DOOMWATCH WINTER ANGEL
by John Howlett and Ian McDonald
Astrophysics lecturer Neil Tannahill receives an enigmatic note from Doctor Spencer Quist, the retired head in charge of the governmental watchdog group known as ‘Doomwatch’, he soon finds himself drawn into a sinister conspiracy involving Soviet nuclear waste secretly stored at a nuclear facility, the British military and a man made black hole to deal with...
Trevor Eve (Neil Tannahill), Amanda Ooms (Meg Tannahill), Philip Stone (Spencer Quist), Dallas Campbell (Hugo Cox), Allie Byrne (Teri Riley), Miles Anderson (Toby Ross), Steve Toussaint (Luke), Bob Sherman (Bill Zeiss), Willie Ross (Mr Fulton), Ben Compton (Ewan), John Vine (Special Branch Officer), Rob Dixon (Security Guard), Christian Rodska (Shashton Driver), Rebecca Lamb (Plainclothes Woman), Francesca Brown (Hannah Tannahill), Olivia Hallinan (Jessica Tannahill), Gillian Barge (Cheryl), David Gilliam (Jack Sankey), Jessica Turner (Minister), Grant Parsons (Civil Servant), Wolf Kahler (Director of Ortogene), Chu Omambala (Roffey), Aliza James (Susan), Raji James (Prideaux), Janet Henfrey (Julie), Ged Simmons (Police Sergeant), Lawrence Elman (Omasoft Executive 1), Norman Naudain (Omasoft Executive 2), Martin McGlade (Security Operator 1), John Cording (Security Operator 2), Gordon Griffith (Crane Operator), Alison James (Flautist), Judy Loe, Michael Sheen (Voices of Angel), Barry Wood (Stand-in)* *Uncredited Produced by
Associate producer James Aspinall, Executive Producers Simon Wright and Yvette Vanson
Associate producer James Aspinall, Executive Producers Simon Wright and Yvette Vanson
TX: 7th December, 1999
Littlebrook Power Station stands in for the Nuclear Power Station
A Working Title Television and Vanson Productions co-production for Channel 5
Copyright Doomwatch Ltd 1999
The cover of the Radio Times for that week features Caroline Quentin and Alan Davies in Jonathan Creek (left)
The Radio Times (4-10 December 1999) magazine from 1999 featuring the DOOMWATCH TV Movie. It was one of the Choices for the day. It was scheduled against the BBC1 News, BBC2's The Natural World Secret Sharks, ITV's Peak Practice Moving On and Channel 4's Cutting Edge Disappeared.
Trevor Eve and Amanda Ooms star in an entertaining thriller that carries a legacy of an earlier sci-fi series. In 1970 the original Doomwatch set up Dr Spencer Quist as an incorruptible scientific watchdog - TV's first green hero. Now he is back in this feature-length story set in an authoritarian near-future. Eve plays astrophysicist Neil Tannahil, whom Dr Quist keeps trying to draw into his network of eco-warriors. When Tannahil realises his own work has been hijacked to create a nuclear waste disposal system, he realises he can no longer stay neutral. Shot through with foreboding and paranoia, this is an enjoyably grim suspense drama. GE
It's interesting to note that one of the other Choices for the day has a decidedly DOOMWATCH flavour. Pig Heart Boy, first in a new six part drama from Malorie Blackman's novel, was inspired by a news item. You can't help but notice that the DOOMWATCH story Friday's Child springs instantly to mind. Especially as it deals with a father looking for a solution to his young boy's failing heart. This story uses a Pig's heart for a solution whereas the DOOMWATCH story uses that of a monkey.
Feature-lenght drama starring Trevor Eve, inspired by the seventies television series about an environmental task force. A Cambridge astrophysicist is caught up in a web of deceit when his research into a cheap form of energy falls into the wrong hands. See Choice.
Neil Tannahil Trevor Eve
Meg Tannahil Amanda Ooms
Spencer Quist Philip Stone
Toby Ross Miles Anderson
Hugo Cox Dallas Campbell
Teri Riley Allie Byrne
Written by Ian MacDonald (spelt incorrectly) and John Howett
Producer Peter Lee-Wright
Director Roy Battersby
Scans and artice by Scott Burditt
Producer Peter Lee-Wright bought the rights from Pedler’s Daughter, and 7th December 1999 saw Channel 5 air a feature-length, £l.5 million TV movie, Doomwatch: Winter Angel (rejected by the BBC as it didn’t fit current drama policy) set, as Radio Times had it, ‘in an authoritarian near-future.’ With impressive visuals and effects, Doomwatch was now more SF than ever. The production team opined that the Tories would have closed the department in 1979: hence there was little connection to the original show—as the credit ‘based on the television series created by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davies aptly demonstrates. Intended as a pilot for a proposed series, the movie is pretty much Doomwatch in name only. The sole link to the series was the elderly Dr Quist, played by Philip Stone. Spencer (the man who asks more questions than he ever answers’ as he nattily refers to himself) remained fairly faithful to the original. For the benefit of viewers not remembering the earlier incarnation, Cambridge astrophysicist Dr Neil Tannahil (Trevor Eve) reflects, ‘Doomwatch …Scientists watching scientists. Dr Quist was my mentor and official devil’s advocate in the days when they were allowed. The ethics and consequences of research and experiment. He was retired as a pain in the arse but he never gave it up.’ When a backslapping lecture by the Minister of Science and Research is disrupted by environmental consultant’ Dr Tari Riley (Allie Byrne) and her animal rights activists, Quist is first on his feet to applaud, though is arrested and held overnight due to a thirty year record of agitation. As Hugo Cox (Dallas Campbell), a sharply-dressed Ridgeian quantum-computer expert replete with high-performance car, puts it: ‘It’s all about Power cuts and racing pigeons disappearing all over the North-East of England.’ Half of the North recently lost the National Grid for six hours, and 65 local networks overloaded- the power being diverted to the decommissioned Shaston power station, where another of Quist’s protégés, Dr Toby Ross (Miles Anderson) is attempting to construct a black hole. Spencer’s past returns to haunt him when he is killed in a rigged gas explosion that rips through his cottage whilst he snoozes in an armchair. Despite being an atheist throughout the 70s series, Quist depressingly gets a full choral church funeral. Quist leaves CD-ROM copies of his Doomwatch files to Neil and Hugo in his will (Every scientific nightmare known to man... he means us to inherit,’ murmurs Tannahil). The two join forces, and Neil sets off to Shaston to bring events to a suitably climactic-if-wordy conclusion — which is neatly covered up in the media. At the story’s close the discs are loaded up. The first carries an on-screen introduction from Quist: ‘When I tell any truths, it is not for the sake of convincing those who do not know it, but for the sake of defending those who do.’
The critics were guardedly non-committal. Adam Sweeting of The Guardian (Quist’s preferred daily) said that whilst there was almost nothing here you would dare call original... the notion of some misguided quantum-anorak building his own Black Hole using contraband nuclear waste from the old Soviet bloc at least had an authentic frisson of lunacy about it’. Daily Express commented that it played like a pilot, noting the obligatory bike-riding eco-warrior, token black, etc Radio Times’ Geoff Ellis found it an entertaining thriller... Shot through with foreboding and paranoia, this is an enjoyably grim suspense drama.’ What affect the reviews had on Channel 5 is unknown, but given that the movie (made by Working Title and Vanson Productions) was copyrighted to Doomwatch Ltd, it would appear that the team had high hopes for reappearance by Professor Tannahil and his allies. Whether a series would have gone back to the concept’s roots and installed the prognostication side of its 70s parent is debatable — apparently, future storylines would have included a nanotechnology smuggling story, a computer virus that could enter the human brain, and biochips made from protein.
Synopsis by Tony Darbyshire
Channel 5 isn’t where you would expect to encounter challenging, quality TV. Doomwatch proved an unsuccessful attempt at subverting that assumption. It’s not that this programme was intrinsically bad, there was the essence of some fine aspirations faintly palpable somewhere within the thing, but ultimately it proved an ugly, uncomfortable spectacle. Let’s go back to the ’70s, again.
The original Doomwatch kicked off that decade with extraordinary imagination and passion. This was a series led by a sense of outrage with a mandate to both illuminate and explain. Topics such as chemical warfare, pollution, waste disposal, genetic engineering and overcrowded housing were explored in a discursive, yet pacey manner. Most importantly - albeit after some petty espionage action committed by John Ridge (that oh-so-’70s carouser, dragging on fags and getting “stoned” in the pub) - the arguments for and against every issue were explored thoroughly and clearly. It was this debate that was at the root of the series. Our ’90s version didn’t shy away from that, it just seemed incapable of stringing an argument together.
For a viewer, actually following tonight’s Doomwatch was an extraordinarily demanding task. Characters appeared with little introduction, as though they existed simply to serve the purpose of a scene, or a story thread. For too long, events seemed disparate and unrelated. The Doomwatch group itself remained diffused as a concept and virtually unexplained. Problems were rationalized and addressed only via fast-taking scientific jargon, which in itself was meaningless. Technology could do everything (surveillance cameras can go anywhere; computers talk, apparently sentient; mobile ‘phones operate within high security power plants). And those preposterous angel characters that drove Hugo Cox’s oversized PC! For a programme that’s based on a credible extrapolation of the dark potential of technology, this sort of “magic” served to undermine Doomwatch’s credibility and fatally so.
But it was not intrinsically bad. The characterization outstripped the quality of the plotting, and by a long chalk. In particular, the new, aged Quist was a credible and agreeable extension of the ’70s original. One could see the late John Paul still playing this maverick, slightly pious character and as a replacement Philip Stone was more than adequate. Similarly, Quist’s death was handled with apt portent and subtlety making this easily the most affecting moment of the whole piece. But, and we’re back to “buts” again I’m afraid, Doomwatch’s depiction of government agencies was woefully silly - men in dark glasses driving around, killing in inventive, Bondian ways. The original series showed far more successfully, that governments subvert and even kill through far less bawdy tactics; by dragging their heels, by wielding the Official Secrets Act, by committing important decisions to paperwork and bureaucracy.
OK, so I didn’t like it much, that’s true. And yet … I’m still rooting for a proper series to spin-off from this mess. Why? As the episode climaxed in a rush of sci-fi babble and poorly realised computer graphics, and as Dr Neil Tannahil returned to his equations, we were left with Dr Toby Ross in governance over a dangerously unstable black-hole (our macguffin). Here I caught a glimpse of something I liked: “We remain on permanent critical alert” said Dr Ross, “and contact the military for standby evacuation procedures.”
That’s proper Doomwatch, I thought, still not saving the world
Reviewed by Graham Kibble-White
Tuesday, December 7, 1999. Archive Review provided by www.offthetelly.co.uk
Winter Angel was a TV movie originally shown on Channel 5 in 1999. Only one character from the TV series is present here, that of Quist himself. However, John Paul had died in 1995 and a recast of the character was necessitated. The replacement actor was Philip Stone. While there was nothing wrong with the material that Stone was given he however didn’t feel like Quist to me. In fact, Winter Angel didn’t feel like the Doomwatch that I came to know from the TV series.
The plot of Winter Angel which ultimately was about a black hole has failed to spark any excitement from me. The problem for Winter Angel is that it muddles things along and lacks coherency.
Channel 5 was hoping that Winter Angel would be a pilot for a new series but a new series did not eventuate. Winter Angel came three years after the 1996 TV movie of Doomwatch’s old BBC stablemate Doctor Who and that too was hoped to be a pilot for a new series but Doctor Who’s return as a TV series was not immediate back then.
Doctor Who would eventually come back as a TV series in 2005. Whether Doomwatch gets to have its own TV series comeback either as a continuing series from the 1970-72 series, the 1972 feature film and Winter Angel or as a complete reboot only the future knows.
Reviewed by Matthew See
“I loved working on the film, in particular with the fantastic director Roy Battersby”
Winter Angel score composed by Debbie Wiseman
Debbie Wiseman was awarded an M.B.E in the
Queen's New Years Honours List 2004.
It is interesting to note that Debbie also worked on the score for the ITV drama "Flood" with a Doomwatch style scenario. Can't think where they got the basic idea for that from...