Doctor Who #704: Survival Part 1

"There's no one around, is there? Nothing but tin cans and stray cats."
TECHNICAL SPECS: This story is available on DVD. First aired Nov.22 1989.

IN THIS ONE... Return to Perivale, which is fast turning into a ghost town thanks to a mangy black kitty and Cheetahs on horseback.

REVIEW: It's incredible how much Survival looks, reads and feels like a New Who episode. The Doctor brings his companion back to her lower-class neighborhood, which is less council estate and more like the streets used in The Idiot's Lantern and Fear Her. Crucially, it has the plots of those two stories, with people disappearing due to some malign influence. Doesn't Fear Her also have the Doctor trying to catch a cat? The alien, animatronic cat is, admittedly, the ropiest effect from this entire season and only my bias for Season 26 makes me want to defend it. Somehow, I still find it rather effective and creepy. This is one that, despite the potentially camp monster (and I could mean Anthony Ainley as much as the Kitling here) and Doctor managing to get every animal BUT the bad cat into his trap, and trading punchlines with comedy team Pace and Hale, the episode still manages a certain amount of disturbia. The empty streets, the mutilated corpse of the grocer's cat, cats eating the body of the car washer... And it's got some nice production values too, with a Cheetah on an actual horse, invoking the original Planet of the Apes' manhunts.

In many ways, this is about youth exodus, young people leaving communities with no future for a big city or lucrative Northern post in some oil refinery (at least, that's what they do here). Perivale's depopulation is caused by alien intervention, of course, but no one seems to question the disappearances. In this world, it is entirely normal for young people to fly the coop and never look back. It's notable that even after The Curse of Fenric's revelations, and being told here that her mom was heartbroken, Ace doesn't have a single thought about going to see her. She just wants to see what her old mates are up to, and is disappointed to find that, like her, they've all left. The only young person she knows is begging in the street. And despite hanging out in playgrounds, Ace has never looked so adult, in both dress and attitude. It's the very real feeling of going back to your hometown and finding your connection to it lost, everything you hated the same and everything you loved changed.

All this is wrapped into the notion of survival of the fittest, treating the outside world as a jungle (here an alien planet) where it's eat or be eaten. Will these kids turn on each other, like the tiger-beset characters of the grocer's joke? Survival is the twistedly ironic title of Doctor Who's last story (but it wasn't long in proving itself right), ties into the evolutionary themes of the previous story, and makes it into a lot of dialog via its main proponent, Sgt. Patterson. This character is a bit like Martin Kove's bad sensei in The Karate Kid, teaching young mean to survive through mercilessness. It's not enough that they know how to defend themselves, they must be capable of going a step further and inflict harm, pain and fear. "Show me a better way of surviving" he asks the Doctor, and that's what the Doctor is all about. In his final story, the Doctor may well have to reaffirm his credo.

REWATCHABILITY: High - Season 26 continues to shine thanks to its focus on the companion, and an approach that brings serious themes out of the action-adventure elements.


Madeley said...

You're completely right about Season 26 being the template for NuWho, and Survival is the NuWhoiest of all of them. As I mentioned on Twitter the other day, the eccentric way the Doctor is messing around with catfood is classic Modern Who- I could easily see Matt Smith doing similar scenes. Again, it's a shame that the New Adventures, in concentrating on the Doctor's dark side, often forgot that when he wasn't overdoing it McCoy's more humourous moments could be quite charming.

Have to say, I agree with you about the kitling puppet. It's not the best in the world, but far from Old Who's worst, and quite unsettling at times. I also think the Cheetah People costumes get a lot of undeserved stick- considering the budgetary limitations, the costume department did a pretty good job. And the horse riding scenes against the red sky of the alien world look suitably strange and epic.

I'll be interested to see your take on the Master's performance, too, as I know you're not a fan of Ainley. I find that he lays it on slightly less thick in this story, his most effective in the role.

Siskoid said...

He's not his outrageous self here, but that's because he's mostly a pair of eyes, occasionally shown.

I do like his prodding "Show me. Show me!"


Blog Archive


5 Things to Like Activities Advice Alien Nation Aliens Say the Darndest Things Alpha Flight Amalgam Ambush Bug Animal Man anime Aquaman Archetypes Archie Heroes Arrowed Asterix Atom Avengers Awards Babylon 5 Batman Battle Shovel Battlestar Galactica Black Canary BnB 2-in1 Books Booster Gold Buffy Canada Captain America Captain Marvel Cat CCGs Charlton Circles of Hell Comics Comics Code Approved Conan Contest Cooking Crisis Daredevil Dating Kara Zor-El Dating Lois Lane Dating Lucy Lane Dating Princess Diana DCAU Deadman Dial H Dice Dinosaur Island Dinosaurs Director Profiles Doctor Who Doom Patrol Down the Rabbit Hole Dr. Strange Encyclopedia Fantastic Four Fashion Nightmares Fiasco Films Within Films Flash Flushpoint Foldees French Friday Night Fights Fun with Covers Galleries Game design Gaming Geekly roundup Geeks Anonymous Geekwear Gimme That Star Trek Godzilla Golden Age Grant Morrison Great Match-Ups of Science Fiction Green Arrow Green Lantern Hawkman Hero Points Podcast Holidays House of Mystery Hulk Human Target Improv Inspiration Intersect Invasion Invasion Podcast Iron Man Jack Kirby Jimmy Olsen JLA JSA Judge Dredd K9 the Series Kirby Motivationals Krypto Kung Fu Learning to Fly Legion Letters pages Liveblog Lonely Hearts Podcast Lord of the Rings Machine Man Motivationals Man-Thing Marquee Masters of the Universe Memes Memorable Moments Metal Men Metamorpho Micronauts Millennium Mini-Comics Monday Morning Macking Movies Mr. Terrific Music Nelvana of the Northern Lights Nightmare Fuel Number Ones Obituaries oHOTmu OR NOT? Old52 One Panel Outsiders Panels from Sheena Paper Dolls Play Podcast Polls Questionable Fridays Radio Rants Reaganocomics Recollected Red Bee Red Tornado Reign Retro-Comics Reviews Rom RPGs Sandman Sapphire & Steel Sarah Jane Adventures Saturday Morning Cartoons SBG for Girls Seasons of DWAITAS Secret Origins Podcast Secret Wars SF Silver Age Siskoid as Editor Siskoid's Mailbox Space 1999 Spectre Spider-Man Spring Cleaning ST non-fiction ST novels: DS9 ST novels: S.C.E. ST novels: The Shat ST novels: TNG ST novels: TOS Star Trek Suicide Squad Supergirl Superman Supershill Swamp Thing Tales from Earth-Prime Team Horrible Teen Titans That Franchise I Never Talk About The Prisoner The Thing Then and Now Theory Thor Thursdays of Two Worlds Time Capsule Timeslip Tintin Torchwood Tourist Traps of the Forgotten Realms Toys Turnarounds TV V Waking Life Warehouse 13 Websites What If? Who's This? Whoniverse-B Wikileaked Wonder Woman X-Files X-Men Zine