THE FATE OF Abby's son Peter Grant is a driving narrative theme in all of the different incarnations of Survivors produced to date. A desperate mother's search for her missing son, lost in an all-consuming calamity, is a potent, relatable and very human dramatic conceit.
While the idea was not a wholly new one in TV drama, Terry Nation's exploration of it in the context of the end of the world was a device that he used to drive the story arc of the first series.
Effectively, he burdened Abby's character with a terrible dilemma: should she carry on with what seems like a hopeless search, or should she commit her energies to bringing a viable new community of survivors to fruition? Inspired by Nation's creativity, other writers and dramatists have revisited the character trajectory of Peter Grant and considered his fate afresh: on screen, in print and on audio.
The original TV series' Peter
Peter Grant is a much discussed figure in the first series of Survivors, and the efforts of his mother Abby to track him down.
In the opening scenes of The Fourth Horseman, Abby speaks to her son when he phones home from his boarding school. But the viewer only hears Abby's side of the conversation, which she subsequently relates in summary form to her housekeeper. Only partly reassured by the school's decision to go into quarantine, hours later Abby and husband David consider taking Peter out of school and bringing him home "if things get tricky". It is a fateful delay.
It is only the sight of the photographic portrait of her son that shocks Abby back into action
When Abby recovers from her own battle with the virus and discovers her husband dead on the living room couch, she is initially lost in grief and disbelief. It is only the sight of the photographic portrait of her son that shocks her back into action. That fleeting image of Peter is one of just two visual reference to him that is seen on screen in the original Survivors. In this screen carnation, Peter is seen but not heard.
Arriving at the school she discovers that’s Peter’s dormitory bed is empty and then learns from Bronson that Peter was one of a group of pupils that abandoned the school at the instigation of one of the teaching staff in order to isolate the boys from the risk of infection.
Abby’s desperate hunt to find Peter drives her through the wild a series of disappointing wild goose chases. Beginning in Gone Away, she is crushed to discover that the doomed young boy in a school blazer Tom Price mentions in passing is not her son. In Corn Dolly, evident desperation sends her (and Greg and Jenny) back in the direction of her own burnt out home, in the hope that Peter might have found his way back to the family residence and be waiting for her return in one of the outhouses.
Gone to the Angels brings the anguish of the arrival of Lizzie and John (which only highlights the nature of Abby’s maternal loss), and a luckless return to Peter’s school (in which not even Bronson remains). Garland’s War brings two further cruel setbacks. Another youngster (of about the right age, and with the name Peter) is another case of mistaken identity. Following another lead provided by Jenny, Abby learns that her son is not to be found amongst the boys living at Waterhouse; although the encounter with Knox and Jimmy Garland has other, more positive, consequences for her.
Seventh episode Starvation marks a turning point, as the storyline shifts to the establishment of the new community at The Grange. It’s a move that’s prefigured by Abby’s announcement that she’s “not going to look for Peter any more,” a change of focus that Greg and Jenny both support. After that, all three founder members of the new settlement focus their energies on addressing the challenges of making a variable, sustainable community, and the quest for Peter Grant slides into the background.
But an unsatisfied Abby is still troubled by the sense of loss, amplified by the relentless pressures of command. It is in the closing episode A Beginning (in which writer Nation aims to give some substantial sense of closure in the first series story arc), those concerns return centre stage, and Abby seeks solace in the arms of Garland.
The happenstance arrival of the ailing Ruth at The Grange leads to the most reliable lead on Peter’s whereabouts since the earliest days of The Death. And as the first series concludes, Garland agrees to accompany Abby on the renewed efforts to find her son (whilst still sustaining their leadership responsibilities in their respective settlements), even before Jenny is able to share the news that Peter, Bronson and others are living on a canal barge, and that her son is healthy.
All of the evidence of Abby's and Peter's fate comes second-hand, and none can be verified
As Abby disappears from view in series two, her activities continue to be discussed by other characters: including the quest to find her son. The challenge in confirming how well Abby has fared alongside Jimmy Garland is that all of the evidence comes second-hand, and none can be verified. In the events of Lights of London, Amul and Penny initially assure Greg and Jenny that Abby reunited with Peter. Their elation is short lived when it later transpires that this story is simply part of the deception to draw Ruth away from Whitecross to conscript her into joining the struggling London community.
Ruth, Jenny, Charles and Greg learn from the residents of the London settlement that Abby visited the capital (still looking for her son), and left to meet what Manny judges will have been disaster in the wastelands in the north of the city. The residents of Whitecross are sceptical, but as they leave London to travel north following Manny’s demise they cannot be sure of the truth of Abby’s, Jimmy’s and Peter’s fate.
The last report on Abby’s and Jimmy’s efforts comes from the mouth of Alistair McFadden in Face of the Tiger. Alistair says that he spoke to Jimmy through the safety barrier of a hedge, and that Garland and Abby were continuing their hunt. The truth of this is not knowable, but it brings the hope of a definitive on-screen resolution to the story of Peter Grant to something of a downbeat coda, as no incontrovertible evidence appears.
It’s a plausible outcome that Abby has survived, found Peter and set up a new family with Jimmy, but it’s not anything definite, and nothing that viewers ever get sight of.
Peter in print: Nation and Eyres
Terry Nation’s contract to write a novelisation based on the first series of Survivors came with a great deal of creative latitude. In a sense it had to, because Nation had not scripted all thirteen episodes of the run, so not all of the episodes were his to adapt (and it’s unlikely that he would have wanted to work on novelisation of other people’s Survivors scripts).
As Nation set about mapping out a storyline for his new novel, reworking the arc was central to his thinking. And as part of an overall multi-year trajectory, Nation sought to rework the story of Peter Grant and set aside any prospect of a “happy reunion”.
Reworking the stories up to an including that of Garland’s War, Nation rethought some of the elements of his original scripts - including, for example, deciding to kill off Jimmy Garland (who succumbs to his infected gunshot wound). But more significantly still was a plan set in motion in the last half of the book to a showdown that would end in the most dramatic (and traumatic) way possible for Abby: shot dead by her son (now part of a roaming gang of young robbers) on a beach new Dover as she returns from a channel crossing to collect the last of her group and her supplies.
Nation sought to rework the story and set aside any prospect of a happy reunion
So in Nation’s novel, Peter survives, reunites with his mother - only to carry out a merciless act of matricide, and lives on as an orphan.
Interestingly, this novelisation includes Peter's "voice" for the first time, as the prose tracks both sides of the - more extensive - phone conversation between Abby and her son. To "hear" Peter talking with his "Mummy" (as he himself says), and speaking like a normal eleven-year-old boy to a parent, further underscores the impact of their fateful final meeting several years later.
John Eyres’ follow-up novel Genesis of a Hero took a dramatically different path. Rather than exploring the efforts of the survivors of Abby’s group to make a success of their Mediterranean journey, Eyres turns his attention to the evolution of Peter Grant into first a fully-fledged robber brigand and then later a political and military strategist, in the context of the fast accelerating war for supremacy in the now-recovering Britain.
Grant is shown to have a fully ruthless, merciless streak, and to pursue the acquisition of power and privilege without mercy. After overcoming challenges of all kinds and surviving threats to his ambition, Grant tempers some of his most callous tendencies and find renewed purpose as a leader of a more grounded, motivated and concerned military-political leader amongst the rural Welsh rebels.
In Eyers’ imagining, Peter develops into a strong amoral character that is unflinching in his search for power and control. He demonstrates impressive talents, self-awareness and judgement, and rises through the political and military ranks with speed. But his final victory shows him pulling back to a degree from his ruthlessness and his cavalier attitude towards everything and everyone around him.
He has learnt from experiences that some connections, associations and affinities also have value, and it’s arguable that he discovers some of the senses of belonging that the loss of his family and the trauma of his culpability for his mother’s death have robbed him of.
Eyers’ novel concludes with the most triumphant and successful version of Peter Grant. He remains an orphan and he has become a multiple murderer, but there is a sense that he might develop into a more human, less absolutist tyrant in the world that could still emerge in the aftermath of the New English Civil War.
A twenty-first century Peter
When Adrian Hodges began work on the effort to revive and remake Survivors from a twenty-first century TV audience, he was clear just how essential it was to retain the character of Abby Grant as the moral centre and driving force of the story. Integral to that, was the efforts of Abby to trace her missing son Peter.
As the new pandemic hits, Peter Grant is not at boarding school but is on an outward bound holiday break: a treat following his recovery from treatment for leukemia. Abby is just as determined to find Peter and she is again put through a series of false leads and dashed hopes.
From the moorland adventure centre, to the country hospital; from the contested Waterhouse settlement to the compromised research facility, Abby finds only anguish and disappointment. Throughout, her relationship with Najid sees him become a surrogate son and a member of her new family that she cannot countenance losing.
Peter is thought to possess the genetic abnormality the scientists consider essential
Other characters find Peter Grant before Abby is able to. Truck driver Billy Stringer discovers Peter amongst a gang of lost children forced to make their way through this terrible new world on their own. Like his mother, Peter is thought to possess the genetic abnormality the scientists consider essential to the creation of a plague vaccine. It is Tom Price who later frees Peter from confinement along with unfortunate fellow prisoners, without knowing his identity. Duplicitous scientist Whitaker convinces Peter that he has his best interests at heart as Abby closes in on his whereabouts.
His loyalties confused and anxiety rising, Peter shoots and injures Tom Price (rather than his mother as in Nation's novel) before the final showdown on an airport runway. In a tense negotiation, Peter is reunited with his mother as a stoney-faced Price secretes himself aboard the departing plane of Landry, the head of the self-serving quarantined community, clutching his weapon to his chest.
In this second TV incarnation of Survivors, Peter is both seen and heard, experiences adventures of his own, including shooting Tom Price, and enjoys a joyful reunion with his mother. His future appears to be an optimistic one, part of the new generation of Survivors aiming to build together a viable new world.
Peter Grant on audio
Launched by Big Finish in 2003, the audio incarnation of Survivors returns to the setting and the timeline of the original 1970s TV series. The original audio timeline moved back-and-forth to before the time of The Death, through the timeline of the TV series, and into the post-TV series period. It did not revisit the stories of the first part of the first TV series, so did not retell nor reimagine Abby’s experiences of searching in vain for her son.
What the audio dramas did do was provide Abby with a new set of dashed hopes and dead-end leads. Most gut-wrenching and emotionally agonising for Abby is the suggestion in series seven story Journey’s End that Abby has found confirmation of her son’s death. She is taken to his apparent graveside, inconsolable in grief.
What makes the agony all the harder to bear is her belief that Peter had survived the pandemic and lived on for years afterwards, making his own way in this terrible new world. She had only failed to find him by a matter of months, it seemed, and had failed to protect him from this last fatal fall.
Abby defends the indefensible in Peter’s actions, standing by him even when he is clearly guilty
As events transpired, Abby had been unintentionally misinformed about Peter’s fate. Her son, it fact, is alive, and as listeners learn in the events of The Lost Boys is part of a group of boy soldiers being organised under the malevolent leadership of the duplicitous Robert Malcolm.
Despite all the evidence that Peter has been brutalised by his experience of abandonment, Abby hopes for a joyous reunion with her son. She discovers to her horror in Village of Dust that her son is emotionally closed down, hostile, resentful, in the thrall of Malcolm and more than willing to act as his brutal enforcer.
Refusing to believe that her son is lost and unreachable, Abby accepts a whole series of sacrifices and high risk bargains in the hope that she might win him back. It’s a series of decisions that cleave a division between Abby and the group rallying around Jenny Richards' leadership to oppose Malcolm’s tyranny.
Abby defends the indefensible in Peter’s actions, standing by him even when he is clearly guilty of a cold-blooded execution of one of Jenny’s closest allies. Time and again Abby places herself (and many of her former friends) in danger in an attempt to rehabilitate Peter, in stories such as Hearts and Mines When in the closing series' finale Conflict, Jenny’s forces prove to be victorious and Malcolm’s forces dissolve in defeat, Peter faces a lifetime of incarceration for his crimes or worse.
In a final reckoning between the two friends, Abby demands that Jenny let her and her son escape justice and flee far away never to return. Reluctantly, Jenny agrees and opens the door to Abby and an increasingly penitent Peter to leave.
As this audio adventures ends, Abby has reunited with Peter and escaped scrutiny to seek a life as a mother and son far from other personal connections (including Jimmy Garland, who helps to rescue Abby from the clutches of the repulsive Vinnnie in the Post Office Tower in London). It’s the most clear-cut outcome for Peter and Abby, and one in which the reconciliation between mother and son is most extensively explored.
The events of the New Dawn audio series deliver a powerful and unexpected coda to Abby's and Peter's storyline. In the opening episode Tethered, it's revealed that, after enjoying many years living together in seclusion as mother and son Peter has died as the result of a sepsis infection following a riding accident. It's a final maternal tragedy for Abby, but it's the event that propels her back into civilisation as she brings Peter's body home for burial.
As we note in our review of the episode: "This means that for the first time in any incarnation of Survivors, Abby is not preoccupied by the search for Peter. She is now a mother coping with bereavement, not one endlessly searching for a missing son." It is a bold creative decision by Big Finish to 'kill off' the character of Peter Grant in this way. But it suggests a desire to move Abby's own storyline beyond the point of her joyful reconciliation with her son.
Each of the different fates that Peter Grant meets - as missing person, who may or not have been found; a brutalised killer and warlord; or a son reunited with his mother, but psychologically damaged by the experience of separation - reflect a common recognition on the part of each set of Survivors' creators: that the relationship between a single mother and son provides a potent metaphor, in minature, through which to explore a post-apocalyptic landscape on a far wider scale.
In the context of post-Death Britain, Abby Grant's desperate hunt for Peter is both the context for a compelling personal odyssey and a symbol of something much bigger. The outcome of that search also plays a decisive role in shaping the tone with which each incarnation of Survivors concludes: as the story ends either in uncertainty, in tragedy, in brutality or in vindication and resolution.
Cite this web page
Cross, R. (2021). 'Don't just peter out...,' [online] Survivors: A World Away, 31 January. Available at: https://survivors-mad-dog.org.uk/a-world-away/dont_just_peter_out.php. Accessed on: 10 December 2023.
Current style: Harvard