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Doctor Who: Survival (Story 159)
Doctor Who Survival
Story 159
Actors: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Anthony Ainley
Director: Alan Wareing
Genres: Television, Cult Movies
NR     2007     1hr 12min

The Doctor takes Ace back to her hometown of Perivale, only to find that something is very, very wrong. Many of Ace's old friends and neighbors have disappeared while domestic pets become victims of unseen killers. Will th...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred, Anthony Ainley
Director: Alan Wareing
Genres: Television, Cult Movies
Sub-Genres: Science Fiction, Sci-Fi & Fantasy
Studio: BBC Video / Warner Bros.
Format: DVD - Color,Full Screen - Closed-captioned
DVD Release Date: 08/14/2007
Release Year: 2007
Run Time: 1hr 12min
Screens: Color,Full Screen
Number of Discs: 2
SwapaDVD Credits: 2
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 9
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Member Movie Reviews

Andrew G. from CROYDON, PA
Reviewed on 3/10/2019...
Great, comprehensive special features and an iconic story. Absolutely great.

Movie Reviews

"If we fight like animals, we'll die like animals!"
Crazy Fox | Chicago, IL USA | 09/25/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

""Survival"--possibly one of the most unintentionally ironic titles in world television history, for it's with this storyline that "Doctor Who", TV's longest-running science fiction program, beloved by generation after generation across the English-speaking world, died. Not a spectacular death, either, but shot like a dog and left to expire like something the cat dragged in, a random casualty of beastly BBC infighting and survival-of-the-fittest competition with other programs. Of course, in those last months of 1989 when "Survival" originally aired, the viewing public couldn't know that this was to be the show's final breath or, as it turns out now, the beginning of its sixteen-year hibernation. Indeed, the storyline was not intended as such, and it strains unfairly under such a heavy retrospective burden. And yet as a fan I found it pretty much impossible to blinker my hindsight and just watch the story on its own terms.

I'll try to do so now, though. In and of itself "Survival" is a pretty standard example of "Doctor Who" at the time, neither a classic nor a clunker. More coherently plotted than "Ghost Light" but not as consistently interesting as "Remembrance of the Daleks", it still entertains as a reasonably sophisticated sci-fi adventure. In context, this story does fit right in with the two storylines preceding it ("Ghost Light" and "The Curse of Fenric") by focusing more on the character of the Doctor's human traveling companion Ace than on the kindly renegade Time Lord himself, here especially as this tale begins with their visit to her old home neighborhood in the run-down suburbs of London and follows her missing friends to the bizarre planet of the Cheetah People. The Doctor's almost just along for the ride here, a real role-reversal indeed. Also linking these last three stories of season 26 is the common theme of evolution, or Darwinism to be more exact--a complex link in which the ever-dynamic ever-changing burgeoning profusion of lifeforms postulated by that theory is celebrated in "Ghost Light" whereas here the moral consequences and ethical repercussions of the theory (the cold, hard law of the jungle) are roundly criticized and vilified implicitly and explicitly. Along with this there also continues a politically leftist emphasis in the show, for the writer clearly categorizes basic competitive capitalism and violence in self-defense as Darwinist negatives. Writer's prerogative, certainly, but traditionally "Doctor Who" had been so crafted as to appeal commonly to folks of various political orientations, which somehow seems a fairer and wiser policy in light of its wide viewing audience.

And the whole non-violence bit gets the writer in a double-bind at the story's climax, and in what constitutes the story's main flaw the writer can only extricate herself from this by cheating: the Doctor and the Master, both of them gradually devolving into more primitive forms, are locked in mortal combat hand to hand and tooth to claw when the Doctor finally takes the moral high ground and refuses to fight, teleporting away instead. Yeah right. This avoids both the option unpalatable to the writer of having the Doctor kill the Master in self-defense and the logical upshot of the writer's stance (unpalatable to us) in which the Doctor would passively allow the Master to kill him instead, but all at the cost of dealing the story itself a nasty wound indeed. For that matter, the ethics of leaving a guy behind and stranding him on a world that's about to explode and disintegrate seem just as questionable if not more so than a good man-to-man round of fisticuffs.

That aside, the story has a lot going for it all the same. The script is extremely well-written and some of the dialogue is positively inspired. The realistically contemporary setting adds grit and tension to the adventure and is a good contrast to the oddly surreal landscapes of the Cheetah Planet. The Cheetah People are interesting aliens though very imperfectly realized make-up-wise; something less ambitious may have been called for, since the transitional phase with the funny eyes, fangs, and claws works pretty well. But still, an unusual concept, and in "Doctor Who" it's the concepts rather than the effects that count in the final analysis. Furthermore, however one feels of Anthony Ainley's take on the Master (I'm not usually too keen myself) he gave the role his all for the better part of a decade and here managed one of his more subdued and convincing performances. And Sylvester McCoy is as dependable as ever as the Doctor. So "Survival" may not be a fitting end to the show or at least to the classic run of the show anyway, but it does afford a good few hours of speculative science fiction enjoyment and survives on that strength."
The New Beginning and The Bitter End
JKO | New York, NY USA | 08/19/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"Released in August 2007, BBC DVD offers a pair of stories from the classic Doctor Who archives that represent both a new dawn and the final end for the original show, which ran from November 1963 to December 1989. Robot was broadcast just days before the start of 1974, heralding the arrival of Tom Baker in the role of the intrepid Time Lord, launching what would come to be seen as the golden age of the iconic series, whereas Survival, from December 1989, represents the final end to the show and a 16 year hiatus for the Gallifreyan's TV adventures.

It was more than just the arrival of Tom Baker as the 4th Doctor that represented the new beginning at the start of season 12. Behind the scenes, Producer Barry Letts and Script Editor Terrance Dicks were both handing over the reigns of the show they'd overseen since 1969. Dicks had already passed on the editorship to Robert Holmes, but penned Robot at his own insistence, marking it the first ever solo script he'd contributed to show he'd been involved with since 1968. Letts was in the producer's chair for the final time, being closely shadowed by his successor, Philip Hinchcliffe. Also fading out were the Earth bound stories featuring the UNIT team, with this being the penultimate adventure for the Brigadier, the long suffering foil to both the Troughton and Pertwee Doctors. His sidekick Benton would also be making only rare appearances in the future, although this story did introduce a new UNIT character, Harry Sullivan, played so brilliantly by Ian Marter, who would join Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah-Jane Smith as the Doctor's traveling companion for the entire season. So many changes and yet this story is still so familiar with the ground that had been set for Earth bound stories for the past five or six years. Indeed, it's very much part of the Pertwee era of story telling and very unlike most of what came after it. It's a simple story, but it works well and certainly leaves the viewers intrigued as to who the new Doctor might be.

By the time Survival hit the screens 15 years later; most viewers were simply intrigued as to how the show continued to survive at all. It had been slowly dying for quite some time and although it had survived one cancellation in 1985, its expiration was never really far away. Ghost Light was in fact the last story recorded, but Survival became the last transmitted. Not that many were aware of that at the time and it was only much later that it became clear the programme was not coming back.

Part of the reason for its demise is clearly seen in this story itself, a 3 part adventure written by TV newcomer Rona Munro. Munro went on to became a much acclaimed script writer, but within the "grand master plan" of script editor Andrew Cartmell's vision for the show, the scripts being produced were far to confusing and impossible for viewers to follow. Plus, Sylvester McCoy was proving to be a remarkably unpopular 7th Doctor, with ratings plummeting. McCoy does indeed seem way out of his depth and his almost unintelligible dialogue and extremely strange annunciation was as confusing to the viewers as the storylines themselves. What exactly is going on in Survival is anyone's guess!

Regardless of the story quality, which is largely subjective, what usually makes the Doctor Who DVDs so worth the money are the extras that the restoration team pulls together for each release. However, not for the first time, they've really over-egged the pudding on the Survival issue and stretched some very thin ideas to two discs and a much higher retail price. For such a short story, this seems particularly unfair on the fans willing to make the purchase. There are two fairly lengthy documentaries about the making of this short story and another looking at what "might have been" had there been another year of the show. Sylvester, together with his companion Ace, Sophie Aldred, and Cartmell figure prominently in all the documentaries, so their commentary for the episodes themselves becomes completely redundant as it's all said elsewhere. One neat idea is that episode 3 also carries an alternative commentary from some competition winning fans. There's also some frankly weird programming for children and a video piece featuring Anthony Ainley as The Master included, both of which are just plain annoying and seem to be there to pad the discs rather than to entertain.

The Robot extras are much more interesting, but again disappointing. So much of what Tom Baker, Barry Letts, Terrance Dicks and Elisabeth Sladen say in the commentary is again repeated elsewhere on the disc and indeed they've said it all before on many other DVD releases. There's a repeat inclusion of an excerpt from Blue Peter too. At the time the show was being made, a documentary crew were following the team, but only some limited, silent excerpts from that are used here, most of which, again, have been used on earlier DVD releases. It's entertaining what's here; it's just getting a bit tired and repetitive. Hopefully this is just a blip and future DVD's featuring the good Doctor will restore the normally very high standards and the repetition can be avoided, especially since it's repetitive in the case of Survival only to fill the space and justify cost.

Any fan will want to have these discs without question, even it it's just to have the immaculately restored picture and sound of the original stories. Casual viewers may perhaps want to save their pennies.
The end of the begining
C. R. Swanson | Phoenix | 12/28/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)

"This was the last story of the original "Doctor Who", which ran on the BBC from 1963 - 1989. Think about that for a moment. Six US presidents were in office during that time (more or less... JFK was killed the day the show started to air). When the program started we hadn't been to Moon. By the time it ended, we'd lost interest in going back there. If you added up the runs of the original "Star Trek" series, "The Next Generation", "Deep Space Nine" and "Voyager" you end up with twenty-four seasons of television. "Doctor Who" wound up with twenty-six. Of course, you can add "Enterprise" into there to boost the numbers and make it twenty-eight, but now with three seasons of the new "Doctor Who" on the air, and a fourth coming, "Star Trek" still loses.

There were a lot of problems with "Doctor Who" throughout those years. This is somewhat to be expected with a show that runs that long, after all. The SFX were usually laughable, even by the standards of the time. The monsters were frequently silly and the less said about some of the costumes and sets the better. But there was always a great enthusiasm on the part of the show. The people involved took it seriously. Most of the stories were original and interesting and the actors were, in general, top-notch, especially the ones who played the Doctor.

Sylvester McCoy was the first Doctor I paid attention to, really. My local PBS station started airing his shows right about the time that I was begining to get into "Doctor Who". The first episode I ever remember seeing was Doctor Who - Remembrance of the Daleks. Though now I've gone back to see all the other Doctors, plus watched the TV movie and the new series, and though I like all the Doctors, the 7th one still holds a special place in my heart.

Which is why it's too bad McCoy was the one duty when the show finally folded. His Doctor was intelligent, funny and charming, but had a great ruthlessness about him when it was called for. Part of his charm was the various elements of the so-called "Cartmel Master Plan". Even as a wee shaver I took notice in "Rememberance of the Daleks" when the Doctor makes a verbal slip that implies he worked on the original time travel technology with Rassilon and Omega.

"Survival" is the 7th Doctor's swan song, even though he returned for the TV movie. It's the last time we really see him on screen running the show, and it showcases great deal of what made him so cool. You see the humor, the kindness, the charm and the ruthlessness. You also see the evolving relationship with Ace, always a favorite companion, and of course Anthony Ainley's last "real" performance as the Master, finally allowed to be something other than a two-dimensional Evil Overlord (tm).

There's a lot that works in this story. Even the make up on the Cheetah People is rather decent. The story is tightly plotted and intesting, and reveals quite a lot about Ace and her life before she met up with the Doctor. In fact the only real complaints I have is that the story is rather short at only three parts, certain character's deaths were very, very telegraphed and the puppet cat looked just dreadful.

Despite those complaints, this was well worth seeing, and it's therefore somewhat surprising that despite the fact that I've been a fan of the show for about twenty years, I'd not seen this episode until a few days ago. But I'm happy to have seen it now.

The DVD is crammed with the usual extras the BBC throws onto these, including commentaries and behind-the-scenes stuff. Very illuminating is a documentry on the end of the original series, where you also get to hear some vague ideas on what might have been had they been on the air longer.

All in all, while this is not the best "Doctor Who" episode, it is very good, and a reasonably decent farewell for the show. It wasn't the send off the deserved, but it was better than what, say, "Enterprise" got, where their last episode was a decent "Next Generation" episode. Watch and enjoy the end of an era."