Resistance by Val McDermid

BBC Radio 4 Drama

Val McDermid, the Scottish crime writer, will need little introduction. McDermid started her writing career as a playwright, having had her first novel turned down by British publishers too numerous to mention (the old story). 

Her television work is well known to British audiences and Resistance is something of a treat for fans of radio drama. It is an original radio drama, commissioned, performed and broadcast by BBC Worldwide for Radio 4 starring Gina McKee. Developed as part of the Wellcome Trust and Radio 4’s Experimental Stories for Radio initiative an annual two-day workshop in which radio writers and producers work with researchers to develop dramas to pitch to Radio 4 Resistance certainly fulfils the Trust’s brief, which is ‘to ask big questions that are stimulated by biomedical research to reach people who aren’t usually interested in traditional science programmes’.

And it would be difficult to get much bigger than the apocalyptic devastation caused by factory-farmed meat that produces a pathogen resistant to all the antibiotics created since their discovery revolutionized medicine in the early days of the twentieth century.

Like many a good drama, Resistance is grounded in verisimilitude: resourceful tenacious reporter Zoë, who just happens to be vegetarian; rain-soaked English music festival; ‘pop-up’ food stalls selling poorly sourced sausages; 100,000 hungry festival-goers and musicians from all parts of the globe; festival organisers in denial. In the opening ten minutes we also hear the soundtrack from a television report on the current shameful lack of anti-microbials. It’s all slightly frenetic and, dare I say, predictable. But it is polished BBC radio drama, in three fifty-minute episodes, that makes the most of broadcast stereo and drives home the propagandists’ point. The outcome is inevitably bleak, reminiscent of John Wyndham’s The Kraken Wakes (McDermid adapted Kraken Wakes, updated to the present day, for BBC Radio 4 in May 2016). Humankind has little left; civilisation effectively eviscerated.

The cast is faultless, with Gina McKee as journalist Zoë, Jason Done as Jamie, Nitin Kundra as Sam, Angela Lonsdale as Lisa, Henry Devas as Baz and Ashley Margolis as Will: I hope such voices will continue to participate in audio drama, which rarely has budgets sufficient to reward such impressive talent.

Of course, the question remains: will humankind change its behaviour so that antibiotics can prevail? Or will we wipe out the human race through complacency and short-term greed? Probably we won’t know until it is much too late.  
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