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Elizabeth Sandifer

Elizabeth Sandifer created Eruditorum Press. She’s not really sure why she did that, and she apologizes for the inconvenience. She currently writes Last War in Albion, a history of the magical war between Alan Moore and Grant Morrison. She used to write TARDIS Eruditorum, a history of Britain told through the lens of a ropey sci-fi series. She also wrote Neoreaction a Basilisk, writes comics these days, and has ADHD so will probably just randomly write some other shit sooner or later.Support Elizabeth on Patreon.

23 Comments

  1. Dougie
    October 12, 2011 @ 12:33 am

    I wonder if Terry Nation being, you know, Welsh had any influence on the "uncivilized" nature of Tom Price?
    I saw "Law and Order" on transmission as a child and was haunted by it. I'd never heard of the concept of miscarriage of justice until then. Watching it again, about three years ago, I realised it was hugely talky.
    I agree that the series accurately depicts the values of the BBC at the time. I certainly remember my own lower-middle-class family's anxiety in a world of hyperinflation and nightly power cuts. Survivors seemed like a fairly plausible future, which is possibly why it ran for three years.

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  2. Alex Wilcock
    October 12, 2011 @ 1:46 am

    I can't believe I'm coming in to defend Terry Nation, particularly over sexism, but he's not the one to blame here for making Abby a "figurehead": while he's not known elsewhere for his strong women characters, he didn't write the episode Law and Order which you particularly criticise, and by that stage it's clear the series was not under his control. I point the finger at producer Terence Dudley, who managed to force out both Nation and Carolyn Seymour after the first series, at which point it took on a far more macho character (replacing the strong female lead with the bloke who'd guested as 'man with stud farm of obliging women' could hardly be more obvious).

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  3. SK
    October 12, 2011 @ 2:51 am

    I must say, I'm looking forward to the piece on Terry Nation's Blake's 7.

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  4. Matthew Celestis
    October 12, 2011 @ 3:20 am

    How do you think this compares with Day of the Triffids?

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  5. Wm Keith
    October 12, 2011 @ 4:29 am

    Bucolic utopias are a feature of British culture from the Diggers to the Night Garden (this is part of the reason why "Balamory" succeeds and "Me Too! doesn't).

    I know that "Survivors" was made in the mid-1970s, but Terry Nation's mindset was formed in the 1950s. "Survivors" is "Day of the Triffids", only without the comedy vegetables (see the 1981 TV adaptation). Just as in "Day of the Triffids", the devastation appears to have been a result, intentional or otherwise, of the Cold War.

    Even before "Survivors" had been shown, the children's TV equivalent, "The Changes", had stolen its thunder, playing on the more contemporary (or timeless) fear of technology for its own sake.

    In doing so, "The Changes" provided a decent explanation for the abandonment of cities. It also attempted to present strong female and non-white characters.

    Not having seen the series for 30 years, I have no idea how clunky all this was (or wasn't) in execution.

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  6. Matthew Celestis
    October 12, 2011 @ 5:29 am

    Wm Keith, I don't think the Triffids in the 1982 adpatation are at all comic. While they look a bit rubbery, they are quite disturbing and much more effective than any Doctor Who monster.

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  7. Wm Keith
    October 12, 2011 @ 5:46 am

    Opinions can, of course, differ. I watched the BBC's "Day of the Triffids" as an eleven-year-old, and was not at all impressed. But that may have been because, at the time, I was extremely familiar with the book, and with the elegant line drawing on the 1954 Penguin cover. Though that drawing is almost comical in itself.

    http://www.penguinsciencefiction.org/02.html#0993
    (scroll down the page to see the cover)

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  8. Spacewarp
    October 12, 2011 @ 6:26 am

    I've watched about one and a half seasons of Survivors recently. It hasn't really aged that well and it's mostly nostalgia that's pulling me through so far.

    It is very much a product of its time, and although it strives to be harsh and gritty, realism isn't one of its failings. The women always look nicely scrubbed up, and you can tell that Greg is supposed to be the leading man from his Donny Osmond cap and his ridiculously inappropriate high-heeled boots while scrambling around Vic's quarry.

    You're right that it's a very middle-class white post-apocalypse, and most prime-time TV was like that in the 70s. Black and asian characters would have been hampered by the viewers' expectations of them to behave a certain way. Even Tom Price is played as a comedy Welshman, although I still think Talfryn Thomas manages to show us a lot of Price's underlying bitterness and hidden menace. Yes he's of a lower class than the rest of the cast, but he makes it plain that he thinks he's just as good as them, and he certainly doesn't tug his forelock.

    I'd argue though that Barney isn't targeted because he's lower-class and useless. Rather that when they try to question him his mental problems make his replies too ambiguous, so he simply ends up looking guilty.

    As to the women being excluded from execution duties, well this was the 70s and liked to think that even after the collapse of civilisation we would still spare our women the most gruesome tasks (and probably continue to hold doors open for them). I'm 49 now and to be honest I still feel that way.

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  9. Adam B
    October 12, 2011 @ 8:59 am

    Wow, I hadn't heard of this show. Don't believe I'll be seeking it out. I'm glad to hear Nation didn't write the 'Law and Order' episode, because as a disabled activist staunchly against capital punishment, that synopsis is more than a little triggering.

    Also, a quick note on terminology. We are not bound in any way to/by our wheelchairs. They are liberation machines that makes our lives infinitely better than if we didn't have them.

    We are wheelchair users. Thank you.

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  10. Spikeimar
    October 12, 2011 @ 9:26 am

    I seem to remember reading in the excellent 'The man who invented the Daleks' that the reason Terry Nation strove for total control for Blake's 7 was that he lost control of Survivors fairly rapidly and eventually fell out big time with the producer over the changes to his vision. By the time of 'Law and Order' he had pretty much nothing to do with the series other than providing name value above the title (whatever you think of his abilities nation was huge in the Seventies as a writer)

    As a proud Welshman i'm pretty certain he wouldn't have thought Tom was less civilised because he was closer to his pagan roots, or even that the Welsh are closer to pagan roots than anyone else.

    I remember Nation was applauded at the time for his creation of strong female characters (Abby and Servalan) and compared to other writers of the time I don't think we can be too hard on him for that. It's dangerous to judge everything by what's considered correct in the present day. Times were different, viewpoints were different and whether you consider them right or wrong isn't going to change that fact and what we consider right now, isn't going to be considered right in the future I'm afraid.

    'The Changes' hasn't dated well I'm afraid, I remembered it as a gripping, multi cultural extravaganza but when I caught it recently on UKGold it was dull, slow, badly written and featured an ending that made no sense. The Sikhs faired well though.

    As to the cities being the place to be after 90 percent of the population snuffs it I don't know… sure they would have been immune to the bacterial infection that the dopey scientist dropped (no thoughts on the fact it was an Asian Scientist?) with no clean water, no sewage removal etc I'm sure typhus would have made them a no go area? Remember there were no shopping malls here in the Seventies to run to lol

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  11. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 12, 2011 @ 10:27 am

    Adam – thanks for the correction on terminology. I've adjusted the post appropriately.

    Reply

  12. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 12, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

    A couple responses and reactions to comments.

    1) Regardless of Nation's nationality, the fact remains that Tom's accent is clearly meant to signify his class, and his class is clearly meant to signify his untrustworthy nature. That Nation was Welsh adds another interesting layer to this, but it doesn't remove the basic codes here.

    2) I am aware that "Law and Order" was not a Nation episode – though I disagree with the idea that Nation had no influence on it. Even if he had been forced out of the program by then – though I'd point out that of the four Season 1 episodes after "Law and Order," Nation wrote three – the episode is very much as the show is still transitioning into its soap style, and Nation's influence is still all over the thing.

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  13. SK
    October 13, 2011 @ 12:21 am

    Surely the point of the ending of 'Law and Order' isn't, 'Tom doesn't deserve to die, Barney did', it's, 'In a bad situation sometimes you have to do wrong things, like letting a murderer off because he's useful'?

    That is, the end of the episode can't be read as justifying Tom and his actions because that removes its whole point: it relies for its impact on the audience seeing that what the characters did (covering up Tom's crime) was wrong.

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  14. 7a1abfde-af0e-11e0-b72c-000bcdcb5194
    October 13, 2011 @ 8:35 am

    Spikeimar,

    See the exchange between me and Spacewarp in the comments section here:

    http://tardiseruditorum.blogspot.com/2011/09/pop-between-realities-home-in-time-for_14.html

    Reply

  15. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 13, 2011 @ 10:13 am

    SK – Clearly the episode doesn't justify Tom's actions. I do, however, think that it justifies Greg's actions. What Greg does is not viewed as wrong. Unpleasant, certainly, but still the right thing to do. It's a logic that is, for me, at least, frighteningly reminiscent of the standard defenses trotted out for CIA atrocities – "the CIA is there to do unpleasant, horrible things you'd rather not know about to protect you."

    In other words, I think we're supposed to feel bad that such things are necessary, not that such things were done. But the message of "Law and Order" is unmistakably that executing Tom would be the wrong decision, whereas executing Barney wasn't. And that remains morally abhorrent.

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  16. SK
    October 13, 2011 @ 11:29 am

    Oh, I agree that it's morally abhorrent, but then I'm a 'justice be done though the heavens fall' kind of a guy.

    I just think that was the point of it: 'look, they've been forced into a situation where the choices are to either do something morally abhorrent and survive (but at what cost?) or to die.'

    I don't think it's terrible to write fiction that presents that choice so starkly (it is, after all, a choice which does occasionally come up in the real world, though not very often these last few decades, thank God).

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  17. Elizabeth Sandifer
    October 13, 2011 @ 11:31 am

    I don't think it's terrible to write fiction that presents the choice so starkly. I think it's terrible that Survivors endorsed the wrong side of the choice.

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  18. Iain Coleman
    October 13, 2011 @ 3:04 pm

    The message of "Law and Order" is surely that executing Barney was wrong, and that the community has followed what seemed to be a logical path that led them into doing something terrible – and their pragmatic response when they find out the truth shows the flaws in what they had convinced themselves was a sound case for capital punishment. The episode is all about how good, decent, rational people talk themselves into doing the unspeakable. I find your reading of this episode frankly bizarre.

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  19. Spacewarp
    October 13, 2011 @ 10:42 pm

    Phil. I think I can kind of see what you're saying. "Law & Order" showed the characters making a decision and the episode seemed to endorse this as the correct decision…by the act of portraying it. Is that right? When I watch the ep, I don't see that. I can see the characters heading for the decision irrevocably. All the while you know where it's going. You know that morally you want Tom Price to be found out and Barney to be saved. Unfortunately Survivors goes for the far more dramatic and emotionally harrowing result. Not only do the cast find Barney guilty, it's almost certain they think he's guilty precisely BECAUSE he's got learning difficulties, and their prejudices say "his type of person is capable of this act, therefore he must have done it".

    To compound it, they don't even suspect Tom, even though they know from experience what kind of person he is.

    Finally, to cap it all, we don't get Tom keeping the secret of his murderous act going through the next few episodes, soap style. He admits it right at the end, so everyone now has to face up to what their prejudices have done. They now realise that they were all to blame for killing Barney.

    And the clincher for me is that Tom Price, for all that he actually committed the murder, is the least guilty of all of them for Barney's execution, since he was the one who claimed Barney was innocent (admittedly because he was the only one who knew for certain).

    I see it as a horrendous story, as it exposes everyone's soft white underbelly, and nobody gets off scot-free. Even Greg with his "we have to have justice and accidents happen" attitude is shown wanting. We suspect he feels remorse for his leading part in the group decision, but his character refuses to let him show it.

    The characters in the episode are morally flawed, but I don't see the episode as endorsing this. I see the episode as simply showing us the story and leaving us to make up our own minds as to where the fault lies, and honestly inviting us to think about what we would have done differently.

    That's what the story says to me, and that's why I honestly can't quite understand your take on it. I don't mean your viewpoint's wrong (any more than mine's right), just that I don't quite get it.

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  20. SK
    October 13, 2011 @ 11:47 pm

    I'm not sure that 'showing' the wrong side of the choice counts as 'endorsing' it?

    There's a different between portraying and endorsing, just as there's a huge difference between understanding and condoning or justifying a terrorist action.

    and anyway, if Survivors had shown them making the opposite decision, and properly followed through on it (ie, no horrible Star Trek style 'we'll do the right thing rather than the necessary thing, and somehow at the end of the episode that'll magically turn out to have been the necessary thing to so we don't have to live with the consequences of our choice' destruction of drama) then it would have been a very short series.

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  21. Kat42
    April 1, 2012 @ 7:36 am

    I have to agree with Spacewarp and SK on this. I've always interpreted that as showing people making the wrong choice. I have always quite enjoyed shows that display main characters who are fallible and make stupid choices and I've always found it a but surprising when people seem to feel that the actions of the main characters are endorsements.

    It's been a long time, but I had interpreted some of the treatment of the women in this show the same way as well.

    I've always seen this show as one of those shows that spends a lot of time reflecting on the darker nature of humanity and the things that it's capable of.

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  22. Daibhid C
    March 20, 2013 @ 2:18 pm

    Regarding whether Terry Nation could have had anti-Welsh prejudices while being Welsh, I was interested to read this on TV Minus 50, describing an episode of Hancock called The Assistant in which Tony has a job in a department store:

    His co-worker there is Owen Bowen, a rabid Welsh nationalist played by Kenneth Griffith, who's utterly hilarious and steals the episode. The Assistant's Welsh writer, a certain Terry Nation, is clearly having a ball sending up some of his bolshier countrymen.

    Reply

  23. orfeo
    August 16, 2014 @ 12:03 am

    This isn't the first time that you've assumed that depiction equals approval. It seems to happen quite a lot.

    Reply

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