Survivors: Series 1 – Law And Order

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Andrew East reaches a benchmark episode of Survivors...

There is a sense over the last few episodes of building up the community of survivors, introducing a wide range of characters and moving everyone into position for the tail end of the series.

Law and Order is an episode of Survivors which comes with a reputation. It is one of the only episodes I knew much of before (the other being the opening episode, The Fourth Horseman). That said, I think I had, from reading brief synopses of the episodes, confused the details of this story with those from the second episode: Genesis. That episode sees George Baker’s character have another man shot, having appointed himself as judge and jury of the local area. In my head, I think I had conflated these events with the title Law and Order and assumed the episodes were one and the same.

Law and Order is more complex than that episodes events. This has been described as one of the best episodes of Survivors and it isn’t hard to see why. It is a powerful piece of television, particularly because the audience have more knowledge than the characters, making it a difficult watch.

Wendy (a character who, unfortunately, only seems to have been introduced to the series for precisely this reason) has been murdered; along with the implication that she was raped beforehand. We, as the audience, know the culprit is Tom Price. His interest in Wendy has been foreshadowed in previous installments and these events follow on from a party early in this episode.

The rest of the community, however, mistakenly come to the conclusion that Barney, the mentally-challenged man, is responsible. Barney’s condition means he doesn’t fully understand the accusations being levelled at him and, agonisingly for the audience, incriminates himself.

Price, meanwhile, watches these events play out. There are numerous occasions where he could have stepped in and prevented Barney from taking the blame but his cowardice and self-preservation keep him quiet.

Eventually, Barney is found guilty by the community. They then have to decide what course of action to take. In this new, savage world they are split between those who wish to simply banish Barney from the community and those who believe he should be executed to prevent him from being a danger to others (both within and without the community).

It is horrible to watch as these ordinary people are forced to make a decision about a man’s life. Even banishment to the harsh post-virus world, could result in Barney’s death so the choice is not an easy one and much of the episode is focussed on the debate between the two sides of the argument.

In a division which is perhaps a little sexist and obvious, most of the women vote for banishment and the men vote for execution. Tom Price, however, votes for banishment – clearly hoping that this will assuage some of his guilt. Abby is left with the deciding vote and, in tears, chooses execution.

The men then draw straws to decide who will execute Barney with Greg drawing the short one. With two graves dug for Barney and Wendy, Greg takes Barney for execution. The fact that Barney simply does not understand what is about to happen to him is horrific.

After it is done, Tom Price’s guilt overcomes him and he finally confesses to Abby and Greg. Greg is ready to kill Tom but Abby stops him. Abby wants to tell the rest of the community the truth, but Greg persuades her this is an unwise move and that for the good of the community no one must know.

This episode belongs to Talfyn Thomas as Price. Thomas is familiar to Doctor Who fans from his appearances in Spearhead from Space and The Green Death. Whilst he is good in both roles, neither showcases what an immensely talented actor he is. His performance in this episode does. His lascivious pursuit of Wendy; his behaviour at the trial, trying desperately to convince the others to punish Barney in a way which will prevent him from being responsible for another death; and the overwhelming guilt he feels when Barney is finally executed leading to his desperate confession are all powerfully portrayed. He#s simply phenomenal. Also worthy of note is John Hallett as Barney, whose simple innocence is heartbreaking.

Although this story is mainly one room of people arguing, the fact they hold someone’s life in their hands in this terrible world they have been forced to live in makes it compelling viewing.

There is very little to fault this episode on. Even the most thinly sketched characters such as Charmian and Arthur are performed well because the material is so powerful.

The problem Law and Order presents, though, is how this episode is going to be followed up in the rest of the series. There should be a tension between Abby, Greg and Price from now on. There should be suspicions from the rest of the characters that something isn’t quite right. There should be ongoing repercussions of the decision to execute one of their own community; one who was effectively disabled. These are big issues which should be addressed if the series is to remain credible. We will see.

A primary school teacher and father of two, Andrew finds respite in the worlds of Doctor Who, Disney and general geekiness. Unhealthily obsessed with Lance Parkin’s A History, his Doctor Who viewing marathon is slowly following Earth history from the Dawn of Time to the End of the World. He would live in a Disney theme park if given half the chance.

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