Survival: Part Three

First Broadcast December 6th, 1989 @ 7.35pm (5m viewers)

The broadcast of the final instalment of ‘Survival’ saw Doctor Who’s 26 year run on BBC television come to an end. Head of Series Peter Cregeen concluded that the show needed a rest. So Season 26 proved to be the last. He has since been proved right as after a lengthy hiatus the show has returned to popularity. Cregeen’s decision, however, was also based on dropping viewing figures and a lack of inspirational storytelling.

Five million people watched Part Three of ‘Survival’. It is foolish not to acknowledge how much television and how viewers engage with programmes has changed. However, the raw figures show that only 1.86 million more viewers watched 2015 series finale ‘Hell Bent’. Included in that figure are people who watched it over 7 days and not just the original broadcast, which wasn’t possible in 1989. Similarly, the argument that the show’s quality had deteriorated is also wide of the mark.

Ace (SOPHIE ALDRED) - The Doctor (SYLVESTER MCCOY) - Doctor Who - Survival: Part Three (c) BBC
Ace (SOPHIE ALDRED) – Doctor Who – Survival: Part Three (c) BBC

Following the high standard of stories in Season 26 ‘Survival’ delivers another unique tale. It is a slightly grim take on Britain of the late 1980’s. There is also a sexual subtext, exploration of the animalistic nature of human beings and the destructive power of violence. Basically, there is plenty for English graduates to sink their teeth into. With so many layers to this tale, Doctor Who clearly bowed out on a high. Some of the show’s best material in years would, therefore, cement a confidence of it’s potential and left the door ajar for a return.

Memorable Moment (Spoiler Warning)

There are worlds out there where the sky is burning, where the sea’s asleep and the rivers dream. people made of smoke and cities made of song. Somewhere there’s danger. somewhere there’s injustice. and somewhere else the tea is getting cold. Come on Ace, we’ve got work to do.

As a setup for continuing adventures in books and on audio this final piece of dialogue, seeing The Doctor and his companion walk off into the sunset, is perfect. The importance of this moment was sadly largely lost on viewers at the time with Doctor Who’s hiatus not being officially announced. Written by Script Editor Andrew Cartmel it neatly sums up the previous 26 years of the show and alludes to future tales. It took a seven-year wait and then another nine years on top of that but we got there in the end.

The Doctor (SYLVESTER MCCOY) - Doctor Who - Survival: Part Three (c) BBC
The Doctor (SYLVESTER MCCOY) – Doctor Who – Survival: Part Three (c) BBC

I would highly recommend fans of the new series revisit ‘Survival’. Russell T Davies’ episode ‘Rose’ in 2005 replicated the gritty realism found in a London housing estate. ‘Aliens of London’ also included enquiries about the disappearance of a companion from their normal existence. The correlations between two stories separated by 16 years are fascinating. Most excitingly of all, however, was the recent confirmation that the writer Rona Monro would be contributing a script to the 2017 series of the show. Will we see a return for the Cheetah People? Who knows…


The Doctor – Sylvester McCoy
Ace – Sophie Aldred
The Master – Anthony Ainley
Paterson – Julian Holloway
Karra – Lisa Bowerman
Midge – Will Barton
Shreela Sakuntala – Ramanee
Derek – David John
Squeak – Adele Silva
Neighbour – Michelle Martin


Director – Alan Wareing
Producer – John Nathan-Turner
Writer – Rona Munro

Also First Aired On This Day…
  • The Android Invasion: Part Three
  • State of Decay: Part Three
  • The Trial of a Time Lord (The Ultimate Foe): Part Fourteen


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