In a sauna, the sweaty body of the Minister of Health, is dictating to the equally sweaty Richard Duncan a set of instructions for a commission to investigate flooding in the Thames Valley but has no intention of setting a date just yet. That won't satisfy Doctor Quist, comments Duncan. 'Blast Doctor Quist! I'm on holiday!' Fed up with being in this sweat box, the Minister tries talking to a third person in the sauna but the man has a fit, and starts convulsing on the floor. Together, Duncan and the Minister try to get the man on to a bed...
Later, Doctor Seaton is examining the man, watched by the Minister, Duncan and Jensen, the owner of the Health farm,. He says that this man must be isolated and wants the Penzance officer of health on the line. He will need assistance and everyone will need to be examined. Seaton tells the Minister that he has been a ship's Doctor and has seen these symptoms before. 'It's a definite case of yellow fever...'
There is some amusement in the Doomwatch office by the idea that the Minister for health is isolated on a quarantined island! 'They should have done that years ago!' says Ridge. Fay doesn't think an outbreak of yellow fever is anything to laugh about. Quist is going down to the island and gets Barbara to arrange it. He needs a decision by the Minister on the flood menace and he needs it this week! 'And you think he's using yellow fever as a course of evasive action!' He wants Fay to come down with him. 'I need a pre-text for barging in. .. We're coming down to help with the investigation.' Colin overhears and is surprised. this is a matter for the department of health. 'There's not much of it my way,' he says. Fay explains the disease is spread by mosquitoes in hot tropical climes. 'But never here,' points out Quist. Unless it is an isolated case, a mosquito in a crate of bananas. With the RAF on the line, Quist is hoping that if Fay's banana theory is wrong, the Minister will turn it into a Doomwatch matter. 'He'll want to see me then, wouldn't he!'
The Minister, resplendent in a dressing gown is getting frustrated! In the main living room at the health farm, he has to be firmly reminded by Duncan that a week's quarantine for yellow fever is obligatory. And as Minister of Health, he has to set an example and follow his own regulations. Duncan wipes off a spider from the Minister's shoulder. 'A friend of man.'
On the RAF base at St. Morgan on the Cornish mainland, a very angry Doctor Griffiths and his long suffering wife is waiting for permission to fly over to Bowden island. They are in an aerodrome waiting room, and he is impatient. There is five years work tied up in that island. He must see the results of his experiment. They both have yellow fever jabs and he will happily break quarantine and find another way onto the island. His wife, Janine, wants to know why the rush? He answers that the first thing they'll do is spray the area, invalidating everything they've attempted there. He doesn't want to disclose the nature of the experiment to the authorities: lives come before agriculture. she asks why did he ask her to come and not one of the assistants? It's because he thought it might be a nice break for them. 'Sleeping rough?' And he doesn't want to bump into Jensen. She'll attract less notice at the health farm. They cheer up slightly. He hasn't lost his optimism. 'This time I'll beat those politicians and those knockers at their own game. We've got everything neatly ticketed and file except the result of this experiment.' Quist enters with Fay and Dr. George, faculty of tropical medicines. Quist recognises Griffiths who is not very pleased to see him. He is less than pleased to be denied access to the island. George offers to ask the Minister but can't help until the quarantine ends. Griffiths and Janine leave Fay and Quist who tells her how Griffiths caused a stir in biological circles a few years ago with an extremely ingenious genetic theory that he spent fifteen years to perfect. 'He presented the paper at 2 PM at the Stockholm conference in '65. By five o'clock it had been completely demolished. An elegant, almost perfect concept, ruined by inattention to detail.' There were two small flaws, enough to demolish the whole structure. Quist called it constructive demolition: 'Most scientists welcome demolition. Learn and build again from the pieces.' But not in this case. And Quist was one of the demolishers.
The Griffiths have found someone who sails them across the sea by boat and they land upon the island. They'll be picked up tomorrow.
Doctor George is examining the isolated patient with a nurse. There are three patients now, and he has sent for more help as the nurse needs rest.
The Minister, now in his normal clothes is studying a map of the island and tells Jensen that the RAF will begin spraying the island tomorrow morning. Jensen asks if it is really necessary to spray the orchard? The apple crop is nearly ready for picking. The Minister thinks it is. Jensen does not approve of the spraying, his clients will not be happy. George confirms that this is yellow fever. But Quist detects a faint doubt when he studies the microscopy reports. 'One can't be too categorical about a yellow fever virus. There's too much unexplored territory. All I can say is all available evidence points to yellow fever.' But in the pictures of the virus, there are formations not characteristic. One doesn't normally find clusters in the nucleus of the cell. Fay wonders if this is a new form of the disease? George will wait for the autopsy – no one has died but these half starved patients have little chance of survival. Their resistance is too low. George asks to see the entire farm. As they leave, the Minister sympathises with Jensen. But the moment Quist talks about the flood menace, the Minister groans but agrees to look at the fresh data in return for his full co-operation here.
The Griffiths set up camp in a disused tin mine. He refuses to consult Quist. 'That was my mistake last time – premature consultation. A good scientist keeps his findings to himself until he's ready to publish or market. And I must certainly keep governmental watchdogs away from them. Quist is a closer of doors, not an opener.' Janine changes the subject. There's a spider on his sleeping mat, which interests Griffiths. He liked to study them. They remember their honeymoon, catching saw flies just after the war. It was the best time of her life, but she doubt she was much help then.
Fay is setting up a microscope when Quist enters looking for the Minister, but he's already gone to bed: he is still subject to the rules of the health farm. 'Carrot juice and bed at ten thirty.' She is an expert virologist and the next step is a mosquito expedition and she invites Quist to come along.
Settling down for the night, the Griffiths still think back to the best times. He has brought a bottle of 1949 wine. It seems their marriage has hit problems in the recent past. He's hoping for a fresh start – a new company for insecticides and an unassailable position. Janine wants a quiet start this time – no fanfares. He is suddenly reminded of the experience of that conference. 'Fifteen years of a killing work schedule. And the reward? Agony of a public humiliation. This is why I'm not going to put the product on the market until I have all the evidence at my finger tips.' He doesn't want to give Quist and the other sharks a second taste of his blood. Janine points out bravely that they tore him to pieces because he allowed a flaw to creep in. They were right to attack it, he wasn't ready. It affected her life too for those fifteen years. It cost her a family. He was careless. She was angry too. He then abandoned the work. 'The work had failed you! And so you've turned to a better way of killing off a fruit pest.' Griffiths is shaken. It's a technique using viruses to control insect pests. 'We can't keep using chemical means of control.' She didn't mean to hurt him, but as they embrace, she asks if he is sure this time, absolutely sure...
Dr. George thinks that after the spraying, and the immunisations, this will be the end of the affair. Fay hopes he is right, but she is bothered by the pictures of the virus. Suppose this is a new kind of virus that just looks like yellow fever. Duncan enters, pale and shaking, tries to talk to Quist before he collapses in a chair. He's got it. He can't remember being bitten by a mosquito or anything. Dr George thinks he could be bitten in his sleep, and if they don't find a bite, 'Then we'll have to look for something else.'
The next morning and the Griffiths are woken by the sound of a helicopter. The spraying has begun and they have overslept. Janine spots moth husks in a spider's web. They are his Coddling moths, dyed blue. They must have been drawn in here by the draught. He asks Janine to find some specimens in Jensen's greenhouses and sheds. There may be unsprayed specimens in this area too. He remembers an old mine ventilation shaft with a brick chimney on top surrounded by orchards. There must be unsprayed specimens in the ventilator shaft too. There's a tunnel entrance in the very building they are in. After unblocking the entrance, he enters – it is full of cobwebs. He hopes they'll be ready to be picked up by the boat at five o'clock and back in Newquay in time for dinner. He tells her to take care and goes inside, leaving his smiling wife to suddenly notice a blue spider in the middle of the web...
Bradley is reading out a report on the mosquitoes on the island. None of them had evidence of yellow fever in them. Ridge is already on his way to the island. Geoff has a thought: if this turns out not to be yellow fever, their inoculations aren't going to be much use.
As Griffiths explores the tunnel, he passes through masses of cobwebs. One of the pit props is weak...
Ridge, nursing a sore arm following his jab, tells Quist and Fay in his own inimitable style this woman he saw up an apple tree with a butterfly net catching moths and collecting them in a bottle... 'She may have been after a bit of extra nourishment, poor cow!' He thought she was a ministry scientist and gave her a quite sexy good morning and jumped about six feet in the air and swallowed a moth, he thinks. His rather sordid description of the lady makes Fay and Quist think it is Mrs Griffiths. Why would a scientist of his standing break a quarantine order, wonders Quist. He asks Ridge to follow her discreetly, find the husband and bring them back over here. 'Why do I always finish up following women?' exclaims Ridge. 'Good question,' says Fay.
Griffiths has now reached the chimney, a large circular structure,above and below the tunnel level. Across the chimney is a rickety bridge which leads to a ladder which he begins to climb. But as he does, he drops the butterfly net into the water filled shaft. As he goes to fetch it, he begins to feel dizzy, and as he reaches out, it is all he can do to keep his arm stretched out....
Ridge finds Mrs Griffiths in the orchard greenhouses. He follows her across some fields, whilst munching on an apple.
The Minister meanwhile is visiting the unconscious Duncan, as Doctor George emerges from another patient's room, one who has just died. Duncan will survive, he was not as weak. There is another new case – a woman this time who was collecting apples in the orchard.
Quist is concerned about Jensen. He seems to be taking the whole responsibility of this outbreak onto his shoulders. Jensen reminds him that they are his clients and they are sick and dying, he cannot rest. Fay tells Quist that the first contact has died. Jensen must phone his wife – there's the matter of compensation, and he is not insured against yellow fever... Quist wants to ask him some questions, if he feels up to it. They talk about Doctor Griffiths and his work on the health farm. They do not believe using chemicals on the food they grow, so they have a problem with the coddling moth attacking the apple crop which plant the maggots you find in apples. Griffiths has been treating the orchards for three years, and last year the moth population was considerably reduced. This year the crop would have been maggot free. He used a virus preparation, which only attacks the coddling moth and nothing else. Quist wonders...
As Ridge follows Janine back to the mine workings, Griffiths himself is in serious trouble. He abandons trying to rescue his moth net and has just about enough strength to get back on to the small bridge but collapses, narrowly avoiding the gaps where planks used to be...
Fay and Quist explain to the Minister that the moths are infected with a iridescent virus, taking on a translucent blue colour. 'Eradicating insect pests by means of these viruses have been the work of several years now,' says Fay. 'It's done by isolating the sick insect, breeding them and hence breeding the virus responsible for the illness. Then you make up a spray of the crushed bodies of the insect and by applying it to the host plant the healthy insects infect them in turn. In this way they reduce the numbers, in rare occasions, eliminate them completely.' This reminds the Minister of the myxomatosis virus used on the rabbit population in Australia. Not much is known about viruses. Unlike bacteria and anti-biotics, there are no cheap and easy produced viricides. Experiments have been made where viruses can be combined and mutate. Also, a virus can be used to trigger off a latent virus in a quite different species. So while the moth virus is harmless, it has triggered off another virus in another host. This new host is what Quist wants to find.
Janine is worried, Griffiths isn't back yet and calls into the passage way which is when Ridge makes himself known.
A little later she is talking to Quist and the others, worried about her husband. The Minister questions Janine about the experiment. She mentions how she noticed the spiders in the mine and the orchard were blue, the colour of the experiment but they weren't affected by the virus, or dead. Fay thinks this could be the host. Breeding a new, lethal virus in their gut. Ridge is sceptical. 'Next you'll be telling me their webs are affected.' Quist says, 'Why not? It's a projection but a logical one. As the spider spins out its web, it impregnates its web with the new virus which could be similar to yellow fever.' He sends Fay out to collect some samples, and for Ridge to go and find Griffiths. But he warns them to be careful: they don't know if these spiders are infected or not. Be very careful. Don't let the web or the spiders get in contact with their skin.
Outside the entrance to the ventilation tunnels, Ridge is preparing for his expedition armed with a good pair of gloves and a feather duster, but he refuses to wear a hat in case it spoils his hair do. Mrs Griffiths is worried for him, and then Quist rushes in. 'We now have definite evidence of some kind of virus inside those spiders so be very careful, watch out!' 'And thank you for those few kind words too,' says Ridge and enters. Quist wants to find the other entrance to the shaft Griffiths was heading for, they may need an easier way to reach Griffiths than this one. Janine is worried – if Griff is ill with this new virus, the yellow fever inoculation won't be any good....
Ridge ventures down the tunnel, sweeping away cobwebs with his feather duster whilst Quist explores the surface Ridge eventually reaches the bridge under the chimney and finds Griffiths slumped over the edge. Griffiths is still conscious and able to speak. Ridge helps him to the firmer foot of the bridge where he gives him some coffee from a flask. Suddenly there is a sound of collapsing masonry. The tunnel has collapsed further in! This means Ridge can't get Griffiths out the easy way.
It's been two hours since Ridge left. Fay has joined Janine in the workings and they too heard the collapse. Dr. George and another man have arrived also preparing to enter the tunnels. He says they will be half an hour, otherwise they may need pulling out themselves.
Ridge rejoins Griffiths who thinks the water underneath the bridge is rising. It is saline. These old workings are under sea level. The only other way out is the ventilator tunnel beneath them. As Griffiths is helped up, he asks who made that coffee. 'Quist?' First they take the ladder underneath the bridge, edging past the rising water. The ventilation tunnel is small, only room enough to crawl along. Ridge has to help Griffiths to do even that.
Quist has found the shaft entrance but the ladder has fallen away so it will have to be the original entrance. He sends Fay over to Penzance with the spider samples whilst he looks after Janine.
The tunnel is an upward gradient, and Ridge is having to pull Griffiths along whilst crawling himself. He comes across a web and a spider half way across the tunnel. He looks at his gloves – they have been torn to shreds. He slumps in exhaustion.
Dr George decides that the blocked tunnel would take too long to clear. They have to find another way.
Griffiths is unconscious. Ridge has to devise a new way of pulling the man through the tunnel, and underneath the cobweb. He calls it doing the limbo. As he slides forward, his outstretched arms pulls Griffiths after him. Suddenly he hears Dr. George calling. He asks for a rope to be given to him so he can tie it around Griffiths. 'Then you can do some of the work.'
Mrs Griffiths watches her husband in his unconscious state in an isolated bedroom back at the Health Farm. Doctor George suggests that she goes and get some rest. He says they'll take good care of him.
Fay wakes a dosing Quist. The results show that the webs are indeed crawling with highly infectious viruses. The Ministry of Agriculture is sending over a team. She has just seen Doctor George. Quist thinks at first that Duncan has died. It wasn't. It is Griffiths. His heart couldn't cope with the strain. His wife doesn't know and comes in with some tea, but soon realises what has happened. All she can say is 'What a waste. Twenty five year of work, struggle, deprivation, and the end result is nothing. Not even a good reputation to leave behind.' The Minister listens to Quist's tribute to the man. 'He was a brilliant, intuitive scientist of the stamp of Pasteur, Einstein. The measure of the man is not that he failed, but that he so nearly brought it off. Twice.' Fay helps the broken woman out of the room. The Minister asks Quist if that was true about Griffiths.
'Entirely. This form of insect control is essential work. But the government must be prepared to spend more on it, Minister. As it is the field is wide open for any commercial firm to step in without any proper safe guards whatsoever.' He picks up a covered Petri dish containing the virus. 'This terrible new disease will be known as Griffiths' virus. I believe we can contain it here and possibly even eradicate it altogether. But it must not be forgotten. What has happened must be fully recorded, and published. Griffith was not alone in the field. The next man made virus may be completely unstoppable. ' The Minister mutters what a way to be remembered, Griffith's virus. 'Perhaps. But he gave us all a warning. There have been worse epitaphs you know.'
Synopsis by Michael Seely
An affect on a human being, misdiagnosed as yellow fever, is in reality a brand new man made virus that will be called Griffith's virus after the man who created a new virus to control insect pests, but it mutated inside another insect, a spider, and the result can kill humans. With Gerry Davis writing the script (but who knows if Terence Dudley tinkered with it, something he was prone to do on Survivors causing more than one writer to walk out) ''authentic” Doomwatch is back with a warning on what happens where experiments in viruses go wrong. The Inquest will take similar themes of a sloppy lab and fears of the kind of work they are doing there, but presented in a less than exciting fashion. Rather than a new virus being mistaken for rabies, it will turn out to be rabies after all.
The irony is the experiments with the moth was designed to prevent the need for insecticides and pesticides of which Doomwatch has tackled and will tackle again. The health farm wanted a non-chemical method to protect their apple crop. A natural method is for one species is brought in to prey on another species in order to bring their numbers down. But sometimes the predator becomes the pest, and so on! Myxomatosis is mentioned by the Minister which refers to how the virus was deliberately released into the rabbit population of Australia in 1950. Rabbits were only brought into Australia for a spot of hunting. However... They bred like rabbits! Professor Frank Fenner and two other colleagues who worked on the virus actually injected themselves with the myoxma virus in order to show it was not harmful to humans! Incidentally, Fenner who is in his nineties, announced the extinction of smallpox in 1980, and recently predicted the extinction of humanity by the end of the century. Rabbits have developed a resistance to the virus, described by Fenner as 'an evolutionary change in the rabbits.' (http://www.theaustralian.com.
au/higher-education/frank- fenner-sees-no-hope-for- humans/story-e6frgcjx- 1225880091722).
Griffith is a most fascinating character. He is a passionate, dedicated committed and an angry scientist desperate to prove himself. The problem is he makes mistakes. After fifteen years of work, his theory is demolished before a conference in under four hours. His wife doesn't want to see him fail a second time and endure the humiliation. Griffiths does not blame himself for the first demolition of his ideas. He blames Quist and the other two scrutineers who saw the two tiny flaws that demolished his whole elegant theory. His wife could see it objectively. As she puts it, his work failed him, not the other way round. And once again, he makes an error. Possibly one he could not have foreseen. As he says in the episode he would love to have studied spiders if he had the time.
He did not think what would happen if his virus infected moths were ingested by another insect! He presumably thought they would not be affected and didn't consider it could trigger a new virus. The result – a new virus, a yellow fever like virus transmitted through the spider and its web. This time his mistake kills people – and himself.
Quist points out that the field in biological pest control is wide open for amateurs and commercial outfits. Griffith says at one point that he was only going to market his product without the bruising experience of another conference. He has confidence in his abilities. He may be of the stamp of Pasteur and Einstien, but Quist's tribute at the end does seem to be a bit over the top consdering what has happened.
It had an impact on his wife, Janine, as we see. The Stockholm “demolition” ended fifteen years of research and it cost her a family. Another ten years and she is a widow who considers his life – and probably her own - a waste. Their scenes in the tin mine might seem to be padding but it is essential for understanding the sheer motivational driving force behind a scientist wanting to achieve something and its impact on Janine. It's not greed in this case, or the thirst for recognition.
The Minister for Health, played by John Savident, was last seen in Burial At Sea where he was scripted as a suave, charming sod not prepared to carry the can for someone else's mistakes. Here he is again, (presumably standing in for the Minister of National Security whilst he recovers in America from his heart attack,) and is assisted by Richard Duncan, who makes his third, welcome appearance this series, and falls under the curse of Doomwatch by nearly succumbing to the 'yellow fever'. He should keep away from colours, remember what happened to him during the Red Sky. The Minister gives us a few moments for light relief. His battle with the swing lamps, and his reaction to Quist and the Flood Menace is lovely. But then he becomes the calm professional watching at first hand how a scientific experiment becomes a killer.
The detective element in Doomwatch is still here, and the adventure element has returned. Gerry Davis likes claustrophobic environments in which to play out his dramas owing to an incident when he was a boy, crawling inside a small, dark tunnel. This gives Ridge a chance to get trapped inside abandoned tin workings and ventilator shafts with a dying scientist and surrounded by lethal blue spiders and their cobwebs. It makes up for his somewhat playful attitudes earlier in the episode with his description of Stephanie Bidmead's Janine Griffith, and his winding up Quist in their first scene!
Fay Chantry is given an expertise on viruses which makes you wonder why she was not the lead in The Inquest, other than to give Colin Bradley a chance to shine. She has proved to be a valuable contribution to the Doomwatch team, and episodes like this demonstrate it.
Quist is the Quist we know and love from the first series. He uses a pre-text to get onto the island in order to ambush the Minister, and stumbles into just the sort of thing Doomwatch was designed to investigate. Added to that, a new insight into his pre-Doomwatch life, as a demolisher for Griffith's original ideas.
John Lee plays the second of his three characters for Doomwatch, as the hapless Jansen, a tragic man who presumably is destroyed by the events on his island. One cannot imagine the island – which is never specifically labelled as belonging to the Scilly Isles,
Gerry Davis received help from the Wellcome Museum of Medical Science. In 1985 it was taken over by the Wellcome Tropical Institute and you can probably spot where the pure research is slipped into the dialogue. It is rather refreshing after the more barren, character driven episodes of recent times. The Institute for Tropical Medicine is a real organisation, based in Antwerp. Doctor George is played as an open minded professional, quite prepared to get his hands dirty later in the episode.
Review by Michael Seely
Project Number: 022404416
8th September FOR Simon Oates & John Paul
Camera Rehearsals: 24th September (overtime)
Recorded insert with Anthony Newlands.
Telerecorded: 25th September. VTC/6HT/62030/ED
The episode overran in the studio.
Dr. Spencer Quist
Dr. John Ridge
Dr. Fay Chantry
Theme Music by
Assistant to Producer
TERENCE DUDLEY Directed by
8TH FEBRUARY 1971
9.20PM - 10.10PM
The BBC acknowledges the co-operation of Wellcome Museum of Medical Science.
With thanks to John Archbold for the Radio Times listing and cover.