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SEASON 1 OVERVIEW

This is the cover of the Radio Times introducing Doomwatch to BBC One. Images taken from the 7-13th February 1970 edition.


On June 3rd 1969, Radio 3 broadcast a discussion programme called Of Ombudsman and Cybermats featuring Doctor Christopher 'Kit' Pedler where he outlined a new BBC1 drama series that will be christened by its producer Terence Dudley Doomwatch.

Pedler had already worked on television drama before on Doctor Who where he was brought on board by producer Innes Lloyd and script editor Gerry Davis in order to boost the science in the science fiction, and make the programme just that little bit more authentic in its trips to the present and future, as real as the programme's trips to the past (normally!) First, he outlined how a computer could control the world through telephones, perhaps based in the newly opened Post Office Tower. Encouraged by Davis, he then worked through his fears of modern medicine going too far to bring out the Cybermen in us all. Davis provided the dramatic backbone to Pedler's ideas and soon the two became very close collaborators.

Once Davis had left Doctor Who, Pedler provided to contribute ideas for new Cybermen stories but soon realised he was simply a sounding board, rather than an integral part of the creative process. But Pedler and Davis decided to continue their collaboration for a new original science fiction programme, based on Pedler's increasing alarm at the dangerous side effects of unchecked science and those resistant to heeding warnings, As he himself put it:

'It's about the first three scientific ombudsmen put out by a government to look into possible harmful effects of scientific research, and in it we find that our three characters keep coming up against all the various vested interests politically in the government, vested interests in science itself, and we tried to write stories around this general theme.. I think the scientist is a citizen, and as such he has a complete responsibility as a citizen for the work he does. I don't think he can, ever say 'Of course, it's up to a politician,' or it's up to people or something. He is the people, he is concerned with politics.'

Science was no longer seen as a thrilling gateway to utopia. Just as the industrial revolution had catastrophic side effects on the environment and on the people toiling away in the mills, the mines and simply breathing the air and drinking the water, thus the scientific revolutions in the twentieth century could, if unchecked, harm us all. And indeed was. And still is.

The programme developed was science fiction, but taking a plausible premise based on reality and then exaggerating it in a horrifying way by giving it a twist. It's a What If? scenario. Plastic eating viruses, embryonic experiments, escaped nerve gas cylinders, man eating rats, killer sounds, lethal pesticides, food stuffs poisoned by pollution or by a banned wartime chemical and finally, a nuclear bomb lost in an air collision – unrecognised and tampered with... Exciting concepts and vividly dramatised.

The Doomwatch team act as scientific detectives rather than environmentalists and have to struggle to discover the truth. Here is an EFFECT, what is the CAUSE and what was the REASON? Normally, an effect in Doomwatch is someone dying or falling ill or acting out of character. The effect is misdiagnosed to begin with, with something in the known sphere of things: suicide, drugs overdose, food poisoning, Something does not add up right or an association with a project rings an alarm bell in Doomwatch and they act as scientific detectives and find the true cause and the reason behind it (sloppy labs, ruthless business, cost, etc.) Other times Doomwatch gets involved by coincidence - researching their new Minister's constituency in The Battery People leads to discovering abnormal behaviour amongst ex-Welsh miners; Bradley demonstrating equipment in a Northern working man's club uncovers hidden microphones, Wren gets suspended, or an acquaintance of Quist brings Doomwatch into the field. And in Survival Code, they are called in as part of regulations. Often an episode sees the team doing mundane, bread and butter work, investigating nitrate levels in fields, or less mundane testing a new aerosol weapon like Project Sahara.

Because the programme was backed up with a scientist's eye, the stories are not afraid to venture into what the layman would call gobbledegook, but it is real. The series won a nomination for the Mullard Science Award. We do not have acres of moral debate over desks. The 'villains' of the piece are not traditional villains but people with true motivations, working under financial or political pressures to get results, some are just selfish and greedy. The victims are ordinary people, caught unaware, and without much of a voice. Pedler and Davis are keen to push the message, something producer Terence Dudley with his more traditional approach to drama would take issue with. But Pedler's message found favour within the cast and crew of Doomwatch and often the strongest memory they have is of that man and his warning.

Doomwatch is not anti-science (there is no problem for them with animal experimentation) but against short cuts and side stepping ethical minefields. The ends, as they say, do not justify the means. They are powerless to stop most of what they discover, such as in The Red Sky, but they can expose wrong doing such as in The Battery People, or the deliberate dosing of chocolates with drugs, as in The Devil's Sweets, but the harm has already been done.

The fictional Doomwatch department is a section of the Ministry for National Security. It's official title is the Department for Measurement and Scientific Work. It was created by the re-elected government but the Minister in charge, for at least the first episode, finds them a nuisance and a hindrance and keeps them ill informed. Some approve of Doomwatch, others do not like the interference, and thus the team are sometimes regarded as professional nuisances, busy-bodies or at best, pests. Big business, the armed forces, government, each can fall foul of Doomwatch. They are effective – but there is only so much they can do. They are still outsiders, can only recommend and very rarely enforce. Problems don't go away simply because Doomwatch get involved.

Spearheading the line up is the haunted and dedicated Doctor Spencer Quist (a name apparently from an Australian tennis player), and he knows only too well where Pedler is coming from. He is the voice of the concerned, political scientist. He was one of the mathematicians who helped create the atomic bomb, a Nobel Prize winner, and a widower, and his office is adorned with three stills from an atomic blast. Lest we forget. Once he sees a case that needs Doomwatch attention, there is no stopping him. He is a moral crusader and is not afraid.

Doctor John Ridge, a chemist, is an ex-MI6 man who provides the espionage angle when needed – sometimes having to break into the Minister's own office for information denied to the Doomwatch team. He is flirtatious and a womaniser – not an uncommon characteristics in a late 1960s, early 1970s programme. ITV's Special Branch had a very similar character played by Derren Nesbitt, down wearing the latest fashions. Ridge provides the internal antagonism to Quist's more careful approach and, although respecting his boss greatly, is more impatient and emotional.

Completing the line up is Toby Wren, a young physicist who is a calmer, more analytical character who slightly disapproves of Ridge,especially when emotions cloud judgement, but is not immune to emotional outbursts himself where he sees injustice.

This is a very strong, core team, backed up by Colin Bradley, the nuts and bolts lab man in the Doomwatch offices, and Pat Hunnisett, the general secretary whose sole contribution seems to be either as a giggler or a coffee provider, but sometimes has the plot explained to her, and therefore, us!

The three characters formed the focus for each episode. Guest characters would not dominate the series as much as they would in later seasons. Each of the team is put into severe jeopardy at least once in the series: Ridge falls victim to the LSD type side effect of eating a poisoned lobster, seeing his black partner of the evening as a rather un-PC Negro warrior (oh dear, says modern sentiments); Quist, of course, gets touched by the red sky mania; Pat Hunnisett is a victim of the 'poisoned' chocolates reacting with her slimming tablets, whilst poor Toby Wren gets trapped in a melting aircraft, is affected by the nerve agent in Burial At Sea, gets fired in Train and de-Train, suspended as a security risk, and to top it all, gets blown up! Even Colin Bradley sees the disastrous consequences of a ruthless attempt to crush union dissent in his home town. We get to care about the team very much, and the three ombudsman feature in every episode.

As a production, it is a typical BBC drama of its time – video-taped in a studio with a few pre-filmed inserts. Film was something of a luxury in this first series and there were not that many dialogue scenes recorded outside of any great length. The visual effects department had a chance to show off, with variable results whether it would be exploding piers, melting planes, LSD type hallucinations (at least three of them!) or the rather unfortunate stuffed rat stitched onto trousers...

This first series was hugely popular. Toby Wren became something of a heart throb for some viewers who felt his death somewhat keenly – as did the Radio Times letters editor. The programme earned a reputation for the gift of prophecy, as dramatised incidents found echoes in real life – but this was hardly surprising as many of the ideas came from topical real life anyway! It became criticised for apparent sexism as at least three women were responsible directly or indirectly for disasters, and the occasional burst of horror (the corpse of a rat victim, for example) also caused complaints from post watershed viewers.

To put it bluntly, it was brilliant, and a second series was rapidly commissioned with the regulars being contracted by the end of April 1970, not even a fortnight after recording the first series had finished. But despite its huge success, there were problems at the top between the producer Terence Dudley on one side, and the creative team of Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. It would never be quite as effective again.


Season 1
Order of Studio Recording:

The Plastic Eaters on 30th November 1969 48 mins 10 seconds
Burial at Sea on 10th December 1969 49 mins 17 seconds
Tomorrow, the Rat on 20th December 1969 50 mins 1 second
Project Sahara on 20th January 1970 53 mins 35 seconds
Friday's Child on 10th January 1970 49 mins 28 seconds
The Devil's Sweets on 31st January 1970 49 mins


Transmissions began on 9th February 1970.

Re-Entry Forbidden on 11th February1970 50 mins
The Red Sky on Saturday 20th February 1970 50 mins 7 seconds
The Battery People on 6th March 1970 49 mins 10 seconds
Train and De-Train on 14th March 1970 49 mins 44 seconds
Spectre at the Feast on 25th March 1970 49 mins 47 seconds
Hear No Evil on 4th April  1970 48 mins 5 seconds
Survival Code on 15th April 1970 49 mins 54 seconds


As well as co-writing The Plastic Eaters, Kit Pedler story lined Friday's Child (as The Patrick Experiment), Tomorrow, the Rat (as 'Ratus Sapiens? then as Tomorrow, the Rats), Project Sahara (as Check and Mate, scripted by Hugh Forbes, then NJ Crisp and then Gerry Davis), The Devil's Sweets, The Red Sky (as Operation Neptune), Train and De-Train, The Battery People, and Survival Code. (Source: In Vision: Season Nineteen special). Hear No Evil was originally called The Black Room. Pedler also provided story ideas for other stories not used, such as Darwin's Killers, scripted by Dennis Spooner, The Pacifiers, scripted by Jan Read, and A Condition of the Mind, by John Wiles, Other ideas will be held over for the second series such as The Iron Doctor and The Logicians.

Overview by Michael Seely


Elizabeth Cowley introduces Doomwatch – a fictional drama series frighteningly close to reality

The honeymoon of science is over - and married life is not so rosy

Doomwatch: Monday 9.40 BBC1 Colour

Fact: Nuclear powered space vehicles will be needed in order to reach the outer planets of the solar system. If one should crash, explode or leak during take-off, there could well be radioactive contamination on a vast scale.

Fact: In Asia there are seven rats to every Asian; in Europe the ratio is far less: one rat to every European. Rats are used in advanced experiments in genetics. An experiment which went wrong would produce a breed of killer rats.

Fact: One human being is born every second; mankind makes waste, waste pouring into our rivers at the rate of thirty gallons per person per day. In Britain, over five thousand miles of river are polluted. By the year 1990, we could be drastically short of clean water. Meanwhile on land, we are reducing green belts to deserts with our pesticides and agricultural policies.

Fact: Man is the most destructive species on Earth. And the irony is that it is often from his very genius for making a cleaner, fuller and faster life he destroys the balance of nature and perhaps will destroy himself!

Fact: Two thirds of this planet are covered by sea.An infinitely smaller fraction is arable land. Into the sea-on government authority - we are dumping chemical and atomic waste...in canisters which are known to corrode with time. On the land we are reducing green belts to deserts with our pesticides and defoliation techniques. Starvation on an unprecedented scale, has already begun.

These facts - and you have only top pick up a newspaper to find more - have been the private obsession for four years now of two men: Gerry Davis, the original script editor of Dr Who, and Dr Kit Pedler, Head of the Department of Anatomy at the Institute of Opthalmology in the University of London.

‘I started picking Kit’s brains for scientific advice during Dr Who’ said Davis, ‘and gradually began to find we thought alike about what was happening in the world. Without being aware of it, we were quietly cutting our own throats. We began to keep scrapbooks about each new, devastating hazard – we have literally thousands of examples now – and out of these scrapbooks, Doomwatch was born.

It’s the code-name of a government department set up to keep a private eye on the forms of research which can produce these types of hazard – and stop them from getting out of hand. ‘Our chief is an incorruptible scientist, Dr Quist (John Paul), who doesn’t give a damn for the inevitable political and big-business pressures put on him to make him soft-pedal his investigations. ‘While he and his team are observing the scientists in their work, MI6 are observing them. They’re a highly strung, highly independent team – and this doesn’t always go down well with the authorities. Quist is often in hot water – and he can be a bastard. But he has integrity – and he wins through. Usually.’

Said producer Terence Dudley: ‘In crude terms, Quist and his lot are the “goodies,” breaking their necks to save us from ourselves. But the “baddies” are not necessarily the scientists. Sometimes they’re the men who exploit science for their own ends. In an episode entitled ‘The Battery People,’ it’s a retired army officer who, though he is within his legal rights in rearing battery hens by ultra-efficient methods, quite knowingly allows the excreta of his hens – containing artificially added hormones – to be sold commercially as manure. The men who collect the manure absorb enough of a new hormone (Actimycin S) to make them impotent. Result: a staggering divorce rate in the local village! It’s frightening but scientifically plausible.’

‘Doomwatch isn’t set in the distant future,’ said Davis. ‘It’s next Tuesday if you like. In ‘Burial at Sea,’ we’ve got a famous pop group. They’re found flat out – drifting at sea in a luxury yacht. Of course the police pounce, looking for drugs. But what has actually crippled the kids is something far more sinister.’

The Doomwatch men weren’t keen to give away too many plots – and even less keen to talk about some of the extraordinary special effects the series demands. But what about this week, episode one ‘The Plastic Eaters’? ‘Well,’ said Davis, ‘what are you sitting on? A plastic-covered chair. What’s this ceiling lined with? Another type of plastic composition. And what are your squeezy soap containers and toothpaste tubes made of? Plastic. The world is awash with the stuff. ‘Now suppose science produced a plastic-eating agent to destroy plastic waste and stop it from clogging our rivers. And suppose some of the stuff was inadvertently carried onto an aircraft. And suppose it got loose…?’

As scientist behind the series, Dr Kit Pedler says, ‘I think the story closest to home is the one about heart transplants. ‘In that one we’ve moved into the field of producing animal hearts which cannot be rejected by human tissue. I know that may sound all right – but I can tell you there’s a horrifying twist in it.’

‘Look,’ said Davis, ‘the whole point about Doomwatch is simply this. The days when you and I marveled at the “miracles” of science – and writers made fortunes out of sci-fi – are over. We’ve grown up now – and we’re frightened. The findings of science are still marvelous, but now is the time to stop dreaming up science-fiction about them and write what we call “sci-fact.” The honeymoon of science is over That’s what Doomwatch is all about!’ 

The “facts” stated (above) all come from British newspaper stories that Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis had collected over a period of four years from 1966, from these newspaper cuttings of devastating hazards to mankind that the classic premise of scientific abuse and corporate greed, the BBCtv series DOOMWATCH used their watchdog team of experts to thwart doom and disaster. In 1970 this series was remarkably prescient featuring hot topics such as cloning and surveilance technology that still cause much debate today.


The five facts stated above appeared in the 7th to 13th February 1970 issue of British TV listings magazine 'Radio Times'. The new series was launched into controversy at once when in another case, Pedler claimed that "Noise - if applied continually on certain frequencies - can kill. It already has killed at the radar station at Fylingdales." At once, Pedler came under criticism from the authorities and by the issue of 26th February corrected the statement to say that microwave radiation had caused damage and with no reference to the RAF station the article named. This had been purely misquote by Elizabeth Cowley for the article.

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