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A luxury cruiser adrift in the Channel... a lifeboat sails out to the rescue. What they find aboard starts a national scandal and involves Quist in another major investigation.

It is a fine, clear day off the Devon coast and coming into shot is a luxury yacht called The Saracen which appears to be deserted. Apart from the sea gulls and the gentle lapping of the channel, there is silence. The cabin appears to be empty too. Outside, the lifeboat arrives, and one of the lifeboat men tries to hail the Saracen with a loud hailer. The lifeboat men board the craft and call for the crew. Inside the main cabin we see an old cannon, pointing to the main door. A lifeboat man bursts in and reacts to this antique with surprise and shock. Then he sees the four bodies on the floor.... They are young people, barely in their twenties, two men and two women. (They are Cobie Vale and Keith Rogers, members of a very famous pop group called The Hoarse Chestnuts. The two girls are Angela Connor and Janet Redstone. 'All four lie in grotesque shapes. They could be drugged unconscious or dead...'
(The picture above is from The Radio Times 12-18th December 1970)


The Saracen is taken to Plymouth harbour where a policeman stands on guard duty.

Quist is reading of the mystery in his office. Details of the story are concerning the man. Bradley
enters to tell him that they are ready for the sterilised food experiment. Quist asks Bradley if he has ever been yachting. Bradley confesses not since he was a boy and then noticing the newspaper story understands. 'I didn't realise you were a fan.' The joke is lost on Quist who calls in Pat. Bradley heard about the case on the car radio into work. They are still unconscious and the theory is a drugs overdose. Quist asks Pat to get Plymouth General (hospital) Doctor Collinson on the phone. Pat also notices the newspaper story and tells that sister has all their records and some days you can't – Quist gently asks her to get on with it. Bradley didn't think there was anything here for Doomwatch.

Somebody else concerned about the story is Peter Hazlewood, he is ADC to Sir Richard Tranton and goes to see the man. Tranton's office has a large model of the proposed Westingham Docks. Tranton is very proud of this and is keen to discuss it with Hazlewood. It will be his first job for the Transport Board to see the project through. Tranton is retiring from naval matters and promises to focus on these matters before his new job. Hazlewood asks Tranton if he had read the story in the newspaper. Tranton could hardly miss it. 'Just about everything pop singers so these days makes National news...' Hazlewood asks him if he is aware of where this happened. It seems that their symptoms reminds him of something and they must have sailed across Hounds Deep. Tranton stops him there and tells him it can only be coincidence. They can't have been the first boat to have sailed across it. He is quite surprised that Hazlewood is even concerned. Hazlewood agrees and apologises. He leaves some letters for signature and leaves, leaving behind the newspaper. Tranton looks at the story for a moment before shaking his head and returns to his desk to sign the papers.

Quist is studying a file Bradley has brought in when Pat on the intercom has Plymouth General on the line. They are trying to find Doctor Collinson for him.

The reason for this is that Collinson's phone is off the hook. Collinson enters his office but has a pack of reporters on his heel demanding answers. One of them, Johnny Clive, seems to be their spokesman. He tells them that statements will be issued at the right time as always. Clive won't give up and wants to see Cobie Vale. A police superintendent helps to quietly usher them away. Collinson thanks the policeman but is told that he will have questions for him soon. Tired, the doctor agrees. According to the Superintendent, there is still two crew members unaccounted for... A search is going on but they will want to talk to the pop band when they recover. He gets onto the phone he came here for and is put through to Quist who introduces himself of Doomwatch, Ministry of National Security. Quist thanks him for his time, knowing he must be a busy man. At the moment, no one knows the cause of the four's illness. They have run tests but Collinson doesn't want to jump to conclusions. Still, Quist is welcome to what he knows... 'ECG normal, Serum proteins normal, Urinalysis-protein traces. Neurological examination – some peripheral nerve irritability. Extension plantar responses! Blood count... Haemoglobin 74%.' During all this, the Superintendent is aware that there is someone outside the door and finds Johnny Clive trying to eaves drop! Rumbled, Clive smiles and goes away. Quist asks Collinson what does he make of the blood count. There's evidence of red cell destruction and some circulatory toxin. After some more results, Quist thinks that they are quite unusual. Collinson says that if these people had taken drugs, he doesn't know which sort would leave this effect.

Quist has been jotting down notes and asks Bradley to analyse them. He summons Ridge and Wren immediately!

Tranton is deep in paper work when he catches sight of the newspaper again, and has a moment of doubt. He glances at a sea chart on his wall and then drops the newspaper into his bin, but he remains thoughtful...

Coble's picture was in the paper, and we now see him in his private ward. Collinson finishes examining the pop singer and asks the nurse to let him know if anything worries her...

A second ward contains Angela who Collinson also visits and asks the nurse if there has been any change in her coma? There hasn't.

In the outside corridor, the Superintendent calls him and Collinson answers his question before he asks it: no change. The policeman has found out that Cobie Vale has been arrested two years earlier for drug offences. That doesn't help, but what would help is the police finding a sample of whatever it is they have taken. Nothing has been found yet. They haven't even determined the exact nature of the charges yet. Where are those two crew members?

That question is soon answered by the two corpses that are washed up on shore...

Wren and Ridge arrive at Plymouth station and find a taxi to take them to the hotel. Their arrival has been noticed by Johnny Clive...

The two Doomwatch men settle into their hotel by having a drink in the bar which is heavily decorated in shipping paranphenalia.

(PAGE MISSING FROM THE SCRIPT. Johnny Clive introduces himself , he seems to know Ridge as he calls Wren new).

Clive, of course, is fishing for information on the Cobie Vale business but Ridge instead gets some info out of him. The police have searched the boat several times and haven't found any drugs. He talks about the disappeared crew men as his glass is being refilled... He also knows that the group were treasure hunting. 'I would've thought they'd got enough loot already... I mean, they get eight gold discs last year alone. Still, I suppose a ship full of gold bullion would come in handy – even to them...' When he asks Ridge what they are doing here, 'Would you believe a holiday?' Wren jokes that they are on sick leave, suffering from clipped wings! They leave Clive at the bar looking a bit rueful.

In another part of the bar, Wren asks Ridge if Clive really knows anything? Ridge doubts that but he is certainly getting wind of a story. 'Some of those boys have a sixth sense.' Ridge decides to get over to the hospital and sends Wren along to the harbour and to take a look at the Saracen. He doesn't know why: the police have found nothing. 'But they were looking for drugs...' Clive bids them good evening and enjoy their holiday! Ridge and Wren decide to meet at ten o' clock.

Admiral Tranton is visiting his club full of civil servant and military types. Tranton finds whom he is looking for; Astley, a man in his fifties and rather bluff. Astley is surprised to see Tranton and offers him a drink. The Admiral is not sure whether his forthcoming retirement is a matter for congratulations or condolences. Tranton is troubled and hoped Astley could spare a moment to discuss something he feels is ridiculous, but 'you were the consultant employed... and naturally I don't want to leave any loose ends...' Astley hasn't understood a word Richard Tranton has said. He brings up the Saracen. 'You can see no... possible connections?' Astley is amused much to Tranton's annoyance. Of course the thing is ridiculous. 'Admiral, I can assure you that despite popular disbelief, not every advisory board is composed of idiots. I can assure you, also, that our task was accomplished with a high safety margin. Any other suggestion, from any quarter, would be totally irresponsible...'

Cobie begins to recover, he opens his eyes, takes in his surroundings but his face is expressionless, moves with slow, deliberate movements. The nurse phones for Collinson as Cobie tries to sit up and get out of bed. When Collinson arrives, Vale is sitting on the edge of the bed, seemingly in a trance. The doctor tests his reflexes but nothing. Vale seems to see them, but not understand them...

Wren has waited for his chance to slip aboard the moored Saracen. He takes in the cabin

Ridge is in a hospital corridor and is talking to the Superintendent who was expecting him. He asks Ridge what he is hoping to find and he doesn't see the case as straightforward as he does... 'Are you suggesting an exchange of information?' asks Ridge. No, he doesn't – unless of course Ridge finds something... Everything points to drugs, the Superintendent believes. They had found the two dead crewmen on Wembury Beach that afternoon.

Wren spends his time, looking through charts, books and the ship's logs. He is comparing notes on some of these but his attention keeps being drawn to the eighteenth century cannon in the centre of the room. He notices a small patch of slime between the barrel and the base. He touches it and sniffs it cautiously...

Meanwhile Collinson is arguing with the Superintendent who wants to talk to Vale, if not, the girl, Angela, who has recovered. She may not be senseless as Vale, but if it is a drug they have taken, they wouldn't necessarily have taken the same dose. Ridge has followed the conversation and chips in that he had heard that the band went treasure hunting. Ridge has no idea, but if they want to find out what happened on-board the Saracen the police will have to take whatever help they can get. The Superintendent agrees. It seems the Saracen were looking for an eighteenth century Indiaman. They had brought up a cannon.

Wren takes a sample of the slime and puts it into a jar with a spoon handle – when he notices that his hands are shaking. He is puzzled and with an effort of will completes his task. But then the shaking appears to become uncontrollable, he is on the verge of convulsion.

The shaking of the hands is repeated by Angela, now conscious, struggling to remember. Cobie suffered the worst, he fainted, she remembers. Collinson, the Superintendent and Ridge are listening. She is relieved that the others are still alive. She explains they were celebrating when they brought up the cannon, having a party, and this interests the Superintendent. There was champagne, but she denies any drugs were involved, very strongly. Collinson has to stop the questioning as Angela becomes distressed. .Angela repeats herself, they did not take drugs.

Outside in the corridor, the Superintendent is disappointed by what she has said. 'It depends,' says Ridge, 'on whether you believe her or not.'

Wren has recovered from his shaking bout but he seems to be in a dazed and dreamlike state, uncaring, emotionless. It is similar to how we saw Cobie Vale earlier. Wren is suddenly aware of someone else in the cabin. He sees someone in the doorway – it is himself! This Wren is normal, smiling... Wren tries to go over to this figure and then collapses into a grotesque position...

Ridge phones up Quist to report on his findings so far from the hotel. The fact that they were treasure hunting alerts Quist. Their location, fifty miles off Start Point is right over Hounds Deep...
It's a deep trench in the Channel, sixty to seventy miles long. He wants to speak to Wren as soon as he comes back. Ridge is getting a little confounded as to what is keeping Wren and decides to go and look for him.

Ridge goes on-board the Saracen and finds his friend spread-eagled on the floor of the cabin.

Wren is rushed to hospital where Collinson diagnoses that Toby has the same symptoms as the others but possibly less severe. Taking Ridge into his office, he confesses it is too early to tell if he is going to pull through. They are working in the dark. Cobie Vale's condition has worsened. He is now in the Intensive Care Unit. Ridge tries to telephone Quist but he is no longer at the office.

The following day, Quist has a meeting with the Minister, one whom he has not met before. This one is very much the career politician. He is all smiles and welcomes to Quist when he enters the room. 'Unlike some of my colleagues I have great respect for your reputation... and record...' Quist is surprised, he simply wanted information and there was no need to involve himself personally. Quist wants to know about the dumping sites at sea. The Minister explains that there is, as he well knows, an active specialist committee which is responsible for the technology of the operation. Quist needs to know more than that. 'Last September, if my memory serves me well, five European countries jettisoned eleven thousand tons in the Atlantic alone.' The minister remembers: they were in steel and concrete containers. 'Then there was the drum of radioactive waste that was washed up at (blank) in Lincolnshire.' The USA took responsibility over that one and removed it. 'I'm making the point... that oceans are becoming vast dustbins.' The Minister takes this point. Quist brings the discussion to the business of the Saracen. 'I believe they brought something up from the bottom of the sea that they didn't count on...' Quist hopes that it is only a theory as the Minister points out. It happened over Hounds Deep – a dumping site. It certainly isn't radioactive poisoning that they are suffering from. Quist wants to know just what was buried at Hounds Deep. The Minister, echoing Astley earlier, repeats that the people who do this sort of thing are not as irresponsible as Quist seems to suggest. He is quite certain that every precaution has been taken. Quist says: 'There's always an 'X' factor.' Agreeing that the police should continue with their investigation, Quist wants to continue with his. The Minister agrees to look into it further. 'Doctor, I remarked on your arrival, that I had a great respect for your record and reputation. Perhaps I can now say that I think on this occasion you are wrong. Very wrong.' Quist can live with that. After Quist leaves, the Minister telephones Admiral Tranton.

'Fat lot of good that was, he shut up like a clam. Well, what are you two looking so long in the tooth about?' demands Quist as he returns to his office. Pat tells him that whilst he was with the Minister, Ridge rang and told them about Wren's condition. Ridge had tried to contact Quist , explains Pat but Quist cuts in and decides to go down to Plymouth straight away. Pat has already second guessed him and has booked the taxi and the twelve thirty train. 'Good girl – facing the engine? ... Can't stand travelling backwards.' 'Funny,' remarks Brad. 'some of our government superiors seem to make a habit of it.'

Cobie Vale has died. Collinson examined him and a nurse covers his face with a sheet.

At the hotel bar, Quist is brought up to date by Ridge on Wren's condition. He is not as bad as the others but still cannot speak.

Wren is conscious but simply cannot communicate. He is making the effort and even the nurse can tell he wants to say something. He looks over at his clothes, in a cupboard and in particular his jacket.

Ridge talks about rumours that the police would bring charges under the drugs act, but that they are holding out for something bigger. The theory is that the youngsters took drugs, became very 'hopped up' and pushed overboard the two crewmen as they tried to intervene. All they determined about the two dead men is that they drowned. 'No... complications? Or did nobody think it worth looking?' muses Quist. He decides it is time to look at the Saracen.

Wren is still trying to alert the nurse to what he wants – the jar in his jacket but all he can manage is to point at the cupboard...

Quist uses a Geiger counter in the cabin of the Saracen. The cannon gives the strongest reading. It isn't strong enough to have had caused the illness but Quist wasn't expecting this. Ridge examines the log. It seems they were treasure hunting over the sunken boat mentioned earlier. They brought up the cannon four days ago – using high explosives. Quist: 'High explosive!'

Wren has managed to reach the cupboard and take out the jar from his pocket, helped by the nurse. Collinson enters, and soon is joined by Quist and Ridge. Collinson gives him an update, he is not as bad as the others. 'He hasn't been talking – but he seems to understand where he is.' Wren is clutching the jar in his hand which Quist wonders if it is from the Saracen? Wren nods slowly. 'Well done Toby!' says Quist. This is big praise from his boss, and it registers with Toby. Quist and Ridge take the jar and leave. Quist intends to get Bradley to analyse the contents of the jar and leaves Ridge behind.

The Minister is in conference with Tranton and Hazlewood, and he is not happy. 'So – Quist was right and I assured him that my people would take every precaution...' Tranton defends himself and the committee and explains that they examined three alternatives – underground burial, chemical dispersal or dumping at sea. Tremors and having no containers that could withstand the pressures ruled out the first choice. Cost ruled out the safest – chemical disposal. So dumping was chosen. The Minister sends Hazlewood out of the room and tells Tranton that this was not referred back to him. 'Minister, you gave us the authority.' 'I gave you the responsibility.' Tranton refers to the files the Minister is examining. 'A decision had to be made. On the facts you have in front of you – burial at sea was economic, and gave almost a one hundred per cent safety factor.' The way the meeting is going, it is clear that the Minister is pinning the blame on Tranton to avoid responsibility himself. The Minister denies having all the facts presented to him, and that Tranton assumed that funds would not be found for the chemical weapons. 'Would they have?' 'Admiral, you're posing a hypothetical question...' If there are any further developments, Tranton will have to see Doctor Quist himself. Giving Tranton a drink, the Minister makes some veiled threats... 'It wouldn't do, you know, if this resolved itself into a public enquiry... For example, it would present difficulties, make your pending appointment to the Transport Board almost impossible... Say when.'

Quist returns to the office and asks Brad to analyse the jar as quickly as possible. Pat tells him that the Minister 'phoned. The person he wants is Admiral Sir Richard Tranton...

As he tells Ridge, the Superintendent as far as he is concern, recent events have vindicated his theories. This leaves Ridge baffled and doesn't have a chance to find out more.

When Quist meets Admiral Tranton, he meets Astley, Quist comes straight to the point: the waste dumped at Hounds Deep contains nuclear waste – below the permitted level, but also nerve gas. Tranton agrees. Astley tries to defend the committee but is interrupted by Tranton to let Quist continue. 'I now have evidence that it was this that caused the tragedy aboard the Saracen.' He hands over a report on the sample Wren found. It contains an abundant yield of aze-phosphates. The consignment will have to be brought up and destroyed by a more satisfactory method. The alternative is that the gas will seep into the water. Quist changes tack to get through to them. A few gallons can wipe out a nation! When the Americans did a rocket test with nerve gas on an isolated island, the wind changed direction and killed several thousand sheep forty miles away. Tranton agrees but doesn't think that there has been a leak from the consignment on that scale. Astley points out that the containers were designed to corrode in 140 years by which time the nerve gas would be dispersed with no harm to human life. Quist brings up the high explosives used by the treasure hunters. Tranton admits one of the containers may have been damaged. 'It was more than that!' retorted Quist. The slime could hardly have been all that dangerous if Toby Wren – who had direct contact is progressing well. The cannon had been exposed for four days. Tranton has received a report suggesting that cannabis and cocaine were discovered in Vale and Roger's effects. They did take drugs. Traces, admittedly, but enough. 'It changes nothing I've said!' 'Doesn't it?' Tranton favours the combined effect caused Cobie Vale's death. Tranton stands, bringing the meeting to an end. This has been an isolated incident. He refuses to accept that the containers have sustained damage – the evidence Quist says they are likely to get is deaths! 'That has the ring of personal opinion about it...' says Tranton, assured that the Minister will support his view. Quist walks out of the room, leaving Astley to feel that Quist has been taken care of. But the Admiral isn't so sure...

Bradley and Quist study a sea chart and work out the direction in which the spread of the poison would take. They have formulated a theory – which Quist hopes is wrong. Ridge will find someone to use this information...

Ridge tells a suspicious Jonny Clive to go down to the Felm Estuary where he'll find his big story. He'll let him know if he finds anything. As he leaves, Ridge murmurs, 'Johnny, you'll let everybody know...'

Johnny finds the 'story' – the area is littered with dead birds.

Worse still, a woman and a child who had been shrimping in a rock pool five miles around the coast have been brought in to the hospital and Collinson is treating them.

Wren has recovered enough to be sitting up in bed and is talking to Ridge. It seems that Quist has his ammunition now. 'Evidence, Toby, evidence. You did not suffer in vain.' Toby asks for a cigarette but has some grapes offered instead – a present from Ridge.

The evidence is enough for the Minister. Quist is not apportioning blame. He just wants it put right before anyone else suffers.

The Admiral has seen the reports in the newspaper. He is on the phone to the Minister, grim faced.
'Yes, minister. I have it here.... Your instructions will be carried out, Minister...' As he moves to the door, he takes one last look at the model of the harbour. 'We can tell from his face that the only view he will get of it is the one he is getting now...' He looks at his desk and then leaves the office, closing the door behind him.

Synopsis by Michael Seely

For Davis and Pedler, the most incredible coincidence from this first series was ‘Burial At Sea’. They had taken the Rolling Stones as inspiration for that story: “It started off with a pop group who were deliberately chosen to look like the Rolling Stones. At that point in time Mick Jagger had had a yacht and had been diving and there was a lot of publicity about his activities.
So, the story began with a yacht and it was like the Marie Celeste. The coast guards take it in tow and aboard they find everybody zonked out from what appears to be drugs. The law was going to hit them very hard and they were going to charge them with manslaughter because one of their guests aboard, a girl, had died through what appeared to be a drug overdose. But our team investigated and it turned out that a nerve gas had been dumped on a site and another dumper had come along and dumped radioactive waste. The one had worked on the other and these nerve gas canisters (we had black canisters) floated up looking like depth charges. We worked out from the currents that if they were put in this particular deep in the ocean just off the English Channel, anything there that came up would wash ashore on a beach near Torquay in Devon called Paignton.” Six months after the filming of that episode, and shortly after its transmission, a local photographer had a picture printed in the Daily Mirror next to a still from the programme. “We had one or two artistically arranged dead sea birds,” said Davis, “but both were of black canisters on the beach. When they were investigated they were found to be full of cyanide. Now you take your pick between nerve gas and cyanide.’ Not only were deadly canisters of cyanide found on Paignton beach in 1970, but toxic chemicals were found on that very same stretch of coastline last year. Pedler says: ‘After the episode was written, but before we’d had time to screen it, a branch of the American armed forces actually tried to dump something like ten thousand tons of toxic gases in the Atlantic. They were rumbled only just in time, and stopped by pressure of public opinion. Subsequently the Pentagon has dumped nerve agents in the sea near the Bahamas. This time public opinion was brushed aside.’
The script lacked the humour normally associated with Dennis Spooner and was better because of it. The episode came across as an absolutely masterful piece of television. It begins as a mystery story when a lifeboat is sent out to investigate a luxury cruiser adrift near the Plymouth Trench, a dumping ground for chemical waste. Apparently, some of it has escaped from the drums on the sea bed as toxic gas, and affected the pop star crew, who were also partial to midnight dips in the contaminated waters, and killing two of them.
The police at first suspect drugs to be the culprit, but it is Quist's team who unearth the truth. Spooner claimed never to have felt at home writing for DOOMWATCH, but this segment is excellent. After it was written, but before transmission, American forces tried to sink thousands of tons of nerve gas into the Atlantic. However, public opinion finally pressured them into abandoning this action, although proof exists that similar agents had been dumped near the Bahamas.

Synopsis by Richard Houldsworth in TV Zone Special 14 September 1994

A luxury yacht, the Saracen, drifts unmanned in the English channel. A lifeboat comes to its aid. The rescuers find four individuals collapsed on the floor. In his office, Quist reads about the incident in the newspaper – the mystery of pop stars Cobie Vale and Keith Rogers and their female companions found on the yacht. They remain unconscious. In Plymouth, Admiral Tranton is visited by his assistant Peter Hazelwood. Tranton is engrossed by a model of the new Westingham Docks; he will oversee its construction for the Transport Board when he retires. Peter raises the subject of the Saracen, and says, “You saw where this took place?” Losing his nerve, he retreats from the office. At the hospital, Dr Collinson is hounded by reporters asking about the state of his new patients. He is visited by the Superintendent, who wishes to talk to them. Two crewmen from the yacht are still missing. Quist telephones Collinson, and asks if drugs were involved in the incident. The Doctor is unsure.
Admiral Tranton reads the newspaper report in his office. He glances worriedly at a naval chart, then throws the paper into the bin. A section of shoreline. A man floats face down in the water. Nearby is another body; his sweater has the Saracen logo emblazoned on it. John Ridge and Toby Wren arrive in Plymouth to investigate the case, unaware they are being observed by newspaper reporter Johnny Clive. The man introduces himself at their hotel, probing about Doomwatch’s involvement in this story. He tells them Cobie Vale and Keith Rogers were treasure hunting on their yacht. They manage to shake him off; Ridge elects to visit the hospital, while Wren goes to examine the Saracen. Admiral Tranton seeks out Gerald Astley at his military club. Tranton mentions the Saracen, and the fact that it could have sailed across an area known as Hounds Deep. Astley assures him that the theory is ridiculous, and that their task was completed without any risk to safety. Cobie Vale wakes in the hospital, and tries to leave his bed. He is in a trance. Wren steals his way onto the Saracen in the harbour. He notices an old cannon in the cabin. There is a patch of slime on the barrel. He touches it…
In the hospital the Superintendent reveals to Ridge that Vale and his friends were searching for an Eighteenth Century wreck, and went diving. They brought up a cannon.
Wren places a sample of the slime in a jar, but realizes that his hands are shaking. His whole body then starts to convulse.
One of the women from the Saracen, Angela, has regained consciousness. She describes what happened; how they were celebrating their find with champagne, when she began to convulse, and then fainted. She insists they were not taking drugs.
Toby is in a trance-like state. He sees someone entering the cabin. It is himself, smiling… He faints. Ridge calls Quist with his findings. Quist has heard of Hounds Deep; a deep trench in the English Channel. Concerned for Toby, Ridge goes to the Saracen, and finds his colleague slumped on the floor. At the hospital, Dr Collinson tells Ridge that Toby’s symptoms are identical to Vale and his friends – but less severe.
In London, Dr Quist meets the Minister. He wants to know about dumping sites at sea; he is concerned that the oceans are being used as “dustbins”. Quist believes that Vale and his friends have been poisoned – Hound’s Deep is one of Britain’s dumping sites. The Minister says he is wrong, but promises to investigate Quist’s theory. When the Doctor has left, the Minister contacts Tranton.
Back at Doomwatch, Quist is informed of Toby’s illness by Pat and Bradley. Quist decides to go to Plymouth. On arrival he is told by Ridge that Cobie Vale has died. In his hospital bed, Toby Wren is conscious and tries to communicate, but makes no sense to his nurse.
In the Saracen. Quist runs a geiger counter over the cannon. There is a reading, but the radioactivity is not high enough to cause illness. They find the ship’s logs, and determine that the cannon was brought up from the wreck using explosives.
They return to the hospital, where the jar has been found in Toby’s jacket pocket. Quist takes it back to London for analysis.
The Minister is told the truth by Tranton and Hazelwood. Tranton explains that Hounds Deep was chosen as the dumping site because it was the cheapest option. The Minister tells Tranton that this could jeopardize forthcoming work for the Transport Board.
On the Minister’s recommendation, Quist visits Tranton and Astley. Hounds Deep contains canisters of nerve gas, which caused the Saracen incident. These canisters will now have to be removed and destroyed — an expensive process. Astley assures him that the canisters are safe, but Quist points out that Vale and his friends used high explosives. Tranton is certain he can avert an enquiry, claiming this incident is an isolated one.
At the hotel Ridge leaks the story to Johnny Clive.
Later, Clive visits the Yelm Estuary. It is littered with dead birds.
Two victims are brought into the hospital with the symptoms of nerve gas - they were on the beach. Wren, however, is now recovering.
Quist presents the newspaper to the Minister. It is running Clive’s story. Quist insists the nerve gas be destroyed.
In his office, Tranton has a copy of the newspaper. He receives his instructions from the Minister.

Review by Richard Houldsworth in TV Zone Special 14 September 1994

Like most episodes of Doomwatch; Burial at Sea was based upon real life ecological disasters that had been reported in the national press. Co-creators Gerry Davis and Dr Kit Pedler, who had formed a strong working bond on some of the mid-Sixties Doctor Who adventures, found that their opinions on the escalating pollution of the planet were identical, “We began to keep scrapbooks about each new, devastating hazard,” Gerry Davis said of the show’s creation. “We have literally thousands of ‘examples now — and out of those scrapbooks Doomwatch was born.”
“Our objective was to base every Doomwatch subject on something real,” added producer Terence Dudley, “something that that could and probably would happen in time if nobody took steps to stop it.”
Over its three season run, most aspects of pollution were discussed in the series, including radioactive fallout from Space vehicles (Re-Entry Forbidden) noise pollution (The Red Sky) and industriaI pollution (Public Enemy). However, the subject of Burial at Sea was perhaps then the most current — indeed, between the completion of Dennis Spooner’s script and the commencement of recording, American armed forces attempted to dispose of ten thousand tons of toxic gases in the Atlantic, This was averted by public opinion.
The late Dr Kit Pedler noted dispairingly at the time: “Subsequently the Pentagon has dumped nerve agents in the sea near the Bahamas. This time pub opinion was brushed aside.”
Burial at Sea was taped in Studio 8 at BBC Television Centre on the evening of Wednesday 10th December 1969, with the afternoon and the previous day devoted to camera rehearsals. Location filming in Plymouth had taken place some weeks earlier, for the scenes of Ridge and Wren arriving at Plymouth Railway station, Johnny Clive on the beach, and of the Saracen at sea and docked in the harbour.
In his script, writer Dennis Spooner goes to great lengths to describe the pre-titles sequence as similar to the discovery of the Marie Celeste. The filming of this scene (which amounted to 2 mins and 37 seconds of footage) involved the co-operation of the Plymouth lifeboat crew, and the BBC was obliged to credit the RNLI for granting permission.
The episode aired at 21:40 on BBC1 on Monday February 23rd.1970; the third Doomwatch to be broadcast, although it was in fact the second to be recorded. it remains one of five stories from the first season that do not exist in any form in the BBC Film and Videotape Library.
For the series creators, Doomwatch really became a labour of love. Dr Kit Pedler went on to give a series of lectures focusing on ‘Doomwatch ‘themes’, and regularly met fellow scientists to discuss environmental catastrophes. He believed passionately that a real-life department based on Doomwatch should be created, investigating threats to the planet on behalf of the general public.
It is tragic to reflect that the show is as pertinant now as it was then. There is still escalating pollution — in all of its forms. Who knows what’s on the ocean bed by now...


Project Number: 02249/4085
Written by Dennis Spooner. Storyline by Gerry Davis

10th November (Filming) SIMON OATES ROBERT POWELL
11th November (Filming) SIMON OATES ROBERT POWELL
12th November (Filming) SIMON OATES ROBERT POWELL
14th November (Filming) ROBERT POWELL
1 return fare London/Plymouth SIMON OATES ROBERT POWELL JOHN PAUL
5 nights subsistence @ £3. 15.0 SIMON OATES ROBERT POWELL
2 nights subsistence JOHN PAUL

Footage: 4'19” sound 16mm

Camera Rehearsals: Tuesday 9th December 1969 (with TK-22)
Telerecorded: Wednesday 10th December 1969. VTC/6HT/55667/ED
The episode over-ran in the studio.
Studio: TC8


Striking too close for whose comfort?
by Stewart Lane

Would it be too far afield to suggest that someone up there (wherever BBC-1's Doomwatch series is devised and written) doesn't like politicians?
Certainly the Government Ministers who have appeared so far have been represented as smooth oily buck passers, whose primary concern is always to keep things under wraps to protect their own position.
Indeed, it makes one wonder how such a body as Doomwatch, which is designed to safeguard public interests against the wilder excesses of the scientists, technologists and politicians, ever got appointed in the first place.
But Monday's episode “Burial At Sea” by Dennis Spooner, struck very near to probability in other respects and no doubt too close for comfort of some actual authorities.
A tragedy aboard a pop singer's luxury boat at first arouses suspicion of drugs but is finally revealed to be the consequences of nerve gas leaking from drums in the sea.
(With all the current discussion about CS gas there could hardly be a more topical theme!)
Attempts to hush up the affair despite several deaths, included what seemed to be the planting of drugs. But when the deadly seepage into the sea affected other innocent holidaymakers, and dead birds came floating ashore, it became impossible to withstand a public inquiry.
As I asked myself (and I'm quite sure other viewers did the same) at this point; what was the official; reason given for all those dead sea birds last year?
If this series can continue to strike hard at real problems of today, and concern itself a little less with slightly unbelievable cloak and dagger activities, it will serve a useful warning and may be an educational function.

With thanks to Michael Seely and Andrew Wilson


Dr. Spencer Quist

Dr. John Ridge

Tobias Wren

Colin Bradley

Pat Hunnisett

Admiral Tranton

Dr. Collinson


Johnny Clive

The Minister

Gerald Astley

Peter Hazelwood


Angela Connor

Cobie Vale


And the crew of the


Series devised by

Music composed by

Film Cameraman

Sound Recordist

Film Editor

Studio Lighting

Studio Sound

Script Editor



Directed by

The BBC thanks the R.N.L.I. for their co-operation. Plymouth Lifeboat and Crew.


Crawford Lyall
Wally Goodman
Freddy White
Archie Wilson
Brian Johns
Brian Scott
Geoffrey Witherick
Vic Taylor
Alec Dolman
Tony McKinnon
Peter Roy
Andree Cameron
Sheila Vivian
Sandra Satchwith
Ann Pip
Audrey Stewart
Dilys Marvin

Walkons (Film Only)

Toni Lee
David Seyforth
Leslie Conrad
Roger Wright

Uncredited crew

Production Assistant

Assistant Floor Manager


Studio Lighting

Studio Lighting

Grams Operator

Vision Mixer

Floor Assistant

Make-Up Supervisor

Costume Supervisor

Associate Producer


The Morning Star Newspaper 23rd February 1970

Striking too close for whose comfort?
by Stewart Lane

Would it be too far afield to suggest that someone up there (wherever BBC-1's Doomwatch series is devised and written) doesn't like politicians?
Certainly the Government Ministers who have appeared so far have been represented as smooth oily buck passers, whose primary concern is always to keep things under wraps to protect their own position.
Indeed, it makes one wonder how such a body as Doomwatch, which is designed to safeguard public interests against the wilder excesses of the scientists, technologists and politicians, ever got appointed in the first place.
But Monday's episode “Burial At Sea” by Dennis Spooner, struck very near to probability in other respects and no doubt too close for comfort of some actual authorities.
A tragedy aboard a pop singer's luxury boat at first arouses suspicion of drugs but is finally revealed to be the consequences of nerve gas leaking from drums in the sea.
(With all the current discussion about CS gas there could hardly be a more topical theme!)
Attempts to hush up the affair despite several deaths, included what seemed to be the planting of drugs. But when the deadly seepage into the sea affected other innocent holidaymakers, and dead birds came floating ashore, it became impossible to withstand a public inquiry.
As I asked myself (and I'm quite sure other viewers did the same) at this point; what was the official; reason given for all those dead sea birds last year?
If this series can continue to strike hard at real problems of today, and concern itself a little less with slightly unbelievable cloak and dagger activities, it will serve a useful warning and may be an educational function.

With thanks to Michael Seely and Andrew Wilson

The dumping of waste products in the sea is nothing new. Figures suggest that Britain had dumped at the end of the Second World War, up to 200,000 tonnes of chemical weapons in the seas around the world. Britain dumped in the Atlantic, Baltic, the North Sea, Irish sea, and around the Channel Isles. In December 1969 countless fish, seals and birds were found dead in the Irish sea — was there a connection?

Chemicals involved were Organophosphorus nerve agents, mustard gas, and blistering agents. Some were tossed overboard, others packed into ships which were then scuttled or blown up. These are now beginning to breach their containment. One Russian scientist believes that the containers are all at a critical stage of thinning and that rather than expecting a gradual release, there may be a catastrophic surge in release. Containers are occasionally dredged up by fishing nets, endangering the health of fishers. At lease 7 fishers have had to be hospitalised after their nets brought up mustard gas residues.
The chemicals will adversely affect the health of the marine ecosystem, concentrating as they pass up the food web.

Dumping of massive quantities of potentially lethal chemicals in the Earths oceans is still taking place. It is because of these real life parallels that Kit Pedler wanted a real life DOOMWATCH to be established, that would investigate on behalf of the people. The 1972 DOOMWATCH feature film contains elements from this Dennis Spooner story as it too concerns with the stupidity of dumping chemicals at sea in containers that will eventually leak and affect the environment in ways that are not fully understood.

With thanks to John Archbold for the Radio Times cover and listing

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