Review of Doctor Who ‘Survival’ (Series 26)

Neela Debnath

Doctor 4 300x201 Review of Doctor Who ‘Survival’ (Series 26)In the run up to the 50th anniversary of ‘Doctor Who’ in November 2013, Neela Debnath with the help of BBC DVD, will be reviewing one story from each of the previous 31 series of the show. Each review will offer readers a snapshot from every series of ‘Doctor Who’ and celebrate the longest-running science fiction television programme in the world.

It was the end of Doctor Who but no one really knew it, not even the cast who only found out after the series had been completed. Survival marked the end of Sylvester McCoy’s era. The serial saw Ace return to her home in Perivale in the suburbs of North West London.

Ace and the Doctor arrive back on Earth to find young people are going missing and a mysterious black cat watching their every move. It emerges that the Master (Anthony Ainley) is behind the sinister goings on. He has taken control of a race known as the Cheetah People and is using them to send the young people to their home world.

As series finales go this is poor to say the least. The story holds so much promise but it is all lost in the dire production values. It’s as if the creators of the show wanted to make a live action version of ThunderCats. It’s cringeworthy and disappointing.

The fact that the Cheetah People were partly been inspired by the felines from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Cats does nothing to help improve the kudos of the serial. I was half expecting the Cheetah People and the humans to break into a rendition of Mr Mistoffelees with the Master taking the lead.

Yes, there are scary, sinister moments particularly the aforementioned black cat and the human remains left by the Kitlings but the plot feels thin. I get the heavy-handed moralising about fighting and in doing so descending to a bestial level. But it’s all rather abysmal.

The one positive element of the story is the focus on the companion. Ace’s history is delved into much more than other companion on the show. Generally, Ace’s backstory was given due prominence, much like assistants on Nu-Who today. I wonder if this serial had an impact on the creative decision to focus more the companion’s history, it certainly adds depth to Doctor Who.

Viewers learn a lot about Ace and where she comes from. She may be one of the Doctor’s ’strays’ but she is a fully developed character. From rebellious and cavalier to mature and reserved, Ace goes on an amazing journey of growth and development during her time with the Doctor. We saw a similar development in Jo Grant (Katy Manning) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) during their tenure in the Tardis.

Saying this, the story lacks bite – if you’ll excuse the pun. I wanted Survival to take Doctor Who out on a high. It was a British institution that had inspired generations of children. Even if it had been shunted onto an odd slot on the television schedule and was cast by the wayside, it deserved a more dignified ending.

Producer John Nathan-Turner knew it was likely to be the end of the show. In an attempt to give Doctor Who some sort of conclusion, a philosophical speech from the Doctor was added into the closing scene. Coincidentally, the Doctor’s speech was recorded on the 23 November, the 26th anniversary of the show.

The last shot of Ace and the Doctor walking off into the trees would be the last bit of Doctor Who that viewers would see for seven years. It was the darkest moment in the history of the show and thus began the Doctor Who drought. Of course there were the audio plays and the novelizations but it just wasn’t the same any more.

DVD & image credit: BBC

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  • Kevin Burnard

    Actually, the bringing home strays line was said by the TARDIS in Neil Gaiman’s “The Doctor’s Wife”.

    I do like that they fleshed out Ace so much. She was a truly wonderful companion.

  • Ed Walter

    But you didn’t really discuss the stunning understated performance by Anthony Ainley as the Master. The actor deserved a mention in your “review”.

  • richard fenton

    The script writing for Dr Who in the mid to late 80’s was particularly dire. I remember one Sylvester McCoy Dr Who story featured a main villain that was made up of confectionery, sweets, like a demented Bertie Basset on acid. Sylvester and Sophie deserved better.

  • JohnPReid

    What you talking about that stories a classic, oh and Neela, I’d say the progression from brat to adult could be applied to Adric too,

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