they need every remaining hand.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Charles, sort of. He makes a rather creepy appearance in the first-season episode "Corn Dolly" but repents and in the other two seasons becomes a series regular following Abby and Greg's departure/deaths.
  • Hope Spot: The last episode of Season One retroactively turned into this, when production-crew turmoil led to Abby disappearing for good and many of the remaining characters dying in a settlement-destroying fire.
  • Hostage Situation: In "Something of Value", Robert Lawson, Jim Buckmaster and Thorpe take first Lizzie and later Lucy hostage as part of their attempt to steal the Grange community's tanker, which contains about 1,000 gallons of petrol.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: In "The Future Hour", the heavily pregnant Laura Foster runs away from the community led by her common law husband Bernard Huxley. He intends to give away her baby, who was conceived before the plague outbreak, as he doesn't want to raise another man's child. With the help of her friend Norman, Laura makes her way to the Grange and is given sanctuary. However, Huxley finds out that she is there and says that he and his men will launch an attack if Laura is not returned to him by 10 o'clock the following morning. Laura and Norman sneak out of the Grange in the middle of the night but they don't get very far as she goes into labour. Greg brings her back to the house, where the baby is safely delivered.
  • Important Haircut: At the end of "The Fourth Horseman", Abby cuts her hair. This signifies the end of her old life.
  • Lower-Class Lout: Anyone who was lower-class before the Death tends to be, at best, dirty, surly and unhelpful.
  • Mercy Kill: In "Corn Dolly", Charles procures morphine from a hospital and injects the dying members of his community with it in order to end their suffering.
  • Missed Him by That Much:
    • In "The Fourth Horseman", Jenny hears Abby's car driving by and tries in vain to get her attention.
    • Greg and everyone else all though Season Three.
  • No Bikes in the Apocalypse: Subverted, if only for one episode; by the third season, the characters are mostly riding horses.
  • One-Man Army: In "Garland's War", Jimmy Garland leads a one man war against Knox and his followers in order to reclaim his ancestral home Waterhouse.
  • Post-Apocalyptic Dog:
    • In "Corn Dolly", Charles mentions that dogs are hunting in packs.
    • In "Gone to the Angels", John and Lizzie adopted a stray dog that they named Ben. At one point, he runs off when he hears other dogs barking but he returns. When Lincoln threatens Lizzie with a scissors, Ben attacks him in order to save Lizzie.
    • In "Starvation", the survivors come across a pack of dogs in the middle of the road. Abby wants to chase them away but Greg warns that they may be rabid. They eventually run away when they hear something and Ben goes with them. John and Lizzie want to find him but Greg says that he will be happy with his new friends. Jenny and Abby warn the children not to play with Ben if he does return as he may have rabies. However, Greg tells them that it is alright since Barney, who was bitten by one of them, would be the showing symptoms of rabies by now. Ben rejoins the survivors at the end of the episode.
  • Put on a Bus: Abby in Season Two; the characters aren't able to confirm it, but the strong implication is that eventually she died.
  • Redemption Equals Death: In "The Future Hour", only one episode after he killed Wendy and allowed Barney to take the blame for it in "Law and Order", Tom Price shoots Bernard Huxley so that his common law wife Laura Foster does not have to give up her newborn baby. Tom is promptly shot dead by Huxley's men.
  • Sex for Services: In "Starvation", Tom Price tells both Abby and Wendy that he will obtain food for them in exchange for payment. It is never stated outright that he means sex. However, the starving Wendy's refusal of his offer and the mock seductive way in which Abby speaks to Tom during her successful attempt to trick him into entering his van make it abundantly clear what Tom was talking about.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: A minor character gets A Day in the Limelight, with an episode devoted to his deciding to resume his pre-Death duties as a vicar. Two episodes later he is casually gunned down by a thug.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: A second-season episode deals with the heroes' realization that as (mostly) a bunch of former suburbanites, they really have no clue how to run a functioning farm. Plus an episode where they also realize that just because they survived the The Death, that doesn't make them immune to other diseases.
  • Typhoid Mary: In "Gone to the Angels", Abby, Greg and Jenny discover that they and by extension everyone else who was immune to the plague are nevertheless carriers for it. Several days after meeting Abby, Jack, Robert and Matthew, who had been completely isolated in the mountains since before the plague struck, die from it. As a result, Abby, Greg and Jenny decide to avoid anyone else who had never come into contact with the plague.
  • Video Inside, Film Outside: A notable aversion; about a third of the show's run was shot entirely on location, a first for the BBC and a considerable undertaking for the time. Most of the camera work ended up being carried out by the Outside Broadcast team, who normally covered sports fixtures or concerts.
  • Viking Funeral:
    • A slight variation. In the final scene of "The Fourth Horsemen", Abby burns down her house with her husband David's body inside.
    • Similarly, in "Garland's War", Jimmy Garland burned down a barn on the Waterhouse estate so that it could serve as a funeral pyre for his deceased family members and servants.

The 2008 series provides examples of:

  • Asshole Victim: Those killed by Abby's group are never entirely innocent. The old man Al accidentally kills in the beginning was threatening to beat Naj because he was helping himself to sweets in his shop. The man killed by Tom had basically kidnapped one of Abby's group.
  • Badass in Distress: Tom ends up getting sold into slavery and the others must rescue him.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Despite fighting to survive in a world without running water and electricity, the women have perfectly sleeked hair and wear make up, Tom is always freshly shaved, and everybody has clean, smooth clothes.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: Tom Price. We know he's a hardened criminal and habitual liar who is willing to casually murder in cold blood when he feels it's worth it, but sometimes holds back and displays some loyalty to the group. Exactly what motivates him seems unclear.
  • Brand X:
    • Nearly totally averted-a looter is seen hanged in a Netto and the logos of many a major UK shop are to be seen.
    • In one episode, a kid retrieves cooking oil from a congealed pool of it in the fryer of a MacDonalds, where there's a decomposing corpse. You want to conclude that joke or shall I?
    • There is no reluctance in calling Greg's Land Rover a Land Rover, to the point where Billy raves about how awesome they are.
  • Cliffhanger: The last episode of both seasons.
  • Denied Food as Punishment: Craig, an adult who operates a street gang of kids in a mostly abandoned city district, often denies the children food and precious "arcade" time if they don't do a satisfactory job of looting throughout the day.
  • Disney Death: Al in the Season Two opener.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Dr. James Whitaker, a biochemist leading research into the virus, is the second season's main antagonist who uses increasingly unethical practices (i.e. human guinea pigs with no consent) in doing so. However, he's also desperate to protect his wife and son, whom he's kept secure within the research facility (violating protocol).
  • The Fagin: Craig, who runs a gang of street children who loot the city for supplies and rewards them time using an arcade if they do well (or denies that assuming they don't).
  • Free-Range Children: Naj does this in the second series when waiting for Abby. Justified as due to the post-apocalyptic situation, rules are a little different.
  • Good is Not Nice: Tom, who is very morally questionable despite being in Abby’s group. Also, Samantha, the last remaining (or is she?) government official. Good? Arguably. Nice? Not always.
  • Hearing Voices: In the first season, Naj brings home a group of people following John, a "preacher" who hears God/Mother Nature ever since the epidemic, which he sees as Gaia's revenge. After someone he cares for has a brush with death, he becomes paranoid, and Anya works out that he's schizophrenic and has been off his medication since everything went down. This is particularly bad as his wife is about to give birth, and he may be dangerous...
  • Ignored Confession: In episode two, Abby asks Tom what he did before the pandemic, and he says "I robbed things. Killed a few people." She thinks he's joking, and says it's not funny. Later she finds out that's the truth.
  • Kangaroo Court: Samantha Willis runs this as a matter of course. In the first case, she convicts and sentences to death a looter without even hearing any evidence, then immediately shoots her. Next, when Tom's the one on trial, again no actual evidence gets heard-Abby, who's acting as his lawyer, is not allowed to question the sole witness against him. She's already arranged it so enough jurors will vote him guilty beforehand for a majority verdict, but when this doesn't work, Willis just dismisses them and convicts Tom anyway. He's then Made a Slave as punishment.
  • Made a Slave: Tom, who gets this treatment as punishment for a murder he committed. Greg too, for trying to help him escape.
  • Must Make Amends: In the season 2 opener, Anya and Al are buried alive when a burning hospital collapses on top of them. Turns out the building was set on fire by locals who wanted to get rid of the hundreds of bodies and thus of the contagion risk. When they find out there are casualties, the locals team up to try and save them.
  • Pre-Climax Climax: Believing everyone may die resolves two seasons of sexual tension for Anya and Tom, as she decides to have sex with him as a result.
  • Queer Establishing Moment: Anya reveals she's bisexual through stating that her deceased female friend, who'd died from the pandemic, was previously her girlfriend. Tom, her male Love Interest, was listening as she said this and is disgusted at first, but they get over his reaction.
  • Redundant Rescue: The group goes out to rescue Tom from enslavement, only to realize once they get there that he's already escaped.
  • Rousing Speech: Several of these are given by Abby throughout the series, especially when trying to convince the group that they need to stick together.
    "Everything we ever knew has been ripped away from us. Our old life is dead. Now we have to build a new one... but we can't build it alone. Now there is only one choice, we either stand together or die."-]
  • Secondary Adaptation: A disclaimer in the credits said it was based in Terry Nation's novelization of the original series to avoid copyright problems.
  • Shoot the Dog: Or rather the looter, as the former government minister has to prevent a large-scale loss of authority in her commune.
  • Shower of Angst: A cold and brief one, taken by Abby after waking up from her virus attack. It's brief as the water cuts out after about fifteen seconds.
  • Slave Liberation: In the fourth episode of the second season, after they're freed by the main cast.
  • Token Religious Teammate: Naj is the only member of the main group who's shown to be religious (he's devoutly Muslim-he was praying at the mosque as the virus struck, with everyone else inside dying).
  • Two-Person Pool Party: Abby has casual sex with a guy in a pond at one point.
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Anya and Tom have this for most of the series, having a clear mutual attraction which they don't act on. Finally, they sleep together when everyone seems about to die.
  • We Can Rule Together: Dexter attempts to use the line on Tom, who's got him at his mercy. It doesn't work.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Two of them: Samantha Willis, willing to do whatever it takes to restore order and Whitaker, willing to kill in the search for a cure.
  • Will They or Won't They?: This is toyed with between Anya and Tom. They finally do near the end of the second season when they think everyone may die.

Alternative Title(s): Survivors