History Files

THE LAST TRAIN

 

Just as viewers were recovering from the plethora of nuclear war-inspired dramas in the 1980s, the late 1990s saw a spate of films and documentaries on another disaster subject. Realisation had grown that the type of doomsday asteroid impact that contributed to the dinosaurs' extinction was not a one-off event. This had been backed up by scientific evidence that pointed to a series of impacts in Earth's history. Programme makers were not slow to follow this up and two movie blockbusters, Deep Impact and Armageddon appeared in 1998, offering differing versions of what would happen if Earth was threatened by an asteroid on collision course. However, neither showed the aftermath of an impact.

This was where The Last Train came in, with one of ITV's biggest-budgeted efforts: a six-part drama showing how a small group of people could attempt to survive in the water-contaminated, buildings-destroyed aftermath of such a collision. They are passengers on a London-to-Sheffield train that is in a tunnel at the moment of impact. The tunnel and most of the train is destroyed and the survivors are frozen by the gaseous contents of a canister carried by scientist Harriet Ambrose. When they awake and emerge from the wreckage, everything they knew has gone, and at least two decades of decay has been added to it. Most of the computer-generated special effects are in episode one, where a Sheffield laid waste is seen in detail, but parts of the city were also recreated in a disused psychiatric hospital, and several location settings were also featured, including a disused holiday camp. The small group of survivors slowly take in what has happened, begin to form into a team that has its own triumphs and (very moving) tragedy to face, and heads towards a spectacular conclusion as they head north.

Familiar faces in the cast included Touching Evil's Nicola Walker as Harriet, Amita Dhiri (Milly from popular BBC2 twentysomething drama, This Life), former London's Burning veteran James Hazeldine, and the immediately recognisable Christopher Fulford, who crops up as a leading guest in many dramas, from Inspector Morse to Cracker. It was devised by writer Matthew Graham, whose credits to this point included This Life and EastEnders. His brief was to develop a post-apocalypse serial on the lines of Survivors, Terry Nation's 1970s drama about life after a man-made virus has wiped out 95 per cent of the world's population, and parallels could be immediately drawn between the two during the first episode. But this was a very different programme which soon made its own identity felt. This was not going to be an ongoing narrative describing the drawn-out collapse of civilisation, and the long struggle to rebuild it. The main characters were frozen in a form of suspended animation for (at least) fourteen years while Earth recovered from the devastation of the initial meteor collision and the nuclear winter which followed. The grim reality of surviving that horror had already been described in the late Cold War drama Threads in the early 1980s, and didn't need to be retold here.

This very gripping series started with two episodes screened in a row; the dramatic opener on Wednesday 7th April, with episode two following in the regular slot of 9.00pm on Thursday, where it stayed for the remaining four weeks. It was pushed heavily by ITV, with trailers constantly to be spotted during the mid- and late-evening's drama output. The episodes of this single-series drama were untitled and unnumbered, both on screen and in television listings magazines.  

 


MAIN CAST

Harriet Ambrose Nicola Walker    Roe Germaine Zoe Telford
Jandra Nixon Amita Dhiri (Episodes 1-4)   Mick Sizer Treva Etienne
Ian Hart Christopher Fulford   Austin Danforth James Hazeldine
Anita Nixon (daughter) Dinita Gohil   Leo Nixon (son) Sacha Dhawan
Colin Wallis Steve Huison   Jean Wilson Janet Dale
Hild Caroline Carver (Episodes 2-6)

 


Writer: Matthew Graham
Executive Producers: Susan Hogg
  and Simon Lewis
Producer: Sita Williams
Associate Producer: David Noble
Script Editor: Diederick Santer
Music: Christopher Gunning

 


Episode One

A group of strangers are on board a train heading to Sheffield. Only one of them, scientist Harriet Ambrose, knows what is about to happen (although not how soon) as the train enters a tunnel and an asteroid the size of Birmingham strikes Earth in the centre of Africa. The shockwaves ruck up the planet's surface like a carpet, destroying most of the civilised world. In the tunnel, the train is thrown off the rails and mostly crushed by collapsing brickwork. Harriet releases the gaseous contents of a canister she is carrying and an eerie calm descends on the scene as everything is suspended for an unknown length of time. Upon waking, the survivors climb through the wreckage and out of a strangely decayed tunnel into the open air. They are shocked to find the world completely transformed, with sub-tropical vegetation growing in thick masses, and ruins littering the once-familiar landscape. Unfamiliar dangers await them as they struggle to comprehend what has happened and how much their lives have been changed.

Guard Roger Bingham
Coates Josh Moran
Teenager Chris Hoyle
Becky Abigail Hayes
Sam John Flitcroft
Danny Justin Ellery
Archie Robert Dunn

Director: Stuart Orme

Episode Two

By now it has become clear how immense the effect of the asteroid strike on Earth was. Survival is beginning to look increasingly hard as the group of train crash survivors struggle to come to terms with the loss of all their friends and loved ones, and the loss of several years of their lives while they were "frozen". They begin to think of searching for families and try to find some clean water to drink, but Harriet's mind is firmly fixed on locating the government bunker in Sheffield where Jonathan Geddes promised to stay and wait for her before the asteroid hit. Sheffield is a much-changed place, and old maps are no longer of any help, so finding the bunker is not easy. When it is uncovered, contrary to expectations it is in ruins, all the rations are gone, and a decayed body is discovered where Harriet expected to find Geddes. The bunker is equipped with the same suspended animation gas that Harriet used in the train, and Geddes has left a cryptic message and a surprise for Harriet if she fails to understand it. Outside the bunker, a strange, wild-looking young woman befriends Anita, but she brings with her a new problem. Someone is hunting her.

Jonathan Geddes Ralph Brown

Director: Stuart Orme

Episode Three

Having evacuated Sheffield and its packs of wild dogs and less-than-friendly humans, the survivors head north in search of Harriet's obsession, the supposed civilised paradise, a former top-secret government base located in Scotland, called ARK. The going is slow. Main roads are now virtually non-existent, and maps are proving unreliable in the changed world. But, having eaten nothing since the train crash, finding food is becoming a priority, and Mick takes control of the group to set about finding nourishment. During the unlucky hunting of a wild pig, their precious van becomes trapped in the topmost part of the ruins of a refinery, sunken several hundred feet during the apocalypse earthquakes and now part of an exposed cliff-face. Forced to make temporary camp, a hunting party follows the pig into the refinery only to face a hunting Jaguar which lives there. Jandra and Ian are forced together, and they begin to explore their growing feelings for one another. Jandra's troubled son, Leo, comes across them together and causes an accident that leaves Ian fearing for Jandra's life.

(No guest cast)

Director: Alex Pillai

Episode Four

Jandra is left lying at the bottom of the refinery floor, conscious but unable to move. There is a great deal of drama in trying to winch her out after an acid rainstorm has wrecked the pulley on the surface, but even then it is unclear just what her injuries are and whether she will survive. She is desperately ill and the survivors must speed up their journey north. They arrive at the swollen River Tees, which over the course of years has burst its old banks and now forms an uncrossable barrier to the van in a world with no bridges. Hild, a native of this new world, catches up with them and informs them of a former emergency hospital that may be of some help, but neglects to mention that her own people are hunting her. A dramatic confrontation with some of these people occurs at the hospital, and the level of armament they carry forces Ian and Harriet to take dramatic steps to ensure their own survival. Soon after, while mourning their own tragic and very personal loss with a cremation on the river's shore, the group come under attack by armed horsemen and are forced to flee, taking a scared Hild with them.

Midwife Flo Wilson

Director: Alex Pillai

Episode Five

Still being hunted by Hild's people, the survivors take shelter in an apparently abandoned village. Once safely behind the protective walls, they find a plentiful stock of food, drink and music in a well-maintained environment with a fully functional pub, and, the immediate danger behind them, personal issues begin to take prominence. Mick and Roe find common ground, much to Colin's disapproval, while Ian and Leo are both still confused and angry about their recent loss. Then the group discover Mark and Gillian, father and daughter, who turn out to be the only remaining participants of an attempt to live a community life confined within the town walls. The polluted post-apocalypse atmosphere created infertility in many women, and the younger village members, growing increasingly disillusioned by their narrow lives, left one by one, until Mark's dream of rebuilding a civilised society had died a slow death. Now he sees new promise in the arrival of the survivors, and will not hear of them leaving. Finally discovering just how many years they were trapped in the train, Mick loses his van to Mark's fiery sabotage. During the confusion, Hild's people arrive, and while Mick coaxes the unreliable Colin to help put up a defensive fight, the others find refuge in the town church, where a sacrifice must be made to satisfy the hunters, and a second, less expected loss occurs when a prisoner is taken.

Mark Kenneth Colley
Gillian Deborah Findlay
Behemoth Dave Nicholls (Not credited on screen)
Hornrim Phil Smeeton (Not credited on screen)

Director: Alex Pillai

Episode Six

Little do they realise it, but Hild's people, now with Anita and Hild herself in tow, are headed towards the same destination as the survivors. Mick, Ian and the others reach the ARK base first, arriving at what on the outside is an abandoned power station. Harriet is eager to get inside and make contact with Jonathan Geddes, but Hild's people arrive and all hell breaks loose. In a running battle amid hills of industrial refuse Mick is attacked but rescued by Leo Nixon, who is forced to kill for the first time in this savage new world. Austin is captured while the others gain the safety of the underground base. Mick, betrayed and cut off, is also taken. Inside the apparently deserted base, Harriet finds and movingly loses the object of her personal search, while tensions rise amongst the others. Matters reach a head when Hild's people lash two crosses together and brutally crucify Mick and Austin, before being allowed into the base. Brought together despite their differences, Hild's people and the train crash survivors witness Hild's act of giving birth to a very important child. There is also one final, important secret to be revealed that might help all of the survivors, train crash and apocalypse, to find some common ground.

Hornrim Phil Smeeton
Behemoth Dave Nicholls
Karen Joy Carradice
Jonathan Geddes Ralph Brown
Jandra Nixon (flashback) Amita Dhiri

Stunt Co-ordinator Andy Bradford
Science Adviser Brian Marples PhD

Director: Stuart Orme

 

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