|Created by||Kit Pedler
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|No. of episodes||38|
|Running time||50 minutes|
|Original run||9 February 1970– 14 August 1972|
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 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 everyday stories like when Dr. Quist turned up at a meeting and was thought to be drunk but turned out to have severe jet lag. However, after Davis and Pedler left the show 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.
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 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 show 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 unbroadcast 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 shows. 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.
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.
Cast and crew
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 show 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
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.
- The Plastic Eaters 9 February 1970
- Friday's Child 16 February 1970 (missing episode)
- Burial at Sea 23 February 1970 (missing episode)
- Tomorrow, the Rat 2 March 1970
- Project Sahara 9 March 1970
- Re-entry Forbidden 16 March 1970
- The Devil's Sweets 23 March 1970
- The Red Sky 6 April 1970
- Spectre at the Feast 13 April 1970 (missing episode)
- Train And De-Train 20 April 1970
- The Battery People 27 April 1970
- Hear No Evil 4 May 1970 (missing episode)
- Survival Code 11 May 1970 (missing episode)
- You Killed Toby Wren 14 December 1970
- Invasion 21 December 1970
- The Islanders 4 January 1971
- No Room for Error 11 January 1971
- By the Pricking of My Thumbs... 18 January 1971
- The Iron Doctor 25 January 1971
- Flight into Yesterday 1 February 1971
- The Web of Fear 8 February 1971
- In the Dark 15 February 1971
- The Human Time Bomb 22 February 1971
- The Inquest 1 March 1971
- The Logicians 15 March 1971
- Public Enemy 22 March 1971
- Fire and Brimstone 5 June 1972 (missing episode)
- High Mountain 12 June 1972 (missing episode)
- Say Knife, Fat Man 19 June 1972 (missing episode)
- Waiting for a Knighthood 26 June 1972
- Without the Bomb 3 July 1972 (missing episode)
- Hair Trigger 10 July 1972
- Deadly Dangerous Tomorrow 17 July 1972 (missing episode)
- Enquiry 24 July 1972 (missing episode)
- Flood 31 July 1972 (missing episode)
- Cause of Death 7 August 1972 (missing episode)
- The Killer Dolphins 14 August 1972 (missing episode)
- Sex and Violence (not transmitted)
- 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.
- Radio Times, 1970-1972.
- British Film Institute Screen Online
- The World In Danger
- The Plastic Eaters review
- Doomwatch entry at the CliveBanks.co.uk sci-fi programme databank
- Entry on the Classic Television website
- Doomwatch (original series) at the Internet Movie Database
- Doomwatch (1972 feature film) at the Internet Movie Database
- Doomwatch: Winter Angel at the Internet Movie Database
- Episode guides
- BBC Treasure Hunt
- Episode Guide