The fourth horseman

I’m pleased to see the Survivors have picked somewhere with an Aga. That will be handy when the cold sets in (assuming they have a continued supply of gas or oil) but is also a subconscious link to the original series. That one was flawed by the fratefully naice middle classness of it all. Our Survivors for a new generation are mixed in race, colour and class … but they still end up in a house with an Aga.


I vaguely remember the original 70s series, though I didn’t see much as it was on after my bedtime. Possibly the main attraction for 10-year-old me was that it was devised by Terry Nation and he invented the Daleks. I finally got to see the first series on video about ten years ago and found it pretty superior fare. The first episode remained the best, starting as the remake did with the virus already in full sway but few realising the danger they were in. The remake pinched the scene of Abby staggering through her home town, finding nothing but dead bodies and pleading, “please God, don’t let me be the only one!”

Then, as now, groups of survivors band together; some get it, some don’t. Anyone clinging to the old ways, or claiming authority based on who they were before the plague, doesn’t get it. Abby does, mostly thanks to a lecture from a surviving teacher at her son’s prep school (who here has transformed into an instructor at an outward-bound adventure school; a nice way of keeping a theme of the original plot, Abby searching for her son, in a way a modern audience can relate to). She says she can find an axe in a hardware store. Yes, but what happens when the last axe head breaks? Could you repair it? Could you smelt the ore to make a new one? Because that’s how long things are going to take to get better.

Eventually Abby’s group settle down somewhere nice and secluded with large grounds (specifically, this place) for growing crops, keeping animals, accreting more survivors, and dealing with ethical issues like how do you deal with a sex offender in a world without courts (especially when you realise you’ve got it wrong – bummer).

Our new group has already found somewhere nice and large, though not very secluded – it seems to be a mansion in the suburbs of Manchester, which can’t be very pleasant on a hot sunny day when the heat gets to the bodies. Some flaws of the original series seem to have been dealt with, others not. The original class homogeneity has been diversified into a precisely calculated group of mixed men and women. They seem to be dressed a bit more practically, but who knows – maybe their outfits will be as laughable in 30 years time as the costumes sported with pride by our original heroes. The one exception to the original niceness was the almost offensively stereotyped cowardly rat-faced Welshman who was of course the villain,Tom Price; Tom now seems to have a lot more going for him. On the down side, our survivors still manage to keep amazingly clean and there are very few hints indeed that they are surrounded by millions of decaying corpses. I was hoping for something grittier.

Almost 100% of the first episode matched its original series equivalent. Last night borrowed about 50% (see? and this one …) To judge by the trailers, next week will use about 25%. Zeno’s Paradox suggests that the series will never be entirely original but the last few minutes of the last episode will come pretty close.

The definitive post-virus text is of course George Stewart’s Earth Abides which doesn’t pull any punches as to the likely consequences of a worldwide plague. Think rats, think insects, populations exploding overnight and then collapsing Malthus-style as their, ahem, food supply gets used up. Significantly, the book doesn’t have a happy ending in terms of civilisation restarting, but at least we no longer worry for the future of the human race. By the end of it the children of the survivors have grown up, unfettered by memories of what once was, and they can start a new hunter-gatherer society with the instinctive ease of kids picking up any new talent.

Knowledge of the original Survivors affected me more than I might have realised. Ever since, I’ve thought – just every now and then, you understand – in terms of what would happen if a worldwide plague came. Frankly, I’d be quite happy with option A which would be dying and making the surviving someone else’s problem. But if by some perversity I survived …

Well, it would be very convenient if the plague could strike while we’re on holiday at my father in law’s farm in Sweden. Failing that, there is at a specific location in our fair land a house that I know of that was originally designed to be kept warm without central heating, and which contains a gun locker with a hunting rifle and (I think) a shot gun, and I know where the keys are kept. I think I would go there. Bonusbarn points out that if I just want weaponry, RAF Benson is a lot closer and Dalton Barracks practically on the doorstep; well, yes, true, but other plus points may not apply. Salisbury Plain is on the doorstep of the house I’m thinking of. Neolithic man thrived there once; we can do it again. My bible would probably be Bear Grylls: Born Survivor. And the house I’m thinking of has an Aga.