Nearly there now – the penultimate piece I wrote for DWM #474…
For many, Survival was the first time the Doctor had come home. Set largely among the northwest suburbs of London, this was Doctor Who on virgin soil. Over the last 26 years, when the TARDIS had arrived on present day Earth it had been in labs, near giant gasomoters, or in stately homes or tea towel villages. With the final episode of this tale even venturing into the front room of a council high-rise, the Time Lord was finally stepping through into something that felt like our world. A front room with a couch and a telly, from where we might, ourselves, be watching the programme.
A lot has been written about the way the final story of the original run foreshadowed the form the series would take upon its return, and all of that’s true. Nonetheless, it’s not really where Survival’s at. Not really. The Doctor who’ll be scrolling through the EPG in the Powell Estate in 2005’s Aliens of London is equipped for modern Britain, but his seventh incarnation isn’t quite there. And neither is his series.
Although the story comes with planning permission for a youth club, a pub, a corner shop and a tower block it has an allegorical storytelling style where everything and everyone contributes to the central theme (much like Ghostlight from the same year). There are well over a dozen mentions of ‘surviving’ and ‘survival’ in Rona Munro’s script. This doggedness about the message is perhaps of its time, as subtle as gothy hunt saboteur Ange rattling her collecting tin. But it’s smart and it’s thought-provoking, a more accurate foreshadowing, perhaps, of a series that was sharpening its claws for the 1990s.
That could have been a lean and mean Doctor Who, wringing value for money out of its storytelling and production. Even the Master, by then a bloated Baron Hardup, seems to have been put through boot camp for Survival. Anthony Ainley’s performance is his finest since Traken. But natural selection didn’t work out that way. Doctor Who had to disappear for a while and evolve.
In a burst of energy the Doctor has escaped from an apocalyptic struggle on a far off world with his archenemy. He looks around blearily at his environs, calibrating his new location. Bleasdale Avenue, Perivale. The real world. And then gets to his feet. “Home”, he says.