Doomwatch – The Devil’s Sweets

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The episode opens with four young women, dressed in checkerboard miniskirts, who are offering samples of sweets.  A group of businessmen are eager to sample them and Pat Hunnisett, who’s a bit pressed for time, also grabs one.

In the Doomwatch office, Quist is interested in a computer report that smoking has increased by 49% in the local London area.  There’s been no new brands launched, so why the staggering change in the figures?  Ridge is sent to buy sample cigarettes from various shops whilst Wren visits Checkerboard cigarettes.

Checkerboard certainly seems to be the common factor – Ridge discovers that the majority of the increased sales are for their products.  The trail leads to Shiptons, an advertising agency who have the Checkerboard contract.  The company is run by Peter Shipton (Maurice Roëves) who clearly has something to hide, as well as a very natty dress sense.

After numerous tests, the incredible truth comes out – the chocolates are laced with a drug that over time generates a craving for Checkerboard cigarettes.  Since Pat has eaten a chocolate, she’s an ideal guinea pig for the team to test, but she becomes increasingly ill and is rushed to hospital.

Ridge is still attempting to get the truth from Shipton and Pegg (the owner of the chocolate factory) when he receives a devastating call – Pat is dead and his anger is enough to force the whole story out of them.  Ridge remains angry though, especially when he learns that Pat is fine – Quist had arranged for the call to be made stating that she’d died in order to force Shipton and Pegg’s hand.

RIDGE: Are you telling me that she’s alive and you knew it?

QUIST: Sitting up in bed… and cheeky.

RIDGE: You bastard.

The Devil’s Sweets is a story about manipulation.  The pretty young women are used to manipulate people into taking the chocolates and then the chocolates themselves manipulate the people who have eaten them.  Shipton is the one pulling the strings as he’s able to convince the cigarette manufacturers that it’s his advertising that’s increased their sales (they don’t know about the doctored chocolates).  And finally Quist is able to manipulate Ridge into extracting the truth when he believes Pat has died.

This is a key moment between the two of them and the bald transcript, reproduced above, can’t really do the moment justice.  Given the episodic nature of the series, the needle between Quist and Ridge tended to wax and wane but this is still a powerful scene.

The episode allows Wendy Hall a larger than regular role as Pat.  Normally confined to answering the phone, line-feeding the others or simply standing around looking glamorous, this is a welcome change from the norm. Sadly this was to be pretty much a one-off, so it’s no particular surprise that she quit at the end of the first series.  Maybe in retrospect, given how underused she was, it might have been a good idea to kill her off anyway?

Maurice Roëves is the stand out performer from the guest cast – he’s very good as the unscrupulous Shipton, keen to get ahead in advertising by any means necessary.  And like Ridge he dresses in a way that just screams early seventies.

Unlike most of the previous stories, this isn’t a Government conspiracy – instead it’s private enterprise (courtesy of Shipton and Dr Benson, who developed the drug).  And the fact that one of the Doomwatch team is affected adds a little more frisson to their efforts to bring things under control and prevent any deaths.

Doomwatch – The Red Sky

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At the start of The Red Sky Quist seems to be a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown.  As Ridge, Wren and Bradley look on – all with varying degrees of concern – Quist snaps at Pat and isn’t able to complete a simple scientific experiment (his hand trembles so much that he drops a glass beaker).  His colleagues all agree that he needs to take a break, but will the workaholic Quist agree?

Unsurprisingly it’s Ridge who’s the most outspoken.  It’s often been observed that Quist’s guilt at being involved in the development of the atomic bomb was one of the main reasons why he pushed himself so hard afterwards – in order to make amends for his “crime”.  Ridge has another suggestion, that he’s motivated by hate and is a control freak.  “That man’s obsessed. There’s nothing worse than a paranoiac leader; he wants to know everything, he won’t listen, he’s got no confidence in anybody.”

Quist, of course, has come back into the office and has heard every word.  John Paul deadpans nicely through this initial scene, as well as giving the impression that Quist really is at the end of his tether.  Toby tells him that if he takes a break then all their work stops.  This is a little odd, as there’s no doubt that although Quist is a key figure there’s no reason why the others can’t function without him.

What makes this scene interesting (if not slightly perplexing) is that Quist then tells them that he plans to go away for a couple of days.  His trip had already been arranged  before the scene in the lab, so did Quist simply engineer it in order to play power games (Ridge seems to imply so) or was he really close to breaking point?

He heads off to the countryside, for something of a busman’s holiday.  His old friend Bernard Colley (Aubrey Richards) is concerned about the noise from a nearby airfield, run by the Palgon Corporation.  Before Quist arrives, Colley and his daughter Dana (Jennifer Daniel), witness the death of Tommy Gort (Edward Kelsey).  Tommy lived in a lighthouse directly in the airplane’s flight path and apparently committed suicide by throwing himself off the cliff (it’s obviously a dummy, but it looks quite realistic).

It’s clear that the planes are somehow responsible and not only did they drive Tommy to his death they’ve also deeply affected Colley.  After spending some time at Tommy’s lighthouse, Colley is hospitalised with what Quist says is a cerebral hemorrhage.  He later dies without regaining consciousness.

Quist meets with the man from Palgon, Reynolds (Paul Eddington).  Unsurprisingly he brushes off Quist’s concerns and reminds him that thousands of people work for Palgon (strongly hinting that any interference with their work would have severe economic repercussions).  It’s a theme that’s replayed throughout the series – if you rock the boat then innocent people’s jobs will suffer.  Quist knows that innocent people are already suffering – from noise pollution – and won’t give up that easily.

The Red Sky, written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, is classic Doomwatch.  At its heart is a solid mystery and a strong dynamic between the regulars.  Quist has a personal stake as his friend has died (“he was a splendid man you know, when my wife died …”) whilst he and Ridge butt heads in a very entertaining manner.  The relationship between Quist and Ridge continues to fascinate. Ridge has undeniable respect for Quist as a scientist, but as a human being?  Quist’s views on Ridge remain fascinating to ponder as well.

Given that two people have died after spending time at the lighthouse it seems foolhardy in the extreme for Quist to decide to go back there alone to monitor events (and also that Ridge and Wren – who’ve now travelled down at Quist’s request – didn’t raise any objections).  Visual effects were somewhat limited in the early 1970’s, but thanks to the wonders of inlay we’re able to share his nightmare vision.

After Quist collapses at Gort’s lighthouse, Ridge is content to ship him off to a nursing home and go home.  For him, the work of Doomwatch is the most important thing – more important than any one man – and he also believes that fighting a battle against Palgon (who have the confidence of the minister) is pointless.  They can’t win, so attacking Palgon would simply give the government the excuse they need to close Doomwatch down.  It’s possible to see Ridge’s actions as something of a palace revolution – the king is dead, long live the king.

But by the merest chance Toby is at the lighthouse to witness another attack.  If he hadn’t then no doubt the whole thing would have been dropped, which is a slight weakness of the story.  It’s also hard to credit that Ridge dismisses the notion that there’s anything wrong at the lighthouse so quickly.  Two deaths and Quist’s injuries should have hinted that something wasn’t quite right.

Eventually Toby comes up with an answer and Quist is able to manipulate both Reynolds and the man from the ministry, Richard Duncan (Michael Elwyn) very neatly.  Reynolds is adamant that there’s no substance to Quist’s story, so when they all meet at the lighthouse he’s happy to remain there whilst the next jet flies overhead (as does Duncan and Ridge).  Reynolds is therefore unusual, a member of the “enemy” who becomes a convert after he realises that Quist’s story was true.  At the enquiry, he supports him – even though it might cost him his job.  And although Duncan had been described as the Minster’s hatchet-man, that’s not actually the case.  He seems a reasonable chap and is more than ready to listen to Quist’s suggestions and offer his support.

The ending is rather downbeat.  They’ve convinced Reynolds, but that’s about all.  The government agrees to fence off part of the coastline, purchase Tommy’s lighthouse and suspend flights for a month, but nothing more as Quist mutters that they “can’t let an isolated death stand in the way of progress.”  Bradley asks what will happen when the planes start flying all over the country.  Quist’s response is bleak.  “We don’t know and as usual we won’t know. Until it happens.”

Doomwatch – Train and De-Train

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Train and De-Train opens with John Ridge investigating several hundred wildlife deaths in Somerset.  The evidence suggests that some form of pesticide has been used, so Quist asks Toby to contact all pesticide manufacturers in the area and obtain samples.

Rather conveniently a container is found near the dead animals marked “AC” which suggests that Alminster Chemicals are involved (that’ll save Toby a lot of running about).  It’s also a coincidence that the chief chemist at Alminster is Mr Ellis (David Markham) who was Toby’s old tutor.

One of the main themes of the story concerns Toby’s rashness and way he acts without considering the consequences.  This sets him apart from the others, even Ridge, who all favour a more rigid, analytical approach.  In science, you have to be sure of your facts – something which Toby has trouble with (although it’s ironic that his information is what finally saves the day).

It seems likely that Alminster are responsible for the animal deaths.  They’re developing a new pesticide called AC3051, for export use in counties which have seen vast areas devastated by locusts, and it’s probable that they’ve tested it in Somerset, hence the animal deaths, but there’s no proof.  Toby’s first mistake occurs when he meets Alminster’s managing director John Mitchell (George Baker).

Toby’s delight in meeting his old tutor is tempered when he realises how badly he’s being treated by Alminster.  Ellis has been the victim of a creeping campaign by Mitchell which is designed to break his morale and force him to resign.  First Ellis’ carpet from his office went, then his parking space was reassigned, next his phone was taken away and the ultimate insult is when he finds somebody else in his office.  After demanding an explanation from Mitchell, he receives a blunt answer.  “Oh for god’s sake, do you not see that you’re no use to us anymore?”

Ellis is fifty one and therefore is regarded as over the hill.  As Ridge later explains, it’s the American way of business – if you can’t force the person to resign with these sort of methods then you “de-train” them – make them take a more lowly position in the company.

Mitchell is quite clear – they have to export and it has to be in considerable numbers.  If not, the company has no future.  This touches upon a similar argument to the one expressed in The Red Sky, where commercial interests are seen to be (in some people’s eyes) the most important thing.  George Baker is splendidly controlled and arrogant as Mitchell, which makes his eventual comeuppance at the end of the episode (his mishandling of matters sees him replaced) even more satisfying.

So Toby’s not only appalled at Mitchell’s off-hand manner, he’s also angry at the way Ellis has been treated.  This eventually makes him launch into a tirade against Mitchell, which is tape-recorded and forwarded onto Quist.  Quist has no compunction in (temporarily) firing Toby  because, irrespective of the rights and wrongs, he’s proved not to have the objectivity that a scientist requires.

Although Train and De-Train revolves as much around office politics at Alminster as it does about the pesticide issue, it’s still another strong series one entry.  With Quist largely absent, it’s Toby who’s the focus of the story, meaning that for once Ridge has to play the voice of reason.  David Markham seems a little distracted as Ellis, but that may be as scripted.  Ellis is portrayed as the sort of compromised scientist that any of the Doomwatch team may become – if they let their standards slip.

Ellis knew that 3051 was dangerous, but went ahead with the tests in Somerset anyway.  Following his resignation he commits suicide, but beforehand he writes a letter to Mitchell.  Mitchell treats the letter with contempt – using it to light a cigar – but a copy was sent to Toby and it’s this piece of evidence that sinks Alminster, as it links them to the pesticide tests.

Given that 3051 was designed for use against locusts I’ve never really understood why they decided to test it in Somerset (not many locusts about there).  Mitchell does make the very good point to Quist that although 3051 could be dangerous in an environment with varied wildlife, that won’t be an issue in the places where it’ll be used.  So the tests only serve to draw attention to Alminster.

Mitchell also mentions that the locusts are responsible for deaths now – so they have to press the pesticide into service straight away.  Yes, there may be some ecological side-effects, but they can be worked on in due course (to delay would be to cause more deaths).  Mitchell’s undeniably motivated by the profit margin, but there’s a certain logic in what he says.

The shades of grey that make up Don Shaw’s script are fascinating.  It would have been easier to make Alminster and Mitchell “evil”, but although George Baker relishes the ruthless side of Mitchell’s character things are not as straightforward as they seem at first.

Doomwatch – The Battery People

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Quist is called to a meeting with the new Minister (David Davies).  Although the Minister is full of Welsh bonhomie, he makes it clear that he finds both Quist and Doomwatch to be something of a problem.  He’d much prefer it if they didn’t do anything controversial – but Doomwatch exists to stir up controversy and Quist isn’t prepared to sacrifice their independence.

Returning to the office, Quist is intrigued to learn of some interesting statistics from a small Welsh village that forms part of the Minister’s constituency.  The divorce rate is much higher than the national average, the ex-miners prefer to drink gin rather than beer and there’s been several reports of cock fighting.  All  of this is enough to make him send Ridge down unofficially (posting as a journalist) to do some digging.

The decline of the coal industry in the 1970’s and 1980’s hit the Welsh valleys hard – whole communities who had relied on the mines for employment found it difficult to find alternative employment.  The Battery People takes this as a starting point and depicts a typical Welsh village where the ex-miners have been fortunate enough to find new jobs – in the battery farm run by Colonel Archibald Smithson (Emrys Jones).

It’s undeniable that the Welsh here feel a little stereotyped, boyo – which might have something to do with the fact that several of the actors, such as Jeremy Young (born in Liverpool) and Ray Mort (born in Lancashire), had to put on Welsh accents.  With a fairly small cast it’s surprising that they didn’t try and recruit more Welsh actors, presumably the likes of Talfryn Thomas were busy that week!

But although Young might not be Welsh-born, he’s still very good as Vincent Llewellyn, the foreman at the Colonel’s farm.  Llewellyn has recently broken up with his wife and although it’s not explicitly stated, his impotence was the main reason.  Eliza Ward, as his wife Elizabeth, also gives a powerful performance – she sounds like she was Welsh-born, although with only two acting credits to her name it’s difficult to be sure.

The Battery People was one of Emrys Jones’ final television appearances.  In the few years prior to this he’d had several notable credits, including the Master (not that one) in the Doctor Who story The Mind Robber and Dr Roger Full in the Out of the Unknown episode The Little Black Bag.  He’s equally as good here – Colonel Smithson appears to be a generous benefactor, bringing wealth and prosperity to what would otherwise be a deprived area, but there’s naturally a catch.

His battery farming methods cause sterility and impotence among his workers.  This is one of the reasons why he insists that the majority of them are over forty (although he claimed this was because he wanted a stable labour force).  That nobody’s put two and two together before Doomwatch start poking around seems slightly remarkable, as the high breakup of marriages would indicate that Llewellyn isn’t the only one to have suffered from performance issues.  And the reason why the ex-miners now favour gin over beer remains unexplained!

The Colonel seems to be a totally ruthless man, who knew (but didn’t care) about the problems he was inflicting on his workforce, but there is room for a slightly different reading.  At the start of the story we hear him ask Llewellyn to make sure all the men wear gloves when handling the fish (it’s the fluid in the fishtank which is the major problem).  Llewellyn and the others put the gloves on, but take them off again when the Colonel leaves.  It’s difficult to handle the fish when wearing gloves and Llewellyn seems to believe that the Colonel knows this and is simply going through the motions by asking them to wear gloves at all times.

Was this the case?  Or was the Colonel simply slack in ensuring that his orders were carried out?  At another point in the story it’s strongly implied that he rarely ventures onto the factory floor, so it’s not quite cut and dried.  But whether he’s incompetent or uncaring, he suffers a fairly grisly fate, which Quist seems to regard as poetic justice.

A thought provoking tale (the stock footage of battery chickens is enough to turn anyone vegetarian) The Battery People, the last surviving series one episode, is another strong story.

Doomwatch – You Killed Toby Wren

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Whilst it’s more than a little irritating that the final episode of series one – Survival Code – is missing, it’s some consolation that the last few minutes do exist (it was recycled as the pre-credits sequence for this episode).  If you want more info about Survival Code, then Doomwatch.org has a detailed synopsis here.  There’s also a fan-made audio reconstruction which can be found here.

Back in the VHS days of course, we just had to get on with it – as the second tape jumped from The Red Sky to this episode.  But it’s quite possible to watch You Killed Toby Wren without having detailed knowledge of the previous story – the pre-credits tell us that Toby was killed attempting to diffuse a bomb and that Quist looks to be culpable (which is essentially what this episode is about).

The Minster (John Baron) is absolutely delighted.  “Not only did he interfere, he obstructed the police.”  It’s his chance to nail Quist once and for all and he’s going to relish every moment.  The Minister claims to have respect for Doomwatch, but he also regards it as a dog that needs to come to heel, which he’s convinced will happen once Quist is removed.  Incidentally, it’s never stated where the Minister we saw in The Battery People has gone and why Barron’s character (not seen since the debut episode The Plastic Eaters) has returned.  Unless there were several snap general elections?  Given the events of 1974 that’s not impossible.

Barbara Mason (Vivien Sherrard) has a baptism of fire as Doomwatch’s new secretary.  She first meets Colin, who’s pleasant enough, ironically referring to himself as Doomwatch’s chief cook and bottle washer!  Ridge of course, is his usual charming self.  “Hello darling, may I help?”  When she introduces herself as the temp, his reply is classic.  “I’m John Ridge, tempt me”!

Although Ridge is jocular with Barbara he’s still in a foul mood and it’s all directed at Quist.  He’s got a large photograph of Toby which he pins on the noticeboard – and is clearly waiting for Quist’s reaction when he sees it.  When Quist enters he doesn’t say a word, but John Paul is still able to express considerable pain and suffering non-verbally.  It’s interesting that Quist soaks up Ridge’s early scornful attacks and doesn’t respond – at this point Quist looks like a broken, weary man.

Geoff Hardcastle (John Nolan) is something of a Toby Wren substitute (like Toby he finds it difficult to get through to Quist to begin with).  Although there’s a slight wrinkle in that Geoff isn’t looking to join Doomwatch – he just wants Quist’s help.  His tale – the first animal/human hybrid has been created by Professor Eric Hayland (Graham Leaman) – is an eye-raiser, which he relates to Ridge over a drink at the pub.  A chicken with a human head …….

This is very much a subplot, as the main thrust of the story revolves around Quist’s crisis of confidence and the political maneuvering in the corridors of power.  The discussion of the hybrid does lead to a classic confrontation between Quist and Ridge though – Quist believes the hybrid is an inevitable development whilst Ridge finds it disgusting and abhorrent.  We can tell that Ridge is at breaking point when he pushes over a chair in Quist’s office (yes it’s a fairly low-key display of anger).  Quist fires him but Ridge isn’t prepared to go quietly.

Quist’s relationship with the atomic bomb has been touched on before.  Ridge tells him that he enjoys wallowing in guilt about it.  “You haven’t got an honest feeling in your body. You’re an emotional hypocrite. You’re a self-indulgent bloody murderer. What’s more you’re finished, bust, kaput!”  It’s brilliant stuff and both John Paul and Simon Oates clearly relish these highly dramatic scenes.

John Paul is in impressive form throughout.  He has several key monologues, including this one.  “It was a long time ago that I realised the most important thing in life is life. Not science, not technology, politics, religion, riches, power, none of these were sacred. Only life. Sum total of man’s knowledge written down for all to read. What is it amount to? Better to be a live idiot than a dead genius.”

Quist is packed off to speak to a psychiatrist, Dr Anne Tarrant (Elizabeth Weaver).  She begins by enquiring about his sex life (he doesn’t have one) and later asks him if they can talk about the bomb.  Which one? he replies.  The Manhattan Project is the one that’s remained on his mind for the last twenty five years.  He tells Anne that he never believed it would be used.  All one hundred and thirty scientists who worked on its development wrote to the White House, requesting that it be tested in the ocean – that, he believed, would be enough to convince Japan to surrender.  But instead, two bombs were dropped on Japan and Quist has lived with the guilt ever since.

If Quist is going through the wringer then so is Ridge.  He’s romanced Dr Judith Lennox (Shirley Dixon) in order to gain access to Professor Hayland’s lab.  Once there, he’s disgusted at what he finds (not the most impressive animal mock-ups, it must be said, but never mind) and lashes out at the nearest person – breaking the jaw of one of Hayland’s assistants.  Dr Lennox is equally disguisted with him.  “You’re not only a narcissistic, nasty thug, you’re a hypocrite. A sick hypocrite. I don’t think you’re capable of any genuine feeling. You came here knowing exactly what you find and yet you’re shocked, aren’t you? But you enjoy it, don’t you? You enjoy it. You’re wallowing in morbidity up to here. You make me sick.”  Like Quist earlier on, Ridge has no answer – he just stands there and has to take it.

The evidence given to the enquiry seems stacked against Quist, with the Air Commodore (Donald Morley) especially vociferous in his criticisms of his handling of the crisis.  But then Ridge is called and unexpectedly backs his ex-boss.  “He has the sharpest, most elegant mind I know, he is also the most morally courageous. Without him there would be no Doomwatch. So if you want Doomwatch, you’re stuck with him.”  It’s quite a reversal from his previous position, presumably brought about by his confrontation with Dr Lennox.  Quist is impressive when he presents his evidence.  His earlier hesitancy has gone and it becomes clear that he will be totally exonerated.  The Minister’s insincere delight when he meets Quist afterwards is a lovely moment!

Human drama was always key to Terence Dudley’s scripts and You Killed Toby Wren has it in spades.  John Paul and Simon Oates dominate and it’s just a pity that when Quist and Ridge reconcile at the end it signals that from now on they’ll enjoy a more settled working relationship.  This is understandable – there’s no way they could have gone on sniping at each other – and the story does work well as a cathartic experience for both of them, but it’s a shame that we never see them so combative again.

Doomwatch – Invasion

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Ridge and Geoff Hardcastle (who now seems to have become a member of the Doomwatch team) are in the Yorkshire Dales, testing the nitrate levels in the local water, which is reported to be higher than average.

They’ve hired two young potholers, Reggie and Dave, to go down into the cave system and obtain the samples they need.  But when they don’t return, a major search is launched.  A map of the caves suggests they might have surfaced close to Wensdale Grange, a country house which has been in government hands since WW2.  The building is surrounded by an electrified fence and patrolled by armed soldiers, which instantly piques Ridge’s interest.

They’re able to get inside for a brief meeting with Major Sims (Geoffrey Palmer) but he’s unwilling to explain exactly what goes on there.  So it’s no surprise that Ridge decides to return later and break in.

Ridge’s attempt at a clandestine entry didn’t get him very far, but he’s not held captive for long.  After he’s released, he tells Geoff that he was stripped and sprayed with disinfectant and then goes on to explain that nothing is happening at the house now.  “But they did do something once, something that went bad on them. And it’s still in there. Waiting to get out.”

The mystery is soon revealed – the house was the location for germ warfare experiments.  Although all research was concluded five years ago the house remains totally off-limits and will remain so for decades.  Although Duncan, the Minister’s secretary, tells Quist that the bug was developed purely for defence purposes, Quist treats this statement with an ironic retort.  Exactly what’s defensive about a bug that can wipe out a city like London within six weeks?  Germ warfare appalls Quist, not only the research itself but also that it leaves an area “where no one can live for the next half century because of a wartime government experiment. Do they have any idea in the Dales what they have in their midst?”

The way the story will develop seems pretty clear. Major Sims is adamant that there’s no danger – nobody ever goes into the house and if any animals ever break into the grounds they’re shot (which explains the armed soldiers) and examined straightaway.  Quist makes it clear that it’ll only take one slip – an infected animal, contaminated water – to bring down a catastrophe on everyone.  And when Reggie and Dave turn up, seemingly none the worse for wear, it doesn’t take long before it’s established they were at the Grange and are now carriers.

It goes without saying that the fact Reggie and Dave were able to enter the Grange, pinch some antique pistols and leave again without anybody noticing doesn’t reflect very well on Major Sims.  Geoffrey Palmer is characteristically excellent as Sims, arrogant and superior.  It’s only a shame that he doesn’t feature more and we never really see his reaction to the news that his security measures have been well and truly breached.

Invasion has a major location shoot, which has (presumably) the locals acting as extras.  Because there’s so many people milling about at the end it does help to create the sense of scale that the story demands.  Quist has bad news for the villagers – although they’ve been inoculated and should be fine, they have to leave the village.  When the landlord of the local pub asks when they’ll be able to return, Quist doesn’t answer – an unspoken confirmation that it won’t be within any of their lifetimes.

After the buses pull away there’s a brief moment of silence, which is broken when a number of army vehicles pull up to the village square.  The soldiers, wearing protective gear, get to work – spraying the houses and shooting any animals they find.  There’s an eerie juxtaposition at work here – the faceless armed soldiers and the English village – which creates a powerful, unsettling image.  And the final shot of the episode – a Ministry of Defence sign reading “Extreme Danger Keep Out” – provides the episode with a stark conclusion.

Prophets of Doom – The Unauthorised History of Doomwatch to be reprinted

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Originally published in 2012, Prophets of Doom by Michael Seely is an invaluable guide to Doomwatch.  It contains new interviews with surviving cast and crew members as well as an episode by episode guide (with a wealth of production information and background detail on each story).

The book drifted out of print a while back, but the recent DVD release has prompted a reprint which should be ready by the end of May.  It can be ordered directly from the publishers, Miwk, here.

Because Miwk are something of a niche publisher, their books don’t tend to have especially large print runs, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see this book go out of print again in the future.  Therefore I’d recommend putting an order in sooner rather than later.  Below is the book’s blurb –

In February 1970, one of the most important television drama programmes from the 1970s was broadcast on BBC1. Not only did it introduce a new word to the English language, it also brought to a mainstream audience of ten million viewers each week the new, emerging idea of the scientists’ moral and ethical responsibility in society. This was Doomwatch, a visionary science fiction series which took scientific research and technological advances and imagined where they could go disastrously wrong if greed, politics or simple ambition won over caution. This was drama with a message. And it was heard.  The fears of the Sixties: over-population, test-tube babies, super-sonic aircraft, DDT, the Bomb, all found expression in Doomwatch.

Launching the career of actor Robert Powell, Doomwatch entertained and thrilled its audience with concepts such as a plastic eating virus, animal hearts transplanted into children, toxic chemical dumps, cannibal rats, the surveillance state, noise that can kill, food poisoned by drugs and chemicals, and by the end of its first successful series, the ultimate horror: a nuclear bomb washed up underneath a seaside pier, its countdown ticking down to claim the life of one of the celebrated Doomwatch team.

It was conceived by a research scientist and a television dramatist, Dr. Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, who had previously devised the Cybermen for Doctor Who. With Doomwatch, they soon became famous for creating seemingly prophetic storylines in which the media eagerly found parallels in real life.  Were the writers of Doomwatch prophets of doom or simply scaremongering popularists?

The programme divided the scientific and political establishment into those who thought the programme was a much needed and timely warning and tried to do something about it, and those who thought it was a naive, reactionary piece of trivial, and ignorant television. Dr. Kit Pedler actively tried to create a real-life Doomwatch, and was at the beginnings of the alternative technology movement in Britain and did his own experiments on creating ecologically sound housing and develop a new way of living in a modern society without destroying the habitat or regressing back to the stone age.

With contributions from the family of Dr. Kit Pedler, Darrol Blake, Jean Trend, Glyn Edwards, Martin Worth, Adele Winston, Eric Hills, and others, this book will tell the proper story of Doomwatch both on and off the screen, how it was made, the true story behind the stories, the controversies, the back stage bust-ups, and how the programme inspired those who looked around the world in which they had been conditioned to accept, and begin to question.