A bomber from RAF Manston has gone missing. The RAF Operations Room is bustling with personnel trying to locate the craft last detected fifty miles off the Isle of Wright. Air Commodore Parks is discussing the situation with the Wing Commander, suggesting that the plane could be flying below radar range but a report comes in that the plane has crashed into the sea. Parks gives orders for three scrambled telephone lines to be opened: one to the Cabinet room, another to the Ministry of Defence, and one to Doomwatch.
Quist brings Ridge and Wren up to date on the significance of the crash. Somewhere off the south coast are a cluster of three hydrogen bombs, Polaron mark twos. And no one knows where they are. As Quist says, 'It's Palomares all over again.'
An object drops into the sea near a South-coast pier. To Sam and Geoff it appears to be a weather-detecting device. They start to dismantle it. What the object is, however, is something very, very different...
Early the next morning, at about seven, a young man called Geoff Harker is dozing at the end of a pier at a place called Byfield Regis in Sussex. He is hurriedly woken by his wife, Toni, who had brought him some coffee and sandwiches but saw that his fishing line had become entangled in a sinister looking object coming closer and closer to the supporting timbers of the pier. As far as they can tell, it's an old world war two mine. Scared, she wants to get the police but Geoff sends her off to get her father instead whilst he climbs down below and keep the mine from hitting the pier. His efforts are mocked by his father-in-law, Sam Billings who had "seen more mines than you've had hot dinners. That's no mine.' Sam is all for bringing the object up to the workshop before the pier inspector calls round. Geoff is interested in the value of the object and agrees despite Toni's fears. As the men get to grips with the device, neither of them spot the international radiation hazard sign underneath...
Billings is more worried about one of his arcade games not working properly, and that his daughter has forgotten the toast and dripping with his tea rather than his son in law's efforts in getting the object from the sea and into the arcade's workshop! As the two men tuck into their snack, Toni is still concerned about their prize. As far as Sam is concerned, they've got a collection of nice spare parts with which to repair his machines. Geoff agrees. 'Just a couple of screws and a shred of plastic - that's all you'll see, by the time your old man's finished with it.'
The Operations Room is getting crowded with Ridge and Wren joining the fray along with the Minister and Commander Sefton from the Royal Navy. Quist has never felt so useless in his entire life. As he stomps over to study a map which has had new markers placed onto it by a WAAF girl, Wren and Ridge discuss Quist's reaction. Wren, frankly is as terrified as his boss but Ridge gets to what he feels is the root cause of his anxiety. 'Ever since Los Alamos he's almost been waiting for death. This one didn't land in the sea - it landed smack inside his head and it's hurting.' Every single case they have been into recently was someone else's brain child, allowing Quist to wag his moral finger at them. 'Now he's staring straight into the mirror, and don't think that the Air Commodore hasn't picked it up.'
Quist takes up his fear that the bombs may have been damaged and that shipping should be warned of the risk of radioactive intake by fish and the contamination of the shore. Parks is aware of how insecure any restricted broadcast to shipping would be, and the panic that would spread amongst the public. Sefton says that there is no evidence of any damage and the Minister is satisfied with the assurances that there could be no nuclear explosion, but Quist maintains the risk of conventional explosion to be considerable. Despite Parks suggestion that Quist is prejudiced, Commander Sefton sees the Doctor's point. But the Minister is assured that there is no cause for alarm and is confident in the recovery operation's success and wants no release of information. Good news reaches the Operation Room after the Minister leaves: the Aluminaut has picked up the marker signal and should locate the warhead containing the three bombs within five hours. 'Nothing like a full scale test to improve safety, wouldn't you say, Dr. Quist?'
Geoff is busy stripping away the plastic surround from the object whilst Toni is washing up, listening on the news for anything about what they may have found. Her father is convinced all they have is a weather satellite, something disposable that the authorities would just chuck away again if they got it back. As far as he, a probable tax payer is concerned, it's a backhander. The radiation symbol means nothing to them, '...some weather mark, I expect. Y'know, like the broad arrow your Geoff nearly ended up with.' And the light that has suddenly come on just means it's working. Sam is excited about getting the panel off. 'Should be some good stuff inside...'
Geoff tries to get the machine working by giving it some electric power from a 12 volt battery. Toni is still terrified of the object as a lower panel containing counter numerals begins to move... She wakes up her dad and demands the machine be switched off. She knows both the men think that this may be a bomb now, and since her dad hasn't seen one since the day the war ended, things must have changed. The numbers in the panel have reached down to 4700. Sam reluctantly agrees but is eager to break the machine apart further. Toni wants to go to the police and report it but with Geoff still on probation and convinced that the law is after any excuse to lock him up. Breaking up the machine would just be the opportunity they want!. Toni is distraught and has to be comforted. But Sam has the solution - remove the planks from the floor and shove the machine back into the sea...
Quist is pacing the Operations Room, determined to stay and wait for developments. Ridge and Wren much prefer to go back to London. 'There's nothing for us to do.' Ridge, eyeing "a bird" (as the script puts it) wouldn't say that but Quist is adamant. 'Don't you think you're over-compensating?' challenges Ridge. Quist demands to know what he means. Wren urges Ridge to drop it but Ridge ploughs on. 'You can't forget Los Alamos, can you - because you made the first bomb all the others are your responsibility. We are doing a job, not running a pyschotherapy unit.' Quist asks him if he has any idea what it means to destroy people in this way and Ridge counters that he does - at first hand - face to face. 'Bombs are clinical - they're only ash afterwards.' Ridge then shocks Wren by bringing up the memory of Quist's late wife, Helena, who worked on it too, and died. 'You bastard!' Wren notices Parks is watching, and who takes advantage in telling Quist that there is no point in waiting. He will be notified. Quist leaves.
By 5:30pm t is starting to get dark, and on the pier Sam is working on his arcade games and Toni has returned from some shopping. They presume Geoff is still working on the machine in the workshop but when they find him he is asleep in an armchair and wakes up in pain. He dismisses it as a stomach ache and blames her cooking. But the pain gets worse and he can't walk properly. He thinks a few pints down at the pub would sort it out and takes Sam with him. Toni stays behind to put some make up on but turns to the same newspaper with Quist's face on the cover that we saw earlier... She makes a decision.
Quist sits alone in his office as night falls, full of deep thoughts, anxiously waiting for the phone to ring. Bradley is about to go home but offers Quist some company which he declines. The phone rings. It is Toni calling from a phone box, telling him that she saw the article in the paper earlier today. Quist tries to put her off, explaining that he did not co-operate with the article and that they deal in scientific research. He softens when he hears her distraught nature. She needs his help. She explains that they have found what he dad thinks is a space weather satellite and her husband is ill, and they can't go to the police. Quist asks her to describe her find to him...
Back in the Operations Room, Parks and Sefton are reviewing the data of the flight corridor when Quist telephones through and tells the Wing Commander about the report of an unidentified object found in Byfield Regis and that he has sent Ridge and Wren down to look at it. Parks does not want to speak to Quist and resumes discussions with Sefton over the map of the search range. The Wing Commander relays the message to the increasingly irritable Parks. 'I wish I'd been on his Appointments Committee...'
Wren is not pleased to be back at the Doomwatch office at 7:30 pm despite Pat Hunisett's tea and biscuits. Ridge and Bradley are there as well, waiting to be briefed. Ridge hopes that Quist hasn't interrupted his night life just to tell them the Navy have raised the weapon... Quist tells Wren and Ridge to go down to Byfield Regis which was in a direct line with the flight path of the bomber - and that someone has found something. Wren and Ridge are sceptical. The warhead had been located earlier, but Quist demonstrates how the three nuclear bombs were designed to eject from the nose cone and spread around the target area. It's quite possible that the breaking up of the aircraft damaged the support frame holding the bombs together. It may be a waste of time, but they are going to go down there and follow up every lead.
It's now 9:30 and Geoff is very ill and refuses to go to bed. Even Sam agrees he looks ill. As Doomwatch arrive at the foot of the peir, Toni breaks the news that she called them in leading to a general panic amongst the men! Sending her daughter into the back to cover up the mine, Sam attempts to hold off Ridge and Wren Geoff emerges carrying a spanner and stands in front of Ridge. Sam says that whatever was found is back in the drink. Wren explains that they are from Doomwatch investigating a report of scientific flotsam. Sam is relieved, fearing they were a heavy mob of criminals on the fiddle. He dismisses his daughter's fears as a bit of imagination. all they found was an old steam boiler, bits and pieces... Suspicious, Ridge wants to talk to Toni but Sam refuses and Geoff gets angry, demanding a warrant. Sam tries to stop Ridge going through into the workshop and grabs his lapel.. Ridge looks down. 'You must be joking!' Wren suggests getting in the police and Sam thinks that's a good idea! 'You're the one who's going to get nicked mate, not us.'
By now the seriousness of the situation is apparent. The Minister is made aware by Parks that the bombs have indeed scattered. Sefton thinks they must be on the sea bed. Parks hopes to have a positive report by three in the morning.
Ridge telephones Quist about the problems they are facing. Quist asks if the husband is showing signs of radiation poisoning. Ridge can't say. Geoff seemed to be sweating a little. Quist comes to a decision: they had better investigate further themselves. 'There is nothing Parks would enjoy more than to have Doomwatch haul down his boys to investigate an empty oil drum.'
Geoff is now seriously ill. With his father and wife, they are dragging the bomb over to a gap made in the floorboards. Sam is panicking, he wants the object out of his arcade before Doomwatch come back. They have seen nothing; As they manoeuvre it over the hole, Sam unknowingly starts the timer again... Geoff is too weak to hold onto the bomb as they try to shove it into the sea. It falls and becomes wedged amongst the platform supports of the pier. As Geoff collapses, Quist appears.
Parks is embarrassed to report that the Aluminaut has found two of the warheads but the third bomb is missing. Sefton tries to assure the Minister that it can't be far away. The Minister remembers the assurance he gave to Quist. Parks hides his true concern...
Toby Wren has a rope tied around him as he clambers down into the pier supports, held by Quist and Ridge. He is handed an inspection lamp and has some difficulty in finding it but when he does, starts to describe to Quist, amongst the roar of the ocean below, what he sees... a black metal shell, 2 control panels, one open amd can just about read 'Target programme...' Quist calls him back up as he is asked what it really is by Quist by Sam. 'You appear to have a one megaton warhead down there - a hydrogen bomb.' But he reassures them that the chances of it exploding is negligible. That is until Wren reports the damage on the side. Quist is now more worried about the 32 kilos of high explosive down there. If it's damaged, that could go up. 'Lovely!' says Ridge.
If the fusion core is damaged, there will be radiation from the lithium. Toni realises that is why Geoff is ill... Geoff is frightened. Quist tells Ridge to get through to Parks and put him in the picture. Conventional explosion, yes. Nuclear explosion no. The police are to seal the pier off. He is relieved that the decision to evacuate is not his to make. He also sends the Harkers to the hospital and get Geoff treated. As they leave, Quist questions Sam about what they did to the bomb...
Parks is shocked by Ridge's news. He tells him that the RAF's technicians will be down there in 45 minutes. No action is to be taken by Quist. Ridge agrees.
Sam explains that Geoff used a 12 volt battery to try to get the machine working. Sam remembers hearing a clicking noise from the bomb. Quist tells Toby to go down again. Because of the position of the bomb, Wren uses Toni's hand mirror to see the control panel. Quist's nightmare is coming true. The numbers are moving... Quist turns to Sam. 'What did he do?' Sam is scared stiff by Quist's power and explains that Geoff 'squirted in a few volts...' Quist takes a few seconds to recover his composure and directs Wren below to look for a power pack switch and turn it off. The switch is broken. Some of the lights are broken but one is on. The countdown has reached 1500. Quist calculates that they have twenty five minutes before either a conventional explosion or the full nuclear holocaust.
In his precarious position amongst the timbers, Wren backs away as much as he can, numb with fear. Sam, too, is cracking, demanding to know why Quist doesn't know what's going to happen! 'You scientists are supposed to know about them things...' He is told sharply that it doesn't really matter which it will be for them... Quist calls down to Wren that they've got to get inside it but Toby just can't reply.
Back at the Doomwatch office, Pat wakes up from a nightmare. She tells Bradley that she dreamt that it went off - and it killed Dr Quist - and John and Toby. Bradley gives her some coffee. 'If it went off, we'd know about it as soon as they would. Or not know about it, as the case may be.'
As Ridge telephones the office, from the shore end of the pier, the police arrive with the pier inspector Leo White, more concerned about tomorrow's bingo. Superintendent Charles explains that he has had high level notification to clear the pier at once. Ridge begins to argue as Sam bursts in terrified.
Parks is updated on the situation and tells the waiting Minister. 'It's armed and it's going.' He prepares to fly down to Byfield Regis, and does not answer if there is time...
Quist is now amongst the timber frames of the pier, facing the bomb, the inspection lamp his only light. Ridge is watching. The geiger counter they have brought with them goes crazy... Wren returns with the information. Four colour coded detonators, the cables to each one is armoured leading into the arming unit Quist is about to begin when his foot slips and he breaks his arm. He yells. Wren and Ridge pull him back up. Nearly fainting in pain, Quist's hand is bleeding. Ridge attends to him. Quist refuses to move to the end of the pier despite Ridge's pleading. There is only seven minutes to go.
|Robert Powell in Sam's Arcade - Survival Code|
As White bandages up Quist, Parks arrives with two suited technicians carrying equipment. He sends them to work. Ridge consults his watch. 180 seconds to go...
Wren is carrying on with his work, he is finding reversing his movements for the mirror frustrating, and his hand is being cut to shreds by the sharp edges of the cavity.
95 seconds, says Ridge, the tension unbearable...
Wren is dealing with the last fuse line. He cuts it and the countdown is reset to zero. The relief is enormous, the tension dissipating. 'He is half laughing, half crying...' He carelessly balances the cutters on a timber.
A recovered Quist is also clock watching: 60 seconds to go...
The suited men arrive in the workshop and call to Wren that they will take over, but he assures them he's done it. He knocks off the cutters into the sea. As he pulls out the fourth detonator, his relief turns to horror. 'There's another wire!' The technician tells him not to pull it, follow it back to the terminal. Wren has to be told twice. As he feels his way along the wire to the detonator, staring into the mirror, a trip switch is thrown and another smaller countdown begins...
'Thank God, he's done it,' says Quist as a blinding light is followed by a huge explosion. The end of the pier is destroyed, and the blast shatters the windows and hurls Quist, Ridge and Parks onto the floor. Seagulls shriek.
Recovering, Quist stares out of the window, Ridge behind him.. Parks has the last words. 'My God, when will you people learn not to interfere?'
NOTE: Since this synopsis is adapted from the script, and since the last few minutes survive as the pre-credits teaser of You Killed Toby Wren, there are minute but significant variants to what was scripted, and what was recorded. Such is the benefit of a ten day rehearsal period and a superb director.
Episode Synopsis by Michael Seely (27th June 2010)
This is based on the Palomares incident of 1966, where a mid-air collision between a plane carrying bombs and a refuelling plane. Two of the bombs exploded on the ground – conventional explosion – but spread plutonium contamination. The other two bombs were recovered out to sea. In 1968, another plane caught fire and ditched off the coast of Greenland, Again, conventional explosives were set off and contaminated the area. Three of the bombs were recovered. The remains of the fourth is rumoured to still be out there. These flights with nuclear weapons were part of Operation Chrome Dome. This ensured that at any given time, there were always nuclear weapons in the air ready for use...
So when it happens on Quist's watch – the idea of a conventional explosion irradiating the area was not an exaggerated threat. It has happened in real life. The only difference here in this fiction was that it happens on our door step, and the decision to cover up the crash leads to the disaster becoming worse. Davis and Pedler have the bomb ripped into, power squirted into it, and radioactive material leaks. For all Quist knew, it could well have been the full holocaust!
Before this was known, Quist is quite right to be concerned about the possibility of bomb damage and radioactive leakage. Dropped bombs have exploded and spread radioactive material over large areas. Parks and the Minister may think that they have learned from Palomares (and there were two incidents before that) and trust in the fail safes (as Doctor Warren would have done in You Killed Toby Wren) but each incident can create a new factor.
Thus the other major factor in the episode is the clash of experts. A Minister has to rely on advice. The advice of Air Commodore Parks is to relax and leave it to the experts. Not bad advice, but he refuses to countenance any possible theories or expect the unexpected. This is mainly down to his bias against Quist, a man who encourages disloyalty. Was the defoliant a whistle blower from the RAF revealed the same one Quist was studying in Project Sahara the one Parks refers to? Probably not, since the incident Parks mentions was six weeks previous. He is the main protagonist in the episode. Only Sefton, representing the Royal Navy is prepared to listen to Quist and accept his point, but Parks points out that is because his service hasn't been 'done over' by Doomwatch.
Ridge is also prepared to leave it to the services to get on with. The antagonism he has with Quist which occasionally surfaces explodes in the Operation Room when Ridge accuses Quist of over-compensating over his part in the Manhattan Project – building the first atomic bomb. Even Wren feels useless.
This is a highly charged script which one can only wish we could see how it was shot. The last couple of minutes which survive show atmosphere, and tension, the like of which we would never see again in Doomwatch. Nothing, except a few clips survive from Hugh David's ten Doctor Who episodes but the telesnaps and clips show an enormously visual and atmospheric director. Perfect casting. The acting would have been heightened to match the script.
There's nothing like a good countdown in a drama! As viewers, we know all too well that what Sam Billings and Geoff Harker have found is a nuclear bomb, not some weather satellite they can break up for parts. We can wince when Geoff plugs in a battery to get the thing going. We can only shake our heads when in their panic at being found out by Ridge and Wren they shove the thing back into the sea – only for it to be wedged in the supporting structure of the pier beneath! And then when Quist, almost satisfied to have found the bomb realises it is twenty five minutes from explosion... Well... Then he breaks his arm and Wren goes down there for a second time having been struck dumb with fear that first time... And then he thinks he's done it, cut away all the wires from the four detonators and jettisoned and then finds there is still one more wire to the last one... And we all know what happened next. Pat Hunnisett has a prophetic dream of the bomb exploding killing the three of them. It's her last scene too.
What is not made clear is precisely what is Wren throwing into the sea. Explosive charges? The detonators it says in the script. So did the explosion irradiate the area after all?
The drama in this episode is played out by events, to a countdown and not raised voices over a series of desks, dinner tables or arm chairs. There are no debates about morality, ethics and so forth. It's just very, very real.
The script is split into two sections. All the scenes set underneath the pier were recorded after the main part of the episode. In the camera script for the second there is more dialogue, and obvious camera directions. In the first section, all the action set underneath the pier is there and reads like a rehearsal script. Pedler and Davis suggest the sound of the waves is played down as Toby begins cutting the wires, and all we hear is the exaggerated sound of the snip of a wire plays over.
When you read a script cold, you very rarely invest the dialogue with too much emotion. So thus when Parks relays in You Killed Toby Wren that he thought Quist and Ridge would come to blows makes you realise how short an exchange in Survival Code must have been played up and directed with very high emotion. We also learn that Parks was amused by Ridge's phone call, something not apparent in the script..
The final shot of the evening, after the titles had been recorded, was of the zoom into the final countdown which is cut into Toby Wren's final moments.
The death of Toby Wren received the highest number of letters the Radio Times had ever received on one subject.
Review by Michael Seely
There was public outcry when the episode was aired since Toby Wren had been by far the show's most popular character. It was an unusual and innovative move to kill off such a leading character, though Robert Powell had never intended to do more than one season of thirteen episodes. During mid-April, the series was accused of being anti-feminist what with Miss Wills in The Plastic Eaters being a vital link in the disaster, Dr Bryant letting the rats escape in Tomorrow, the Rat and Dr Robson, a female biologist, being a security risk in Project Sahara. To redress the balance, Dudley announced that in the new season of DOOMWATCH that was planned, a woman scientist would join the team. Pedler and Davis found themselves called to meet a government minister with a view to setting up a real DOOMWATCH, and within months a research team at Bristol University made the concept a reality. In May it was announced that the series, starring John Paul and Simon Oates, would return in the autumn and the theme music would be released on a single. Neither statement was true.
A BBC special effects showreel exists with behind the scenes footage from the final reels of this missing episode. Here are some stills from this footage.
The studio for this may be the Puppet Theatre inside BBC TV Centre.
Part of the pier model. Note the cardboard cut outs.
Visual Effects Assistant possibly Anna Braybrooke
VFX designer Michaeljohn Harris spraying varnish onto the model. This will help reflect the explosion.
The sea is simply thin black plastic blown about by a fan.
Harris prepares a flash charge.
Preparing for the actual shoot. The two people behind the camerman are from the documentary team. The film cameraman may be Eddie Best who did the location stuff.
The explosion is about to begin.
The flash-charge ignites, lighting up the miniature.
The final product: only a fraction is used in the episode.
Time to write an angry letter to the Radio Times.
REAL LIFE LOCATIONS
Well, that was until John Archbold wrote to us when he discovered a letter in the Radio Times from 22nd June 1972, where Terence Dudley is defending his Season 3 script "Fire and Brimstone". In his response to a viewer's letter he mentions the plots of two of Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis stories from Season 1. The latter being Survival Code. In it he states that the story was about an atomic bomb washed up on Hastings Pier and was a will-the bomb-go-off suspense plot. So, we thought we had the answer... Hastings Pier in East Sussex...
At the time, it was upsetting to discover that this Pier was subjected to an arson attack on October 5th 2010, shortly after the Quistion was asked and was unfortunately 95% destroyed and it appeared that Doomwatch had predicted it's real-life destruction. So we all had a bit of a sulk as we thought that the chance to have a holiday snap taken at a Doomwatch location was gone....
However, the mystery appears to now be finally resolved. Glyn Edwards, who was Terence Dudley's production assistant at the time has suggested it is actually Eastbourne Pier. On investigation, it really does appear to be the correct location! If you compare it to the behind the scenes, special effects shot's, the outer profile appears to match... So Hurrah! Time for a Holiday with my new Camera...
With thanks to John Archbold, Scott Burditt, Michael Seely, and Glyn Edwards for finally solving the mystery.
Project Number: 02249/4091
Camera Rehearsals: 14th April (Overtime)
Telerecorded: 15th April VTC/6HT/58428
This episode overran in the studio.
Dr. Spencer Quist
Dr. John Ridge
Air Commodore Parks
Chief Supt. Charles
1st man on pier
DAVID ST. JOHN
Man on pier
Series devised by
Studio Sound (Sound Supervisor)
Music composed by
Assistant to Producer
Tuesday 14th April 1970
2.00 - 6.30 Camera rehearsal (with TK-35 from 2.30)
6.30 - 7.30 SUPPER
7.30 - 10.00 Camera rehearsal (with TK-35)
Wednesday 15th April 1970
11.00 - 1.00 Camera rehearsal (with TK-35)
1.00 - 2.00 LUNCH
2.00 - 6.00 Camera rehearsal (with TK-35 until 4.00 & then from 5.30)
6.00 - 7.00 SUPPER
7.00 -7.30 Sound & Vision Line-Up
7.30 - 10.00 TELERECORD: VTC/6HT/58428
10.30 - 1.30 - Friday 17 April 1970
TX: 11th May, 1970
9.45pm - 10.35pm
With thanks to John Archbold for the Radio Times listing and cover.