Resistance – A BBC Radio Drama by Val McDermid

Public health warning…

🙂 🙂 😐

It’s summer festival season, and a crowd of thousands has descended on a farmer’s field for an open-air rock concert celebrating the solstice. There are all the usual food vendors offering varying degrees of quality and hygiene so it’s not too surprising when there’s an outbreak of what appears to be food poisoning. But although sufferers seem to recover within twenty-four hours, days or weeks later they begin to have relapses, developing skin lesions and eventually dying. And in the meantime, they’ve dispersed all over Britain and the world, spreading the infection…

The story is told by Zoe Meadows (Gina McKee), a journalist who happened to be on the spot at the concert when the first outbreak occurred. Though not infected herself, she sniffs a story and sets out to investigate how the infection began. Soon she begins to suspect a factory farm which uses particularly inhumane methods of housing its animals may be the source. Meantime, scientists are working round the clock to find a cure. Zoe makes contact with one of them, Aasmah, who explains that existing antibiotics aren’t strong enough to fight this disease. It has mutated to a point of being resistant to everything scientists have to throw at it.

Isn’t it odd how something that should work sometimes simply doesn’t? This has a great cast who all turn in top class performances, many of them with lovely, authentic Geordie accents (though not broad enough to be hard to understand). It’s written by Val McDermid which means that the script flows and sounds natural – the dialogue never feels stilted. The production values are great – listening through headphones made me feel I was in the middle of it as the sound shifted around me, the incidental music is suitably ominous and threatening, and the sound effects – dogs barking, street noises, etc. – are so convincing I several times found myself checking they were coming from the disc and not the real world. The science is totally credible and so is the eventual outcome – horrific but believable.

Gina McKee

And therein lies the problem. Perhaps there’s somebody out there who’s not aware that overuse of antibiotics has led to a situation where some bacteria have mutated to the point where they’ve developed resistance, leading to a cycle of ever stronger drugs, more mutations, and round and round we go, with no certainty that humanity will be the eventual winner. Maybe some people don’t know that they should stop pestering their doctors for antibiotics every time they have a sniffle. Maybe there are some doctors who are still too wimpy to say no to such patients. But, a little like this paragraph, this drama feels more like a public health warning than anything else. A well written and well performed public health warning, but still…

When it said at the end that it was “developed through the Wellcome Trust Experimental Stories scheme”, my suspicions were further aroused, since the Wellcome Trust is a scientific research charity. I donned my deerstalker, lit my pipe and turned to Google. And indeed – this is a series in which they encourage writers to dramatise matters of scientific concern in an attempt to inform and engage the public. Very worthy, but unfortunately that’s what it sounds like in the end. Because the basic plan is to show us how, if we don’t start behaving, we will all die. Die! Die, I tell you! True, but hardly entertaining.

An extract from the BBC’s webpage on the drama says:

Programme consultant Christopher Dowson, who is Professor of Microbiology at the University of Warwick and Trustee for the charity Antibiotic Research UK says: “This fantastic production presents in an emotionally engaging manner some of the important issues that have given rise to our current predicament – ever rising resistance and fewer effective antibiotics. My hope is that listeners will go on to ask ‘what can I do to be part of the solution?’.”

OK, fine, Professor Dowson, but just two points. Firstly, it started emotionally engaging but rapidly descended into being simply downright depressing. And secondly, it would have been great if it had suggested answers to the question “what can I do to be part of the solution?” rather than implying that there is no solution and no hope and that we’re all going to die. Die! Die, I tell you! And if that’s not bad enough, apparently we’re all going to come out in purple spots first!

Val McDermid

Maybe I’m being unfair. I did work in health care for many years, so maybe the antibiotics issue isn’t as widely known amongst the general public as I think. But even so, I suspect what most people will say at the end is “Well, that was depressing!” and head for the cake tin rather than becoming activists. Perhaps when it appeared on the radio it was accompanied by discussion programmes that may have answered the “what can I do?” question but as a standalone on disc it preaches without advising, offering despair unleavened by hope. A missed opportunity and, frankly, a bit of a waste of a great writer and an excellent cast.

NB This CD set was provided for review by Amazon Vine UK. It’s a three disc set with a running time of 2 hours 30 minutes. It’s also available on Audible.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

31 thoughts on “Resistance – A BBC Radio Drama by Val McDermid

  1. Sorry this was a bit of a dud. It must be a family trait – my first reaction to any health advice is to check who paid for it. Remember our old friend cholesterol?

  2. I’m sorry you have to end the week on a down note, FF. I think I’d agree with you even though I haven’t listened to this one. I don’t particularly enjoy being preached at — and I’m one of those who absolutely refuses antibiotics if at all possible. I just don’t handle them well. Poor Dallas is on one now, and all he wants to do is snooze…

    • Yes, I don’t like having so blatant a “message” shoved in my face. Actually I think vets are worse than doctors – every time the cats go, the vet wants to give them antibiotics and I often think they’re unnecessary. Sometimes, I hold off for a day or two before starting the course and as often as not by then the cat’s fine again. Sadly sometimes I think it’s more to do with money than the animal’s welfare. But I do hope Dallas feels better soon, poor little lad!

      • I’ve heard that vets tend to run their offices more as a business, so profits *are* important. Still, few pet parents have insurance, so costs are important. Dallas is already feeling better, but he hates having his mama poke a capsule down his throat!

        • Poor boy! The cats are dreadful if they ever have to take pills – in fact, Tuppence is just about impossible! The vet knows it, so usually gives her injections instead, which oddly she doesn’t seem to mind nearly so much. It’s still risky though – the vet is always ready to jump out of the way of those lethal claws! Whereas I’m so used to it… she has me well trained… 😉

  3. Just noticed I’m Anonymous again. Windows 10 “update”. Do they actually want us all to hate them? (Froths at mouth…….).

  4. Maybe I’m being unfair. I did work in health care for many years, so maybe the antibiotics issue isn’t as widely known amongst the general public as I think.

    This may be the crux of it. I’ve just this morning been reading a report that 7% of US adults think chocolate milk is the milk that comes from brown cows, and it made me realize that the vast majority of people probably don’t know about the agricultural abuse of antibiotics and the consequent resistance problem. Apparently about 20%, despite being able to vote for and vociferously support Donald Trump, don’t know that hamburgers are (at least theoretically) made of beef; subtleties like antibiotics overuse are several ballparks beyond that level of understanding/education.

  5. Resistance does sound as if it should have been good. I love (fiction) stories of viruses etc getting out and the end of the world looming. As a Stephen King fan I love ‘The Stand’ which has a scenario like that which decimates nearly all of the population.

    • I usually enjoy a good apocalypse story too, but there has to be some tension – some possibility of something other than everyone getting sick and just dying! Plus I could have lived without the statistics… 😉

  6. Jesus Christ this sounds terrifying. And for the record, over here in Western Canada I am very aware of the overuse of antibiotics, and it has never become more apparent to me than when I had my kid. She gets sick ALL THE FREAKING TIME because she goes to daycare twice a week, and I usually can’t get her in to see her regular doctor, so I have to go a walk-in clinic, and the doctors there usually prescribe her antibiotics. I specifically ask “do I HAVE to give her these, I would rather avoid it if possible, are there any other options, what would happen if I waited a few more days, etc.” and they without fail tell me to give her the antibiotics. And then, when I finally do get into see our family dr, I’m told that the antibiotics weren’t necessary. arghhh it is so frustrating. Ok rant over 🙂

    • How crazy! We still have some doctors who hand them out like sweets too, but there’s more and more pressure on them to stop. Apart from the big picture, too many antiobiotics mean the patient builds up resistance so that if they get seriously ill in the future they have to be given even stronger ones. Maybe the doctors are afraid they’ll be sued so over prescribe to cut the chance of missing something…

      It’s the vets here that drive me crazy – antibiotics are their answer to everything. I regularly refuse to give them unless I think they’re seriously ill – and both cats have survived fine so far, as did their predecessors!

    • She’s a great writer, but I definitely wouldn’t recommend starting with this. Hmm… how about The Distant Echo – first in her Karen Pirie series? I haven’t read that one but I’ve read later ones in the series and they’re excellent… 🙂

  7. Sorry I’m so late to this party, FictionFan. It sounds as though this one had a lot of promise in terms of the context and plot. But that doesn’t always carry through, does it? There has to be that special spark, and if it’s not there… And I know just what you mean about something that just ends up being, well, depressing. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to see if there’s any cake left.

    • Haha! Hope you found the cake tin! 🙂 Yes, this had loads of potential but because it was designed to show what could happen with the whole antiobiotics thing, there was no real plot. Everybody just gets sick and dies! Not my idea of summer afternoon entertainment, I fear… 😉

  8. This sounds like the plot of a medical thriller by American novelist Robin Cook, known for such edge-of-the-seat suspense as “Coma,” “Fever,” and “Outbreak.” I don’t think I can stomach them anymore. Modern reality health scares are bad enough.

    • Yes, it kinda starts out that way, but somewhere along the line it seems to forget it’s a story so forgets to put the thrilling bits in! But I agree – too close to reality today for all these apocalyptic disease stories…

  9. I think most of us know about antibiotics and have for a while, but we don’t want to suffer. We think, “Well, if I have an antibiotic, that won’t affect the whole world.” Except everyone says that. If I remember correctly, once you have a certain kind of antibiotic, it doesn’t work as well on you anymore, does it? Does anyone know?

    Now, the antiBACTERIAL conversation is one in which I say, “Yeah, you go ahead and half-ass wash your hands. I’MMA BE CLEAN. I don’t have TIME to get sick in order to build up immunity and save the world!”

    • Yes, I think that’s true, though I don’t think it happens quite as quickly as that. But if you take them often then you have to gradually get stronger and stronger ones, so that when you get seriously ill and really need them they might not work as well for you.

      Yeah, I’m not really into antibacterial handwashes (or dishwashes) either, for similar reasons. They’re very bad for the water supply, I believe, damaging wildlife and putting yucky chemicals into the food chain. I tend to stick to good old-fashioned soap for handwashing which works perfectly well…

        • Ha! I wouldn’t like to mislead you – I was a manager, not a doctor! But that did mean I’ve read way, way more reports on all this kind of stuff than any human being should ever be forced to… 😉 Yay for giving up the anti-bacs! Ordinary soap is the environment’s friend! (Though I do use anti-bacterial stuff on wounds – heavily diluted tea tree oil is my preference.) 😀

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s