Here is the cover and the features from the first episode of the second season of Doomwatch on BBC One from the UK tv listings magazine. RADIO TIMES DATED 10 DECEMBER 1971. Photograph by PHILIP SAYER
DOOMWATCH IS BACK
Presenting the deadly dangers of today...
Doomwatch — You Killed Toby Wren: Monday 9.50 BBC1 Colour
KIT PEDLER, scientist, and Gerry Davis, dramatist, had an idea for a sci-fl thriller series with a difference. It was a bold idea, for the difference was that their stories were actually likely to come true. While having to succeed as exciting drama, each story in their series would be anchored in scientific reality, its writers projecting what could happen if a particular experiment or technology got out of hand. That was three years ago. Doomwatch finally reached the screen last February under producer Terence Dudley and made an immediate impact. By the time popular Toby Wren (Robert Powell) had been killed attempting to disarm a nuclear device in the last episode, the series had gained a record audience for a first run — 12 million viewers. In the Doomwatch offices on the eleventh floor at Television Centre, the team has been working flat out since spring on the new series that starts on Monday. Gerry Davis declares succinctly: ‘We intend to discomfort, shock and provoke.’ Terence Dudley says he believes in the characters as much as he does in his friends. And Kit Pedler tells you that as a scientist he’s deeply concerned about the dangers of uncontrolled scientific growth.
For a programme that purports to be fictitious, Doomwatch has an ominously accurate record, scoring four prophetic bull’s-eyes in its first four episodes. The last series’ first episode was The Plastic Eaters, which opened with a shock sequence of an aeroplane dissolving in midair, its plastic components eaten away by a mystery virus. Shortly after this was transmitted, the search for a plastic- eating organism to ease waste disposal problems was intensified, and scientists launched a research programme involving a range of self-destructive plastics that crumble into a powder which would then be eaten by bacteria. Doomwatch 2— Friday’s Child — showed a surgeon breeding a human embryo, which he planned to bring to life within his private laboratory, in a flask. ‘We thought this up as a warning,’ Kit Pedler explains. ‘If this technique were perfected a general, for instance, might be able to order 100,000 troops to be produced. The possibilities would be terrifying.’ During the very same hour that Friday’s Child was being televised the newspapers were printing a headline story. At Oldham General Hospital, gynaecologist Dr Patrick Steptoe, in conjunction with others, had just succeeded in fertilizing a human egg outside a woman’s body. The egg was alive and developing. In the next programme, Burial at Sea, a group of pop stars and their girls were found drifting out at sea close to a secret dumping ground for surplus chemical warfare projects. Two of them had died from the effect of a defoliant which should have been safe in canisters on the sea bed. 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.’ Could they have been coincidences? ‘There were no coincidences, says producer Terence Dudley. ‘Our idea was to entertain, but to entertain with cautionary tales. Our objective was to base every Doomwatch subject on something real, something that could and probably would happen in time if nobody took steps to stop it.’
In Tomorrow the Rat, written by Dudley, an experiment in rat breeding got out of hand and London was plagued with a new breed of intelligent killer rats partial to the taste of human beings. In that same week a massive outbreak of a particularly dangerous kind of rat was reported in Shropshire. These ‘super rats,’ as they have been christened, were hitherto unknown in Britain. They are immune to Warfarin and all permitted rodent poisons. Ministry of Agriculture experts soon gave up hope of ever exterminating them completely. With The Battery People they showed men who were handling hormone-based fish feed becoming impotent. ‘This seemed a little over-speculative at the time we thought it up two-and-a-half years ago,’ Pedler says. ‘But just a few months before it was screened a similar incident actually occurred on a farm in Leicestershire.’
Now that so many of the fears of Pedler and Davis have already become fact, can we afford to ignore their other warnings? Electronic invasion of privacy is just one, and Project Sahara examined life with a state computer programmed with highly personal information on all citizens. ‘Even in this country,’ Pedler says, ‘there’s evidence of a lot of information stored on computer tape which should be private — and certain people we’d prefer not to may have access to these tapes.’ More and more of the organisations that keep tabs on us are using computers, and now even the police are having a centralised computer built at Hendon, London. While there seems no reason at present to doubt the confidential treatment of information we give to the police, the Giro, the Inland Revenue, our banks and employers, the prospect of computers getting together for a chat, and in effect becoming one mammoth computer with an eye on us all like the computer in Project Sahara, must alarm anyone who likes his privacy. As if to back up the Doomwatch team’s judgment, a programme called The Red Sky, which showed the damage caused by a high-flying rocket plane, has recently become all too real. Concorde, on supersonic test flights down the west coast of Britain and over the North Sea, split roof tiles, cracked windows, disturbed animals and, when it landed at Heathrow, caused people to complain of the unbearable noise.
‘I’m just as concerned as I ever have been,’ Kit Pedler says. ‘But I’m putting my concern to a more practical use now. I’m giving a series of lectures on Doomwatch themes; and I meet with a group of scientists who are just as concerned are about the dangers of technology. ‘I very strongly believe that there should be some sort of real- life equivalent to Doomwatch. Not acting for the Government, but investigating on behalf of the people. I believe it to be a feasible proposition.’ Whatever the chances of the creation of an official Doomwatch Department, the name has been tossed around Parliament and seized upon by the press. One national newspaper now runs a regular Doomwatch column. And a college in Plymouth has launched a course in the social responsibilities of science entitled ‘The Doomwatch Diploma.’ But Doomwatch, however scientifically accurate it has proved, is first and foremost an entertainment programme. Assuredly, it looks as if anything could happen when Quist, already riddled with self-doubts, is attacked on all fronts in You Killed Toby Wren. Besides introducing three new characters including Jean Trend as Dr Fay Chantry (‘a real dish,’ promises Davis), the new Doomwatch series offers 13 frightening new predictions for the future, many of which, let us hope, may never come true. Unfortunately, one already has — will you be able to spot which of the 13 it is?
PETER FRENCH - RADIO TIMES 1971
The Ministry has now summoned pest controllers in and around the area to meet it's 'doomwatch' experts next month to discuss what to do next.
It is going to tell them that they must now train farmers in the use of the old, highly toxic, dangerous and painful rat poisons that were abandoned 20 years ago in favour of the more humane and safer anti-coagulant rat poison, Warfarin
Doomwatch 'Tomorrow, the Rat', 2 March 1970
– Daily Mail, 16 September 1970
GAS DUMPED IN SEA BY BRITAIN
By Dr. ANTHONY MICHAELIS, Science Correspondent
Britain dumped 200,000 tons of poison gas, including 6,000 tons of the nerve gas Tabun, in the Atlantic up to 1957, the Ministry of Defence said yesterday.
It is possible that some leaked and was carried towards the shore by ocean currents, causing the mysterious deaths of thousands of sea birds, fish and seals in the Irish Sea in December last year.
Doomwatch 'Burial at Sea', 23 February
–Daily Telegraph, 12 August 1970
CONCORDE SHOCK WAVES A DANGER TO HEALTH, SAYS DOCTOR
By JOHN CHRISTOPHER
A SURGEON claimed last night that low frequency shock waves produced by Concorde's supersonic boom could be a serious health hazard.
Doomwatch 'The Red Sky', 6 April 1970
–Daily Express, 3 September 1970
SCIENTISTS may have solved the problem of disposing of plastic litter, with an additive that makes plastic extra sensitive to sunlight–to the extent that it can be reduced to powder if left in the open. The team at Aston University, Birmingham, say the process is harmless, and could be ready for commercial application in about three years.
In April, after a BBC TV Doomwatch thriller programme on the subject, plastics consultant Dr Peter Staudingen warned against developing self-destructive plastics. Such "bugs," he said, would be impossible to control.
Doomwatch 'The Plastic Eaters', 9 February 1970
–News of the World, 5 July 1970
TEST TUBE BABIES
What are our scientists really doing?
The idea of growing human embryos in the laboratory, and perhaps regulating their development so that they end up as babies possessing particular and chosen characteristics (big muscles, perhaps–or a genius for mathematics) is one that has fascinated science fiction writers for many years.
Doomwatch 'Friday's Child', 16 February 1970
–Evening News, 14 February 1969
The greatest intrusion into private life since the Inquisition is well under way. This time it is electronics.
Our secret lives are being recorded on computer tape and added to day by day.
All our details, achievements and errors are being gulped into data banks.
So what's wrong with this? The answer is we are being turned into see-through people. Who wants the idly curious person–or the criminally motivated–to be able to
Doomwatch 'Project Sahara', 9 March 1970
–News of the World, 8 February 1970
'SEX CHANGE' MEN FORCED TO SWITCH THEIR JOBS
Men working at a factory making birth pills have been forced to switch jobs because they developed feminine curves. Now, middle-aged women have been moved in to take over from them.
RADIO TIMES 1971
SEASON 2 SYNOPSIS
The series is starting to broaden its range, from scientific detective stories to more broader social and environmental themes. It's no longer a What If...? It's a What's Now, let's Debate! Thus the series gradually moves away from its roots as investigating the side effects of scientific horrors with exciting, exaggerated, chilling and strong concepts, to a more general, traditional form of drama veering towards the philosophical and sociological. It's more Tell Me, rather than Show Me. The series starts to lose it's gift for prophesy – because the 'threats' faced now are more social fears although just as valid, but lacking in that “oomph” factor that cannibal rats or drugs in chocolate had.
Precisely when the fall out between Terence Dudley and Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler occurred isn't precisely known. There had probably been simmerings from day one over the approach to this drama. Pedler wanted a drama with a warning message, a look into the near future, a what if...? programme backed up by Davis who had successfully collaborated with the scientist on Doctor Who. Dudley was a more old fashioned drama producer, keen to explore issues from all their angles, and not necessarily point fingers of blame in the story telling. Writers like Martin Worth got caught up in the middle of the war but he benefited from it and became an unofficial script editor for six months and commissioned The Human Time Bomb for which he received his only credit. Interestingly, this was only the third story recorded and Darrol Blake would have been prepping up No Room For Error and recalls Davis having gone by this point. Thus Dudley was already commissioning his own stories. The first two stories were Pedler inspired Doomwatch (The Logicians he story-lined) and Gerry Davis is credited as editor on all but six episodes (You Killed Toby Wren, Flight Into Yesterday, In The Dark, The Inquest, Public Enemy and his own script The Web of Fear). Four of these episodes were recorded last, and, despite being excellent drama, are going away from the Doomwatch 0f 1970. The episodes are beginning to become vehicles for debates without a dramatic backdrop or a rush to prevent a disaster. The science fiction and adventure aspect of Doomwatch was being phased out, replacing 'What ifs,' with 'What's happening,' and this process will be completed for the third series.
The story telling also puts greater emphasis on individual stories rather than the activities of the Doomwatch staff in their struggles. The Islanders, No Room For Error, By The Pricking of My Thumbs, seem to be dominated by victim families and their problems in a method not as heavily applied in the first series.
One person who will not move over to the third series is Simon Oates who did not appreciate the change of emphasis nor the handling of his character. Terence Dudley and Martin Worth gave him good material and addressed the differences and attitudes between Ridge and Quist (who now has the nickname Superman!) , but the sparring from the first season has been phased out, a maturing of the relationship. Ridge misses an episode, The Inquest and gets the focus of several episodes and has a fine line in humour. He isn't the only team member who misses an episode. In this series, the core team just isn't there.
The charismatic Toby Wren has been replaced by the rather unimpressive Geoff Hardcastle who seems to act as Ridge's gag feed most of the time and only seems to come to life in Public Enemy where he is allowed a few minutes of passion in conflict with Quist. He just isn't given a chance to shine and he smokes a lot! And isn't in every episode too. You get to see him for the first two and then next appears half way through the fifth episode and you think, 'Oh, it's him again.' Well played by John Nolan, he does not feature heavily in episodes he does feature in!.
Doctor Fay Chantry is introduced in the fourth episode as an answer to the accusations of sexism from the first series. She is a genuinely nice woman. a divorcee with a young daughter. She has more to do than Geoff, and seems to be safe from Ridge's advances (perhaps he doesn't fancy single parent mums or is developing a rule of not mixing work with pleasure). She is manages to last the series through missing only The Inquest. As a biologist who became an NHS nurse, she is qualified to deal with suspected Yellow fever outbreaks, have doubts over the extra Y chromosome research, the horrors of the Iron Doctor and attempt to clear Quist from drunk charges...
Colin Bradley pops up as and when required as does Barbara Mason, the replacement for Pat Hunnisett, who, although not as flirty as the delightful Pat, features even less. She does not appear after the first episode until the fourth.
Thus the core team isn't there any more. Thankfully, Quist still leads with an almost evangelical fervour and is prepared to browbeat and stick the knife into his opponents like Professor Ensor or Dr Whittaker. He uses a detective's instinct in The Inquest, and holds the weight of the world's problems on his shoulders in In The Dark and explores his guilt in You Killed Toby Wren. His animosity towards Ministers has softened, although their minions get short thrift at times. He is prepared to risk his career in Flight Into Yesterday to protect the Minister who will later be Sir George Hollroyd, despite trying to be removed by the same man in the first episode! And in the last episode of the series, the government ombudsman who was nominated as Man of the Year by the public and the press in Survival Code is Public Enemy! Quist is not perfect; his doesn't sympathise readily with Fay in The Human Time Bomb and has to put her through an emotional minefield in the interests of security. He doesn't show too much concern about Geoff's injury in The Inquest (a very clever opening!). He puts his dislike of a journalist before the interests of the son in By The Pricking of My Thumb and takes some persuading in other episodes to intervene – a trait he first displayed in Friday's Child, and he simply does not know how to react to the displaced villagers in Invasion! John Paul still puts in a bravado performance and is the solid, moral centre of the series.
We meet again John Barron's nameless Minister in two episodes and he is a very different character from the one he played in The Plastic Eaters. This one is suave, sophisticated and with a gift for over-doing the English language! John Savident also returns in The Web of Fear as the Minister for Health, apparently standing in for John Barron's character who suffered a heart attack in the previous episode. Other returning characters are Duncan from The Red Sky and Miss Wills from The Plastic Eaters. Actors seen in series one pop up during the second in different roles.
With a series showing signs of beginning to repeat itself, and without its guiding lights, the next series – if there is to be one, will be very interesting indeed...
Studio recordingcommenced on the following dates:
The Iron Doctor Saturday 2 August 1970
The Logicians Friday 14 August
Invasion 25th August
The Human Time Bomb Friday 4 September
The Human Time Bomb Friday 4 September
No Room For Error Wednesday 15 September
The Web of Fear Friday 25 September
You Killed Toby Wren Friday 16 October
The Islanders Tuesday 27 October
By The Pricking of my Thumbs Friday 6 November
The Inquest Tuesday 17 November
Public Enemy Tuesday 5 January 1971
Flight Into Yesterday Tuesday 19 January
In The Dark Friday 29 January
Transmission of the series started in December 14th 1970 and there was a gap between The Inquest and The Logicians to allow for boxing. That same Monday night on BBC2 was a documentary called Tomorrow Has Been Cancelled Due To Lack of Interest concerning Doomwatch style predictions of the future of mankind which forms the basis for the third series.
DARROL BLAKE "What was extremely important about the development of "Doomwatch" at this stage was that the first season had been so enormously successful; the BBC seemed to be breaking new ground and words like 'environmental' and 'pollution' came into the language. They rushed ahead with a second season and there was a falling out between Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis and Terry Dudley. By the time I arrived to do two episodes in the second season, Pedler and Davis had already gone. I vaguely remember Gerry still being around, but he'd packed his bags and went about the time I arrived.
The BBC has never known how to deal with success; they either run it into the ground or let it languish. For instance they decided to produce the second season six months after the first season had been completed. That meant they had to find writers fast. I think that was one reason for the mediocrity of the second season compared to the first one. In addition to this, Kit and Gerry had gone.
I can't remember exactly what I felt at the time, but I'm sure I had a feeling what we were doing in the second season was way below what had been achieved by the first season. We didn't seem to be breaking any new ground and there didn't seem to be an air of excitement about the scripts of the show. If the creator and the script editor, who have become a team, have parted company with the show, then I think something was bound to go out of it. The initial impetus was gone and the creative spark which made bugs in the plastic exciting was gone.
TERENCE DUDLEY: Dr Pedler was, in my view, a great man with a gut mission in life, which I admired and respected. Unfortunately, he was so obsessive about 'the message' of the series that he was convinced all the villains should be despised as fools or rogues, and I felt that to fall in with this view would depreciate the format. aunt Sallies don't make for much opposition, and drama is conflict; conflict of ideas, conflict of opinions, conflict of emotions; conflict of interests.
We quarrelled about the over-simplification that Kit particularly wanted in the characterisation of Doomwatch's opposition. I felt that it was too tendentious - and too like propaganda, actually, to be dramatically viable - and so Kit and Gerry withdrew after the first series. I stayed on for the second and third series, without a script editor - I didn't want any more script editors. In fact, I produced a number of programmes in my time without benefit of a script editor; sometimes they make for very heavy weather, and if the producer is also a writer, it is probably unnecessary. (Interviewed by Anthony Howe, reproduced in Talkback: The Eighties.)
MARTIN WORTH: Dudley was a delightful character, a big burly man, a big guy, very erudite, very genial, very witty, very entertaining person, but my god he wants everything done his way. The door of Terence Dudley's office was always just open and Terry was sitting there waiting for me to come and as soon as he saw me in the corridor he'd grab me, come in, and he made me sit down for forty five minutes, he totally rubbished Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler, it was awful what these two were up to, etc, etc,,, I had to take all this and then as I came out of his office three quarters of an hour later, Gerry's office was bang next door and Gerry had got his door open and he'd listen to all this and pulled me in and said, 'What's that bastard been telling you about me?' And it was perfectly obvious that this could not go on and because of their relationship with Terence Dudley, it wasn't surprising that Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis resigned. (Interviewed for The Cult of Doomwatch)
I was soon to become the last script editor. I wasn't credited because I didn't want to be. I said, 'I don't want an office and I don't want my name on the screen,' because I was busy as a writer elsewhere and I didn't want to lose that business. It was only going to be a six month engagement. (Time Screen)
(Martin Worth commissioned Louis Marks for The Human Time Bomb and suggested Flight Into Yesterday himself). One story that fell through
MARTIN WORTH: Dennis Spooner did a script for the series about a would be member of parliament who through brain surgery had some form of bug inserted into his brain so that he could be manipulated by others! Absurd fantasy, though the theme and implied message were serious enough. (Time Screen)
This could be Darwin's Killers, from a storyline by Kit Pedler. (Source: In Vision)
SIMON OATES: There was conflict between Terry Dudley and the writers at that time. I think the storyline went a little beyond credibility. It was leaning a bit more towards Doctor Who than Doomwatch really, and I do remember thinking, that’s it, it’s going to go into fairyland quite soon. When people run out of ideas, they start looking for hooks to hang things on and that’s what they did. I was so proud of what we’d done in Doomwatch that I didn’t want to be involved with something that might be going a little bit under-par.
Interviewed for Avengers Declassified.
...I remember some stories were brought before us, I don’t remember which, but they really had little to do with the conception of who we were. They didn’t gel with what we were supposed to be doing as a Doomwatch team, They started to scratch around for ideas a bit. You had to have Kit Pedler - he was an essential for the series. His mind was incisive, he knew what he wanted and he wrote what he wanted. “I’m not saying that Dennis Spooner is a run-of-the-mill writer because he’s not, but you can’t just say to a writer, ‘There’s this government organization, these are the parameters of what they do, write me an episode’. You’ve got to have seen it, you have to know what these people are like. They weren’t writing for us, they were writing for characters called John Ridge, called Quist... You were in the awful dichotomy of trying to fit what you knew you were into what you were given. In the first season there may have been some stories which weren’t as good as others, but the characters were strong. It was when you had to fight a change in your character to make the story work... I couldn’t compromise, and that is why I left.”
Interviewed by Anthony Brown
This is the only extant series in the archives which we can enjoy. UK Gold butchered two of the episodes and snipped bits from a third and one was released on BBC Video.
With thanks to John Archbold for the "Next Week" Radio Times billing for Season 2.
With thanks to John Archbold for the "Next Week" Radio Times billing for Season 2.