The Lights of London, I & II

By Rich Cross   Last updated on 28 November 2020, 11:31:26

Written to accompany the (abortive) release of series two by Sovereign Video in 1998

Survivors - Lights of London II - opening title

 THE LIGHTS OF London is unique in the history of Survivors for a number of reasons. It is the only two-part storyline in the entire series, and contains the only cliffhanger ending which is recapped at the beginning of the second part. Although it was not originally intended to be a single story in two halves by writer Jack Ronder, it is a happy accident of scheduling that the one Survivors two-parter falls in the right sequence to be included on a single cassette.

The story provides for the most extensive and detailed depiction of post-Death urban chaos and decay ever revealed in the programme. The Lights of London is a dramatic city-based exception for a series that was principally rural in its setting.

In addition to the impressive location work, large sections of Lights were shot on film stock, rather than on video, with film cameras (used next for the exterior shoot on The Chosen) used for most of the opening Whitecross sequences. Shot in the pale light of early January, the scenes on film are evocative and atmospheric – far more so than the brightly lit video segments. Lights was one of the few series two episodes located, in the main, away from Whitecross. The dramatic location work in Lights is, perhaps unavoidably, offset by an unwelcome return to studio-bound sets for most of the London interiors.

 Urban shoot

The production costs for Lights were probably quite high, relative to other Survivors stories. The logistics of the urban shoot, the additional studio time and set construction, the effects shots, the large number of extras, the film segments – were all unusual add-ons for a series two shoot. It's likely that Lights was pricier than a normal show, despite the savings that would have come from producing two episodes from a single set-up.

Survivors - Lights of London II - Wally - played by Roger Lloyd Pack
Wally - a 'troublemaker' in eyes of London leader Manny

Visitors trick Ruth into leaving Whitecross on a mercy mission, only to reveal their true agenda once their unwitting hostage is far from home. Reluctantly Ruth agrees to help, even as she learns that her real destination is a besieged community in the heart of London where dozens have fallen prey to a mystery illness. With a sense of trepidation and dread, Ruth prepares to brave the danger and disease of the decimated capital…

The outdoor settings are superb. There are excellent, chilly and chilling, underground station scenes, an unlikely allotment patch, and – as Greg helps out on a route check – fantastic sequences of rubbish strewn and car choked city streets. The London of Lights is foul and foreboding. All of this makes it easy to forgive the two not-very-special effects – one involving not very predatory (and in fact very stuffed and stuck on) rats, the other a dramatic nightime cityscape of bonfires raging across the London skyline, made up from (what appears to be) a couple of bunsen burners stuck in front of a strip of black cardboard. The effect falls so flat that it would have been far better to have relied on the audience's imagination and the use of close-ups on the horrified and disbelieving members of the cast.

The scale and sophistication of the London community is striking. Surviving Londoners enjoy the relative luxuries of hot running water, radio, cinema and extensive food and fuel stocks, but at the critically high price of enduring the 'London Sickness'.

 Dissident Wally

There are several sterling performances among the guest star cast, including Roger Lloyd Pack as 'the great unwashed' dissident Wally, and most notably, Lennox Milne, utterly convincing as the irrepressible nurse and ward sister Nessie. The performance of Sydney Tafler as Manny is perhaps a weaker link, his reading of what could be quite a complex character is rather flat and obvious. Manny's dubious motives are transparent from the moment he appears on screen, where there could be more doubt about them initially. A subtler interpretation of his megalomania could also have made Manny's subsequent cold-bloodedness more of a revelation. While Wally bemoans the tyranny of the 'fascist' London state, Manny points to his democratic mandate and popular contentment with his rule.

This intriguing story is unraveled in layers, as the central plot twists and turns. Lights provides a wider vista beyond the sometimes introspective concerns of the Whitecross settlement, offering glimpses of the global situation, and throwing up thoughtful issues about the tensions between collectivity and individuality, belonging and responsibility, and — most pressing of all — the obligations that the question of long-term human survival imposes on lives of those who have just come through the Death.

Survivors - Lights of London II - Greg and Charles prepare to leave the Oval on a recon mission
Greg and Charles prepare to leave the Oval on a recon mission

At the close of part one, Charles and Greg have uncovered the deception and followed the trail to the heart of London in a bid to free Ruth from the clutches of her kidnappers. Rescued from a rat attack by the exiled renegade Wally, they are taken to the settlement run by the suspicious and manipulative Manny. There they learn of an audacious plan to escape from under the shadow of the 'London sickness' and begin again on untainted soil – a plan in which Ruth is to play a pivotal role, and which Greg and Charles are soon tangled up in…

The pace picks up considerably in the second installment of The Lights of London, as the plot twists and shifts, and the real hidden purpose behind the 'Big Move' is uncovered. Manny's 'five year plan' is revealed not as a means to liberate and revive the remaining London community, but a trick intended to passify the masses through the empty promise of a 'good life to come'. Manny sees the plan for the Move as the key to maintaining morale, and encouraging hard work amongst his subjects – and as the best way to protect his petty fiefdom, even as it is eaten away from within by illness and death. Whether or not the idea that 500 survivors is the critical mass to ensure the continuation of the human race is valid, Manny has convinced his followers that it is and that it's worth working for.

 Armed and irate

When the original doctor dies, Nessie urges Ruth to flee before she becomes trapped forever. Greg and Charles negotiate their passage home, but take the now-disillusioned Ruth with them. The Whitecross fugitives scramble into the tunnels pursued by an armed and irate Manny. The dramatic final showdown in the half-light of the underground is well evoked, though events are wrapped up perhaps a little too neatly as we reach the evocative closing shot of the 'light at the end of the tunnel' and the beginning of the journey home.

The series never returns to London to see if Wally tracks down another doctor, or convinces the community to live without a paternalistic dictator. Viewers never learn whether the Move is ever attempted for real. But the London adventure reinforces the stark realities of the survivors' predicament. Returning to Whitecross, the relief of our survivors must be tempered by confirmation of the most unwelcome truth possible. In it they have learnt that, on a global scale, humanity appears to be hanging onto life by the thinnest of threads. At this point in the series there was no toning down of the raw power of its bleak central premise.

Rich Cross

Cite this web page
24 July 2024202131 January

 Cross, R. (2021). 'The Lights of London, I & II,' [online] Survivors: A World Away, 31 January. Available at: Accessed on: 24 July 2024.


Current style: Harvard





 Survivors: Ghosts and Demons

Episode image for Survivors: Ghosts and Demons

 A fantastic addition to the audio literature of Survivors... in-keeping with the existing dramatic terrain and able to break open new and fertile ground

 Survivors 7:1 Journey's End

Episode image for Survivors 7:1 Journey's End

 When Abby follows the 'last' lead that might reunite her with her son Peter, what she finds will rock her to the core

 The Fourth Horseman location find

Jenny Richards encounters Tom Price on a rural hillside in Survivors episode The Fourth Horseman

 A long sought-after location from Survivors first ever episode has finally been tracked down

Find out more

 Site sections

Terry Nation's Survivors

 Survivors is a 38-episode, three series British post-apocalyptic TV series, created by Terry Nation, and first shown on BBC 1 between 1975 and 1977

 Two Survivors novel were published in the UK, USA and Italy in the seventies: Terry Nation's part-novelisation of the first TV series Survivors was published in 1976; with John Eyers' original follow-up Genesis of a Hero appearing the following year

 A 12-episode, two series remake of Survivors was broadcast on BBC One between 2008 and 2010

 A 36-episode, nine series run of new and original Survivors audio adventures, set in the time and place of the original programme, were released by Big Finish between 2014 and 2019

 Terry Nation's Survivors novel was released as an audiobook, voiced by Carolyn Seymour, in 2014

 Genesis of a Hero was reprinted and republished as a paperback and as a Kindle title in 2015

 A sequel to Genesis of a Hero, entitled Survivors: Salvation, was published in February 2021

 A six-episode original audio drama, Survivors: New Dawn, set two decades on from The Death was released in two three story box sets by Big Finish in November 2021 and February 2022

 Pete Wallbank
Pete Wallbank

ILLUSTRATOR AND ARTIST Pete Wallbank designed the covers for the Sovereign Video VHS release of series one of Survivors.

 Myra Frances (Anne Tranter, Survivors) dies at 78
Myra Frances (Anne Tranter, Survivors) dies at 78

MYRA FRANCES, WHO played the role of Anne Tranter in two episodes of series one of Survivors, has died of cancer just weeks after her seventy-eighth birthday.

 Robert Fyfe (Phillipson, Gone Away) dies aged 90
Robert Fyfe (Phillipson, Gone Away) dies aged 90

ROBERT DOUGLAS FYFE, who appeared in the third episode of the first series of Survivors, has died at the age of 90.

 Big Finish and the Survivors: New Dawn audio boxsets
Big Finish and the Survivors: New Dawn audio boxsets

BACK IN JULY 2021 Big Finish announced the release of the first three-story boxset in its new Survivors: New Dawn series. These new audio dramas would be set some two decades after The Death.