Although Waiting for a Knighthood was only the fourth episode of series three, there had already been a number of key developments during the first three (all now sadly wiped) episodes.
The series opener, Fire and Brimstone, had seen John Ridge steal a number of anthrax phials in order to hold the government to ransom. This plotline had been developed to lessen Simon Oates’ involvement in the show, as he’d disliked the way the second series had developed and didn’t wish to remain a regular for the third run. Waiting for a Knighthood, which sees Ridge ensconced in a secure nursing home following his breakdown, is the last existing episode which features him.
Ridge’s removal from Doomwatch meant that a replacement had to be found – hence the introduction of Commander Neil Stafford (John Bown). Stafford isn’t a scientist, he’s a security man, which meant he could take over the security and clandestine aspects of Ridge’s role whilst remaining a distinct character. He’s certainly no womanizer and the fact that he reports to the Minster means that it’s not always easy to know where his loyalties lie. Given the small number of series three episodes existing, he looked to be an interesting character and it’s a pity that we don’t have the opportunity to see more of him in action.
Perhaps the most jarring aspect of this episode is that we see Quist relaxing at home (or as it turns out, Anne Tarrant’s home) – the picture of perfect domestic contentment. Up until the end of series two, Quist had been an emotionally isolated figure – living only for his work – so it’s something of surprise to find that he’s now deep into a relationship (and also that Anne calls him “Spence”! which is something nobody else has done).
Given that when Dr Fay Chantry was introduced in series two Ridge mentioned casually in passing that she might be a decent match for Quist, it’s intriguing to wonder whether any thought had been given to matching them up. It’s just as likely a coupling as the one-off character of Dr Tarrant (who had appeared in You Killed Toby Wren) linking up with him I guess.
Waiting for a Knighthood opens with Anne attending a church service. Along with the other parishioners, she’s perturbed to see the vicar suffer a breakdown and it’s later revealed that he’s suffering from lead poisoning (he’s a keen mechanic and had ingested a dangerous level of fumes). A similar thing seems to have happened to Ridge, which provides an explanation for his behaviour in Fire and Brimstone.
These incidents, and increasing concerns about the levels of lead in petrol, indicate that there should be tighter controls – but Richard Massingham (Frederick Jaeger), after enjoying a decent dinner with the Minister, Sir George Holroyd (John Barron), tells him he’s not convinced. Massingham is an oil man and doesn’t see why a few high profile cases should mean swingeing restrictions. After all, he says, it’s not as if people are dropping down dead all over the place.
The debate about harmful levels of lead both here and at the Doomwatch office keep the story ticking along, but the main part of the plot concerns the kidnapping of Massingham’s young child (played by Stephen Dudley). Dudley, the son of producer Terence Dudley, would be a regular a few years later in Survivors (and already had another Doomwatch credit – Tomorrow the Rat – to his name). Dudley the younger is rather irritating in this one, so I’m thankful his screentime was fairly limited.
Coincidence is the name of the game here. The boy was kidnapped by Mrs Sylvester (Glenm Watford) who happened to be passing Ridge’s garage at just the right moment to hear Bradley and Stafford discussing the possibility that Ridge had suffered from lead poisoning. Her own son had died from something similar and so she decides to kidnap Massingham’s boy in revenge. And Massingham has direct links with the Minister, which means that Doomwatch are involved straight away.
If the plot seems a little messy and rather open-ended, then there’s still some useful food for thought about the dangers of lead in petrol. Bradley gets decent share of the action (as does Barbara, who becomes more of a central character during series three – just a pity that we can’t see most of it). Frederick Jaeger as Massinghm is suitably solid. Massingham isn’t a cartoon villain – knowingly polluting the air – he’s a realist who knows that the only way for the government to take action is if they raise petrol prices substantially, which of course they won’t do.
A pity that Quist’s rather sidelined though, but that tends to be par for the course with series three.