In the Doomwatch labs, a complicated chemistry set up is being prepared by Quist and Wren. Watched by Ridge, Pat comes in to deliver a telegram and Quist is snappy when she leans on the table. Quist begins the test but his behaviour is a concern for the others. He is more irritable than usual. Trying to pour in a jar of a red liquid, his hand trembles and he glares at Ridge who offers to help. Then a passing aeroplane makes him spill it. Frustrated, he grabs some papers and storms back into his office. Wren wonders what's got into him. 'He's got ulcers – in the head.' Bradley tries to downplay it but Ridge is not so sure.
A policeman leaves the lighthouse watched by Dana. She goes back inside to join her father, Bernard, a man in his sixties who is going through his friend's papers and logs. A phrase catches his eye: 'The flames of hell.' He wants Quist to see this.
Ridge discusses Quist's behaviour with the others and says that one man has noticed – Duncan – the Minister's hatchet man who has spent a lot of time snooping. Bradley tries to defend Quist but Ridge has it down to over work and too much hate. 'We're all bloody dedicated, that man's obsessed. There's nothing worse than a paranoiac leader; he wants to know everything, he won't listen, he's got no confidence in anybody - ' Quist emerges and calls it a splendid analysis. 'Food for my paranoia. Come on, I don't deny you free speech.' He wants it to his face this time. He heard the diagnosis. What treatment would Doctor Ridge suggest? A holiday comes the simple answer. 'Have you no conception of the workload here?' Ridge does. 'Colin here gets the odd Sunday in three with his family, Toby hasn't been to his home in the north since he came here and if I take a woman out for dinner I fall asleep over the coffee!' 'Now we're getting to the real reason,' snarls Quist. 'We're wrecking your love life.' Ridge groans: as far as Quist is concerned he would rather do the whole job on his own. Ridge walks out, leaving Quist to ask Bradley what he feels and won't take any masterful evasions. 'Alright then: aye, you do need a break and badly!' Wren agrees. 'You go, work stops. We've had it, that's all.' Quist considers for a moment, he has a telegram in his hand, gets Ridge back in and declares that he shall be away for a few days. He thinks that the organisation is getting a little top heavy and that they should all learn to be a bit more self-reliant. He's going to visit an old friend of his, Bernard Colley, the well known conservationist down in Kent. And with that he leaves. 'Oh, he's a clever bastard,' says Ridge.
Quist arrives at the Colley cottage where he is greeted by Dana, trying to clean the fire place. She is divorced, and has had enough of younger men, something that delights Quist. He wants to know what all this is about but Dana would rather her father explain but she gives him some particulars about the suicide of Tommy Gort, Dad's oldest friend. They were both conservationists, used to have battles with the local authorities to give up the former army land. He nearly got arrested a few weeks ago, trying to prove an ancient right of way on land owned by a consortium, the Palgon Air Corporation. They have a testing station on the airfield, something Quist can hear in the background and as it is Sunday, so not too bad. Her father is up at the lighthouse. He has an idea that Tommy's death was not really suicide...
Working on some notes, Bernard is distracted by a new sound, a vibration. It gets louder and louder and he clutches his head in pain. He spins round and his eyes widen in fear...
Quist has finished off a nice tea, and feels that he is finally going to relax. This makes Dana feel a little guilty. Suddenly they spot Bernard, hanging onto the door frame, muttering about fire, fire everywhere!
A little later, Dr O'Brien comes down the stairs where he has been treating Colley. Quist finds his cheery diagnosis hard to accept, but O'Brien says Colley is only a little anxious and a bit deaf, but Quist thought he wasn't rational. 'Well, he is now.' O'Brien leaves. Quist is not convinced and would like a second opinion. But Bernard comes downstairs, displaying signs of deafness, and has a sore head. He asks for some medicinal brandy from his daughter, not caring what that quack said. He settles for tea and then he'll go back to bed. Quist talks to Bernard, what has he been up to. 'I'll tell you, but you won't believe a word. You won't be able to right an equation about this.' Bernard explains about Tommy, before he died he saw something, he had a vision. The flames of hell. 'He saw them, and he heard a noise, a terrible noise. It seemed to come from the earth.' And the reason why Bernard thinks is, is because he saw them for himself...
Quist is woken in the morning by Dana with breakfast, and the hideous racket from the air ground makes itself clear to Quist. He is sure that they are breaking the noise limits and may well pay them a visit. Bernard is back at the lighthouse!
Later that morning, Quist is walking towards the Palgan test fields. He can see wrecked planes and buildings. His attention is drawn to an engine sound coming from some low buildings...
It is just gone half past two in the afternoon. Quist has joined Bernard in the cottage and is listening to his complaints about the noise. Why couldn't they conduct their tests in the Outer Hebrides or somewhere? Too expensive, says Quist. Colley has done everything he could to protest, short of sabotage. 'Sometimes it seems that the individual is a peripheral irritant.' They need evidence in order to get a court injunction. Quist thinks that there are things that Palgon can do – sound barriers around the test beds. Quist is amazed to find an example of thunder shake. Thunder will create a resonance that will shatter glass. A brandy glass is perfectly cut in two! It's always in the same pattern. But was it thunder?
Quist goes for another walk along the cliff top. As he relaxes, he hears a distant rumble. He heads back to the cottage at quarter past three, pleased about the cleanest air he has breathed in months. Colley is sitting quietly in a chair, his back to Quist. But it is obvious something is wrong. Colley is leaning on the desk, hyper ventilating. His glasses are shattered.
Bradley puts a phoned message in front of Ridge. 'I don't believe it! Now we're supposed to drop everything and belt off to Kent!' It's all laid on, says Brad. He wants specific sound measuring equipment too. 'He's gone completely round the twist this time. Now we're supposed to take on the whole of the Palgon Air Corporation!'
Quist meets Reynolds, in charge of the operations here and he assures Quist that his wife has more issues about the noise than anyone else! They have thought long and hard over this issue, they will never make a jet engine that is completely silent, of course. Quist thought that what he heard was a high velocity liquid fuel motor. Reynolds put that down as a mistake but Quist is quite certain he heard a rocket motor. Since Quist has received a complaint, he is duty bound by his Cabinet brief to look into it. He explains about Colley's condition. He has a cerebral haemorrhage. He thinks there is a link between him and his tests. Colley is well known to Reynolds, who is careful not dismiss him as a crank. 'If we took notice of everybody like him, our work would grind to a halt.' 'I'm not sure that Colley would agree that chopping an hour of a transatlantic crossing is progress.' And there are thousands of people all over the world who are being subjected to the dangers of excessive sound level. Sound can be dangerous. 'Do you remember the Germans sound cannon in world war two?' Reynolds wants some concrete evidence. Quist thinks he has a case to answer, and two of his colleagues are coming down this afternoon. He warns Reynolds that if permission is refused, he is in a position to get more authority.
Ridge and Wren have arrived at the cottage. Dana is on the phone to the hospital. Ridge feels he might enjoy this trip, a pleasant stroll down to the boozer... He cancels that last remark when Quist arrives. Dana comes in: Bernard has died, he never recovered consciousness. Quist, too, is shaken. He remembered how Bernard helped him when his wife died. He quickly gets to work and tells Ridge and Wren to go over to Palgon and the tests to do. Quist will go over to Gort's cottage where two men have died. Quist goes up to see Dana... Ridge warns Wren that they are going to have to play this one carefully. Ridge is aware of old men getting brain damage and believing in hallucinations. But what worries him most is Quist. 'He's got the hardest, most elegant analytical mind if I have ever come across and yet here he is totally and completely supporting the wanderings of a crank!'
Reynolds confesses he finds Quist's attitude high handed to say the least ans that their chairman, Sir Henry Bantok is promising to take this up with the Minister at once, but he appreciates Ridge and Wren's position and asks his chief engineer Mr Holt to take them down to the test bed area to do their tests. After they leave, he tells Holt that the Doomwatch team might be a little too busy to see the T9...
As Ridge and Wren are escorted in the test beds by Holt, Quist is setting up equipment in Gort's cottage. An oscilloscope registers sound waves. So far the line is flat. The clock chimes three. A low hum begins to build up in the background. Quist tries to identify the source of this, suddenly it rumbles through his head and increases in intensity. He opens the door to the lighthouse where the noise is a shriek. It deafens Quist. He staggers back into the living room and puts his hand on a table – his hand is wobbling! His vision is distorted and blurred, blue concentric circles, To his horror, as he looks out of the window, he sees the sea rocking, and then suddenly red flames!
Ridge gets off the phone at the Colley house. Apparently the Minister is spitting blood, demanding to know why Doomwatch is investigating the ravings of an elderly nut case! After Beeston the Minister wants them out and Quist has handed him a chopper on a plate! Dana comes down, intrigued and offended by what passes for loyalty in their department. Ridge defends himself that their work is needed and needed badly. 'It's more than just one man.' He apologises for the nut case remarks. She tells them that Quist is in bed upstairs, he had some form of attack. Like her father's.... They meet Dr O'Brien who says Quist is fine, 'Bit of an old bull, isn't he?' He gave him a jab to quieten him down. Apparently he said one or two things about doctors... Then he started jabbering away about fire in the sky. He's a bit deaf and there is some narrowing of the blood vessels. Ridge is thinking of other matters. He asks O'Brien if there is a rest home they can send him to for a few days, somewhere private? O'Brien does – a place where all the rich boozers hang out to dry. O'Brien goes to arrange it leaving Wren demanding to know what Ridge is playing at. 'The only thing we can to get him off the hook and us out of trouble. We'll tell everybody he's collapsed due to over work and he'll get a fait accompli.' He's on a loser with this war with Palgon Air. But what if they had seen something? Ridge says you need evidence, otherwise basing evidence on hearsay stories, you may as well start investigating ESP or water-divining. Ridge agrees to interview the cleaner at Gort's place, a possible witness, if that will satisfy Wren.
Wren goes to see Quist who is resting, but talking in his sleep. He talks of the lighthouse, the tower, a closed column of air, a standing wave, pressure,
In the morning before they go to the funeral, Ridge and Wren speak with Mrs Knott who doesn't like nor understand their questions about Gort. It's as if they're trying to start stories. She has no problem about visiting the lighthouse cottage and would be there now if it wasn't for the funeral.
'How does that grab your apples?'
That afternoon, still in her funeral togs, Mrs Knott begins cleaning Captain Gort's cottage.
Ridge leaves his address with Dana, and tells her that the ambulance is coming for Quist. Wren is packing up but remembers they left the scope back at the cottage. Wren goes to fetch it.
As Wren makes his way back to the cottage, he spots the vapour trails of a high flying air craft, remembering Quist's words and then as he approaches the lighthouse can hear a noise receding. It is at its highest level in the tower, He suddenly spots Mrs Knott collapsed on the floor.
Dr O'Brien comes running down the stairs, his attempts to jab Quist result in abuse! He needs help from Ridge and Dana. Quist slowly makes his way downstairs and slowly makes for Ridge. But before he can it out with him, clutches his head and collapses. Wren comes in and says save the ambulance for Mrs Knott. 'She's just had a non-existent vision. Like your father and doctor Quist...' He sends Doctor O'Brien to the cottage and tells him to stop the ambulance for they won't be needing it. Ridge demands to know what is going on. Wren ignores him and tells Quist that he thinks he has worked it out. 'It's nothing to do with the noise from the test bed at all. It's something far more extraordinary.'
A little later, the three of them are discussing the theory. Ridge thinks it's a feasible hypothesis but Quist decides that they need a crucial experiment. Still groggy, Quist tells Wren to get Brad to sort out all data concerning hyper sonic air craft, flight programmes. John will get to Reynolds in the morning and ensure that he is at Gort's lighthouse at 2:30 tomorrow afternoon, at whatever cost. And Dana will be here to welcome Duncan when he arrives. That surprises the others. 'John is about to ring and invite him down... Just say that you're worried about my health, think I'm off my head... He'll be down in a flash.'
Early next morning, Colin has finished assembling the data Toby needs. He has spent all night doing it. 'If you're going to tackle Reynolds,' says Wren to Ridge, 'you're going to need some ammunition. The name of the rocket plane project: T9.'
Driving up to the offices through the air field, ridge suddenly notices a building that they didn't get to see, and could hear a rumbling...
Reynolds is not convinced by the theories and needs crucial evidence but declines to come down to Gort's cottage. Ridge mentions the building they didn't see – the one where they're testing the T9 rocket engine. 'How on earth did you find out about that?' Ridge suggests it would be in his interests to come, and that the Minister's assistant Richard Duncan will be there.
Duncan, a thirty something is getting some rather sarcastic comments from Ridge as they wait for Reynolds and Quist to arrive. Reynolds arrives, and is a little sceptical. 'Believe me, I've been through attacks like this before from all sorts of quarters.' But Duncan says that this probe might be a little harder to refute. 'Dr Quist rarely acts without sound reason.' Quist makes his entrance. He starts of by saying that Captain Gort, Colley and himself had all experienced a similar hallucination or a vision. The circumstances were all identical and they searched for a common explanation. The phenomenon was created by energetic waveforms. Shock waves. From a high flying aircraft: probably in the hyper-sonic speed. It achieves its velocity over the Belgium coast and then passes over here. The specific shape of the lighthouse tower amplified the shock waves, amplified enough to cause damage to human tissue. Duncan is not as dismissive as Reynolds. The retina in the eye can be stimulated by physical disturbance as well as light. 'Our eyes were literally shaken into action.' The barrel of the lighthouse acted as a large wind instrument hence the booming noise. Reynolds ask what type of air craft. Quist says the T9 - which he tried to cover up. But Reynolds, backed up by Duncan, explains that the T9 is under the closest possible security black out. A cabinet directive, in fact. If the T9 is rocket propelled rather than by turbines, it could cause shock waves of this kind. And assuming the test path and test times are the same, it is due for one soon – three pm. Twenty minutes to go.
Wren is outside, with what looks like a film camera on a tripod with a sound monitor, pointing up at the sky.
Quist explains that the equipment is to monitor the shock waves of the T9 but Reynolds is not satisfied with the standard of the equipment! He would only accept proof such as damage to human tissue. Quist is left with no alternative but to suggest the tests are suspended on the T9 until he has time to conduct further tests here with monkeys – and to get a Home Office license for that will take time. Two months at least. Duncan confirms this. Quist is about to leave, having no desire to experience the effects again. Reynolds decides to stay. He will take full responsibility for his actions. Duncan and Ridge also want to stay. Ridge has a soft spot for fireworks. 'Mind you get out before you get a rocket in your eye. ' He leaves, leaving Reynolds muttering about how insufferable he is. Ridge agrees. 'Unfortunately, he's usually right.'
Quist joins Toby: Reynolds had reacted according to plan. John is staying with them to witness results. 'Nice day for it,' remarks Wren.
Reynolds is listening out for the plane – it is just audible if you know what to listen for. A hovercraft in the bay, and then three o'clock. Reynolds is a about to leave when Ridge calls them over, and they begin to hear it, the oscilloscope reacts. Very quickly, the noise affects all three of them, Duncan the worst. Ridge experiences the sound in the light house tower. Duncan sees the flames.
'That must have been Mach 4!' says Wren as the plane passes over. Duncan has ran out of the cottage and nearly ends up the same way like Gort – over the cliff - until Wren stops him and he recovers... Quist and Ridge find a stunned Reynolds recovering inside. 'You were right, oh my god, two men dead.'
Sometime later, Quist returns from an inquiry, and starts to take off his tie. He tells them that Reynolds supported him – an act of great courage. It could damage his career irreparably. But... 'Why are so called leaders can't face the truth I don't know. They lie, they push, they sell the future down the river. Immediate advantage and to hell with the long term consequences.' Ridge says that a spot of shock therapy hasn't done him any harm. The result is that Gort's cottage is to be compulsory purchased and pulled down, and another stretch of coast fenced off. The flying will be suspended for a month. 'Can't let an isolated death stand in the way of progress, can we?' Bradley asks what will happen when this thing starts flying all over the country? 'We don't know, and as usual we won't know. Until it happens.' Quist goes into his office.
The Red Sky is about as pure Doomwatch as you're likely to get: it takes a familiar concern, this time noise pollution and then gives it a twist. For those of you who have lived close to airports and listened to the venting of engines late at night, or for you poor souls who live underneath the flight-paths of major flight paths such as Heathrow, you can appreciate the view of Bernard Colley. Living next to military airbases isn't much fun either – one minute all is quiet, then suddenly the interminable shriek of a passing fighter. There was a period in the nineties when double glazing salesman were taking advantage of a new ruling where by you get a grant for sound proofing in those areas. This was certainly the case for a relative of mine. Sometimes you can choose where you live, sometimes you can't. And noise is as intrusive a nuisance to your home, whether it would be the thud thud of next doors double bass booster sound system (WHY!!!) or the interminable whine of a motor bike warming up for ten minutes at four in the morning.
It must have comes as a blessed relief for some when the skies earlier in 2010 were empty of planes thanks to the natural pollution of an erupting Icelandic volcano.
In the 1960s, the first super-sonic aircraft were being developed in a joint venture between the British and French governments. It would take less time to cross the Atlantic than it would by ordinary passenger jet. But not everyone was happy. The Treasury wasn't for a start, and whenever plans came about to scrap the project (despite the crippling cancellation costs and loss of face with a country whose support it was, was vital to join the Common Market), Tony Benn MP, fought to preserve it, despite perceiving the escalating costs and bureaucratic nightmares. This was a prime example of the white heat of technology that prime minister Harold Wilson envisaged – and that Kit Pedler was suspicious of; that the dawning of a new industrial revolution for Britain. Tony Benn was Minister of Technology at the time, and his constituency was Bristol South East – where parts of Concorde were being manufactured. He saw the battle as the battle for jobs. Concorde first flew in 1969. It broke the sound barrier and created a sonic boom.
Meanwhile in New York, their was growing opposition towards Concorde due to its noise. It became quite a heated issue although found to be quieter than expected.
The T9 in The Red Sky is a liquid fuel jet, akin to a rocket! It travels at Mach 4, about twice the speed of Concorde at full rate, and its shock waves in special circumstances, can kill. I imagine the exhaust fumes don't do the ozone much good either. Happily, I imagine the Oil crisis of the early 1970s put paid to the T9.
In the episode, the Palgon Air Corporation is built up to be this huge business of the usual type; a chairman who has direct access to the Minister and can brush aside local concerns. Opposing them and has been for years is Bernard Colley, the well known conservationist. His feeling of being nothing but a 'peripheral irritant' is a memorable phrase. 'A pimple on the Palgon Air backside.' But from small acorns, powerful pressure movements can grow!
It is perhaps the closest Doomwatch ever got to a Nigel Kneale supernatural type play – mysterious sounds coming from the ground, people scared to death... A couple of years later, noise will be activating ghosts in The Stone Tape, and something much nastier down in the ground. A few years earlier in The Road, eighteenth century people will be seeing fore-shadows of the nuclear age, and hear them too. One almost expects a supernatural presence to be unveiled at the end of the episode but – phew! Rationalism and scientific enquiry saves the day!
For once, Quist is doing the pushing rather than being persuaded as in Friday's Child, or acting on a hunch like in Burial At Sea. He has a more personal involvement. It also shows the risks he takes to prove a hypothesis. It is clear from the episode's beginning that the Minister is out to get Quist – and since this is a Davis/Pedler script, it is based around the Beeston affair from The Plastic Eaters.
He is not too concerned about pressure from the Minister at all. It is Ridge who is more concerned for the future of Doomwatch and Quist. It is an episode that examines Ridge's attitude towards Quist – he has huge respect but questions his judgement. The tensions that occasionally rise between them finally come to the boil as Ridge sees the 'old man' (he's not Superman yet) becoming more tired, irritable and more difficult to deal with than usual. The best bit is when Quist, probably under sedation, stalks Ridge as he is waiting for the ambulance to take him to a clinic, but collapses before he can do him a mischief! There is no doubt that Ridge is working in his boss's best interests, but it won't be long before they have another fall out over attitudes, and a near parting of the ways. At the top of the episode, Quist is beginning to fray at the edges with the sheer amount of work he has to get through on a daily basis. Quist is doing in the lab what Ellis will be doing in two weeks time – finding it difficult to pour in liquid with a shaky hand. And both are of similar ages and both are wanted out by their bosses. But even Quist concedes that 'the organisation is getting a little top heavy,' and he has to learn to delegate a bit better.
Quist is this week's sufferer – his hallucinations are a camera effects trickery tour de force. There were no video effects men at the BBC in 1970; these 'tricks' were performed by the Inlay Operators, who would be assistant cameramen on temporary attachment.
We also get a good example of how scientists behave - evidence rather than hearsay – the esp and water divining remark is very instructive, and by the end of the decade, Kit Pedler is investigating these issues to see if there is evidence to be found. Forty years on, we are still waiting for it.
This is the first time we meet Richard Duncan, who does not live up to the description of him being the Minister's hatchet man, indeed he stands up for Quist to Reynolds! He is quite a nice chap. He is described as the Minister's assistant but in Invasion he is a parliamentary secretary – which makes him an MP. His life is saved by Toby Wren, therefore Doomwatch, and in later episodes we see that he is not hostile towards them but acts as his master's voice. Perhaps it is the reported continual presence of Duncan that is pushing Quist over the edge, in much the same way noise has pushed Captain Gort over the cliff in Kent.
This episode is the complete antithesis to the story which follows, a Terence Dudley script Spectre at the Feast, where the debates are across desks, much longer and oratorical than, say Quists and Reynolds. In The Red Sky, we have the issues but don't feel we are being lectured at.
Paul Eddington seen here as Reynolds would play the Special Branch link to the government in a few years time, a manipulative figure quite unlike the characters which made him a household name in comedy for the BBC in either The Good Life or Yes, Minister. One wonders what did happen to Reynolds? He was one of the few opponents to Doomwatch who had no choice but to accept the results. Did it damage his career irreparably? How could it not? Did he join Admiral Tranton in the dole queue? Better than following Mary Bryant to the morgue...
Reviewed by Michael Seely
Upon deciding to have a break, Quist goes to have a rest at a lighthouse owned by his friend Bernard Colley. It was at the lighthouse when he discovers that one of Colley's friends committed suicide. The suicide is not all that it seems and it may have something to do with the testing of an aircraft nearby.
The Red Sky presents a disturbing message about testing for Defence purposes to protect a nation could become deadly for the local populace.
A rather interesting performance from Paul Eddington as Reynolds. Paul Eddington would one day have a much higher authority in government in Yes Minister & Yes Prime Minister.
Reviewed by Matthew See Added 5th November 2009
Project Number: 02249/4080
2nd February (Filming) SIMON OATES
3rd February (Filming) SIMON OATES
One nights subsistence.
One return fare London/Deal, Kent
Friday 20th February
14.00 - 18.30 Camera Rehearsals: with TK-45 (overtime - SIMON OATES)
18.30 - 19.30 Supper
19.30 - 20.00 Line-Up
20.00 - 21.00 RECORD INSERT
21.00 - 22.00 Camera Rehearsal
14.00 - 18.30 Camera Rehearsals: with TK-45 (overtime - SIMON OATES)
18.30 - 19.30 Supper
19.30 - 20.00 Line-Up
20.00 - 21.00 RECORD INSERT
21.00 - 22.00 Camera Rehearsal
Saturday 21st February
11.00 - 13.00 Camera Rehearsal
13.00 - 14.00 Lunch
14.00 - 18.00 Camera Rehearsal
18.00 - 19.00 Supper
19.00 - 19.30 Line-Up
19.30 - 22.00 Telerecorded: VTC/6HT/57380B
VTR Inserts: VTC/6HT/57380/A
featuring John Paul and Michael Elwyn
This episode overran in the studio.
Tuesday 24th February
10.30 - 13.30 V.T Editing
Tuesday 24th February
10.30 - 13.30 V.T Editing
Dr. Spencer Quist
Dr. John Ridge
(Spelt with one "t" on the episode titles)
Captain Tommy Gort*
*On film only
*On film only
Series devised by
Music composed by
6TH APRIL, 1970
9.45PM - 10.35PM
With thanks to John Archbold for the Radio Times listing and cover.