“Life’s not a game son. I’m teaching you the art of survival…”
Survival… I’ve had this sat on top of the video pile for a while. Sunday afternoon seemed as good a time as any to watch it again.
I love the Doctor’s characterisation here, keen to find a mystery at the bottom of a cat food tin. Perivale seems over-grown and near derelict, bereft of inhabitants except a few scant ‘survivors’. However, the analogies and comments all seem too heavily laced with references to survival; and action, and acting, a little too wooden compared to the Who of today. Sylvester and Sophie act, but it feels like the plot’s so leaden they can’t drive much energy into it. The Doctor, fascinated by the black cat, spends the whole first episode chasing it and basically failing miserably, before engaging in a spot of pointless wall-crawling reminiscent of the pointless ice wall abseiling from ‘Dragonfire’. Ace pursues her friends, many missing for weeks, but doesn’t really seem to care either about what might have happened to them or what the Doctor might be up to.
In many ways, Episode 1 feels like a role-playing game adventure run badly. The gamemaster seems to have lost control of the players, uncertain how to guide them towards the plot while they wander hither and yon doing whatever they want to do. Mid-way through Episode 2, with cats feasting and fighting, we get a vague hint of a purpose – but nothing much. The Master appears to have become trapped on the Cheetah Planet and infected with some feline DNA, separated from his TARDIS; but, quite why The Doctor might find a solution The Master could not doesn’t make sense. Couldn’t The Master trap one of the prey teleported from Earth and infect it, then use it to head there? Surely he could then use resources left behind from his previous visits to Earth to either get back to his TARDIS or trick someone into helping him get to wherever he left it.
The idea of a living planet that enjoys a symbiotic existence with it’s inhabitants has potential. The world can only survive while the Cheetah People live on, but their feline instincts mean they live to fight, live to feast. When people engage in battle with the inhabitants, they become part of the chain of existence, an element of the relationship. Midge and Ace do battle – the former more violently than the latter – and both become infected with the Cheetah People DNA.
Anyway… I can’t feel too mean towards this story, the final episodes of the old series. Littered with things to fault, driven by a plot full of holes like Swiss cheese and filled with pantomime cat people, Survival spells the end of an era. I loved Ace and the Seventh Doctor – and they’ll always occupy a soft spot in my fan boy heart.
“There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, and the sea’s asleep, and the rivers dream. People made of smoke, and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger, somewhere there’s injustice, and somewhere else the tea’s getting cold! Come on, Ace — we’ve got work to do!”