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Survival! Belated Valedictory Musings

October 16, 2014


Finally got around to watching this properly.  I’m not sure I ever saw it the first time around.  I was a young man then, and following the sage advice of St Paul had determined to put away childish things.  This was a shame in many ways, because this, the very last of the classic era Doctor how adventures was, and was not, a very childish thing.

It is set in the suburgatory of Perivale, Ace’s own sorry ‘hood to which frequent allusions have already been made.  We know that Ace hates her own mother and has developed an unwholesome (but frequently useful) fascination with explosives, a fascination which an arrest and caution for arson have failed to quell.  As a result of this final story, Ace’s character is further coloured in, further fleshed out – without ever being foreclosed or overdetermined.  At the end of the episode we have still not plucked out the heart of Ace’s mystery, but we understand her a little better.

The miserable late Thatcherite streets of Perivale are a scene of desolation only partially explained by kidnappings effected by vampiric cats from beyond the stars.  The guest appearance of Hale and Pace (remember them?) is slowed down to Beckettsian proportions and their always grating banter now becomes saturated with existential despair.

When the Master shows up, it turns out that he too is struggling to retain his dignity, he too has gone feral and catty and needs to work hard to hold everything together.  At the heart of the adventure, is a love story, however.  Apparently Rona Munro was a little concerned that the lesbian undertones of the central narrative weren’t properly expressed on screen.  Maybe we’re all a little better informed 25 years on – but I think the lesbian narrative is a little too fully realised to be regarded as an “undertone”.

25 years ago, Doctor Who as I knew it, came to an end without me properly registering the fact.  And the strange thing is, it died a rather dignified, sombre and well constructed death right where I was born.  Like Ace, I was born in Perivale, in a small hospital that no longer exists.  Much of Survival was filmed on Horsenden Hill, a rather mysterious and solitary elevation where I used to play as a child.  It’s impossible for me to watch that adventure without thinking of childhood and its horrors and the horrors of its discontinuance.

Perhaps I was right to take St Paul’s advice and put away childish things.  Now that I think of it, that passage from the first book of Corinthians appeared in Curse of Fenric, the penultimate classic Doctor Who adventure, screened just a week or so before Survival.   The words were spoken, very movingly, by Nicholas Parsons, playing a troubled liberal Anglican vicar, whose fuzzy faith proves far less effective against vampires than dialectical materialism.

But perhaps implicit and neglected within the Corinthian advice, was a registering of the putting awayness of childhood – a Wordsworthian remembrance of childhood that must be preserved along with a full acknowledgement of its ending.  Just by saying to yourself that you’re not a child any more – the child within is getting a bit of acknowledgment.

(P.S.  The surprised look on Ace’s face when she discovers that U2 are still going in 1989 is worth the price of admission in any case.)


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