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The Last Enemy

December 3, 2012

tleSpeaking of podcasts, another one I love is the British Invaders podcast.  To quote host Brian Doob, British Invaders is a podcast all about British science fiction television.  Their most recent podcast is on a mini-series called The Last Enemy which being a joint BBC/US production actually aired in the US as well as part of the PBS series Masterpiece Contemporary in 2008.  Masterpiece Contemporary was hosted by David Tennant, as a cool side note.  Anyway, after they were done with the DVDs, Eamon Clarke, the other host, decided to give his copy away to the first taker on their Facebook page which turned out to be me.  Now, that I have finished the series myself, I thought I would take them up on their offer at the end of the podcast to hear other people’s views on the series.  Their podcast can be found at:  As usual, this article is spoiler central.

The Last Enemy is an espionage story that takes place in an England that has recently recovered from a major terrorist attack.  The story is told from the perspective of Stephen Ezard, played by Benedict Cumberpatch, who is currently playing Sherlock Holmes in the excellent series Sherlock.  Stephen has been living outside of England for a number of years and is returning due to the recent death of his older brother Michael.  Michael was as aid worker in Afganistan who was killed when his jeep supposedly drove over a mine.  Upon arriving in London, Stephen quickly learns that things have changed due to the terrorist attack and not necessarily for the better.  Heavily armed police roam the streets randomly asking people for their ID cards.  Stephen, it turns out, is a mathematical genius and. as a result, quickly gets absorbed into a new government project called TIA which is short for Total Information Access.  The TIA system is the ultimate database combining every ounce of information on every citizen in the UK from every computer database.  It’s a considerably less benevolent version of Finch’s machine from Person of Interest and I wonder whether that is where PoI might have gotten their idea from.  As if this wasn’t bad enough, it turns out that Stephen’s brother was not killed by a mine and had, instead, been killed by a group of assassins with a rocket launcher.  It also turns out the Michael is actually still alive (it’s complicated) and is looking into why someone wanted him dead.  This seems to be related to a Hepatitis B vaccine that they were administering to the local Afgan population that turned out to kill all those injected with it.  These two plot threads ultimately come together when it turns out that the vaccine also  contained a bio-engineered virus (I gather) that was designed to be a super biometric tracking system that would be used to help TIA keep tabs on people.  In addition to all of this there is a love triangle between the brothers and Michael’s wife Yasim who gets involved with Stephen before learning that her husband is still alive.  There is also a subplot of dying genetic engineers that is tied to the whole virus thing.

The story of The Last Enemy has a lot of moving parts.  To say that there might be too many may not be all of that unfair a criticism.  The overall story I found fairly standard spy thriller stuff in that you don’t know who you can trust because you don’t know who is working for whom.  The part that I found the most interesting was the whole slide to technocratic totalitarianism that the British government was taking under the standard excuse of better protecting its citizens.  This is where another aspect of Stephen made him the ideal centerpiece for the story.  Being a pure theoretician, Stephen was hopelessly naïve on human relations which translated into the same with regards to politics.  As a result, he ended up publicly supporting the TIA system which would ultimately prove to be his own undoing.  The ending of the series was very reminiscent of The Prisoner on some levels.

I’m now going to take a side track here into one of my pet peeves that The Last Enemy hit pretty hard.  As I mentioned above, there was this sub thread of genetic engineers dying at an alarming rate due to “mysterious” accidents.  It turns out that all of them were the scientists who had worked on the bio tag virus.  Why are they being eliminated?  Well, it turns out that the side effect of the bio tag is that it ultimately kills people but, not just any people.  In fact, it turns out that its mortality is a function of your racial make-up as determined by your genetics thus, making the virus a “race bomb” as one of the characters calls it.  It is this secret that is leading the people in charge of the project to eliminate the scientists that created it.  This is an attempt to do what is commonly called “stuffing the genie back into the bottle”.  Historically, it basically doesn’t work.  The problem is that science is built on a foundation of information that is constantly being added to and learned by other scientists.  As a result, major scientific developments are largely inevitable.  It’s really just a race to see who gets there first.  While this group of researchers accidentally stumbled upon this technology, they very quickly figured out what it was.  As a researcher myself, what this told me was that the level of genetic understanding in the context of this story was enough that someone, somewhere would ultimately figure out the same thing.  In this case, probably with the intent of building just such a virus as a weapon.  Killing all of the scientists involved with this discovery is, in fact, the worst thing you can possibly do because they are the individuals who you will desperately need to combat such a weapon system when someone else inevitably develops it.  Having said all this, the short sighted actions taken against the scientists in The Last Enemy where not unrealistic but, they are something that the British government in that universe would most likely come to regret in the long run.  Anyway, this is really just a minor footnote to the story and I’ll thank you all in advance for putting up with my rant here.

The Last Enemy is available in the US on DVD for anyone who is interested for checking it out.  I’m not really a fan of suspense/espionage stories which makes up the bulk of The Last Enemy.  I doubt I’ll revisit it but, at the same time, I felt it was worth the one viewing.


From → Podcasts, Reviews

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