Officially, DOOMWATCH was setup as an agency dedicated to preserving the world from dangers of unprincipled scientific research. Unofficially, it was meant as a Government agency set up with little power meant to stifle protests and secure (green) votes. However, the leader of DOOMWATCH, Doctor Spencer Quist and his team soon gave the agency some real power and people had to listen. Quist was also driven by guilt and the determination to put see that science was not being abused again ever since he had worked on the development of the H-
The first two seasons both consisted of thirteen episodes, and the third only twelve as one episode called Sex and Violence, intended as the fifth episode -
The leader of the department and the central character throughout the series was Doctor Spencer Quist, a dedicated, thoughtful character, who had been given the task of setting-
Prominent members of the team were Doctor John Ridge, played by the fabulous Simon Oates. Simon Oates was a familiar figure from a lot of British 70’s TV drama. He played Ridge as the macho dandy-
All three seasons of the original series were produced by Terence Dudley, who contributed several scripts himself and after DOOMWATCH, produced the original 1970’s version of the BBC science-fiction drama Survivors and in the early 1980’s he wrote and directed episodes of Doctor Who. Aside from Davis, Pedler and Dudley, several other well-known veterans of British television science-fiction productions such as Robert Holmes, Dennis Spooner and Louis Marks wrote for the series.
The series was created by the writing partnership of script editor Gerry Davis and qualified doctor and medical researcher Kit Pedler who was working at the Institute of Opthalmology at London University at the time. The pair had formed a friendship a few years earlier when they created the Cybermen for Doctor Who. The ‘seventies saw the rise of ecological groups like Friends Of The Earth and Greenpeace, so it really should have been no surprise that a writing partnership that consisted of a scientist and an ex-Doctor Who script editor should dream up DOOMWATCH. Eighteen years before Friends Of The Earth produced the documentary series Battle For The Planet, Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis had taken on the mantle of doom-mongers.
The two men hit it off from the start and quickly discovered that they shared many of the same interests. Both were concerned for the welfare of the world’s ecology. “We thought alike about what was happening to the world” said Davis. Pedler was predominantly an ideas man and he was happy for his scripts to be worked on by Gerry Davis. During the meetings Kit would come back from his scientific conferences and say “Do you realise what’s happening?” and tell Gerry Davis about dreadful ecological disasters that had been hushed up. DOOMWATCH was specifically designed to induce displeasure in its audience; it took on environmental issues and projected them into extremely discomforting and horrifying near future. It was the first in a growing line of futuristic science-fiction dramas set ‘20 minutes into the future’.
Pedler provided thoughts on more than a dozen areas of science and technology which concerned him, which he and Davis developed into outlines that were generally passed onto other writers for scripting (with one concept, about hospital automation, passing through the hands of no fewer than three separate writers who each started from scratch before reaching the screen). Among the writers whose work was shown were Doctor Who stalwarts Louis Marks, Dennis Spooner, Brian Hayles and Robert Holmes, while the series’s producer Terence Dudley would later take the same role on the original BBC version of Terry Nation’s Survivors.
Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis felt that plots should be drawn from real events with the emphasis on scientific fact rather than science fiction. So, on the lookout for ideas for featuring deranged scientists, unhinged inventors, profit driven scientific wrongdoing and slippery politicians, both men started to keep scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings on possible DOOMWATCH subjects. They had collected "literally thousands of examples", claimed Davis. During one of their regular creative sessions Pedler posed the seemingly simple question “What happens when technology fails?” The ensuing discussion sparked off the idea for a television series about a team of government scientists responsible for watching over new research and investigating technology and environmental abuse. According to Gerry Davis these environmental hazards were “slowly cutting our throats”. DOOMWATCH would fight back with scientific sanity pointing out that the methods of progress should serve humanity and not vice versa.
The series was offered to Terence Dudley, a seasoned BBC producer and writer, who was terribly excited at the format he was given and was down to production with Pedler and Davis within a week. Pedler, then in his early 40s, had been contacted in 1966 by Gerry Davis to help him give the new serials for DOCTOR WHO some scientific credence, and together they concocted the idea of the Post Office Tower taking over London which became The War Machines and then developed the Cybermen over three serials together: The Tenth Planet, The Moonbase and The Tomb of the Cybermen. Davis left the series to story edit THE FIRST LADY and Pedler continued to submit ideas for Cybermen stories to DOCTOR WHO for other writers to complete.
An initial problem was that the series title was too downbeat and the Head of Serials felt that the word 'DOOM' would be lethal for the show.
Various titles were suggested for the show and for a while it was to have been called Earth Force. However, when the name DOOMWATCH was suggested by Terrence Dudley, its sinister overtones seemed more in keeping with the programme premise Davis and Pedler had in mind and the name stuck. The choice proved to be a judicious one - the word gained an entry in the Oxford English Dictionary - DOOMWATCH: Observation to prevent destruction of the environment.
The show's format was registered with the BBC in July 1968 with the serious work of developing characters and plots underway before the end of the year. The series was put into studio just before Christmas 1969, with the first episode - “The Plastic Eaters” - screening the follow February.
With a highly effective and memorable opening title sequence, each episode began with a pre-credit to hook the viewer into the intial action, and it was extremely unusual for any BBC videotaped drama to have a teaser scene, a sign that it was influenced by the highly effective ITC film series. The titles begin with footage of nuclear test explosions and then the music launches into a heavy, pounding drum beat which backed shots of static, more explosions and the words 'WATCH' and 'DOOM' being flashed on the screen, before the two finally come together as 'DOOMWATCH', flashing white from purple on a black background in time to Max Harris' theme tune. The new show was fortunate enough to bemade in colour in line with the BBC’s switch from Black and White transmission to Colour in 1970. The show was given a decent BBC budget.
The attitude taken by the series was nothing but revolutionary. Questioning technological advances of science that had until that point been presented as the universal benefactor and life enhancer. The predicted “leisure society” view of the future in which machines and technology free people from mundane chores had been a major part of the House of Commons during the 60’s. This never actually happened though, but any criticism was seen as Luddite-Ism. In this respect DOOMWATCH had dared to publicly disagree. “Look,” said Davis (in an issue of the Radio Times) “the whole point about DOOMWATCH is simply this. The days when you and I marvelled at the mirracles of science are over. We’ve grown up now and we’re frightened.”
A Radio Times covered launching the first series, expressed this perspective succinctly. “Man’s greatest dangers may develop from his own discoveries. Suppose there should be a backlash in the advance of science. Who would know? Who would have the ability to protect us?”
In a Monday evening slot the programme aimed to “Discomfort, shock and provoke”. The high-profile launch had paid off with generally positive reviews and healthy viewing figures. Within a matter of weeks the programme was a popular topic of conversation amongst a massive audience who were enthralled with the mix of scientific elements, drama and prophecy.
The cast and characters of the programme were carefully crafted by the Pedler, Davis and Dudley. The lead in the series was given to actor John Paul.
As the director of the highly qualified group DOOMWATCH, is Nobel Prize winner and ex-nuclear physicist he Doctor Spencer Quist, a man without whose mathematics the Americans would not have had the atom bomb.
Quist's prominent men in the field were Doctor John Ridge and Tobias Wren. For the first season the major part of the stories would revolve around these three characters.
Quist is the name Gerry Davis would gleefully point out was the brand name of a tennis ball which presumably was taken from the Australian tennis player Adrian Karl Quist. Quist has a short temper with people he doesn’t see eye to eye with and he gave many fantastic eyebrow raising moments throughout the programme.
The incorruptible Quist was played very straight by John Paul, an actor established in drama from the days of PROBATION OFFICER and EMERGENCY: WARD TEN playing RSO Hughes. To add a layer of realism to the show Quist was always under pressure at from government and its officials (Sir George Holroyd) and big business concerns, Quist never allows them to interfere with his investigations.
In many ways Quist and his team are the 'Government backed good guys' who are trying to save humanity from itself. When the series starts Quist is a brooding and dedicated widower, his wife having died from exposure to atomic radiation when she worked with him during the second world war, and for which he blames himself.
Ridge was a very dandified character (not unlike Gerry Davis at that time), passionate about his work he also rallied against conformity by wore the latest fashions and loud shirts, drove a cream Lotus Elan +2, had an eye for the ladies, slapped the bottom of many secretaries, preferred action instead of words and always had a quip on standby. He was described in one newspaper as “loud-mouthed and trendy”.
In the season opener, “The Plastic Eaters”, it is clear that he has had a background in espionage and is seen very early on photographing secret papers in the office of the Minister in charge of DOOMWATCH, and then later using his skills to break into the Beeston germ warfare centre. A highly likeable chap, he was dedicated to his work but often in conflict with Quist as to the methods of achieving their aims.
Arthur Charles Oates (Simon Oates) was an ex-Army boxing champion, played Ridge, and had already had a varied career as a stand-up comic doing the pubs and clubs under the name of 'Charlie Barnett, the Cockney Comedian', a compère on a Rolling Stones tour and making several guest appearances on shows such as THE AVENGERS as well as appearing in Dorothy Squires’s London Palladium show.
It is interesting to note that one of his earlier roles as a main character was THE MASK OF JANUS a thriller series from the BBC in late 1965 where he played espionage operative Anthony Kelly. Almost at once the series was revived in January 1966 as THE SPIES, with Oates in the same role. With both series produced by Terence Dudley, it is interesting that Oates was selected to play yet again a character with an espionage background. Between the second and third seasons of DOOMWATCH, Oates also played the part of Steed in the stage play version of THE AVENGERS with Kate O'Mara. His success in DOOMWATCH led him to be one of a number of actors considered for the part of James Bond in “Diamonds Are Forever” in 1972. Simon Oates is contracted on 8th October 1969. A minimum of ten and a maximum of 13 between 2nd November 1969 and 2nd May 1970. Ten days rehearsal in a thirteen day period preceding each performance day. Fee: £210. An option is made of 13 more episodes between august 1970 and March 1971 at a special high of £250. Special activity: to drive a car.
Toby Wren known to all as Toby, was a new recruit to DOOMWATCH in its opening episode and came over as a caring , idealistic young man, always eager to help and not as sure of himself or as loud as Ridge, but nonetheless truly dedicated. He became the most beloved character in the initial season and was played by Robert Powell, a virtually unknown actor who had small parts in films like THE ITALIAN JOB but is today considered to be one of our finest actors. Fame was established when he played the title role of JESUS OF NAZARETH in 1977 and his portrayal of Richard Hannay in the third film version of THE THIRTY-NINE STEPS lead to him reprising the part in Thames Television's HANNAY in 1988. Robert Powell is contracted on 2nd October 1969 for a minimum of ten episodes and a maximum of thirteen between 2nd November 1969 and 2nd May 1970. He is not offered an option for a second series. With a special activity to drive a car!
Making up the rest of the regular cast were Joby Blanshard as Colin Bradley and Wendy Hall as Pat Hunnisett. Bradley, or 'Brad', was always at work in DOOMWATCH offices, analyzing some substance or rigging up an experiment or complaining about problems with the DOOMWATCH computer, one of the most recent digital/analogue hybrids. One factor of making the episodes look dated is seeing Bradley doing complex calculations on a mechanical adding machine as opposed to a calculator, and at the time the episode Friday's Child was criticized for showing antiquated pieces of equipment in Dr Patrick's lab. Bradley seldom appeared without wearing his white lab coat and with his forthrightness and blunt Northern accent he lasted all three seasons and proved an excellent anchor man. On finding a new form of pollution, Quist would return to the offices where he would confidently hand it over to Brad, who, within the hour, would cheerfully provide all the required information. Joby Blanshard had been a character actor for several years, with appearances in episodes of THE AVENGERS and ADAM ADAMANT LIVES!. Joby Blanshard is contracted on 2nd October 1969 for a minimum of nine and a maximum of thirteen episodes between 17th November 1969 and 2nd May 1970. He is optioned for a second series for the same number of episodes. With a special activity to drive a car!
Another relative unknown, Wendy Hall, was selected to play Pat Hunnisett, the highly attractive secretary to the group whose function at times seemed merely to wear trendy clothes and to tease Ridge. Even the press releases said she was “Guaranteed to brighten any environment!” Pat was the least significantly active member of the team being stereotypically blonde and wearing mini skirts in the office. She did not appear in each episode, and had little of significance to do apart from the episode The Devil's Sweets in which she almost dies from a combination of a give away sweet containing a stimulating drug and slimming pills. At one point, Ridge believes that she has died and almost extracts revenge on those responsible. The format of not all the cast being regulars became an increasing aspect of later seasons, making it difficult to say exactly who did and didn't work for DOOMWATCH.
Wendy Hall and Elizabeth Weaver are both on record as complaining that they were very much token women, were there to add a touch of glamour to attract an extra bit of interest from the press and public. Even the male members of the team were not without their faults. Quist was always a little too relentless in his quest for restraint and his character never once faltered, no matter what situation he was presented with. Funnily enough Ridge was very trendy for a government scientist, with one newspaper amusingly referring to DOOMWATCH features a variety of hard edged characters. Female cast members were still suffering sexism throughout the as “The Carnaby Street Crusaders!”
However, the regular cast always put in solid, dependable polished performances despite the requirement to do scenes in as little time as possible, often leading to one take segments and mistakes still left in the final episodes. (There is a very obvious scene in “Train and DeTrain” where a camera bumps into the set while zooming in on Toby Wren). Mistakes were part of the course as with many shows broadcast at that time due to the costs involved of remounting and editing scenes. The main cast was popular with the viewers and despite Ridge’s loud shirts and James Bond style action and wisecracks, the young Toby became the heart-throb of the show. Quist and Ridge appealed to the audience with there typical British underdog attitudes.
The series was announced in October 1969 when initial location shooting for the first episode in production, the pilot The Plastic Eaters took place.
The show was made on colour videotape with filmed inserts, since with its spring 1970 premiere, it would be in the first season of wholly colour series to be shown on BBC1.
The series was given a notable launch with the aforementioned article in the ' Radio Times' which also sported a cover relating to its new series of a melted plastic aircraft model in a leather briefcase - a photograph later used by Pan Books as the cover to Pedler and Davis' first novel, 'Mutant 59: The Plastic Eater' which used ideas and situations from the pilot episode. It was made quite clear that many of the ideas that would turn up in the series were terrifyingly close to being fact, and indeed Davis coined the term "sci-fact". The fear element was substantially conveyed by the feeling that of what was being shown, a lot could of, had of, or might indeed happen. The series dealt with topical issues. Test tube babies is one example that now is taken for granted, but in the early 70’s was a hot topic of debate on an issue that wasn’t fully understood. The implied actions of genetic engineering, toxic waste disposal, computer intelligence and monitoring were all provocative subjects which often would run in conjunction with newspaper reports. Gerry Davis is on record on the first series, commenting “It suddenly rocketed, but it had been very carefully conceived over a long time and they (the BBC) very quickly wanted a second series”. He also added “Kit and I were besieged by book and film offers and after working off my BBC contract on ‘Softly, Softly’ I left to go freelance”.
It was Kit Pedler who proudly boasted that more often than not DOOMWATCH hit the scientific bullseye of accurate prophecy.
The Environmental science used throughout DOOMWATCH led to Doctor Kit Pedler working in environmental consultancy for various industries concentrating on reducing waste and energy used, years ahead of European Regulations would impose them. Kit Pedler featured in a 1975 edition of the documentary series “Man Alive” using his knowledge of nuclear waste. His work on environmental science would lead Pedler to pen the book “The Quest fo Gaia” which would claim that “Heat was the ultimate pollutant” Its quite amusing to note that Kit claimed he rid himself of a bath and would only take showers in order to save energy. Where in fact the reverse was true, Kit apparently loved a good bath! When he died he owned seven cars, believe it or not! Kit Pedler cared passionately for the natural environment of man. He once said in an interview, “the thing that really frightens me about London is the fact that from here for miles and miles it’s all ground, not land, and that every bit of soil is covered up”. He fell out with his producers in the end because he seemed always to want to write about just one particular subject.“DOOMWATCH” would inevitably take off into areas which Kit wasn’t really very interested in.
Next Week in the Radio Times...
The Plastic Eaters
Man's greatest dangers may develop from his own discoveries. The public is becoming concerned about the hazards implicit in technological and scientiﬁc development. To allay their fears, the government has set up a department to watch and control advances’ in science: The Department for the Observation and Measurement of Science, code name: Doomwatch. This is the ﬁctional background to a new series next Monday on BBC1.
In the ﬁrst episode a man-made virus with the power to melt all plastic becomes as infectious as the common cold. It is the job of Doomwatch, headed by Dr Quist, to halt the disastrous melting.
In RADIO TIMES Elizabeth Cowley writes about this series which is both exciting and fearful in its closeness to reality.
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