Worst to Best
Series Two

The second series of Survivors returned with new regulars added to the cast. Joining Greg and Jenny were Charles (Denis Lill), his partner Pet (Lorna Lewis) and Hubert (John Abineri). Continuing Greg and Jenny's journey, they decide to join a small community run by Charles, a character who had previously appeared in an episode of series one.


The second series ran from March-June 1976, and is commonly regarded as a drop in quality, including by its stars. How does it stand up? Please join me in finding out, as I rank the second series from worst to best...

Spoiler Warning: Although spoilers have been avoided as much as possible, some significant plot elements are inevitably discussed...

12 The Witch (2.6)

One change to the production of Survivors during its second year was that episodes were no longer recorded in their intended broadcast order. Although the final four episodes of the run were shot in sequence, the schedule of other episodes meant events like Chris Tranchell (Paul) recording his death scenes, then going back the following week to record the series opener. The Witch, broadcast sixth, was actually the first series two episode to be shot, recorded in early January 1976.
      While the IMDb doesn't have an enormous voting base when it comes to Survivors (at date of writing some episodes only have 16 votes, and none have more than 85), The Witch carries the distinction of being the lowest-rated episode on there, with 32 voters deciding it was only worth a 6.2/10 rating. It's not difficult to see why... in fact, such a rating is generous.
     Survivors had always been a pretty sensible series, but here plunges the depths into sitcom nonsense. Hubert chases after the previously-unseen Mina, and, spurned, decides to tell the children she's a witch who bakes people in her oven. Later, for a joke, Mina does some clay baking in said oven, and shows the kids that she's baked a model of Hubert. She accidentally cuts the leg off, causing the kids to run away... and bump into Hubert, who has a sprained leg after Mina had earlier hit him with a wet nappy.
      For some reason the entire community starts to think she might be a witch, as the cows have stopped producing milk. This is ludicrous, awful stuff, not helped by the technical quality of the episode - some of the series two episodes seem in a poorer condition than others, and there's plenty of traffic lines and faded shots to indicate it hasn't been looked after in the archives, or effectively restored. One of the most curious artefacts of Survivors is that often shouted lines will produce an echo before the line has been said, a bizarre technological quirk that occurs here more than in any previous episode.
      Lorna Lewis, playing Pet, gives a particularly poor, over-the-top performance in this episode, possibly due to it being the first filmed, so many concerned would have still being getting a "handle" on their characters. To her credit, she admitted this in an interview with Kevin Marshall, for the book The Making of Terry Nation's Survivors, stating that "The problem was that it was not very well acted, certainly not on my part. [...] I think it could have worked better for me if I had had a clearer idea of what I was doing. [...] I had not yet seen the script of Jack's first story for me, Birth Of A Hope, so I didn't know who I was. Had I done that story first I would have realised that Pet simply would not have behaved in that fashion towards Mina. She comes over as far too sharp and most out of character."
     Yet this is pure CBBC nonsense, more Bodger and Badger than an apocalyptic drama for an adult audience. A truly terrible entry in the series, not helped by following The Face Of The Tiger, where the same community was readily accepting of a child murderer, but here distrust a woman because she likes contemporary art.

11 By Bread
Alone (2.8)

Series two takes the Survivors into the world of a self-sufficient commune, but eliminates most of the conflict that made series one such a great watch. Ian McCulloch was vocal about how much he disliked the direction of the series, stating in the 2007 documentary The Cult Of... that "I thought the whole idea had got right away from whatever Terry Nation's original view on it had been. And it lacked pace, and it lacked drama, it lacked confrontation, and I honestly thought they were rather boring."
     It's hard to disagree too much with McCulloch's assessment there, and what can really distance viewers from the second series is the fact that events have moved on between episodes without the viewers being involved. As a commune with an undisclosed membership, characters can come and go, without introduction, just with the assumption that the regulars know them, so we assume their backstory. It's not as if such things are an awful idea per se, but by corroding the "serialised" nature of events, it means Survivors becomes a series you can dip in and out of without missing much in the way of plot development.
     This particular instalment, which showcases four characters never seen before, centres around one of them revealing himself as a vicar. You might think that such a "plot" would be hard pressed to last for 50 minutes, and you'd be right. Meandering, with contrived, incessant squabbling, this is an episode without real drive or direction. The concept of religion and the need for it in a post-pandemic world had been tackled in the first series, and more subtly. The fact that this episode's themes are so laboured it makes Terry Nation scripts look subtle says a lot.
     As for Greg, he's not really interested in religion as he's preoccupied with his methane gas generator. He's cooking pig shit, basically. McCulloch was blunt in the aforementioned documentary: "I learnt to hate methane. Anything to do with making gas." McCulloch left after the second series, only appearing in two series three episodes. It's instalments like this that must have made the decision easy for him.

10 Parasites (2.10)

Roger Marshall had written for many cult and cop shows, including The Avengers, The Sweeney and Special Branch. He had also written over a dozen films at this point, perhaps most notably 1965's Invasion. (Based on a storyline by Robert Holmes, which Holmes later drew on for his Doctor Who tale Spearhead From Space). Marshall was also co-creator of several series, including Zodiac and Public Eye. Post-Survivors, he continued to create, including 1984 series Travelling Man, and Attack Force Z, a 1981 movie starring Mel Gibson.
      As Marshall's sole Survivors episode, Parasites is incredibly watchable, but never actually any good. It begins with a nice part for Patrick Troughton, but he's quickly disposed of in favour of Brian Grellis and Kevin McNally, the latter of which may as well have "I'm a villain" tattooed on his forehead. Possibly it's the acting decisions rather than the script itself, but McNally's "Jeff Kane" makes zero effort to ingratiate himself with the commune, or act as anything but the bad guy he is. There's a nice touch of class consciousness, and this is the only Survivors episode to contain a joke about bestiality, but generally it's all very hollow.
      The reason why it makes such a sub-par Survivors episode is that, as with The Face of the Tiger, it can only be watched if you assume that all of the Survivors have dropped about 30 IQ points for the duration. Even after Mina (last seen being accused of practising witchcraft) finds a dead body and is threatened with murder by Kane, Greg still advises that they "talk it over". This after Pet has recognised one of them as an armed robber who was sentenced to life imprisonment, and Greg has found that they have a "miniature arsenal" on board their barge.
      McNally is normally a reliable presence, so it's not clear why he decided to make his character into a cartoon, a silly addition to an episode that, in American parlance, is garbage. Entertaining, watchable garbage, certainly, but for none of the right reasons. It all ends with a voiceover from Troughton, as Mina remembers some of their conversation together... one of many instances of series two stepping away from a more realistic, documentary style of filming, and into more artifical fare.

9 Greater Love (2.2)

It takes a special kind of script to make an episode featuring the return of the plague and the death of a lead character incredibly dull. While the series has often jumped weeks between instalments, here two significant events - Jenny giving birth, and Paul developing a relationship with Ruth - have happened entirely offscreen, between this and episode one. It also doesn't help that Ruth is played by a different actress to the one in series one's A Beginning, removing further sense of continuity.
      Paul and Ruth are in love, but it never really seems to "take" or seem real. In order to save a desperately sick Jenny, Paul decides to travel to Birmingham, a city that the group fear will be full of rats, wild dogs and dead bodies. Quite why they thought Birmingham wouldn't have changed isn't really explained. (Just kidding, any readers from Birmingham).
      Paul comes back with a viral strain that ultimately kills him, but what sounds relatively dramatic on paper fails to be on screen, as the entire thing takes on a glacial, languid pace where real emotion seems lost.

8 New Arrivals (2.11)

Set 18 months after the viral outbreak, New Arrivals features, like Greater Love, the death of a regular, in this case Arthur Russell. Also like Greater Love it is, despite its best efforts, really quite dull. The inevitable struggle to avoid mentioning The Good Life, Emmerdale Farm or The Archers starts here, as a group of bolshy young newcomers start off a series of arguments amongst the community.... including rows over methane gas production and plant enzymes.
      The episode tries, and has more integrity than a lot of the episodes ranked higher, but simply doesn't get going as a drama. Even Arthur's offscreen death isn't tempered with much emotion, largely because the character was sidelined for a lot of the second series anyway. Ultimately New Arrivals may also suffer from where it's placed... after following several very dull entries, any enthusiasm or patience viewers might have had would have been almost completely exhausted.

7 Birth Of A
Hope (2.1)

Series two of Survivors wasn't without its own behind-the-scenes conflicts. Jack Ronder contributed four more scripts to the series (this one, the two-part Lights of London and The Witch), then quit after clashes with producer Terence Dudley.
      Part of the issue had been Ronder's scripts being rewritten without his approval, but things came to a head here with the removal of several key characters, with Emma, Charmian and Vic all dying in a convenient fire. Only Vic is shown, briefly trying to escape, and played by an uncredited Terry Denton. The characters of Emma and Charmain weren't even shown on screen, just referred to as having died due to smoke inhalation.
      When Hana-Maria Pravda (Emma) had called Ronder to ask if her character would be in the new series, he confessed she was being written out, much to Dudley's fury. Ronder left after the ensuing conflict, and his leaving meant that all of the first series writers were gone. His daughter was also taken out of the series after the run was complete, with Angie Stevens recast as Lizzie for the third series.
      As a series opener, then Birth of a Hope is curiously flat, sorely missing the presence of Carolyn Seymour, a series now bordering on the dramatically inert.

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