Also here is the sleeve for the episodes “The Red Sky” and “You Killed Toby Wren” released in 1991 by BBC Enterprises. Note the use of the circular framing device around the three characters, which was dropped from the final version, plus the more pronounced radiating beam from the lighthouse, and the more striking explosion. Note, too, that two of the photo's were replaced for the finished version. There seems to be a mistake at the bottom of the blue "D" in DOOMWATCH as it isn’t coloured in. The unused cover is on the top, the final is on the bottom.
"I was sent actual printed proof covers to re-do in my painterly, airbrush style. They look too finished for scamps although they do have that scamp feel, I admit. Clearly they thought 'comic strip' for art direction and must have had negative feedback from marketing & they came to me for a rush job to redo them! Not sure how the original artist felt. I didn't consider that at the time!"
I am uncertain who the original artist was, but the style of Paul Mark Tams, who had worked as an illustrator for Target ('Slipback') and World Distributors ('Dalek' and 'Terrahawks' annuals) springs to mind, although I confess I could be barking entirely up the wrong tree!"
by MARK WARD and ANTHONY CLARK
DOOMWATCH made its appearance on our screens in early 1970, providing the science-fiction genre with one of its purest manifestations through its predictions of the effects of unhindered technological advances on the environment and society. Although it was to regress into environmental tub-thumping by the end of its third series after the departure of the series’ creators, Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, the new BBC video releases, taken from seasons one and two, definitely display the series at its best.
The Plastic Eaters introduces us to Doomwatch through the eyes of would-be new recruit Toby Wren. His initial confusion and dislike for this unappealing team of misfit scientists is also shared by the viewer, whose first look at the principal characters shows them off in a poor light. The bluff no-nonsense computer expert Cohn Bradley, the sexist and cynical Dr John Ridge, and the self-obsessed head of Doomwatch, Dr Spencer Quist. Quist is at first so wrapped up in his work that he ignores Wren until abruptly throwing the new recruit in at the deep end. Wren is promptly despatched to America to investigate the cause of the San Pedro air disaster, witnessed by the viewer in a blaze of stock footage just before the opening titles.
But what exactly is Doomwatch? Quist’s superior, the coldly calculating Minister of National Security (John Barron) informs us that it is the codename for the Department of Measurement of Scientific Work, whilst Quist himself tells us his departmental brief: to investigate scientific research, whether public or private, that could be harmful to man.
With the series’ premise established, the viewer is drawn into the action as Wren, having collected a sample from the crash site, inadvertently puts himself and his fellow passengers in jeopardy as he flies home to Blightly. The sample contains a virus, Variant 14, developed as a biological solvent designed to wipe out plastic waste and somehow leaked from its source laboratories at Beeston. The virus devours all forms of plastic and is so contagious “it could go through a city like a bushfire”. Can Wren’s aircraft reach safety before the plastic eater destroys it? Can Quist and co. discover the link in the chain of events that led to Variant 14’s escape?
This introductory episode establishes the main themes of the series. The two main characters are Ridge and Quist (Wren and Bradley do very little). Ridge makes use of his own MI6 background to engage in a spot of skullduggery at Beeston; he bullies the Minister’s secretary Miss Wills into giving him information, and he brutally delves into Quist’s psyche when he suggests that his superior’s conscience is dictated by his shame of helping to create the Bomb. Quist ends up risking his career in pursuit of the truth, and it is through his actions that the series spells out its main concerns — moral responsibility must be linked with technological developments; the irresponsibility of political power and the notion that all aspects of our civilisation are intertwined — unthread any aspect without thought for the consequences and disaster beckons. In many respects Quist is the embodiment of the spirit of Doomwatch, and Ridge is his unlikely ally.
The Plastic Eaters provides an ideal combination of the Doomwatch creators’ different talents: Gerry Davis’s deceptively simple but tension-packed plotline, Terence Dudley’s obsession with backroom political scheming and Kit Pedler’s plausible, scientific premise. In terms of performances no one stands out — everyone is excellent, with a superb guest cast including John Barron, Kevin Stoney and John Lee.
There’s some discreet humour, totally in context and carefully character-based, which balances out the tension. All in all, The Plastic Eaters is a splendidly dramatic opener for the series, transcending the garish set (for the aircraft interior) and Ridge and Wren’s crazy cravats.
If the pilot episode presented a scenario for a disaster movie then Tomorrow, the Rat provides a first-rate horror script. The government is quite willing to subsidise eminent geneticist Dr Mary Bryant with her experiments on rats at her Brentford home, but when she loses control of her pet project and some of her rats escape, she finds herself forsaken by her boss, Dr Preston.
“Rats aren’t dangerous — they don’t attack unless they’re threatened, unless they’re at bay.” Unfortunately, Bryant’s rats don’t know this; they are now a colony of flesh-eating rattus sapiens, ‘reasoning, carnivorous animals’ and ‘embryonic Nazis on four legs’. The ethical links between science and society are explored when Ridge, sent to charm Bryant for information, suggests that her visions of genetic control and ‘consultation before procreation’ are neo-Nazi. But Bryant, superbly portrayed by Penelope Lee, is no ‘Frau Doktor’ but an uptight, too-sensitive genius who, like Ridge, conceals her warmth beneath a veneer of disdain. The verbal sparring between the two not only serves to spell out the basic moral battle ground, it also defines the pivotal relationship between Bryant and Ridge. Their initial confrontation is a joy to watch as the sexist Ridge meets his match: “Before you offer to buy me a drink, I’d like to point out that I’m not a whore, neither am I an easy lay ... so push off!”
Quist is seen as others see him; Preston summarises the opposition when he terms him “at best a professional busybody, at worst the head of a science gestapo that calls itself Doomwatch.” Quist’s relationship with the media is also displayed; when asked by the press if it’s the first time he’s been down a sewer he laconically replies, “except for Fleet Street.”
The script is one of Dudley’s best, a continuous torrent of sophisticated dialogue, convincingly blending moral debate with realistic characterisation, and directed with short, sharp scenes that given the narrative considerable pace. if you ignore the rubber rats perched on the legs of Powell and Blanshard and the obligatory unsympathetic incidental music, Tomorrow, the Rat is sensational stuff.
The Red Sky begins, quite literally, with a cliffhanger. The story remains one of Gerry Davis’s favourite scripts for the series and it boasts some of the best material for Quist, including an excellent scene in which he manoeuvres his colleagues into demanding that he take a holiday, something which his conscience could not allow without a little push.
Quist, accused of “megalomania brought on by overwork” retires to the Kent coast for a few days to stay with an old friend, Bernard Celley, in a converted lighthouse. However Celley dies in mysterious circumstances after having witnessed “the flames of hell” and hearing “a terrible noise from the earth”.
His death appears very similar to that of the last tenant of the lighthouse and Quist believes that the deaths are in some way connected to the near-by test launches of a new liquid fuel rocket. Ridge and Wren are called in to start some investigations, but when Quist also suffers hallucinations his sanity is called into question. Over-work or something more sinister?
Once again, characterisation is concise and believable. In the minimum of words Gerry Davis succeeds in giving that extra insight into the relationship between Quist and Celley with one unfinished reflection: “He was a splendid man, you known. When my wife died.
Quist himself is called “insufferable”, to which Ridge replies “Yes, he is, isn’t he? Unfortunately, he’s usually right.” John Paul as Quist gives a first class performance using a script which never wastes a word, and his final summing up is as pertinent today as it was twenty years ago : “Why can’t our so- called leaders face the truth ...? They lie, they push, they sell the future down the river for immediate advantage and to hell with the long-term consequences!”
You Killed Toby Wren commenced the second series of Doomwatch in December 1970. Before the opening credits there is a reprise of the knife-edge tension of the first season’s sensational finale, Survival Code, in which Toby Wren is killed whilst attempting to defuse a potential nuclear device.
The Minister, ever anxious to bring Doomwatch to heel, sees the opportunity to remove his biggest obstacle, Quist, himself blamed by Ridge for Wren’s death. The emotional and political inquest is interwoven with a more traditional Doomwatch story about genetic engineering, and the two threads merge to form a tale which wins my vote as the finest Doomwatch of all.
We are re-introduced to an unchanged team with the exception of the new temporary secretary Barbara Mason. She arrives to find an angry Quist at loggerheads with a hostile Ridge, who finallyz loses control over Quist’s apparent insensitivity at the speed at which he intends to replace Wren : “Wanted: young, brilliantly qualified nutcase dedicated to the proposition that man shall not destroy himself.” In a dramatic scene, Ridge confronts his boss and accuses him of “wallowing in guilt over the Bomb”, of being “an emotional hypocrite” and a “self-confessed bloody murderer”.
Sacked by Quist (yet tantalisingly offered his job by the Minister), Ridge storms off on a trail laid by biologist Geoff Hardcastle (later a recruit to Doomwatch) who wants Quist’s department to dissuade a valued mentor of his from continuing with his dubious experiments on an animal-human hybrid — “in this case a chicken with a human head!” Meanwhile, as the inquest progresses, Quist is urged by psychiatrist Dr Anne Tarrant to examine his motives. Was the bomb that killed Wren a nuclear threat? Was he over- compensating for his part in the Manhattan Project? Was he ‘unbalanced’ as some suggest? Who really killed Toby Wren?
Dudley turns in another concise script that avoids the obvious pitfall of sentimentality, even when Quist dissolves into tears with the realisation that “the most important thing in life is life; not I science, technology, politics, religions, riches, power ... only life.” Ridge is also brought face to face with his own shortcomings in a sequence which, coming so soon after a truly horrific glimpse of animal mutation, is simply devastating in dramatic terms.
As in all four stories, there are no specific scapegoats. Everyone, being human, has vices and virtues, and Doomwatch is too sophisticated a series not to recognise this. Add good scripts and performances, backed up by the thought-provoking ideas of Kit Pedler, and you have a drama of unparalleled power and maturity. Its real strength is that many of the subjects it chose to tackle are still relevant today, and the emergence of Green politics gives Doomwatch a new and contemporary lease of life. Both tapes are indispensable examples of what television can produce at its inspired best.
DOOMWATCH to date has only had one DVD release containing 2 episodes that episodes that had previously been released on VHS. “The Plastic Eaters” and “Tomorrow the Rat”. This was released by Revelation (region free) under licence from BBC Worldwide in 2000. The episodes were not remastered despite their presentation on DVD. A second disc was scheduled for release but never made it past the planning stages. This was down to a dispute between the BBC and Revelation about whether the latter had the rights to release titles they'd licensed from the BBC for VHS onto DVD.
Revelation were upset by the reviews of their early BBC releases. Coupled with some of their masters being rejected at the Quality Control stage, they asked the BBC to if they could have new masters. The BBC refused, telling them that they didn't agree that the "optical disc" section of their licensing agreement (which, at the time the deal was signed, meant that Revelation might have been allowed to release the titles on laserdisc), extended to the then-new DVD format. With the threat of legal action Revelation has now stopped releasing BBC titles.
With thanks to John Archbold
1972 FILM VHS RELEASES
Doomwatch German VHS Release
American VHS Release
American VHS Release