Doomwatch

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Doomwatch
Created by Kit Pedler
Gerry Davis
Starring John Paul
Simon Oates
Robert Powell
Composer(s) Max Harris
Country of origin United Kingdom
No. of episodes 38
Production
Running time 50 minutes
Broadcast
Original channel BBC1
Original run 9 February 1970 (1970-02-09) – 14 August 1972 (1972-08-14)

Doomwatch is a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC, which ran on BBC1 between 1970 and 1972. The series was set in the then present-day, and dealt with a scientific government agency led by Doctor Spencer Quist (played by John Paul), responsible for investigating and combating various ecological and technological dangers.

The series was followed by a film adaptation produced by Tigon British Film Productions and released in 1972,[1] and a revival TV film was broadcast on Channel 5 in 1999.

Background[edit]

The programme was created by Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler, who had previously collaborated on scripts for Doctor Who, a programme on which Davis had been the story editor and Pedler the unofficial scientific adviser during the 1960s. Their interest in the problems of science changing and endangering human life had led them to create the popular alien race the Cybermen for that programme, and it was similar interests that led them to create Doomwatch, which explored all kinds of new and unusual threats to the human race, many bred out of the fear of real scientific concepts, with a "this could happen to us" fear by the public.

In the story, the actual name of the organisation was "Department for the Observation and Measurement of Scientific Work". Officially Doomwatch was an agency dedicated to preserving the world from dangers of unprincipled scientific research - "We were set up to investigate any scientific research, Public or Private, which could possibly be harmful to Man" - but the real intention was to form a body with little power meant to stifle protests and secure green votes. However the incorruptible Dr Spenser Quist and companions soon gave the agency some real power and people had to listen.

Quist had worked on the development of the atomic bomb and seen his wife die of radiation poisoning; Ridge was the secret agent type and Wren a conscientious researcher. Together they took science into people's living rooms, explaining about embryo research, subliminal messages, wonder drugs, dumping of toxic waste, noise pollution, nuclear weaponry, animal exploitation, etc.

There were other storylines such as genetic mutation creating a particularly large and vicious race of rats, and a virus that ate away at all types of plastics causing aeroplanes to fall out of the sky. There were also less dramatic stories such as an episode that centred around the medical dangers of jet lag. However, after Davis and Pedler left the series at the conclusion of the second series in 1971, it turned into a more conventional thriller drama, which the two creators openly criticised.

The first two series each consisted of thirteen episodes, and the third of twelve, of which one - titled Sex and Violence and intended to be shown as the fifth episode - was not transmitted. It has been suggested that this was because of objections to either its use of stock news footage of a public execution in Lagos, or its presentation of characters designed to be satirical analogues of Mary Whitehouse, Cliff Richard and Lord Longford. The execution footage has appeared on British television a number of times since the 1972, notably in a 1988 edition of Panorama about violence on television.[2]

The programme was very popular and drew audiences of as high as 13.6 million at its peak for an episode called Invasion, filmed mostly in the village of Grassington in North Yorkshire. The start of every series merited a cover feature on the BBC's Radio Times listings magazine, which even today is a prestigious feat for a programme. The series was also sold abroad, gaining some popularity when transmitted in Canada.

As was common at the time, the BBC wiped the Doomwatch master tapes soon after transmission, regarding them to be of little further use. Although some episodes have been returned from Canada or exist as telerecordings, many are still missing and will likely remain so, although all are being sought by the BBC Archive Treasure Hunt as a whole. However, a copy of the un-broadcast episode survives in the archives, one of only three from the final series to do so. Thanks to the Canadian returns series two is complete, but series one is missing five episodes. Some of the existing episodes have had a limited release on VHS and DVD in the UK, and all - except Sex and Violence - were repeated on the satellite channel UK Gold during the 1990s, although that episode was erroneously scheduled.

Cast and crew[edit]

The main character throughout the series was Nobel prize winner, Dr Spencer Quist, who had been given the task of setting up and running the department by the British government. Quist is haunted by guilt of having worked on the Manhattan Project, making the first nuclear bomb. He was played throughout the BBC run by John Paul, a familiar face from a range of British television series, who later went on to appear in I, Claudius.

The other main regular character throughout the run was Dr John Ridge, played by Simon Oates who often did not see eye to eye with Quist, who he called a "bastard" in episode 7 for manipulating one of his own staff. He appeared in only four episodes of the final season. One of the first season's main characters was Tobias 'Toby' Wren (Robert Powell), who provided one of Doomwatch’s most memorable episodes when he was dramatically killed off in an explosion at the conclusion of the season one finale, Survival Code. Powell had only signed for one series originally and the producers wanted him to sign for a second run but he was adamant that he wanted to leave the series on a high, and suggested that they get rid of him by blowing him up, which they did. The BBC got more letters on his unexpected death in the series than any other subject since World War II.

Wren was trying to disarm a terrorist's nuclear device, which had been traced to a pavilion at the end of a seaside pier at Byfield Regis. Having thought he was finished, a pair of wire cutters slips from Wren's hands and falls into the sea just before he discovers a last wire as the remaining seconds tick away. Though the nuclear part of the bomb is safe, we see the pavilion explode as the conventional explosive goes off, killing Wren and two others. Though this episode is missing, the scene is shown at the start of the first episode of Series 2 in which there are recriminations, guilt and an official enquiry which is intended to get rid of Quist.

Wren was played by Robert Powell, who later found worldwide fame as the title character in the television series Jesus of Nazareth, and starred in films such as the 1978 version of The Thirty-Nine Steps and later the BBC medical series Holby City in the 2000s and 2010s. The ministerial antagonist to the Doomwatch team, determined to keep the department following the government line, was played by John Barron, better known as 'CJ' from the comedy series The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. Other members of the cast were: Philip Bond as Inspector Drew, Joby Blanshard as Colin Bradley, Wendy Hall as Pat Hunnisett, Vivien Sherrard as Barbara Mason, John Nolan as Geoff Hardcastle, John Brown as Commander Neil Stafford, Jean Trend as Dr. Fay Chantry, Elizabeth Weaver as Dr Anne Tarrant, and Moultrie Kelsall as Drummond.

Throughout its run, Doomwatch was produced by Terence Dudley, who also contributed several scripts himself. Dudley later went on to produce another well-remembered BBC science-fiction drama Survivors, and in the early 1980s wrote and directed episodes of Doctor Who. Aside from Davis, Pedler and Dudley, several other writers wrote episodes for the programme, including well-known veterans of several other British television science-fiction productions such as Robert Holmes, Dennis Spooner and Louis Marks.

Film and revival[edit]

The Doomwatch feature film was produced by Tigon British Film Productions Ltd under licence from the BBC, and released in 1972. The script was written by Clive Exton from a story by Davis and Pedler. Although the main characters from the series did all appear, played by their original actors, main billing went to Ian Bannen and Judy Geeson as new characters. The film also featured George Sanders.

In 1999, Channel 5 bought the rights to revive Doomwatch from the BBC, and on 7 December that year screened a 100-minute TV movie produced by the independent production company Working Title Television. Subtitled Winter Angel, the television movie was a continuation of the story rather than a remake.

Written by John Howlett and Ian McDonald, only one of the original characters from the series appears, an aged Dr Spencer Quist, now played by actor Philip Stone as John Paul had died in 1995. Quist is killed off during the course of the TV movie, and the main character was Neil Tannahill, played by Trevor Eve, who at the conclusion of the story sets up a new 'Doomwatch' group to pursue the same aims as that of the original series. The film was about the creation of a black hole as an energy source but the dark side was revealed that once born, a black hole must be forever looked after or it could explode with force enough to destroy a country.

Although Channel 5 had intended the production to act as the pilot for a possible series and it had been generally well received by critics and public, further episodes were not forthcoming. This was generally accepted to be for reasons of cost.

Books[edit]

Pedler and Davis re-used the plot of the first episode of the series, The Plastic Eaters, for their 1971 novel Mutant 59: The Plastic Eater, although this was not officially a Doomwatch novel and did not contain the characters from the series. The book also re-used the Radio Times cover photograph of a melted plastic aeroplane in a briefcase.

In 1975 Longman Education published Doomwatch - The World in Danger, a simplied adaptation of the episodes The Plastic Eaters, The Red Sky, and Survival Code.

In 2012 Miwk Publishinng released Deadly Dangerous Tomorrow, a collection of scripts of six of the missing episodes: Spectre at the Feast, Fire and Brimstone, High Mountain, Say Knife, Fat Man, Deadly Dangerous Tomorrow, and Flood.

Episodes[edit]

Series one[edit]

No. Title Original airdate
1 "The Plastic Eaters" 9 February 1970
A plane crash is caused by some mysterious plastic melting of the cockpit control. The Doomwatch investigators, stalled by Minister Barker are forced to use unorthodox means to get the information on the plastic dissolving microbe, Variant 14 developed by Beeston Laboratories. Quist then has to take drastic measures with Barker before a repeated plane crash occurs with Wren onboard.
2 "Friday's Child (missing episode)" 16 February 1970
3 "Burial at Sea (missing episode)" 23 February 1970
4 "Tomorrow, the Rat" 2 March 1970
A new species of rat with a lust for human blood has been developed by Dr. Mary Bryant and have escaped her lab. The rats are spreading, attacking Londoneers and becoming dangerously intelligent. While Bradley investigates Mary, while the Doomwatch investigators put pressure on Mary's employer Preston to take serious action on the vermin.
5 "Project Sahara" 9 March 1970
6 "Re-entry Forbidden" 16 March 1970
7 "The Devil's Sweets" 23 March 1970
8 "The Red Sky" 6 April 1970
9 "Spectre at the Feast (missing episode)" 13 April 1970
10 "Train And De-Train" 20 April 1970
11 "The Battery People" 27 April 1970
12 "Hear No Evil (missing episode)" 4 May 1970
13 "Survival Code (missing episode)" 11 May 1970

Series two[edit]

No. Title Original airdate
1 "You Killed Toby Wren" 14 December 1970
2 "Invasion" 21 December 1970
3 "The Islanders" 4 January 1971
4 "No Room for Error" 11 January 1971
5 "By the Pricking of My Thumbs..." 18 January 1971
6 "The Iron Doctor" 25 January 1971
7 "Flight into Yesterday" 1 February 1971
8 "The Web of Fear" 8 February 1971
9 "In the Dark" 15 February 1971
10 "The Human Time Bomb" 22 February 1971
11 "The Inquest" 1 March 1971
12 "The Logicians" 15 March 1971
13 "Public Enemy" 22 March 1971

Series three[edit]

No. Title Original airdate
1 "Fire and Brimstone (missing episode)" 5 June 1972
2 "High Mountain (missing episode)" 12 June 1972
3 "Say Knife, Fat Man (missing episode)" 19 June 1972
4 "Waiting for a Knighthood" 26 June 1972
5 "Without the Bomb (missing episode)" 3 July 1972
6 "Hair Trigger" 10 July 1972
7 "Deadly Dangerous Tomorrow (missing episode)" 17 July 1972
8 "Enquiry (missing episode)" 24 July 1972
9 "Flood (missing episode)" 31 July 1972
10 "Cause of Death (missing episode)" 7 August 1972
11 "The Killer Dolphins (missing episode)" 14 August 1972
12 "Sex and Violence (not transmitted)"
13 "The Devil's Demolition (production abandoned - not recorded)"

NB: It's unlikely that Sex and Violence was intended to be run as episode 12, as it's placed fifth in an 'Early Warning Synopsis' booklet for the season, but the precise planned placing isn't definitively known. There are no continuity references which dictate its placing.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Doomwatch (film)
  2. ^ Panorama - Violence on Television, 15 February 1988
Notes
  • Radio Times, 1970-1972.

External links[edit]