06/07/2015

Doomwatch Web of Fear & In The Dark


Web of Fear
The clue’s in the title of Gerry Davis’ tale of an apparent outbreak of yellow fever at a remote health farm. Before long the place is isolated and most of Doomwatch are there. But the fly in the ointment are the Griffiths a scientist couple who want to harvest the results of an experiment into a virus that can kill a moth which harms food. The result is an absorbing, well constructed episode that focusses both on the imminent danger and also the nature of scientific research.



Played by Glyn Owen and Stephanie Bidmead, the Griffiths make for a very human face for both the concerns of the episode. They’re a feisty couple and while you may puzzle as to why they embark on such significant discussions about their lives while down an old tin mine both actors and Davis’ dialogue are strong enough to maintain your interest. They feel like a natural couple and that has been something quite rare in this series.
Perhaps the only weakness in the script is Davis’ repeated references to spiders and the title; had this all been played down till we glimpse a luminous blue arachnid then it would have been a big surprise. Instead he has characters say things like “Ohh a spider on my map” or “This place is full of spiders”. So while everyone’s out looking for mosquitoes the viewer is going “It’s spiders you idiots!” To be fair the way they discover it is well done, it’s just that by then anyone watching won’t be surprised.
Davis does do a good job of turning Griffiths’ story around neatly at the end, suggesting that instead of being the failure his wife ultimately decides his work was it did have benefit and there’s even time for Quist to deliver one of his warnings about the future. They always resonate because a lot of these types of issues have not gone away.
Director Eric Hills and his team, perhaps inspired by the tight script, deliver an above average look and feel with scenes seeming to flow naturally. Even the stuff set down the tin mine, which on paper could be overdone, is pitched just right. There’s a genuine jeopardy to proceedings especially Ridge’s rescue of Griffiths which is filtered through the former’s cynical sense of humour.


In The Dark
The questions of quality of life and medical ethics pepper this relatively low key, thought provoking episode written by John Gould. After the body of a man who died in the sea from exposure to mustard gas is found, the culprit is traced back to the sinking of a ship during the Second World War. However Doomwatch’s attempts to talk to the man who was in command of said ship, McAndrew, now an industrial big wig prove fruitless. Despite being a former associate of Quist, the man clearly does not want to talk until he suddenly turns up at a press conference talking in a bizarre Scottish Tyneside brogue and looking rather like Patrick Troughton. Is this really a man whom the team discover should be dead?
The story is intriguing enough but merely a device to allow for some theoretical interaction between the real McAndrew (also Troughton) who has survived a life threatening illness by replacing vital organs with machines and Quist. In quiet intelligent discussions the talk is of the importance of the brain over the body, McAndrew declares himself perfect, stripped of uncontrollable instincts and in a state of pure logical thought. Quist questions what the point of such an existence is without pleasure, experiences, taste and so on. It is amongst some of the best written material the series has delivered and both Troughton and John Paul convey it calmly, rationally like the scientists they are despite the circumstance.
Also in the mix are McAndrew’s daughter Flora played by Alethea Charlton, who is torn between her love for her father and the ethical dilemma his new existence has placed him in. Her husband played by Simon Lack) seems to have misunderstood his role in protecting both of them initially laying all sorts of diversions to stop Doomwatch getting close. Cue some more traditional shenanigans with a positively jovial Ridge with Fay in tow trying to break in to the country house where McAndrew is based.
In the end and despite some rather awkward narrative leaps to get there, the episode is a rewarding examination of issues that could affect anyone. A common doctor’s opinion after someone has a serious illness or accident is that they are `lucky to be alive` and yet you wonder at what cost to their quality of life. This story is an extreme example of that (the tech keeping McAndrew alive is kept deliberately vague) yet nonetheless the discussions between Quist and McAndrew are fascinating highlights of a top notch episode. 

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