Sometimes a TV series comes along at just the right time, either because it resonates with current events in a way that the makers never intended, or because it is just the ticket at a given moment.
Two such series have been airing recently. The first is The Salisbury Poisonings, a dramatization of events in England in 2018. Sergei Skripal, a former Soviet agent living in Britain, and his daughter Yulia were found slipping in and out of consciousness on a park bench in the town of Salisbury, Wiltshire. They were soon found to have been poisoned with a nerve agent known as Novichok, developed by the USSR and one of the deadliest substances on Earth: a teaspoon of it can kill upward of 10,000 people.
Without knowing how or where the nerve agent had been administered, all of Salisbury was a possible contamination site, and its 40,000 residents were under immediate threat. Fortunately, Tracy Daszkiewicz was on hand to deal with it. She was the director of public health and safety for Wiltshire, and she not only grasped the gravity and scope of the situation immediately, she was not afraid to make hard, unpopular decisions in order to keep the people of Salisbury safe. The series was commissioned before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, but it certainly resonates, as Daszkiewicz and her team try to come to grips with an elusive killer and figure out how to stop its spread.
Two scenes in particular resonate. One shows the wife of police officer Nick Bailey, who has been poisoned and lies in hospital, where his wife can only watch from a distance in case she comes into contact with the nerve agent. Finally, in despair, she forces her way into his room and they cling together, both of them desperate for a physical contact that they know could be deadly.
In the other, Daszkiewicz talks with angry residents of Skripal’s street, who are fed up with having to show ID every time they enter or leave their houses. As Daszkiewicz listens to them they are all seen taking pictures of themselves, and when she leaves she drops off printed copies of all the pictures with the police officer at the checkpoint. “They’re all here,” she tells him. “Don’t ask any of these people for ID again.” It’s a small thing in one way, but huge in another: a government official listening to people, actually hearing them, and then taking steps to help. The show should come with a viewer advisory: “Warning: This show contains scenes of quiet competence.”
The other show is a new version of All Creatures Great and Small, James Herriot’s beloved tales of his life as a Yorkshire vet in the 1930s and 1940s. The tales were turned into a lovely TV series in the 1970s, and some wondered why we needed another version.
Because it’s perfect, is the answer, and just what we need right now. As a child I adored the books, which I read and re-read, and loved the original series, but there is more than room enough in my heart — especially right now — for a show about kind people, endearing animals, and their gentle ups and downs in an idyllic village in the Yorkshire Dales.
Just because something has already been adapted for TV or film doesn’t mean it can’t or shouldn’t be again, provided the new version does justice to the source material and/or brings something new to the table. This reboot does both, so fans of the original have no need to fear.
You know that scene in superhero movies, where the gang line up in a row, jaws set and shoulders squared, just before they head into battle? There was such a scene in the most recent episode of All Creatures, only our four heroes were just heading home, taking comfort from each other’s presence. And instead of otherworldly abilities, they were armed with decency, goodness, and kindness. Those are the superpowers we need right now, when you think about it. That, and an adorable cow named Strawberry.