Mad Dog 2003

Birth of a Nation: Mad Dog

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In the mid 1970s in this country, a number of well reported cases of rabies followed by a forceful government publicity campaign warning against the danger of introducing unquarantined foreign animals into Britain, raised the public consciousness of the disease. It also provided the opportunity for several established television drama series to graphically portray the consequences of untreated rabies infection.

The best of these proved to be from Survivors in Mad Dog by Don Shaw, a solo adventure for Charles in a district beset by an unusually high number of ferral dog packs. In a story which will have parallels with McCulloch's The Last Laugh later in the season, Charles is attacked by one of these packs. He is bitten by one of the dogs, then rescued by a man named Fenton, a former university lecturer in social sciences. Later in the safety of his cottage, Fenton lapses into illness and confesses to Charles that he is dying of rabies. Purposefully disturbing scenes follow as the lecturer's condition deteriorates. Charles is horrified by not only what he sees but also by the very real possibility that, if the animal which bit him was rabid, his life will soon end in the same manner.

Placing a regular character in such a situation ensured that this story would have a distressing immediacy. When his condition further deteriorates, Fenton asks Charles to shoot him. But the Whitecross farmer finds that he has not yet became enough of a practical countryman to keep his civilised city conditioning in abeyance. So he seeks help from two of Fenton's neighbours. They are unsentimental lifelong men of the soil and, despite knowing the lecturer quite well, execute him as they would a mad dog. Then learning that Charles has also been bitten, they turn their guns on him. Although he strongly suspects that his immediate future would only mirror Fenton's decline, Charles nevertheless instinctively runs for his life.

In the midst of a prolonged terrifying manhunt, he is sheltered by a woman called Ellen. Upon examining his wound, she gladly informs him that although the dog bite had made a mess of his thick padded jacket and bruised the area beneath, the skin has not been broken. Courtesy of clothing more sensible than even he had realised, he has not contracted rabies. Armed with this revitalising knowledge, he once again seeks to escape his pursuers, whom Ellen informs him would still shoot to kill just to be on the safe side.

Mad Dog concludes with Charles happening on a steam train running on open-cast coal, which takes him safely into the next episode. The 1983 BBC serial 'The Mad Death' tackled the subject of a rabies epidemic with the greater geographical scope and more elaborate stunning visualisations allowed by a higher budget, but failed to have the impact of Mad Dog. [] Not surprisingly, irrespective of the considerable merits of Manhunt, Bridgehead and Long Live the King, it is the afterthoughts Mad Dog and The Last Laugh that are the truly classic entries in this final run.


Extract from: Neil Alsop, 'Birth of a Nation', Timescreen
No 13, Spring 1989, pp.8 and 10.


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31 August 2003