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"Not Quite with a Bang"
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.