This three part story signalled the end of the classic era of `Doctor Who', apparently a straightforward parable against violence and the principle of `the survival of the fittest' - but perhaps it was a more appropriate ending than anyone could have realised at the time.
There seems to be a subtle double-sided message in this story, because of course the evolutionary phrase `the survival of the fittest' does not mean `strongest' but `best fitted to the environment, most adaptable' - and taken in that sense the story demonstrates that the theory is true - it is *how* the characters adapt to change that counts.
The Doctor brings Ace back home to the leafy, sunlit streets of Perivale to catch up with her old friends, and it all seems very quiet - perhaps too quiet; where are her friends? Not in the parkland, not at the youth club where a bullying `instructor' is teaching self-defence, so where? The Doctor has his suspicions; a small black cat is prowling the streets, but if this black cat crosses your path, it's very bad luck, because this is a kitling, a servant of the bejewelled, horse riding Cheetah People who teleport from world to world seeking prey for food and `sport' as all cats do. Or perhaps this kitling is acting as cat's eyes for someone else ...
Inevitably, the Doctor, Ace, `Sergeant' Paterson the instructor and several of his youth group are taken to the ancient, crumbling world of the Cheetah People and - look what the cat brought in! - find the Master, himself transported through space from some distant world by the cats. The strange planet is somehow linked with its inhabitants; it enhances wildness, the animal nature within and slowly transforms beings into hunting cats - if they give in to their darker side. And the presence of anger and violence speeds up the collapse of the planet, dragging the Cheetah People, their prey and their world down together.
The Master is very vulnerable in such an environment; he is changing, with sharpened teeth and cat-like eyes as the evil within him takes over. All the old grand schemes for power are gone; he soon becomes little more than a violent hunting animal himself. But the Doctor learns the way off the doomed planet - cats will always take their prey home - Ace's home is Earth and she is beginning to transform ...
Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred look so established in their roles and Anthony Ainley slips so easily back into role of the Master that it's hard to believe this was the end, and not just another mid-season story before the next epic. The location video filming is bright and attractive, there's plenty of action and stunt work; it all looks relatively inexpensive but well done. The Cheetah People costumes have been criticised but I think they look good, certainly better than some `monsters' seen before.
Even the Doctor is affected by the call of the wild, and is drawn into a final struggle with the Master as the planet disintegrates around them, but manages to hold on to the truth: "If we fight like animals, we'll die like animals!" Then, quite suddenly, it's all over, and the Doctor is back in the sunlit parkland of Perivale on a quiet afternoon. The Doctor teleported `home' to the TARDIS; the Master is left to his fate.
By learning to control the power of the Cheetah planet but not allowing the violence of that world to control them, the Doctor and Ace proved they were the most adaptable and best fitted to survive - able to gain the power to teleport home but not lose themselves to the wildness. The Master and some others tried to adapt with violence and so ceased to exist as themselves, transformed into wild animals.
So the classic era of `Doctor Who' ends with quite an interesting story; then just before the credits roll for the last time, the Doctor has one final surprise for us; a few lines of dialogue to end this story, and the era, that might almost have come from an epic poem. They show all the sense of wonder and exploration that took the Doctor to Skaro and Metebelis III and the desire for justice that underpinned the show and the character through seven incarnations. If the writer knew the end was coming, it was a great signoff; if not, what good luck to finish so perfectly ...
... but of course, it wasn't `The End', because `Doctor Who' is the cat with nine lives, the show with so many loyal fans that it continued as video, books, comic strips and audio and just wouldn't stay cancelled for ever - proving that with a concept this strong and this popular for so many years, a programme can't simply be killed off as times change, but can always evolve and adapt to live in a new environment ...
... we might call it the Survival of the fittest!
The release of "Survival" on DVD is a chance for old fans to remind themselves, and new fans to learn, of both the best and the worst of the Seventh Doctor.
'The best' about this serial and this period is the story-telling. "The Cartmel masterplan" (as it's referred to in a bonus documentary), which involved making the Doctor's history and character more mysterious and adding a strong companion with an important story arc, really does have more in common with Russell T Davies' quite adult approach of 2005 than it does with the disparate and mostly nonsense stories of the Colin Baker era. When he's not clowning around McCoy's brooding paternal Doctor is one of the best. This serious approach is a chance for the Master to return to his menacing, scheming best.
'The worst' is the production values. Some of the cats look awful, and some of the supporting cast can't really act. As the bonus documentary "Endgame" explains in detail, the production was under serious threat and it appears as though some members of the production team have already given up. Watching the out-takes, none of them are especially funny- McCoy and Aldred are having a laugh and putting a brave face on what seems like a case of going-through-the-motions, as if they are waiting for cancellation.
Unfortunately "Survival" overall is not quite as good as the two preceding stories "Ghost Light" and "Curse Of Fenric", so if you're new to the McCoy era you should check those other two out first.
This is a two-disc set but with a bit more judicious editing of the bonus features, it could have fit onto one disc. Personally I find that the bonus features being added to most of these Who DVDs are a bit too slow, and involve various members of the production crew repeating the same statements too often. For example the bonus documentary "Endgame" is 45 minutes long, but it could easily be trimmed to less than half an hour without losing anything important.
on 17 December 2014
'Survival' is yet another one of those stories from the last few years of classic Doctor Who that makes you wonder what possessed the powers that be to take the show off the air when they did; it is a superb end to the show's 26 year run.
Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred work brilliantly together, they help to make the McCoy Doctor and Ace one of the best partnerships the show has ever had.
The story sees the return of the Master after a three year absence and it's the best use that has ever been made of his character, he is used to symbolise the brutality and selfishness that the story says is so wrong. Anthony Ainley gives his best ever performance as the Master here, portraying the sadistic, evil, insane character to perfection.
There are some good young actors playing Ace's old mates from Perivale and Julian Holloway gives a fine performance as the deluded and self important Paterson.
The story benefits enormously from being shot entirely on location. The ordinary suburbia setting is very well used and it forms a nice contrast with the barren wasteland of the Cheetah people's planet. The story is superbly shot and directed throughout with a good variety of camera angles. The incidental music is distinctive and very effective.
The message of the story is that violence and savagery are bad, and it likens these things to an infectious disease. The story also ridicules the 'survival of the fittest' mantra considering it barbaric. The script is able to get its message subtly across and doesn't beat the audience over the head with it.
On the downside the motorcycle crash in part three is rather baffling (how exactly does the Doctor end up lying in that pile of rubbish?) and there is some rather vulgar 1980's sportswear on display. The Kitlings look rather creepy, but they are fairly unconvincing in some shots. The Cheetah people's costumes could have been better, but everyone involved (especially the actors inside the costumes) deserves credit for helping to disguise the weaknesses.
Despite its minor flaws, 'Survival' is a mature story with a very serious, relevant message. If classic series Doctor Who had to end at least it did so with a story that captures the potential and the magic of Doctor Who.
The 'making of' documentary 'Cat Flap' comes in two parts. The first part deals with the writing and casting process and the second part looks at the filming, music and special effects. Both parts are very thorough and entertaining. Their combined run time is over an hour!
'Endgame' is a 44 minute long documentary which tells the story of the BBC's second, this time successful, assassination attempt on Doctor Who. The documentary also talks about the changes Andrew Cartmel made to the show in its final years and what would have happened in the 27th series.
'Little Girl Lost' is about the development of the character of Ace in Doctor Who. The likes of Andrew Cartmel and Sophie Aldred talk about Ace's key stories.
'Search Out Science' is presented by Sylvester McCoy in character as the Doctor and also features Sophie Aldred as Ace and John Leeson as the voice of K9. It was intended as an educational show which asks questions about space and the solar system.
'Destiny of the Doctors' features the scenes Anthony Ainley recorded in character as the Master for the video game of the same name. These are peculiar, but many of them are entertaining. They were written by Terrance Dicks.
There are also a handful of deleted scenes as well as a lengthy selection of outtakes.
on 19 August 2007
Survival, for those who don't know, was the last transmitted new episode of Doctor Who for seven years, ending a Twenty-Six year run. Well... at least 'Who had ended on a good note.
McCoy's opening season was, truely, the worst season in the history of 'Who. The seconf McCoy season (though a HUGE improvement on the first) was still not perfect. By the time of the third season, Doctor Who was finally back on track with good quality stories, and a Doctor and companion that had finally understood their potential.
Survival represents why the last season was so good. It was a mix of a good Doctor, original companion and just good, solid stories. The concept of 'survival of the fittest' is very strong int this story and that just plays to the viewers good points.
After the 75 min story, we then have 190-odd minutes of extras. This is a two-disk release after all. The Cat-Flap feature is a good insite into the production and last days of 'Who. Then the documentaries of Endgame (which is BRILLIANT) and the Ace Documentary make this release all the beter.
This serial may only be three-parts, but it's still a bargain at the sheer amount of special features.
on 5 November 2013
I like the joke about the two guys in the tent hearing the lion; I tell it at work sometimes to frighten school parties. It's disturbing. 'He doesn't need to outrun the lion'.
I like the Cheetah People too, for all that Rona Munro thought that they look like Puss in Boots, though this could just be a fetish for hot women in leopard skin, and it was, appropriately, quite hot. One Cheetah Girl apparently said 'Bollocks to this, I'm going home'.
And remember Julian Holloway from Carry On Up the Khyber? Well, here he is as the predictably not-as-brave-as-he-thinks-he-is Sergeant Paterson (this being the 80s), teaching the council estate kids to kick ass.
I don't fully know what's at stake here; kids (and milkmen) are getting zapped to the planet of the Cheetah People, where they might get hunted, caught and eaten, depending on whether or not the Cheetah People are (let me see if I've got this straight) ruthless killers or happy playful pusscats that only kill in order to feed, or (obviously) if someone runs away from them.
And then there's the question of whether it's the planet of the Cheetah People or the planet that turns people into Cheetahs, and what the Master is doing there, and why he wants to turn Midge into a cat thing. And, in the case of the nightmare scenario of the two dozen or so Cheetah People teleporting from their dying world into this one, just how much damage are they going to be able to do before the armed response unit turns up to dart them so they can all be put in the zoo?
I'm also not entirely sure what the Kitlings are for, or why I'm supposed to find that model in the least bit convincing. I suppose using a real cat wouldn't have worked.
And the anti-hunting message? How'd you like it if someone was hunting you? Bit patronising isn't it? By the end of the 1980s the population was pretty well polarised between those that wanted to put the rich against a wall and shoot them, and those that wanted to ride to hounds and chase the poor. I'm not sure that there were many waverers left.
But, let's not allow my not fully understanding it to prejudice us, it is good drama; it's well-written, well-acted and well-made. It's by far and away much better than Trial of a Time Lord. Jonathan Powell had no right to cancel the show, and there should still be a reckoning.
on 8 May 2012
At the time this was broadcast no one knew that was it, JNT had an idea and got McCoy back in to overdub a farewell speech over the last scene. If Season 24 had been as good as the final season perhaps the series may not have been cancelled but in hindsight and what we know now, the programme needed a rest, and for one thing The BBC needed to fall back in love with the programme. Survival, is a great Dr Who and proved the production team could come up with a good story idea and cast good actors the story was spot on, when you watch this is feels like a completely different show from say Paradise towers. McCoy had settled into the roll and Ace was a very interesting assistant. Although set partly in a Quarry who cares the idea and the story hold together, very well, these three episode stories worked quite well they kept the pace going almost like the modern show. One thing is true went a script is good effects are not so important, OK the cat is pretty naff, but luckily it does not detract from the story. As the last story it was good to have the Master as the foe, and at first you really don't know its him, until you hear that voice. Not all stories are worthy of five stars but Survival as a story I would show anyone does, in the end I am so glad the show went out on a high, imagine if it had been cancelled after Dragon fire?. I watched every episode of Tom Baker through to McCoy, there were highs and lows in every season, but to say McCoy never made a good story is very negative and sweeping he did, and if he had done a forth season, I think it would have been brilliant, but in the end no one wanted the show to survive or spend the money. This a double disc the extras are great a 5.1 sound track which is very good and some good CGI effects making it all look very polished. I remember Russell T Davis saying he watched the series to the end , I was so glad the show fell into the hands of someone who loved it, for everything it was.
Following the cancellation of the programme in 1985, which was changed a few weeks later to an 18 month supension, it seemed that Doctor Who was on borrowed time, and every subsequent season would be its last. By 1989, the series ratings were very low, compared to the 8 million who watched Colin Baker's first season three years earlier. Despite this, the show was actually going through a new and exciting change. Scrpt editor, Andrew Cartmel, moved the series away from the more action packed stories of predecessor Eric Saward, into more mysterious and darker science fiction themed stories. He also attempted to make The Doctor more mysterious, returning to the original premise of the programme, when William Hartnell was The Doctor. To this end, The Doctor, as played by Sylvester McCoy became a darker, manipulative character. Seemingly aware of all that was going on around him, and knowing the outcome before it occurred.
By series 3, Cartmel's plans were in full swing, and we were treated to several very good stories helping to make this last season the best of the McCoy era. Survival in particular links up very well with the next series, some 16 years later. In a break from the past, the story does not feature well known London landmarks, but rather the suburbian location of Perivale. It seems that an ancient cheetah race have been capturing people, and transporting them to their own world, were the people are hunted like animals. As well as a good script by Rona Munro, Survival also benefits from excellent performances, by Julian Holloway, Lisa Bowerman and the two leads Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. It is often been cited that Anthony Ainley is at his best in his last appearance as The Master. Even Hale and Pace, potentially a disaster, play their roles are straight. This is why the story works so well, if actors do not give over the top performances, teh viewers will treat the story seriously.
The only slight disappointment are the cheetah people customes, but compared to the Mandrels poor Vervoids, they are not that bad. This is a good stuff. A great final outing for the original run.
on 15 September 2008
Survival is one of the better Sylvester McCoy stories of his entire era & of this season. It's more coherent than Ghostlight, has more energy than Battlefield but not quite as good as Fenric.
It's very easy to knock it for not being a fitting end to the classic run of Dr Who but then it was never intended to be anything more than a story which was screened last in a season.
It's a slightly better story for Ace than the Doctor. She is returned to her roots and looks for her friends. A mystery involving disappearances linked to black cats takes the Doctor and Ace to a dying planet where they meet Cheetah people and the Master.
On the whole the themes of survival and evolution are well developed and explored. It fits Ace's character that she would be tempted by the possibility of running like an animal. The Glaswegian self defence instructor who ultimately isn't tough enough is good if occasionally unsubtle.
Sylvester McCoy is good as usual although the script makes him look more thick than eccentric genius as he leaves cat food on the streets in the hope that the right black cat will come along! With this and the image of him upside down on an old sofa following the bike crash, he really looks more cosmic dosser than cosmic hobo. When he does get good material though he goes for it, slightly too much with the famous "If we fight like animals, we'll die like animals!" line, but still a good performance.
Sophie Aldred relishes Ace's wildside and makes the most of her material.
The Master does not get one of his better appearances. He's too dumb to work out that you just need a transformed humanoid from a different planet to escape it. Ainley struggles with poorly judged material and a costume that makes him look portly.
The Cheetah people look like care bears (Wuss Bear and Soppy Bear) but the body language etc. of Lisa Bowerman et al transcends the costume's limitations and makes them believable a good portion of the time.
It's well directed, good and pacy and has a terrific explosion at the end. (although how the Doctor survives it is lazily not explained)The early CGI work etc. to colour the sky is marvellous, making it seem very alien. Generally effects are good with only a woeful animatronic cat letting the side down.
There is a barrelful of extras. "Endgame" is a look at the end of Sylvester McCoy's time. It starts to chronicle the start of McCoy's time but soon settles down for a look at the events. Andrew Cartmel is a major participant and very interesting to listen to. I didn't personally agree with his view that he hired writers who did incredible things with Dr Who but still enjoyed watching. Mccoy, Sophie Aldred, Peter Cregeen (the canceller!) and others also take part. We also get a look at what stories were tentatively planned for the next year and learn what other famous BBC show JNT was offered.
Catflap is an enjoyable making of although I'm not sure why it's in 2 parts. Most of the major players are there and it's V good even if they are a lttle too keen to take the credit for the Rose Tyler set up in New Who.
We also get an enjoyable commentary with Sophie, Sylvester and Andrew Cartmel and an interesting fan commentary for episode 3.
Search out Space is a science show for young kids made a few months after Survival's transmission with Sylv, Sophie and K9 in character. An interesting curio but be warned the K9 and Company theme tune is featured!
There are outtakes and deleted scenes one of which shows an insight into Ainley's approach to a scene and there are Anthonmy Ainley's Master sequences for the Destiny of the Doctors computer game. He puts quite a lot into these!
A great package from a good if not classic story. More for classic who fans who like plenty of extras, and if you're a new who fan who's recently come to appreciate Sylvetser and Sophie, this is one you will want to see.
on 1 July 2013
The last ever Doctor Who story to be shown during the shows original broadcast, so it is little wonder when I watched it I watched it with some sort of sentimentality. I wasn't around during the eighties but I know the show had run its course. The truth is this story like many others had some brilliant ideas but were spoilt by occasional poor editing and the lack of financial support. Survival is a brilliant story , Sophie Aldred and Sylvester McCoy clearly had a chemistry they worked together so well and the back story with it being written around the character of Ace is exactly the sort of writing we appreciated now with the current Doctor Who. Its a pity the show got cancelled when it did as there are many similarities between the modern Doctor Who and this incarnation the darker elements being evolved , but the ideas are brilliant and its just a pity episodes only lasted 23 minutes back then because it really made it difficult to get more detail in but a brilliant adventure , the Sylvester McCoy years are seriously underrated.
This is, as I'm sure most people have gathered the final Doctor Who story to be broadcast (though not recorded) by the BBC for the show's original run. It bookends the series very nicely with the very first Doctor Who story ever 'An Unearthly Child' back in 1963 in that they both feature contemporary London and this sees the Doctor bring a missing Londoner home in contrast to the first story where he kidnaps two Londoners.
The plot is really about the life cycle of an ancient alien race, the Cheetah People and shows how they use teleportation to send Kittlings, which look like domestic cats, to other planets to look for prey. These prey are then teleported back to the Cheetah's planet to be hunted and killed, anyone surviving for long enough contracts a virus and begins to transform into a Cheetah and because of the Tooth and Claw, strongest survives/weak perish scenario they begin to fight amongst themselves, this has an effect on the planet as they are telepathically linked in someway to it and it begins to self destruct.
The Doctor and Ace find themselves on the planet with a group of kids that are being used as prey by the Cheetahs, who themselves are being controlled by the Doctor's arch enemy, the Master, who has himself become infected by the Cheetah virus.
Sylvester McCoy's performance of the Doctor was one of extremes, on his day he was brilliant but when he was bad he was awful, this is one of his days thankfully, he is very moody and dark and gives the part an edge that we are more used to seeing Christopher Eccleston display, one of McCoy's finer performances.
The real surprise is the best ever performance of the late Anthony Ainley as the Master, this really is a distinct improvement over his previous appearances where he was ordered by the production team to 'camp up' the part for all it's worth, here he finally gets to play the part the way that he wanted to all along, menacing, sadistic and cruel here at last he found himself to be a worthy successor to Roger Delgado in his final ever story.
This release carries an impressive list of extras such as two commentaries, deleted scenes and continuity announcements, three big documentaries covering the making of the show and the story of the next season and why it was cancelled and one about the character of Ace. The school programme Search out Science which featured Sylvester McCoy in character as the Doctor is also included as are PDF documents and clips from the computer game Destiny of the Doctors featuring Anthony Ainley.
This is a very good story which ended the original series of Doctor Who and the sheer number of extra features make buying this DVD essential, it is a welcome addition to the ever-growing range of Doctor Who products.