Doomwatch The Islanders & No Room For Error

The Islanders
This is an episode packed with interesting dilemmas for all concerned. A group of English people who’ve lived fairly self-sufficiently on St Simon’s Island near Fiji have been evacuated by the government after earth tremors. Billeted in what looks like an old army base they face having to integrate with a society far more advanced socially and technologically more advanced than they are. Writer Louis Marks delivers a cohesive script which succeeds in presenting different points of view and the results are interesting because your point of view changes as you watch.
The story might be seen as an allegory for immigration. It’s on the news today, migrants from trouble spots pitching up in Europe and in this case the islanders debate what they will do, how they will live and work in an ostensibly alien society. There’s the push and pull between government intervention and democracy. Having shipped them over here, we see a wily government official unwilling to spend much more on helping them, suggesting that they are `free`, using the pretence of democracy to wash the authorities’ hands of them. We also witness the differing approaches within the islanders themselves. While the older ones resent what has happened we follow one younger man Isaac as he gets a job and expresses the view that their isolated island existence was “only half a life”.

There’s enough dramatic meat in the above but being Doomwatch the realisation that the islanders are susceptible to modern viruses and have a condition from breathing in mercury on the island adds a further twist. This comes perhaps a little too late to be properly addressed but forces everyone to confront their opinions.
It’s a strong episode for Quist who has changed from the always angry crusader of season one into a more reasonable scientific figure who tries to separate fact from emotion when dealing with issues. And it’s a fairly downbeat conclusion that the episode offers too; when it’s put to the vote, despite the risks the islanders decide to return home. In one impassioned moment Isaac asks Quist why his people, who have never fought any wars, have had all this put on them “We just wanted to live our own lives,” he says. “The worlds’ too small a place for that,” replies Quist in a tone that suggests he wishes it were not the case but as a scientist he knows it is. The Islanders is a superbly written and thought provoking episode that, like science, doesn’t always give us the answers we want. 

No Room For Error
Medical ethics and risk are at the core of Roger Parkes’ worthy storyline as seen through the prism of a potential new recruit to the Doomwatch team Fay Chandry. She used to work for the firm that produces a new antibiotic called Stellamicin which is brought into use against a potentially lethal new strain of typhoid affecting children. It’s an intriguing conceit though one ill-suited to a television drama that soon becomes wearingly bogged down in chemical names and dutiful research. To try and balance this, Parkes introduces a rekindled relationship between Fay and the antibiotic’s chief developer and cheerleader Nigel Waring. Director Darrol Blake’s love of tracking shots more suited to thrillers cannot disguise the dense nature of a subject that never quite gets off the ground.
The pace is unevenly split between ethical debate and personal dilemmas. Parkes quite skilfully weaves Fay’s lingering doubts over her career choice into her past life though his depiction of Nigel as a rather unstable not to say irritating sort of person makes you wonder what she ever saw in him. John Wood tends to overcook the character though it’s not surprising with some of his lines. Jean Trend makes Fay a calmer more convincing scientist as she approaches everything forensically and this tips over into her personal life too.
 Doomwatch is reduced to a less dominant presence this week with Ridge particularly subdued after seemingly being beaten up by sewage workers he was investigating. I rather feel that might have been a better case to dramatise. There’s still time for a classic Quist strop though after which he walks out leaving the government official open mouthed. Surely they should all know what he’s like by now!
After all the build-up and with Waring’s own daughter in hospital with the illness, the episode seems to just peter out once we’ve had a surreal visit to a farm and a scene with a shouty school headmaster. A lot of fine points about the risks of new medicines are raised some of which still seem relevant today  but what would make an interesting debate in print does not always translate into an involving television drama.

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