Note: anyone that has not seen the ITV series The Last Train but ever intends to, don't read all of this writeup; it will contain a brief synopsis of the whole series.

The Last Train (1999) is another of the post-nuclear war genre of dramas, of which there was an epidemic in the '80s and early '90s. The series seems to be half-following on from films like Planet of the Apes and the lesser-known cult-film Logan's Run; even more, The Last Train is what I'd call the aftermath of films like Deep Impact or Armageddon if the asteroids had actually collided with Earth.

A big-budget ITV series in the UK, The Last Train was a six-part drama depicting life after an asteroid collision that has supposedly wiped out 95% of the world's population. The main cast is a group of complete strangers from all walks of life and backgrounds, having only one thing in common: they were all on one carriage of a London to Sheffield train that became trapped in a tunnel during the impact. How is it that they survived, you ask? One of the passengers is Dr Harriet Ambrose, a scientist working with the government. Before she gets on the train, we hear her talking on the phone to her fiancé in Sheffield, another scientist with the government. Apparently, they know about the impending doom and she is trying to get to a special goverment bunker in Sheffield. Just in case, however, she has a canister of a cryogenic compound that she can use to freeze herself if anything happens on the way. When the impact occurs, the train is thrown from the tracks and the compound accidentally released, freezing the passengers in time. This is the only point of the series that seems a bit dubious, but it is done quite believably. So there it is: a group of strangers in stasis on a train carriage, woken when a drop of water seeps through the roof and thaws them out (a fantastic sequence, like the original freezing).

What I found fascinating about The Last Train was how the characters were actually believably real (the actors are all relative unknowns), as if the director had just grabbed a handful of real passengers from a train and put them in a series. There's a police detective, the crook he was following, the scientist herself, a mild-mannered businessman, a nurse, a retired mechanic, a student, and a mother with her two children. Ethnic minorities are also represented, as the mother and children are second-generation Pakistani and, although the one black person is the criminal, I don't think the series was making anything out of it. There are characters young and old, courageous and cowardly, of different social backgrounds. That's why I found the series so easy to believe, because these were the sort of people that I'd expect to see sitting on a normal train.

The group, led by Dr Ambrose, decides to head for the army bunker (called ARK -- an acronym with religious connotations) in Sheffield. In the six hour-length episodes, the group come across many obstacles and poignant reminders of the world that they have left behind; including small bands of people that have survived the disaster in various ways. Some characters fall in love along the way, some die; but eventually ARK is reached in the final episode. The truth that awaits the group is a sad one, however, as it is revealed that they were frozen for over fifty years, not ten or twenty as they had believed. Dr Ambrose's fiancé is dead, along with all of the other scientists, diplomats and army personnel that originally made it to ARK, simply because they couldn't survive for fifty years in a world where nothing worked. The only descendants of the "cream of society" rove in almost barbaric tribes, like something out of Mad Max.

Some of these details are a little sketchy, because I haven't seen the series for about two years. It is, however, one of those things that I will always remember and that has had a profound influence on me. Every day on the train, commuting into the centre of London, I look around me and wonder what the people buried in their newspapers are actually like; whether I'd get along with them, even fall in love with one of them; whether they would make good leaders in a time of crisis, how they would react to waking up in fifty years to a cold, post-holocaust world. It's a scary thought, but I reassure myself that things would never happen like they did in The Last Train; and even if it did happen, I tell myself that it is good to have faith in people, and remember that ordinary people often survive extraordinary things.


Harriet Ambrose (scientist) -- Nicola Walker
Roe Germaine (student) -- Zoe Telford
Jandra Nixon (mother) -- Amita Dhiri
Mick Sizer (criminal) -- Treva Etienne
Ian Hart (detective) -- Christopher Fulford
Austin Danforth (retired mechanic) -- James Hazeldine
Anita Nixon (daughter) -- Dinita Gohil
Leo Nixon (son) -- Sacha Dhawan
Colin Wallis (businessman) -- Steve Huison
Jean Wilson (nurse) -- Janet Dale

Sources: My memory, an article I wrote about the series two years ago, and a really old copy of the Radio Times.

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