05/11/2008. Contributed by Jessica Martin
Survivors is a new six-part BBC One science fiction drama series starring Julie Graham, Max Beesley, Paterson Joseph, Zoë Tapper, Phillip Rhys, Nikki Amuka–Bird and Freema Agyeman. The drama is Adrian Hodges's (aka Ruby In The Smoke, Shadow In The North, Charles II and Primeval) latest work, remaking the 1970s Terry Nation sci-fi classic. SFcrowsnest looks at this work of post-plague TV fiction and interviews the actors, including Doctor Who's Freema Agyeman.
Imagine being the only survivor of a disease that kills every member of your family, that kills lovers, strangers, friends, nearly everyone you've ever met. You are among the lonely few to live and now you must start over in a strange new world where everything that was once safe and familiar is now strange and dangerous. Set in the present day, the drama series focuses on the world in the aftermath of a devastating virus which wipes out most of the world's population.
What would we do? How would any of us cope in a brave new world where all traditional 21st-century comforts – electricity, clean running water, advanced technology – have disappeared?
These are the questions faced by the bewildered but resilient group of survivors at the centre of the drama. It is an opportunity for new beginnings but, with no society, no police and no law and order, they now face terrible dangers – not just the daily struggle for food and water but also the deadly threat from other survivors.
Launched in April 1975 on BBC One, the original Survivors ran for 38 episodes over three series. BBC Drama Production acquired the rights to develop the drama series from the Terry Nation Estate in 2007. Survivors by Adrian Hodges is based on the novel written by Terry Nation.
"What would you do if you were faced with the unimaginable?" Kate Harwood, BBC Head of Drama Series asked SFcrowsnest.com. "Survors is an exciting new drama series which asks the most fundamental of questions. How would the human spirit endure when faced with the most exciting and terrifying adventures? e have managed to assemble a magnificent cast in a series set to take audiences on an emotional roller coaster ride."
"Survivors is about what it means to be human," adds writer and executive producer Adrian Hodges. It asks questions about our nature and confronts us with our deepest fears. When everything else is stripped away, would we band together and find the best in ourselves, or would we fall apart and retreat into barbarism and savagery? urvivors is about adventure, fear, love, loyalty and friendship. But above all, it's about new hope."
Survivors is of course a remake of the classic Seventies BBC drama series, and is based on the novel by Terry Nation.
The cast include (in alphabetical order): Freema Agyeman (Doctor Who; Torchwood) as Jenny; Nikki Amuka–Bird (No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency; Five Days) as Samantha Willis; Max Beesley (Hotel Babylon) as Tom Price; Shaun Dingwall (Doctor Who) as David; Julie Graham (William And Mary; Bonekickers) as Abby Grant; Paterson Joseph (Jekyll; The Beach; Peep Show) as Greg; Phillip Rhys (24; Nip/Tuck; Flatland) as Al; Zoë Tapper (Twenty Thousand Streets Under The Sky; The Last Van Helsing) as Anya and newcomer Chahak Patel as 11-year-old Najid.
Abby Grant (Julie Graham)
Abby is a mother and home-maker to her son Peter (11) and husband David (Shaun Dingwall). Before the virus struck Peter had successfully defied a near-terminal illness. Peter is now better and Abby has reluctantly agreed to let him go on an adventure holiday. Abby plans to resume her career and re-ignite her faltering relationship with loving but exhausted husband David. But fate has other plans in store for them...
Al Sadiq (Phillip Rhys)
A rich, good-looking playboy, Al has lived a life of privilege. In the aftermath of the virus he finds himself responsible for Najid. Al has never seen himself as the paternal type and he initially proves to be a disaster as a father figure; he would rather find a softer life for himself in the post-disaster world. But strangely this frightening new environment ultimately makes him a better man than he would ever have been if he had continued his old life.
Dr Anya Raczynski (Zoë Tapper)
Anya is a young doctor who does her best to save as many people as she can when the virus that wipes out most of humanity hits. But there is no cure and no vaccine and all her skill ultimately proves fruitless. While she struggles with the enormity of it, she is forced to stand by helplessly as her friend Patricia is among those brought to the hospital in the grip of the illness...
David Grant (Shaun Dingwall)
David is a self-employed builder, a loving family man who is competent, brave and determined. Although they have been worn down by the illness of their beloved son Peter, Abby's and David's marriage is a solid and loving one. But nothing in David's life has prepared him for the crisis which is about to sweep away everything he ever knew and loved...
Greg Preston (Paterson Joseph)
A former systems analyst for a big multi-national, Greg felt trapped and dreamed of a new life. But his wife, who had grown used to a wealthy and comfortable lifestyle, was appalled by his utopian vision of a new, hard scrabble future. Nursing bitter personal wounds, Greg is now a man who believes he can live without love, friendship or family.
Jenny Collins (Freema Agyeman)
Jenny is a bright and lively young teacher in a primary school. Overwhelmed by the chaos she sees all around her, she is determined to save the life of her dying flatmate Patricia. Nothing will stop her taking her friend to the hospital and saving her life. But fate intervenes to confront Jenny with choices beyond anything she could have imagined.
Najid (Chahak Patel)
Eleven-year-old Najid is a lively little boy with all the normal interests of kids of his age – football, his Gameboy, school. He is also a devout Muslim. On the night of the crisis he and his family go to the local mosque but in the morning Najid is forced to grow up very fast when the virus causes a violent change in his circumstances and his life is transformed in ways he could never have anticipated. His relationship with Al is at times funny, at times poignant; but in the end Al and Najid need each other, no matter how much they try to deny it.
Samantha Willis (Nikki Amuka-Bird)
Samantha is a junior minister delegated to handle the press in the midst of the crisis. Dealing as best she can with an anxious media and her own stunned colleagues, Samantha at first has no idea how serious the crisis is becoming. Forced to put aside her love and concern for her own family, Samantha becomes the last contact between the government and the people it can no longer protect. Her journey from innocence to a full knowledge of the truth is laced with bravery and horror.
Tom Price (Max Beesley)
In prison when the story starts, Tom Price is handsome, charming and capable, but also very dangerous... A man who will stop at nothing to achieve his own ends, Price finds himself locked in his cell while all around him are dying. As the long night of the virus wears on, survival and freedom become the only issues that matter...
Adrian Hodges, writer and executive producer, interviewed
For Adrian Hodges, the challenge of re-imagining the BBC's classic Seventies drama Survivors for the 21st century was one that he simply could not turn down. Adrian's writing credits include Primeval, Ruby In The Smoke and Charles II, but he says the new Survivors excites him as much, if not more, than any previous project.
"I remember the original series by Terry Nation very well, the shock that everyone who saw it felt, and the concept retains that emotional power," he says. It gives you the chance to tackle every possible kind of human drama. Most of what we write about happens within society, but in Survivors there is no society."
In a world where 99% of the population has been wiped out by a mystery virus, there are no rules, no law and order, but there is, Adrian stresses, hope for mankind.
"It's about people taken to their limits and, of course, you encounter the dark side of human nature, but the new series is not as bleak as the original," he says. "The characters find themselves in horrendous situations, but I couldn't have taken it on unless the overall message was one of hope."
If Survivors is ultimately optimistic about our courage and capacity to start afresh, Adrian admits it has been borne out of pessimistic times.
"While I was writing it, there was at least two major health scare stories that made the front pages of the papers," he recalls. "I think we're more receptive now to the idea that this kind of virus could strike, and certainly closer to the possibility of it happening than we were in the 1970s."
In his research for Survivors, Adrian spoke to virologists who confirmed that a scenario similar to that in the series is all too plausible.
"They are absolutely convinced there will be a pandemic one day, but not sure exactly how bad it will be, and they're also convinced there will only be a limited amount we can do about it when it happens. The world is busier than it's ever been, travel is easier, and viruses and bugs replicate and spread with incredible speed – perhaps not as fast as the virus in Survivors, but still at an astonishing rate."
What has also changed since the original series was made, claims Adrian, is how much more dependent on technology we have become.
"I'm convinced it would be harder to survive now – we're more helpless than perhaps we've ever been at any point in history," he says. "There's no doubt that some of the people left would be very practical, but a lot of them would be hopeless. That was true in 1970s to a degree, but more so now. One of the endearing things about the original is that there really isn't that much technology in people's homes at all. When I was writing, I looked around my own room at home and imagined stripping out all the technology, and what's left was basically a chair and me. So this enormous web of technology we've developed in the intervening years needed to be part of the storytelling in the new Survivors. We're too far down the road of being in love with it to give it up lightly, so it's not a case of going back to the Stone Age overnight. I also tease a bit with the possibilities of whether some technology might still work and why that might be so."
Adrian is keeping mum about whether the "why that might be so" might involve the kind of conspiracy theories that abound in a complex and fearful 21st century.
"I genuinely don't want to say too much, but I feel comfortable saying I've explored the back-story of the virus in a way that the original Survivors didn't," he reveals. "The possibilities of how it came into being, how it spread so quickly and what it actually is are all things I deal with, but you'll have to watch to see how!"
Adrian, who based his new series on Terry Nation's Survivors novel, adds that most of those watching will not have seen the original, which ran for three series from 1975 to 1977: "I think it will stand or fall on its own merits as a new drama."
Julie Graham, Abby Grant, interviewed
For Julie Graham's character in Survivors, life before the virus strikes prepares her for the challenges she's confronting in its aftermath. Having seen her son Peter nearly die from leukaemia, Abby has reserves of courage that make her stand out in a harsh new world. The trouble is, she doesn't know whether Peter is dead or alive.
"That's what keeps her going – her search for him," Julie explains. "She's nearly lost Peter once before, and I think going through that has given her a certain strength. Being thrust into this extraordinary situation brings it out of Abby. She realises she has qualities which she didn't realise she possessed. She surprises herself, although her skills are more emotional rather than practical."
Although Abby's overriding aim is to find her son, she takes on the mantle of matriarch for a disparate band of survivors who come together.
"She's definitely the bonding influence on the group, the one who keeps them together," says Julie, whose career spans more than 22 years. But having to put her search for Peter on hold while she gets on with the day-to-day struggle of surviving is very hard. That's the real dilemma for her as a character."
Working on Survivors sparked happy memories for the Scottish star of her late mother, who she recalls being an avid viewer of the original Seventies BBC series.
"I was about 10 when it began. I remember my mum watching it and really loving it, and people talking about it a lot," says Julie. "My cousin, who's eight or nine years older than me, remembers it vividly and found it absolutely terrifying. She was very excited when I got a part in the new series."
As was Julie, who confesses to being a real science-fiction aficionado.
"My mum was a huge fan - I remember when I was 16 she gave me Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep?, the novel on which Blade Runner is based. o I kind of got the bug through her. I was a massive fan of Doctor Who and still am, and I'm sure I've infected my own children!"
However, Julie believes what was originally seen as science-fiction when created by the genre's British TV giant Terry Nation is now perceived as something likely to happen.
"What makes it even more relevant today is that people are more concerned about the future of the planet and whatever it is that will end up wiping us all out. Whether that's in 10 years time or 100 years, and whether it's a virus or a meteor strike or war, everybody is more aware now of the possibility. So when you present a concept such as Survivors, there's no giant leap of faith to be made by the audience any more, you absolutely think it could happen quite easily. And in places like Britain, where we all live in such close proximity to each other, you can see how quickly a virus like the one in the series would spread."
Julie believes that the Western world's increased reliance on technology since the original series was first aired also makes the time ripe for a re-imagining of Survivors.
"We're such babies now. In some ways, we have regressed because we're so dependent on technology in our everyday lives that we'd be helpless without it. I try to look at it from my daughter's point of view – things such as air travel, the internet – she just takes it all for granted, and she's only four-and-a-half. I think most of us would be absolutely lost in Abby's situation – I'd definitely want to be on Ray Mears's team! The whole technology thing is another reason why I love the story, but if it hadn't been backed up by the strength of Adrian Hodges' scripts there'd be no point. We haven't set out to do a re-make. In the new Survivors there's a lot of leeway in terms of changing the characters, or introducing new ones. For instance, the Tom Price character [Max Beesley] in our series is nothing like the one in the original, but he still brings an edge to the group."
So does Julie feel any pressure for Survivors in 2008 to live up to, or even surpass, the appeal of the original?
"I don't," she laughs, "but I'm sure Adrian does!"
Max Beesley, Tom Price, interviewed
Max Beesley hit the acting jackpot when writer Adrian Hodges decided to start from scratch with the character of Tom Price in his re-imagining of Survivors. Hodges agrees that the 2008 version is best described as a "charming sociopath", which is another way of saying Price is a very, very dangerous man.
"Acting-wise, he gives me a kind of head-start in Survivors because people are going to like watching him," says Max. "He's dark, he's mysterious – unfortunately, he's also psychopathic. There are a lot of possibilities to play with."
The audience first meet Price in prison as the virus strikes, and the circumstances of his escape leave them in no doubt about the kind of man he is.
"He's serving a life sentence, and while the viewers know what he's capable of, the rest of the characters have no idea, at least not for a while," Max explains. I've played this kind of dynamic before but only in low-budget films that not a lot of people have seen, so I thought it would be good to do it on TV. I spoke to Adrian, who's a writer I respect immensely, we spoke about the character, and I told him it was something I really wanted to get my teeth into. What interests me is how a man like Price behaves – they go from 0 to 100mph, bang, just like that without any qualms or sense of morality holding them back. He's the sort of guy that, when push comes to shove, whereas you or I might have an argument with someone, he could quite easily kill them. I've done research into sociopaths, and they're all action and no introspection. Price is not at all inward-looking or self-aware, and that makes him a bit scary. The most extreme case I looked at was the American mafia hit-man Richard 'The Iceman' Kuklinski. He killed hundreds, did some really dark stuff, and yet he was very eloquent, seemed very together, and that's what is so terrifying."
Burnage-born Max, who shot to fame as the lead in the BBC's 1997 adaptation of Tom Jones, adds that the post-virus world in which Price finds himself doesn't necessarily bring out the best in him.
"It's a fresh start for him, but only in the sense that he's now a free man. I play him with a lot of ambiguity."
The only thing that affects Price's equilibrium is being around women again after several years in jail, and he finds himself attracted to the enigmatic Anya (played by Zoë Tapper).
"He's certainly very interested in Anya so he obviously wants a relationship, which might be something he's not had much experience of in his life," says Max. "We decided that he'd been inside for about eight years, so he would be a bit weird around women, he wouldn't quite know how to handle them. Anya is someone who gets hold of his emotional psyche. Sociopaths are control freaks, and she intrigues him because he loses control of his emotions with her. So he wants some kind of emotional comfort, but I'm not sure what else because he doesn't want anything from anybody. He's very independent, very capable, but I wouldn't want to be him."
Max whose credits also include Hotel Babylon and the acclaimed medical drama Bodies, has vague memories of the original Survivors despite being only four when the first series aired in 1975.
"I can remember little bits and pieces, people's faces and stuff, so my mum and dad must have watched it, but I'm sure I was more interested in sweets at the time."
Max is currently in Los Angeles editing his own film script for a Sixties-set Manchester crime drama called Mr Goodnight.
"I'm working on it with Gub Neal [Cracker, Prime Suspect, Hillsborough, Moll Flanders], and planning to make it through my own company," he explains. "We're hoping to start getting the money in before Christmas and go into pre-production next year. I'm really pleased with the script – it's right up there in the top five things I'm most proud of."
That list also includes playing live with James Brown and Stevie Wonder. Max is also a talented percussionist and keyboardist who has written film scores and played with Paul Weller, Take That, Jamiroquai and his good friend Robbie Williams.
"I've not played properly since working with James Brown, which was a wonderful honour, just before he died a couple of years ago," he says. "The most musical thing I've done recently is have a dream that I'd written a number one hit song and I woke up at 5am to write the tune down in the dark. I've since bumped into the lyricist Don Black and he asked me to send him the music so he can have a listen, so I'm hoping it turns out to be more than just a dream."
Paterson Joseph – Greg Preston
According to Paterson Joseph, Greg is ready to turn his back on what little is left of society when he meets fellow survivor Abby (Julie Graham).
Disillusioned with his career as a systems analyst, he had yearned to swap his comfortable, corporate lifestyle for something more challenging, but his wife did not share his vision.
"The best way for Greg to forget his past would have been to do what he was doing when he meets Abby on the road, which is get away by himself, find a farm, grow some vegetables and keep a few animals," says Paterson. "Before the virus, he wanted to pare down his family's life but his wife wanted none of it, so he became estranged from her and their children. He feels he's been let down, but also that he made a mistake, so he doesn't really crave human contact or any of this community stuff. But he's drawn into it, mainly because he's drawn to Abby, and that leads him to realise that maybe he's not the loner he thought he was. Greg is struck by Abby's passion and her optimism that what's left of humankind will basically be drawn together to form new communities and make things work. He wants to drive away and almost does, but he takes her along, and that first step leads to another and eventually into this small community of survivors."
An acclaimed theatre actor, with a host of TV and film credits also under his belt, Paterson admires the way that Greg adapts to the challenges of the post-virus world.
"He's very practical and logical, and I like that. There's also not too much spiel about his heartache, but every now and then, when he's talking to the right character, a little bit about his past will come out."
The emphasis of Survivors, says Paterson, is not on what people were but what they can be in a world stripped of rules, authority and the comforts we all take for granted.
"I think it will make the audience wonder what sort of person they'd become. You might think, for instance, you'd be like Abby, but how would you really cope with no family, no-one to turn to? Would you be strong or crumble?"
Playing Greg certainly made Paterson realise how out of touch with our practical sides most of us have become in the early 21st century.
"When I arrived on set and saw Greg's Land Rover packed with all this stuff I didn't know what to do with, it really made me think about the skills we've lost," he recalls. "So I looked at the survival guide I was given and started learning about how to tie knots, make a fire, build a shelter, make a bed from twigs and grass, purify water. I've since made a rope ladder for my son, who's five, and some hammocky things in our garden which he loves playing with. I'm pretty sure most our dads knew all this stuff, people who were in the Scouts knew it, and our grandfathers certainly knew it. I love Ray Mears now – I challenge you to watch one episode of his shows and not be fascinated! He'd be my kind of survivor. I really fancy going out to the countryside and doing one of those courses where you spend a day with ex-SAS soldiers learning survival techniques – and then go home and have a nice bath..."
On a more serious note, Paterson believes that Survivors brings home the point that we are, as he says, "on the edge of chaos".
"If we did suddenly lose all those resources that we simply take for granted, what would do?" he asks. "If I got to a petrol station and there was no electricity to pump the petrol into my car, how would I get around that? Some people would know, but I'd have no idea. If you've got a supply of water, how do you protect it? Do you share it or do you lash out at anyone who tries to take it? Are we all violent deep down? I don't think I am, but if I was protecting my son, I'd fight to the death. In a way, protecting Najid [Chahak Patel] becomes the group's main priority, making sure he's all right, and protecting each other because that's how they're going to survive."
But to do that they have to adapt to the dangers of a raw new world.
"Some people would simply become feral, while even those trying to do the right thing would have to become wily and ready to be more aggressive," says Paterson. If you find a supermarket controlled by someone with an Alsatian and a shotgun, would you be willing to attack him to get what you need? There are some really great dilemmas which are thrown up by the series."
Zoë Tapper, Dr Anya Raczynski, interviewed
Of all the characters who come together in the aftermath of the virus in Survivors, Zoë Tapper's is perhaps the most traumatised by her experiences. Although she hides it beneath a calm, detached exterior, young doctor Anya is haunted by her helplessness in the face of the plague which overwhelms her hospital – she is the only person to escape with her life from its devastated wards.
"Anya definitely veers towards being an outsider, because of what she's been through," says Zoë, who found fame as Nell Gwynne in Richard Eyre's 2004 film Stage Beauty. Watching everyone dying and not being able to do anything about it is such a distressing thing for someone whose profession it is to save lives. She pretty much has a huge breakdown and has to make a decision to move on, but she is very distrustful of people and keeps her secrets very well-guarded. For a long time, the rest of the group don't even know that she's a doctor. The others are more willing to talk about their lives and who they are than she is."
Attractive and enigmatic, Anya attracts the attentions of both Al (Phillip Rhys), who still sees himself as a ladies' man, and Tom (Max Beesley), who is hiding some even darker secrets of his own. really like Al as a character – he's a lot of fun to play, and he helps to bring a bit of humour into things.
"The dynamic between the men is great," says Zoë. "One of the great things about the series is that Adrian Hodges, the writer, plants a lot of seeds so there's opportunities for the characters to go in a number of different directions, and that keeps it really fresh."
The Bromley-born actress is hoping the new version of Survivors has as much impact as the original series, although she is too young to recall it.
"I'd heard of it, though, and it's amazing how many people do remember it and loved it," she says. "It was a real hit and people wanted to stay in to watch it. Like the old series, the new one has got elements of sci-fi in it, but I think we very much focus on the human stories. The first episode is all about the virus and how it brings the survivors together. Of course, they talk about what they've lost, there's an element of that, but it's very much about going forward. I do believe the instinct to survive in all of us is huge, but I don't think you realise it until you're in that kind of life-or-death situation. Having said that, as an actress, I'm sure I'd be hopeless!"
Phillip Rhys - Al Sadiq
As one of British acting's best-kept secrets, Phillip Rhys is in a unique position to assess the merits of Survivors.
If his name is unfamiliar, it's because the Londoner has spent most of his career working in the United States, with key roles in acclaimed dramas including 24, Nip/Tuck and Flatland, as well as a guest-artist spots in the likes of Bones, Shark and Navy NCIS.
"I guess 24 and Nip/Tuck are the ones I'm most proud of, and what we're doing on Survivors is definitely comparable in terms of the writings, character development and design," he says.
Phillip plays Al Sadiq whose pampered, materialistic and hedonistic lifestyle is abruptly ended by the virus which he survives.
"I just responded to the material, and I really like Al as a character - he's a lot of fun to play, and he helps to bring a bit of humour into things. At the same time, given all that's going on, I get a chance to do some really good, serious stuff, and working with Chahak (who plays Najid) has been a real pleasure. A lot of our scenes have been together and there's an older-brother-younger-brother, father-son thing going on that's both funny and touching at the same time."
Al is best-described as a rich, good-looking playboy.
"Obviously, that took a lot of characterisation for me to achieve," laughs Phillip. "When we meet him he's leading this selfish, narcissistic lifestyle funded by his rich father and, in many ways, he's lost.
"Everything he values is basically stuff - cars, gadgets, clothes - but he wakes up one day and none of it means anything anymore, it's worthless. He has to reassess his life and start from scratch. The key thing is, Al becomes a better person because of what happens, although he's initially reluctant to change."
A chance meeting with 11-year-old orphan Najid set Al on the road to redemption.
"By default, Najid makes him a better person, and I think they save each other," says Phillip. "For all his faults, Al has a good heart. He's not going to abandon Najid. He initially does as little as he can but that little ends up being enough."
Najid is a devout Muslim, but Al has no time for his faith.
"I'm not sure whether he's a lapsed Muslim or just a lapsed human being," says Phillip. "Al's is the church of 'me'. For him, it's all about self, self, self, but he's forced to change. He actually grows up and becomes a man."
Is he still a ladies' man, even in the post-virus world?
"Of course!" laughs Phillip. "But he suffers as he learns to really care for people, which has been nice to play.
"In many ways, he's the least well-equipped of the group, the least practical, but again that changes as the series progresses and the characters develop. In the later episodes, I'd say he's the equal of Greg [Paterson Joseph] and Tom [Max Beesley]. If those guys are going off to do something, Al won't be staying behind to make the tea."
Ultimately, says Phillip, Al puts his privileged lifestyle behind him and adapts to the harsh realities of a world reborn.
"The idea behind the series is not such a vast stretch of the imagination for most of us," he claims. "Adrian Hodges, the writer, spoke to scientists during his research who said, you know, if you take a strain of Ebola and change this, this and this, the Survivors scenario is very possible. I YouTubed the original series when I was auditioning for the part, and what Adrian has done is update the concept and make it more relevant to today, taking in events over the last 10 years or so. More than ever before, fear of what the future holds for us is rife - people talk about Armageddon, sell stuff and run campaigns off the back of it. That fear is everywhere."
Phillip can next be seen in Al Pacino's upcoming movie Salomaybe. Another season of Nip/Tuck is possible, but so is staying to do more work in Britain.
"After drama school, me and my buddy headed to the States, and it's kind of worked out for me," he says. "But I've always gone where the work is, I came back for Survivors, and if there's more work of this quality for me here, I'll stay."
Nikki Amuka-Bird, Samantha Willis, interviewed
Imagine being the last government minister left standing in a plague-ravaged world where society has collapsed and concepts such as law and order are meaningless.
That's the imaginative leap that Nikki Amuka-Bird had to make for Survivors, in which she plays Samantha Willis.
"It's fair to say the series begins on the hardest day of her life," says the Nigerian-born actress. "She's a junior health minister who's put in charge of handling the media when the virus begins to take hold. At first, she thinks it's fairly routine stuff and is seeking to reassure the public that everything is under control, but she doesn't know how serious the epidemic is."
As that realisation dawns, Samantha is thrust into the spotlight, taking more responsibility and bigger decisions as other members of the government go down.
"She's as shocked and horrified by what's happening as anyone, but she has to push thoughts of her own family aside, which was one of the hardest things to contemplate when I was reading the scripts," says Nikki.
"But she really has no choice because she can't turn her back on everything that's going on and run away. She has to try and move forward as that last point of contact that people have with the government."
Nikki, whose recent credits include The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Torchwood and The Whistleblowers, researched her role with a visit to the Houses of Parliament.
"A friend who's a Labour adviser arranged it, and while we were there we bumped into an ex-Irish health minister who was quite helpful," she recalls.
"He talked me through the day-to-day routine of what my character might be asked to do, but he kind of drew a blank when I asked 'And what would happen if 99% of the population were wiped out by an epidemic?'."
For Samantha, the reality of that grim scenario spurs her on to make plans - however fragile and tentative - for rebuilding society.
"It becomes her reason for living," says Nikki. "She's lost her family, she's lost everything, and she initially wonders 'Why me, why am I still alive?' Her purpose becomes to be of some use, to help others, and to take the responsibility for making whatever decisions she can to build for the future."
"Survivors goes right into the human drama of this New World and the new relationships that are formed. It's about people reconnecting with each other. Of course, there's danger and dilemmas - you never quite know who you can trust. You'd expect people to pull together but that's not always how it works out. Ultimately, though, it's a hopeful story about the human spirit prevailing, one which tries to strike a balance between what's been lost and finding things to live for."
Nikki will be seen in the BBC One drama Small Island which is due to broadcast in Autumn 2009.
Freema Agyeman, Jenny Collins, interviewed
Freema Agyeman saw her fair share of apocalyptic scenarios as Martha Jones in Doctor Who, but none scared her as much as the one envisaged by Survivors.
She plays Jenny, a primary school teacher who battles to get her flatmate Patricia to hospital when the virus strikes.
In one key scene, she is the eyes of the audience.
"When Jenny sees what's happening at the hospital, that's when people watching realise that the whole situation is in a massive downward spiral," Freema explains. "It all happens so quickly. Everyone is going about their day-to-day lives, then it's like a bomb going off. But Jenny's experience is the turning point in the first episode."
Having found fame in Doctor Who, and taken Martha into its successful spin-off Torchwood, it's tempting to see Survivors as another sci-fi string to Freema's bow.
"You could call Survivors sci-fi, but first and foremost it's a very powerful human drama," she argues. "It's very raw and it feels real. People will watch it and imagine how they might react in the same situation. Do we know ourselves well enough to know how we would handle it? There's a scene with Jenny and Anya [Zoë Tapper] where Jenny says that surely surviving the virus would be a good thing.
"But Anya looks at it from the other side and asks what it is that we all live for - our families, our friends and our lives the way we know them. If all of that is gone, where does that leave you? I'm such a family-oriented person that it's almost too hard to imagine how I would react. I think I can confidently say I wouldn't be one of the strong ones.
"Most people's instinct would be to band together with other survivors, but you could never be totally sure of their motives, so you could be putting yourself in jeopardy. The story is ultimately about hope and the triumph of the human spirit, but as the series develops you see the flip-side of that, and not everyone does the right thing."
For Freema, doing the right thing after Survivors meant a complete change from confronting the end of civilisation, and she got her wish when she was cast in a new BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit.
"Sci-fi was becoming my comfort zone, having done so much of it in the last couple of years, so it was great to do something totally different," she says. "I still feel like I'm in the early stages of my career, and it's now about gaining as much experience as possible by doing as many different things as I can. I owe a lot to Doctor Who. Before it, I was doing okay but then it came along and, I guess, turned me into a household name and took my career to a whole new level."
Before landing the role of Martha, Freema admits there were moments when she wondered whether or not to persevere with acting.
"I went through a stage where I don't think I'd auditioned for a year-and-a-half, and I started to think 'If this doesn't work out, what else could I do?'," she recalls. "I never reached the point where I thought I'm going to have to pack it in, but I did start to wonder how long I should keep trying for. I never thought things would happen for me the way they did - one job coming along and changing everything so dramatically."
Perhaps Freema's biggest stroke of luck was landing a small role in one episode of Doctor Who, bringing her to the attention of executive producer Russell T Davies.
"I probably had six lines, but it's all about doing the best you possibly can with what you're given, and then you just do not know where it might lead. I always used to think that, but now I live by it. Whatever you're asked to do, do it to the best of your abilities. It was that small part which started this whole journey. I feel like I'm now getting opportunities I might not have had before, that the barriers are falling, and I completely feel that doing Doctor Who has put me in that situation," she says.
"My life has changed a lot in the last two years in ways I could never have imagined, and one of the things that does is hold a massive mirror in front of you," she added. "It can be difficult, but it's good. The characters in Survivors go through it in an extreme way - mine has been a gentler version! But ultimately that's what the series is about, being able to see our true selves."
Chahak Patel, aka Najid, interviewed
Considering he's playing a boy left alone when the virus wipes out his family, Chahak Patel has taken his first major TV role very much in his young stride.
The 13-year-old Londoner plays Najid, an orphaned Muslim who forms a touching and at times funny friendship with fellow survivor Al Sadiq (Phillip Rhys).
Despite the traumatic situation in which Najid finds himself, Chahak insists: "Nothing in the series disturbed me - it's made me a better person because it makes you think about what you'd do if this really happened.
"I'd not done much [acting] before, so everything has been amazing, and none of the challenges have been too much for me because everyone has been so helpful and supportive, especially Phil."
Al is initially reluctant to take responsibility for Najid who, in some ways, is wiser and more grown up than the self-absorbed playboy.
"If Najid hadn't met Al, he'd just be a kid alone in a world where he has no-one," says Chahak. "The harsh reality is he would probably have ended up dying. But Al comes along and they stick together, I think they help each other really and that's what makes us move on through the series."
Arsenal fan Chahak was even confident enough to suggest the odd script change here and there when he felt it was needed.
"There was one scene where I was supposed to leave my backpack in the car, but Najid would never do that," he explains. "In the first episode, the stuff he puts in it is all he's got left of his old life, so it's really important to him and he would never forget it."
Chahak is hoping Survivors is just the start of the career that he's set his heart on.
"Since I was nine or 10, I've wanted to act. I love watching movies, everything about acting, so I guess this is a dream come true for me. I couldn't wish for anything better."
Shaun Dingwall, aka David Grant, interviewed
Shaun Dingwall reckons that Survivors will make its audience think about what kind of people they really are - and could become if the worst should ever happen...
Shaun, who plays David, the hard-working husband of Abby [Julie Graham], says with a laugh: "I'd like to think I'd be a goodie, not a baddie, in that situation. I think a lot of people could surprise themselves in a positive way in terms of how they'd react, but it's also easy to see how others would become feral."
According to Shaun, Cormac McCarthy's bleak novel about a post-apocalyptic world, The Road, became essential reading among the Survivors cast during filming.
"In terms of the acting, you do the initial research and then you just act what you're given in the script. You can't take that stuff home with you or think about it all the time."
Shaun, whose previous roles include Rose Tyler's dad Pete in Doctor Who and Major Godber in the BAFTA award-winning Mark Of Cain, says the virus strikes just as David and Abby are trying to get their life back on track after son Peter's recovery from leukaemia.
"It's taken a lot out of them, and initially the dynamic in their relationship is very much that he is the practical, pragmatic one whereas Abby is more emotional. What's fascinating is you don't really know how you'd react. You might think you'd be a natural-born leader but thrown into this kind of situation, who knows? Things get flipped and you behave in ways you wouldn't expect."
Shaun was too young to see the original series, but says: "I can recall it being on but not being allowed to watch as I was about five at the time. I remember being quite fearful of it, being slightly scared but not really knowing why."
And how does he see it in 2008? "It's just such a great concept and one that seems so prescient, so relevant to now.
"Obviously the characters are in an appalling situation, but there's a childish part of me that thinks it could also be quite good fun," he smiles. That element of being able to go where you want and do what you like is quite appealing. I don't smoke, but I could imagine going into some deserted pub to have a cigarette just because I could."
Abby Grant is a mother and housewife, married to David. The couple return from holiday at the point where a virulent flu virus is beginning to sweep the world. Abby is worried about her 11-year-old son Peter Grant who is on a school adventure holiday.
As the crisis deepens, Samantha Willis, Junior Minister for Health, tries to keep public panic under control as essential services start to break down.
Elsewhere, in a modern high-security prison, Tom Price, a charismatic and dangerous inmate, is the only one who does not fall ill as the prison becomes a charnel house with prisoners dying one by one.
At a large inner-city hospital, services are at breaking point. Jenny, a bright and lively young teacher in a primary school, is overwhelmed by the chaos she sees all around her - but she is determined to save the life of her flatmate Patricia. Nothing will stop her taking her friend to the hospital and saving her life.
Dr Anya Raczynski, a beautiful junior doctor in the Accident and Emergency department, finds she cannot save her best friend Patricia from the virus that is killing virtually everyone who contracts it.
In contrast, Al Sadiq, a wealthy playboy, is determined not to let the virus stop him having fun - at this point no-one understands how deadly it is. But the following morning he finds the girl he met at a club the night before dead in his bed.
In the aftermath of the virus, Al finds himself responsible for Najid, a young Muslim boy. Al has never seen himself as the paternal type and he initially proves to be a disaster as a father figure.
Greg Preston, a former systems analyst, seems more prepared than most - his car is well stocked and he seems calm in the face of the catastrophe, but when his car is involved in a collision with one of the survivors, Greg's plans are temporarily derailed.
Meanwhile, Tom manages to escape from prison, returning home to retrieve a bag full of cash and a gun...
With a dangerous prisoner on the loose, and other survivors who will hoard whatever spoils they can, the brave new world is a precarious place for a mismatched group of Survivors who must stand together or die.
Abby and her new friends find a house to shelter in and set about gathering the essential supplies they need to stay alive.
When they visit a local supermarket they are confronted with Dexter, the leader of an armed gang that has laid claim to the contents of a supermarket. Abby is shocked by how quickly people have resorted to selfishness and violence.
As Dexter's gang is leaving, Abby sees a face she thinks she recognises, a teacher who took her son to the hospital before the worst of the virus hit, but the gang is gone before she can speak to him.
Abby can't forget about the teacher. She takes Tom with her and goes back to the supermarket in the hope that Dexter's gang will return.
Dexter soon arrives but he has no interest in helping Abby. Instead he gives them a chilling final warning to stay away.
Greg goes in search of the main supermarket warehouse. When he gets there he finds Bob Murphy and Sarah Boyer.
Bob and Sarah had planned to use the contents of the warehouse to start a trading business but their plans are halted when Bob has an accident and is severely injured.
Greg is able to stabilise Bob's condition and agrees to stay the night to keep an eye on the patient. Once Sarah is alone with Greg she tries to seduce him. She needs a man who can protect her and do the heavy work.
Greg can see that Sarah wants to use him, but he still finds it hard to resist a beautiful young girl throwing herself at him...
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