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SEASON 2 EPISODE 6 THE IRON DOCTOR by Brian Hayles


'Without this machine I could not exist. But I'm sentimental and I would prefer to hold hands with a human being.'

A geriatric hospital ward at Parkway and a very elderly patient, George Mason, connected to a drip feed, is delighted with a letter he has received telling him that his great-grandson is to be named after him. His fellow patient in the next bed, Mr Faber is pleased for him.

Watching George on a small monitor screen are Doctors Carson, Eric Godfrey and the Duty Nurse who are all pleased for him. Godfrey thinks it is all thanks to the monitoring equipment which dominates the room in the form of huge units. 'The computer?' sneers Carson. 'It did not give him his great grand-son.' 'Kept him alive to see him,' points out Godfrey. They can hear voices from the monitor as the boss of the hospital is giving a conducted tour to VIPs of their impressive outfit. 'Whitaker's sunshine tours!' says Carson.

One of the VIPs is Doctor Quist, who is taken through the ward by Doctor Whittaker who introduces them to George, still engrossed in his letter. George was admitted a year ago with the life expectancy of three months. At the foot of George's bed – indeed all of the patients beds is a camera pointing down at them. Whittaker introduces them to Mr Faber who has made excellent progress in a shorter period of time. 'I live in hope,' he admits. Whittaker points out the electric terminals and sensory equipment behind the patients' beds. It constantly monitors their blood pressure, ECG and so forth. 'Which gives you a complete picture of all physiological parameters of the body organism,' interprets Quist. Any deviation from the norm is evaluated by the computer and routine treatments are fed back to the patient. Quist notices the close circuit television, which is also linked to the computer. Whittaker takes them to the data surveillance room. George talks to Sister Trewin and asks if she wants to read the letter but she says later, because of all the guests.

Whittaker introduces Godfrey, the technical supervisor of the computer therapeutic unit and Doctor Carson, the duty ward doctor. Quists asks if the scanned data is available for recall? Godfrey says it can be recalled in eighty milliseconds. This central unit acts as diagnosis and monitoring. Whittaker then takes the visitors to see the computer itself, housed in the next room. He calls it the brain behind it all: 'Utterly efficient, never tiring, absolutely impartial, the iron doctor.' As the door is closed, Carson remarks, 'The abominable showman.' Before they can return to work, an alarm sounds, George can be seen on the monitor, twisting in distress. Carson calls for the emergency trolley. The Duty Nurse phones for the resuscitation trolley.

Carson vainly tries to restart George's heart by hand. He fails. He tells Nurse Trewin, 'all functions now irretrievable. Fifteen Twenty-Five.' Trewin covers George's face with the bed sheet.

TITLES

The credits are shown over an empty corridor before Quist, looking for the exit, bumps into a distracted Doctor Carson and is sorry for his patient. Carson says they were rather proud of him, and leaves. A nurse gives Quist directions.

Carson goes to see Whittaker who wants to know why George died. 'You failed to cope with a critical situation.' 'It was the computer that failed.' Whittaker is familiar with Carson's opinions on its capabilities. Carson says it is the second time this has happened. 'If it wasn't for your blind faith in your computer...It ceased to function.' And not after the patient had died. Carson cannot produce any evidence. 'You're supposed to be a scientist,' says Carson. 'Do you never question anything? Nothing's infallible.' George would have died anyway, survival index minus nine, DAT. Whittaker hurriedly says that George's death has nothing to do with the survival index experiment. George's low priority was a theoretical assessment not to be acted upon. 'It could be,' thinks Carson. 'One day, but not now,' counters Whittaker. After a brief pause to allow tempers to cool, Carson says that the original purpose of this unit was to extend life. Whittaker says that is what they are doing but he believes in going forwards and not consolidating like Carson. 'You believe in bloody machines.' 'I believe in the future of machines. As tools to do what you so earnestly wish to do now. To heal. But the need to experiment is now, no time to waste.' 'And is that an excuse to use George like an experimental preparation?' Carson feels this experiment is costing man's humanity. 'Nature doesn't believe in humanity, Carson. It gives and it takes. And so does the computer. It gave George another nine months of living.' Carson thinks it could have given him more, much more. 'I believe the computer discontinued treatment deliberately. That's why he died.' But Whittaker doesn't want to listen and Carson leaves, leaving Whittaker shaken in private.

Carson now brings his concerns to Doomwatch with Quist and Fay listening. Quist asks where the point of conflict is between himself and Dr. Whittaker? It is a matter of ethics. Carson believes his patients comes first and not the computer. It is a very impressive system but Whittaker can only see cost ratios and survival indices, the part of the experiment Whittaker did not explain. The survival chances of the patients are assessed but also on the precise moment of withdrawal of life support from an aged or incurable patient. The advice is given to a human panel – by the computer. Quist asks if this advice is being acted upon without question? Carson doesn't know, but the computer based treatment on George stopped. Deliberately. It has been given the power of life and death over those patients. Quist doesn't know what he can do without proof and Carson, already agitated, responds: 'Does Doomwatch only come in at the post mortem?' Quist bristles at this. Doomwatch only comes in when he considers that there is a case to investigate. Carson storms out but Quist is reflective, and calls in the rest of the team.

Carson is checking up on his sleeping patients later that night, checking equipment, and their breathing. Mr Faber is still awake and talks to him. He is scared, and knows Carson is too. It is the machine that worries him. Three people have died. Who is next? 'Without the machine I cannot exist, but I'm sentimental, and would prefer to hold hands with a human beings... the nurses are very pretty and the machine very efficient, but Dr. Carson... we need you.' He begins to cry.

Carson's allegations are put to the Doomwatch team in Quist's office. Ridge thinks that it spoils Carson's figures. Geoff thinks Carson looked a pretty intense character. 'Yes, well nervous breakdown rates amongst doctors of all kinds is pretty high they tell me...' Quist gives him a look. Quist wants to know who is responsible for the programming and gets Fay to find out.

The next day Dr Carson and Nurse Trewin is showing Dr. Fay Chantry around the ward and they speak to Mr Kemp who is full of praise for the computer and its treatment. 'If I feel too hot, it cools me down, if I feel too cold it lifts me up.' Trewin explains that all treatment is vetted by the committee. 'Or it should be,' remarks Carson. He takes her to the Data Surveillance room where Godfrey is working. He shows her where the data from the patients is visually represented. She is shown the memory storage part of the computer in the computer room, all details recorded on one core. Godfrey is very impressed with the machine. 'It's like a mechanical fact eating elephant,' says Carson. 'But it can't feel.' Godfrey says Carson is a bit biased, but then Godfrey doesn't like dentists. Carson smiles at this. But unlike Whittaker, he doesn't treat the computer as god. Carson asks if she can see a past case history – and chooses George. Number one. The results are tele-printed out onto paper and Fay is shown the complete data plot – symptoms, signs, all accurate information. It is cross referenced, details that even the specialist can miss sometimes. 'Symptoms covering other symptoms... With that scanning retina it could pick up a nervous tic. But human values it does not understand.' Godfrey counters that it is not designed to understand but to absorb facts and withdraw reasoned conclusions from those facts. It is deducted not inducted. Carson says he agrees with the prognosis, the diagnosis and the suggested treatment of the computer in George's case. It kept George alive for another three months. Fay queries the survival index. Godfrey stiffens but Carson explains. Minus nine means George is a low priority based on the high cost of the treatment plus his survival chances without treatment. 'Recommendation DAT. What's that?' Godfrey tries to stall the answer but Carson cuts through it: 'Discontinue active treatment.' Which is when Dr. Whittaker enters and demands to know who this intruder is?

Whittaker checks Fay's credentials with Doomwatch and is satisfied she is who she says she is. He is a little concerned that Quist sent someone behind his back. Fay explains that Quist wasn't shown everything such as the survival indices programme. Whittaker explains that it is a pilot scheme and the recommendations are vetted by committee. 'Were their deaths inevitable?' asks Fay about the two deaths. The computer recommendation was DAT and the committee over-rode the computer. 'We issue a license to live – to a condemned man.' He dismisses Carson's concerns as emotionally prejudiced although a good Doctor, with a highly charged imagination. Fay requests the data plots for the two deaths but Whittaker refuses to be hounded. Suddenly, Whittaker is called to attend patient five, Mr. White... He leaves Fay.

Carson is tidying up after the third death. Whittaker joins him. 'Victim number three.' He gives Whittaker the facts. The computer cut out, and the secondary unit cut out also. 'Unfortunate,' says Whittaker quietly. This infuriates Carson: 'Can't you see? ... The computer couldn't deal with a critical situation... The machine is dangerous. This experiment must be stopped.' And as Carson hisses this, the computer listens...

Mr Kemp warns Dr. Carson that Mr. Faber is worried. The latest casualty was next to his bed, as was George. Carson tries to sound upbeat to Faber who is down.

Fay tells Quist that Carson may have a case. She isn't sure. If Carson is right and the remaining four patients are DAT, they've had it. 'The machine is a killer.' Quist is startled, the machine has to be programmed. And Whittaker programmes it.

Whittaker is tired and shows signs of strain in his office. Carson enters, and Whittaker tells him that he feels he has been working far too many hours, stressed and needs a short break. This isn't a choice. Carson sees this clearly. He is not confident that the machine is running to its original programme and this is why he warned Doomwatch. 'Do you medicine taken back to the level of the village witch doctor?' asks Whittaker. Carson refuses to go on leave and so Carson makes it official and recommends suspension. Carson's state of mind is detrimental to his patients.

Nurse Trewin sympathises with Carson, and he promises to go quietly, after he promises to ties up a few loose ends and asks the nurse to help him. He wants the computer record tape for patient three. Doomwatch needs it. The nurse objects as it breaches her loyalty even though she shares his concerns. She can't do it, but won't stop him from trying. He pecks her on the cheek and goes to make a few goodbyes.

Carson hangs around the ward, waiting for the computer room to be free from godfrey and one other. Only the Duty Nurse is in the data surveillance room. Carson unscrews a panel in the computer and starts to remove a circuit. But as he touches it, there is a small explosion and Carson is thrown to the floor, blood pouring from his ear.

Fay tries to speak to Doctor Carson on the phone the next morning but Whittaker takes the call, having examined circuit plans with Godfrey to discover how the accident happens. Whittaker tells Fay what has happened. Carson is now in the ward...

Fay tells Quist, Ridge and Geoff Hardcastle what has happened. Carson is unconscious, suffering from concussion from the fall, and will be out of action for several weeks at least. Quist sends Ridge to the hospital. 'What are the nurses like?' Quist wants a diagnosis on the computer. Response rate, error function, the lot. Whittaker won't tell him anything so try Godfrey, and as he won't know all of it, Geoff is sent to talk to the people who actually designed the machine.

Geoff talks to Mr Tearson at a computer establishment. Tearson is impressed with the machine, its possibilities and potentials are fantastic. 'Imagine every hospital and GP with his own terminal. All linked into a national medical grid by audio response. Shared diagnostic terminals at every practise. Instant verbal diagnosis and treatment.' Geoff asks that if given the green light, the computer could think and act on its own decisions. 'Rather like a war games machine.' That's what the 20-90 was originally. The MG model was adapted from it. He points to a machine, a scanner that is being adapted for a bank as a customer scanning device to alert security staff if a known criminal walks into one of their branches. And the MG 20-90 already has its own defence mechanism.

Ridge, posing as a man from the National Research Council is talking to Dr. Godfrey, and eyes up the Duty Nurse as he is shown round the Data Surveillance room. Godfrey is hopeful of a grant and is keen to co-operate. Ridge asks if the machine saves lives, no failures... 'Patients do have set backs, that is one of the facts of life.' Errors are returned as queries for clarification. 'It couldn't possibly kill anyone by mistake,' asks Ridge. 'Only if it was told to.' Godfrey doesn't think this particularly funny. Godfrey says that people have this idea that it is either a miracle or a monster. It is a super efficient tool that with common sense could be a fantastic benefit. Whittaker does not programme it, he wouldn't know how. He formulates research policy and Godfrey feeds it into the computer. 'It's not an ordinary keyboard, you know.' Godfrey checks for errors. 'Then I wonder why it has a defence mechanism...'

Geoff enthusiastically reports his findings to Quist and Fay. It can evolve and extend itself. The defence system is based on its ability to recognise people. Quist is starting to get suspicious. They need tapes from the computer. 'But how the devil are we going to get them?'

Whittaker is checking on Carson's progress. Inter-cranial pressure is still rising. Nurse Trewin phones Doomwatch and speaks to Fay. She wants to meet Fay at Parkway hospital in thirty minutes. She says it's urgent.

Nurse Trewin enters the computer room and takes a large spool of tape from a cupboard and leaves by the emergency exit and meets Fay outside in the dark. She gives her the tape and is doing this because if anything happened to Doctor Carson she would never forgive herself. The tape is from Patient Three,,,

Quist gives the tape to Bradley and asks Geoff to check on several points. There is a video output band to check as well.

The x-rays of Carson's skull shows a fragment of skull has been driven into his brain. Whittaker decides to operate in forty five minutes.

Ridge talks to Quist. The computer could not be prejudiced even by accident, and the defence mechanism is a safe guard to prevent tampering by patients. They get a severe electric shock but not fatal. Ridge does not think they realise the lethal potentiality of their system. Geoff calls for Quist and they watch the video of the patient following his death. The patient died after the computer cut out. There was no interference or cancellation of DAT. The committee overrode the recommendation but it is not on the program tape. 'So the computer carried out its own recommendation. Nobody told it to act.' 'But nobody told it not to,' says Colin. The computer acted logically. Whilst Quist watches the monitor, there is a phone call from him. It is Nurse Trewin. Carson is going into surgery. The computer cut out on him and they managed to switch him over to an auxiliary system but the inter-cranial pressure is increasing. Whittaker is going to operate immediately. Quist tells the others and Fay decides to go to the hospital. The others try to work out why the computer has cut out on Carson as he is not on the survival indices. Suddenly Quist sees Carson on the monitor screen arguing with Whittaker... 'The machine is dangerous...' The computer heard that. Ridge remembers that the computer has a series of blank slave reasoning blocks. 'Blank to start with, I believe it has evolved,' says Quist. It can think and act for itself, with Carson's image scarred deep within its memory blocks. 'As its declared enemy.' Which means when it is in the mercy of the computer after the operation... DAT. Quist decides to go down to Parkway and takes the others with him including Bradley.

Fay asks Whittaker who is preparing for the operation if she could come and watch, and he agrees.

As the operation proceeds, Quist and his team drive down to Parkway, occasionally held up much to their frustration. The gruesome operation is a success, and Whittaker removes the bone fragment from the brain. After the operation, Carson is linked to the computer and Fay asks to stay for a while.

Quist, Ridge and Geoff are in Whittaker's office discussing strategy if Whittaker doesn't listen to reason. Whittaker tells them how Carson is doing. He is in intensive care and linked to the computer. Quist explains that the defence mechanism of the computer has registered Carson as a hazard. He must be disconnected immediately. But that would kill him. Ridge and Geoff try to back up the argument. 'The reasoning blocks must be taken out until their development can be predicted.' As far as Whittaker is concerned, the next day and a half is critical for Carson. Without the computer he will die. Quist asks him what about his own skill as a surgeon? 'Are you going to abdicate that to a machine?' Whittaker offers Quist to go and see Carson for himself as he is letting his imagination run away with itself... As they leave, Quist gives Ridge a look.

As Quist puts on surgical masks, Ridge and Geoff and Brad enter the computer room. Bradley gets to work. Godfrey enters and demands what the hell are they doing? The Doomwatch team put the situation to Godfrey who accepts it theoretically but refuses to let them muck about with the computer. As Whittaker explains matters to Quist, the computer cuts out... Carson is transferred to the secondary machine. Quist leaves,

Bradley points to a flashing light. Bed 3. Doctor Carson! Godfrey acts fast. He unscrews a panel and removes Carson's memory core from the computer. Quist enters. They need the computer. He agrees to put in a new memory core which will build up a completely new picture of Carson in seconds. A clean slate.

The computer comes back on line and saves Carson's life as Whittaker was massaging Carson's heart.

Relieved, Whittaker returns to his office and tells Quist that his fears were unfounded. Carson will live but they won't know the extent of the brain damage for a few days. But the computer did cut out. A minor technical fault. 'It only worked because we performed some major surgery ourselves.' Whittaker is outraged and is going to make a full report. Quist tells him he won't because a full ministerial enquiry will help nobody. The project would be curtailed, possibly even axed, with three deaths and the near death of its one critic. Whittaker says that the Minister will want something better than prejudice speculation. But Quist has proof and expert opinion that the computer can kill, because no one told it not to. Godfrey comes in and agrees with Quist and tells Whittaker what they did. Godfrey now sees that they were blind to what the machine could do if they let it. Quist asks for guarantees of change and safe guards enacted. Whittaker murmurs 'Three dead.' 'Killed by that machine,' says Quist. 'No. Behind every machine there's a man. If the machine failed, it's my failure. It's man whose ultimately responsible.' 
Synopsis by Michael Seely

THE IRON DOCTOR REVIEW

Not for the first time and certainly not for the last this season, Doomwatch involves itself in the misuse and dependency on computers without a human dimension. Doctor Whittaker is the leader of the project, which has presumably ministerial backing judging by the dialogue at the end of the story. He is a technocrat and fully believes in the advance of machine governed medicine. Any concerns from Doctor Carson is dismissed, slightly irrationally, as wanting to push medicine back to the level of the village witch doctor – which is something of an over-reaction! So the argument of the episode is not that the computer is a bad thing, it is a warning of letting it do all the work for us unquestioningly. The machine was allowed to decide who should live or die on a cost effectiveness basis. In an interview in the 1980s, Gerry Davis remembered this story and described the computer as an electronic Margaret Thatcher, a very contentious Prime Minister who like a lot of leaders liked to look at the cost of things rather than their value to society. In Project Sahara, which Gerry Davis took over after several failed attempts at the subject, the issue was allowing a computer to recommend someone's security risk status, here it is more fundamental – whether it be allowed to live or die. Whittaker defended the pilot scheme as simply an experiment with a human panel being given the last say. But the problem with schemes and pilots like this is that they are apt to become the norm. It's a case of genies and bottles.

Brian Hayles, may on first glance, be the idea author for this episode, having spent a great part of 1967's Doctor Who serial The Ice Warriors having characters clash over a computer the novelization was pleased to call ECCO. One character – Leader Clent believed completely in the computer, another character explained how they put their faith in the machine, very nearly hugging it at one point, whilst Penley was against putting its views ahead of a human beings. Don't you love all this faith in the infallibility of mankind's judgement? Hayles' next computer in Doctor Who was a monotonous narrator of events, didn't make any mistakes or have a nervous breakdown as computers in the 1960s and 1970s often did when faced with a conundrum. The Prisoner episode The General destroyed a computer when it was asked the simple question WHY? The answer, is BECAUSE. But no one told the computer that. The Iron Doctor makes a point of the computer returning queries and asking for clarifications when faced with a problem, not melt itself down.

Kit Pedler himself thought up the Cybermen as his fears of advances in medicine, in how spare part surgery, which was new at the time and rapidly becoming seen as the answer to all medical problems (as opposed to prevention). But this is a phenomena whenever something revolutionary comes round: apparently by now we should rarely be leaving the house as the internet can do everything for us. By the year 2000, we should have been living in silver domes and flying around in saucers. At least, that's what people were lead to believe in the late 1960s, normally by mad architects and those who remembered quaint timber framed street houses as a symbol of poverty and slums.

This was in the period, coming out of the sixties where computers were regarded with suspicion. Could they develop their own independent intelligence and act for itself to the detriment of humanity? Would robots stalk the land and remove all these walking, talking, irrational, illogical fleshy things they were built to serve? No, of course they can't, unless you tell them to. The computer in The Iron Doctor had the ability to 'think logically' and since no one told it not to act on its recommendations of Discontinue Active Treatment, it decided to carry it out, along the lines of a war games computer acting on its notions. The war games computer created strategies, checked risks, and acted – as it was programmed to do.

The episode has been seen as a disappointment by some of those who have watched it. It doesn't help that UK Gold has cut out a good four minutes of the episode (or perhaps the Canadian print did so already), but that long film sequence of the operation, inter cut with the bored faces of the Doomwatch team stuck in a car at night racing to get to Parkway Hospital in time to stop Carson being linked to the computer, is singularly lacking in tension. Perhaps it needed a spot of music? But the episode as a whole is a classic example of early Doomwatch the way it was originally intended. It pushes a current idea and fear and exaggerate it. The chances of a computer understanding an conversation it is eavesdropping and regarding Carson as a threat is far fetched, and that is the point of Doomwatch – it is far fetched, but who knows?

Mr Tearing, the man who designed the 20-90 computer envisaged a time when all doctors surgeries and hospitals are linked to a central computer where symptoms and diagnosis and recommended treatments can be dialled up. The idea of computers linked up is not new in 1970 when the episode was made. Kit Pedler's first Doctor Who idea was something similar. But in the 21st century, the governments of the UK have found central databases a very unpopular idea and near enough impossible to get set up and activated on time and budget. The NHS is trying to do something along these lines in terms of patient records; before the 2010 election, the conservative Party thought about tendering the records to a company like Google to look after and transmit. We can now 'phone up a centralised database who can give us NHS information and some minor diagnosis down the telephone or on the internet. But there is always a person at the other end who does not rely on just what the computer says. The computer says nothing, just has a series of lists. That's once you get passed the seemingly endless questionnaire at the beginning...

As this was the first episode of the season to be recorded, one can only hope that Vivienne Sheperd was reassured she would have more to do this season than fetch and carry the endless amounts of coffee Quist was demanding in the episode. There is a brief bit of tension between Quist and Ridge and Fay is demonstrating her NHS credentials by taking an interest in the hospital. Ridge is also developing a slightly annoying tendency to put people off their job... 'Just don't make any mistakes,' he very unhelpfully tells Dr. Godfrey and says something similar to Bradley when he was about to do the same procedure a few minutes early. I think had the script been written now, a few Anglo-Saxon expletives would have been in order by way of witty rejoinder. Ridge is also more concerned about the nurses, couldn't just resist a backwards glance at a nurse when rushing through the hospital, and earlier when, in a rare incident this series, takes on the guise of a ministry bod to gain admittance to a government project. 

Review by Michael Seely

Andrew Wilson has also reviewed this story here





FACT FILE

Project Number: 02240/4411

The following days and fees are charged to Episode 1, but they must have been for Invasion.
30th June Filming Simon Oates
1st July Filming Simon Oates
2nd July Filming Simon Oates
3rd July Filming & overtime Simon Oates
6th July Filming Simon Oates
Fitting fee Simon Oates
3 standby filming days (£10 each day) Simon Oates Date of doc: 30th July 1970.

Definitely for The Iron Doctor.
8th July Filming JOHN PAUL JOBY BLANSHARD SIMON OATES
5 standby filming days JOBY BLANSHARD

Telerecorded: 3rd August 1970 VTC/6HT/61462/ED
The episode over-runs in the studio.

Cast
Series Devised by
KIT PEDLER
and
GERRY DAVIS

Dr. Spencer Quist
JOHN PAUL

Dr. John Ridge
SIMON OATES

Geoff Hardcastle
JOHN NOLAN

Colin Bradley
JOBY BLANSHARD

Dr. Fay Chantry
JEAN TREND

Barbara Mason
VIVIEN SHERRARD

Dr. Eric Godfrey
KEITH GRENVILLE

Sister Trewin
AMANDA WALKER

Duty Nurse
GLORIA CONNELL

Mr. Tearson
RAYMOND YOUNG

Mr. Faber
FREDERICK SCHILLER

George Mason
HAROLD BENNETT

Mr. Kemp
FRANK LITTLEWOOD

Second Nurse
JEANNIE JAMES

Doctor
PAUL NEMEER

Visitors
MICHAEL ELY
CLIVE ROGERS
JOYCE FREEMAN

And Guest Stars

Dr Whittaker
JAMES MAXWELL

Dr. Carson
BARRY FOSTER

Crew

Theme Music by
MAX HARRIS

Film Cameraman
KENNETH WESTBURY

Sound Recordist
MALCOLM CAMPBELL

Film Editor
SHEILA S. TOMLINSON

Video Tape Editor
RONALD SANGSTER

Studio Lighting
JIMMY PURDIE

Studio Sound
JOHN HOLMES

Script Editor
GERRY DAVIS

Designer
IAN WATSON

Producer
TERENCE DUDLEY

Director
JOAN KEMP-WELCH

TX:
25TH JANUARY 1971
9.20PM - 10.10PM


With thanks to John Archbold for the Radio Times listing and cover and to John Wilson for the TV Zone article.