Written by:
Rona Munro
Directed by: Alan Wareing
Starring: Sylvester McCoy
Year: 1989
Video Availability: Try

My video copy of Survival is so fuzzy it looks like a Pertwee CSO effect. Nevertheless I shall give it a go...

I've always had slight problems with Survival, because - perhaps more than any other Who story - it's pure fantasy. Teleporting cats? Cheetah people? Yet it's also great fun, with a witty script, top direction by Alan Wareing and great (if slightly too loud) music by Dominic Glynn. Not only that but Anthony Ainley also gives a decent performance. Yet while most of my opinions on the other McCoy stories are more-or-less set in stone, I change my mind about this one nearly every time I see it. Last time I loved it, this time I'm not so sure.

Watching this one straight after Time and the Rani is weird because Sylvester's performance is actually worse. His "dark" persona sees him overplay his lines slightly, and his knowing what's going on with seemingly no clues is irritating out of context.

The fake cat's stupid but funny, and I do like the camera angles on this one. There's a real sense of realism unseen in recent Who, particularly the garish Colin Baker era. Is this the most working class Who story ever made? (apart from posh Sophie slumming it, obviously. Why not just hire a genuine working class actress?) Ace spends most of the story whinging while the Doctor wishes she's shut up. On that score, at least, the audience are with him.

I am looking forward to the later episodes, which are said to feature a lesbian subtext (something I'd never considered before), and Harvey and Len are supposed to be gay. Do Who fans read too much into these things? After all, they are quite blokeish (Harvey calls Len "mate") though this is the only Who story with a definite homosexual reference. (In episode three). As for the first episode, then this is sort of okay, and more than competently made…
* * * ½

Episode two gives us that rarest of things in Who: an Asian character. What's more, she's sympathetic and not a Doctor or other stereotypical profession. In fact, the fact that's she's Asian isn't even mentioned at all.

It is all a bit silly, though. Some cute little pussy-wussy cat is talked up as a teleporting vulture. Come on, it just doesn't wash, does it? The theory that is, not the cats. They're so domesticated I bet they wash all the time.

It's an extremely rare (unique?) story where Anthony Ainley gives the best performance, but his more thoughtful, wearied portrayal of the Master is quite wonderful. I love his "Where are you, Doctor? What's your plan?" Is this really the same bloke who hammed it up like a trooper for The Trial of The Trial of a Time Lord? In fact, it's the Master I like most about this story... apart from when he howls at the moon, obviously. And I peed my pants at that rubbish rubber cat howling.

You know, considering they're cheetahs, why do the Cheetah People (crap name that) need horses? Surely they'd be fast runners? There are good bits in this episode - the bit where Midge stabs the cheetah person is quite horrific for Who - but Sophie's constant shouting is quite embarrassing at times.

I'd always found the following lines a little strange: "They're extremely dangerous creatures, they could eat you, or..." "Or what?" "Worse." "What's worse?" "Let's just say that they are dangerously attractive." But apply this to the lesbian subtext and it begins to take on a whole new meaning. Ace is about to touch Karra before the Doctor disturbs her, and the scene where Karra shows her how to lap water is said to be symbolic.

It does all feel a little silly this time around though, even if Julian Holloway's Sgt. Patterson is a tremendous comic creation.
* * *

Oh God. I'm really not in the mood for this story it seems. A slo-mo of a furry cat running, followed by Midge meowing on a settee. Oh God. Still, it's weird to see the Master in a council flat I suppose.

Here Anthony Ainley hands over the succession of the ham to Will Barton. "I'm too old to ham it up," he seems to be saying, "you take over for me."

This episode has the earlier mentioned gay gag with Sgt. Patterson's double-take at Derek holding his hand and a "What's your game, then?" Some have claimed the story is an attack on homosexuality but I don't know if I'd go that far. But this is certainly a territory Who had never entered before.

Some observations: Ace notes that U2 were "practically drawing their pensions when I was clubbing it"; as with episode one, a Frank Bruno poster is seen; the young girl, Squeak, would grow up to be FHM favourite, Emmerdale temptress Kelly Windsor; and the dead "tabby" is absolutely atrocious.

Is it just me or would you Karra when she's reverted back to a human? Mind you, I would have the Cockney who moans about noisy cats as well, so maybe I was just in a funny mood. Sylvester's acting is a bit ropey this episode, not just in the cringing "if we fight like animalssssssssss" bit but also the rushed and hugely overrated "happy ending"...
* * *

Probably the McCoy story that most varies on each viewing, this one can seem alternately fun or just plain stupid and embarrassing for me, depending on mood. The fans are immensely supportive of it, but this time I found it mediocre and silly.
* * *