Genetic engineering can alter the shape, personality and intelligence of a human being, even before it is born: by tampering with nature we can make Superman. Today, we experiment on lesser animals, like... the rat.
A young child pushed in his buggy by his mother spots what he thinks is a pussy cat. It is, in fact, a rat. And it attacks him.
Dudley has sure taken advantage of his triple role for this episode which starts with a boy who is implied to have been killed by a rat. The boy in reality is Dudley's son Stephen.
Tomorrow, The Rat is about a scientist Dr Mary Bryant conducting an experiment to solve the rat problem which ultimately goes wrong.
The rats looks terrifying whenever they appear on-
While Ridge romancing Bryant may not have been unexpected, the shock on his face is convincing upon seeing Bryant's corpse whose death was caused by a distraught mother whose son was killed by rats.
A the storm of protests were launched at this episode. Generally regarded as DOOMWATCH at its very best. The next day everyone was discussing it as they had done with the Quatermass serials just over a decade previously. The pre-
Writer Terence Dudley was keen to investigate the moral dilemma of when powerful poisons and toxins should be deployed against vermin.
Tomorrow the Rat caused quite an extreme reaction, and questions were allegedly asked in Parliament regarding the horror of the programme.
Tomorrow, the Rat, one of the most notorious episodes of Doomwatch, began life as an additional storyline provided to the BBC by series devisers Dr Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis on Friday 21st February 1969; at this point it was entitled Rattus Sapiens? The idea behind this particular instalment combined the fact that rodents and vermin were developing a resistance to certain forms of poison which had previously been effective in controlling them, and also the controversial area of genetic engineering, where the work done by some scientists in ‘improving’ mankind but dropping ‘undesirable’ chromosomic elements was being labelled as inhuman, and akin to experiments undertaken by the Third Reich under Hitler with the aim of producing a ‘perfect’ Master Race.
The script developed from Pedler and Davis’s idea was crafted into a script by Terence Dudley, the series producer. Dudley had been appointed to Doomwatch in November 1968, and had been a BBC producer/writer/director for several years, notably with the 1962 ecological thriller The River Flows East; he had then produced series such as Cluff, The Mask of Janus and The First Lady, on which he had worked with Davis. In addition to the issues of genetic experimentation, Dudley was keen to investigate the moral dilemma of when powerful poisons and toxins should be deployed against vermin; the Animals (Cruel Poisons) Regulations of 1963 had restricted the use of some chemicals which were considered unnecessarily cruel, but Dudley wanted to develop a scenario where the government authorities actually found themselves effectively at war with dangerous, flesh-eating rodents.
In his script, Dudley described his main protagonist, Dr Mary Bryant as ‘thirty-two years old and no bluestocking. She is sexually very attractive, but is female rather than feminine.’ Her employer, Dr Hugh Preston, was described as ‘fifty years old with a forceful personality, but the degree of contumely in it makes him unlikeable’. The mother of the child attacked by the rats was originally called Vera Chambers rather than Joyce Chambers, and was envisaged by Dudley as ‘a faded twenty-five with the timidity of the untutored’; her husband was merely referred to as a ‘nondescript man’.
Dudley arranged that he should direct his own script, and that this would be one of the first episodes both to be made and broadcast. As the main guest star he cast actress/ director Penelope Lee in the role of Dr Mary Bryant; in 1972, he would cast Lee again as Mary Mitcheson, one of the regulars in the period drama series The Regiment. Robert Sansom, a veteran actor who had worked on TV since the war, was Dr Preston with Hamilton Dyce cast a the Minister, a role which would recur in the final episode of the season, Survival Code. As Joyce Chambers, Dudley selected Eileen Helsby, whom he cast as Charmian Wentworth in his next telefantasy series, Survivors, a few years later.
Pre-filming on Tomorrow, the Rat took place in London during the third week of production on Doomwatch (after filming in Bishops Stortford for The Plastic Eaters and at Plymouth for Burial at Sea). 16mm film was used for this material which included montage shots of the rat attacks, the dismembered pony in the stables, Alan Clements being returned home by ambulance and rats in the sewers. Only two of the regular cast members were required for filming; Simon Oates performed the scene of Dr John Ridge arriving outside Mary Bryant’s home on the evening of Tuesday 18th November 1969, while the following day John Paul shot the sequence of Dr Spencer Quist fending off the press and descending into the sewers (originally, it had been proposed to have a female extra double for the actress cast as Dr Bryant, but this idea was abandoned); the banter between Quist and the Fleet Street reporters was a late addition. For the pre-credit sequence of the toddler being attacked in the pushchair, Dudley cast his wife Hilde as the mother and his own son, Stephen, as the child; Stephen later featured regularly as John in Survivors.
Tomorrow, the Rat was the third episode of Doomwatch to be recorded; at this point, it was also believed that it would be the third in broadcast order although the transmission date was not known. Camera rehearsals took place in Studio 3 at BBC Television Centre on Friday 19th December 1969, prior to the actual recording on Saturday 20th. Dudley opted to record the programme in sequence between 7.3Opm and 10.00pm, stopping only for costume changes and special effects. For the scene where Toby Wren and Colin Bradley were attacked by the rats in the kitchen, a recording break was scheduled and stuffed rats were attached to the trouser legs of actors Robert Powell and Joby Blanshard, who then proceeded to attack the ‘animals’; the props were then removed in another break. Shots of the real rats — such as the one scuttling around the Chambers’s kitchen at night — were usually done as cutaway shots at the end of scenes. For the close-ups in which the caged rat leapt at Wren’s bleeding finger, John Holmes, who had trained and supervised the rats used in the episode, doubled for Powell in a cut-away shot. Several fake newspapers were assembled for the show; a copy of The Guardian with the headline ‘Rats Roam London’ and The Daily Mirror with ‘Woman Breeds Man-Eating Rats’ (as specified in Dudley’s script).
Editing of the episode took place on Monday 22nd December between 10.30am and 1.30am, with the final running time being 50 minutes and 1 second. When the series was introduced to the new audience via an article in the Radio Times on Thursday 5th February 1970, Tomorrow, the Rat was heralded by one of the scientific facts in the opening section of Elizabeth Cowley’s piece: ‘Fact: In Asia there are seven rats to every Asian, in Europe one to every European. Rats are used in advanced experiments in genetics. An experiment which ‘went wrong’ could produce a breed of killer rats.’ Tomorrow, the Rat was transmitted fourth on Monday 2nd March 1970 to an audience of 10.7 million; the shock effect of the instalment invoked a similar (although not as extreme) reaction as with the depiction of the rats which Winston Smith was exposed to in Room 101 in the BBC’s 1954 production of Nineteen Eighty-Four, and questions were allegedly asked in Parliament regarding the horror of the programme.
Some weeks later in the issue of Thursday 19th March, viewer John L Jennings criticized the episode for not having the source of the mutation treated, although admitting that its shock effect was powerful. Dudley replied that the source of the mutation was Dr Bryant’s lab, and its destruction would not have solved the problem; he re-iterated that the purpose of Doomwatch was to show ‘the biter being bit’. Another letter in the Thursday 19th April issue from Leonard F Clark accused the series of being anti-feminist, pointing out that Dr Mary Bryant’s breeding of the rats was placed alongside the secretary Miss Wills who spread the plastic eating enzyme in The Plastic Eaters and the female scientist Dr Robson who was the security risk in Project Sahara.
Although the BBC wiped the original 625 line colour videotape as being of no further use, a 525 line copy of the episode was returned from Canada in the 1980s; this was released by BBC Video in May 1991 and on DVD in October 2000, and has been shown on UK Gold.
TV Zone Issue 147 in 2002
Friday 19th December 1969
2.00 - 6.30 Camera rehearsal (with TK-37)
6.30 - 7.30 SUPPER
7.30 - 10.00 Camera rehearsal (without TK)
Saturday 20th December 1969
11.00 - 12.30 Camera rehearsal (without TK)
12.30 - 1.30 LUNCH
1.30 - 6.00 Camera rehearsal with TK-37 from 2.00)
6.00 - 7.00 SUPPER
7.30 - 10.00 TELERECORD: VTC/6HT/55618
Chambers composite: hall/kitchen
Mary's composite: sitting-room/lab/observation room
Sewer (section) & rat nest
Minister's office (section)
19th & 20th:
With thanks to John Archbold for the Radio Times listing and cover.