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'Maybe we're creating just the kind of world we deserve. And if it finally destroys us or drives us mad, that'll be what we deserve too.'

A small private ward, an old woman lies in bed, close to death. A nurse takes her pulse, and notices a syringe and an unbroken phial next to the bed. Worried and hesitant, the nurse decides to give the patient an injection but shortly after she breaks the phial, Doctor Cordell enters and she quickly puts them back into the bowl. Cordell, after examining the patient, quietly asks the nurse what she is doing. He hasn't prescribed the injection. 'She needs it. Without it she'll die,' explains the nurse nervously. Cordell tells her to take it away, and after she has gone, he looks angry but keeps it in. He looks at the old lady whose breathing becomes more faint and erratic.

The Nurse has returned to her desk, fists clenched. .Cordell tells her that he knows she gave in her notice today but she is still has responsibilities whilst working at this clinic. And Mrs. Wheeler has died. He asks the nurse how long she has worked in geriatrics and she replies two years. He knows it is a strain dealing with old people, physically and emotionally. 'For your next job could I suggest you try something a little less taxing.' Staring, she replies: 'I don't find old people taxing at all, doctor.' She watches him go and then goes to look at the dead woman, closing her eyes.

Cordell, meanwhile, has returned to his study. He has a death certificate to fill out. He hesitates over the section called CAUSE OF DEATH...


We see John Ridge driving very fast along a motorway.

In the Doomwatch office, Susan tells Doctor Quist that she has been trying all morning to contact Ridge. Quist is suffering from a bad cold and tells Stafford that he can't understand Ridge. He is waiting for an answer this morning at the latest. 'It's not a helping hand he needs,' muses Stafford. 'I'm not asking him to come back to Doomwatch.' He has a University job lined up for him, considering he is a first rate researcher. After a sneezing fit, Stafford asks Quist if he should take his germs off home for a couple of days? Quist has promised the Minister but the decision is not pressing. 'You know as well as I do that with next week's cabinet coming up, and our estimates for next year on the agenda... the more chapter and verse I can give him...' Barbara asks to talk to Quist but he is still busy berating Stafford. The Commander reminds Quist that this is a political decision and isn't going to be influenced by a few sums. 'In the Minister's mind you are Doomwatch. your health is more important than your estimates.' Quist takes his point and does feel groggy. Stafford leaves, smiling and Barbara tells Quist that if he needs to get a message to Ridge in a hurry, she is seeing him tonight for dinner. Quist is surprised. Barbara thinks Ridge needs a shoulder to cry on. 'What is it about him?' ponders Quist. 'Got a brilliant mind – understanding in lots of ways,' says Barbara. 'Yet something in him makes him feel he's got to fight all the world's battles single handed. Everything becomes a one man crusade.' Quist tells Doctor Tarrant that he is going to take a few days off. He then gives Barbara the message.

Ridge pulls up outside his sister's house where his welcome is muted. He wasn't expected by Edna, despite the telegram she sent. Her husband, Phillip isn't very pleased to see his brother in law either. They have been looking after his elderly father until a recent fall which broke his thigh and pelvis. Ridge controls himself as Phillip taunts him about coming for a flying visit, considering they haven't had a visit or a phone call in six months. 'I've been... well, going through a bit of a rough patch.' Edna tries to cool things down and explains that their father is in a private clinic ran by Doctor Cordell who is an old friend from her nursing days. Dad also met him at dinner and thinks the world of him. Edna is sorry that Phillip was rude and that Dad would have liked to have heard from him. 'He still had his illusions...' Ridge wriggles a bit but Edna says that soon they can give up pretending... 'There'll be no need for either of us to see the other ever again.' Ridge is confused. 'What do you mean, when Dad dies?' 'He wants to die, John. He's written a letter. Dr Cordell has it...' She goes to deal with the kettle leaving Ridge horrified.

Wilfred Ridge is being attended by Cordell and a nurse, a drip in his arm, and a cast covered by a cradle over his thigh. Ridge is waiting in Cordell's study with the letter, in a state of almost shocked silence. Cordell tells him his father is ready to be seen now but advises against discussing the matter with him now. Edna agrees but her brother is suspicious and sharp. He intends to remove his father away from this place as soon as he can. The letter virtually asks Cordell to kill him, Ridge says but Cordell explains that it asks for him to be allowed to die with comfort and dignity when the time comes. 'Who decided when the time's come? You?' Cordell patiently explains that it asks he shouldn't be kept alive by medicine or machines when life has ceased to have any meaning and not to resuscitate him for a few more days or weeks of life. Ridge sees this as against everything the medical profession stands for. Edna says that their father hasn't changed his mind. He doesn't want to be a burden. Cordell wished Edna had warned him of her brother's feelings. Edna explodes at her brother – he has done nothing all these years, and in tears, runs out. Cordell tells Ridge that looking after an elderly patient over a long period can set up a strain especially with a young family, and warns him that if his father recovers, things will get much worse at home. He is suffering from arteriosclerosis which Ridge knows about. Soon, father Ridge will need more help as he loses the use of his limbs, he'll need constant supervision and care to avoid bed sores. 'But any person has a right to be spared months of endless suffering and misery.' He asks Ridge to think it over and reassures him that everything will be done to help his father. Edna, having composed herself, takes John to see his father, who, very frail, is pleased to see him. Edna watches expressionless, 'face conveys a lifetime of exclusion and bitterness.'

As the Minister pours Stafford a whisky, he explains that 'At the moment anyway it's merely a recommendation from the think tank. There's no question of principle involved. And no one's holding up any criticism of what Doomwatch has achieved in the past.' Stafford wonders if they mean to phase out Doomwatch and the Minister agrees but that is not how it will be out. Doomwatch has been too successful, a part of government thinking at all levels. 'We should be grateful, they'll say, after all that's what we've been fighting for for years.' Partly departmental jealousy, and a desire for a slice of the kudos. 'Preservation of the environment isn't the pioneering concept it was three years ago.' The Minister tells Stafford that they need to keep the temperature down if to keep Doomwatch in one piece. 'No heroic gestures, and nothing to give the opposition anything to bite on.' And with Quist out of the office for a week, that will help.

As Philip shouts at his children to turn their music down and go to bed, Ridge still maintains that what Cordell is doing is morally indefensible. 'Apart from being against the law.' Edna remembers that what was said about abortionists. Her father's life stopped having any meaning a long time ago. Phillip charges in – a year ago when the letter was written, Ridge was busy saving the world with his 'Doomwatch nonsense' and forgot to come up here for his father's birthday as promised. They posted the card so that he shouldn't feel neglected by his favourite child... Edna tells him to leave Ridge alone. 'And now he comes here preaching at us what's right and wrong!' Ridge walks out and leaves the house angrily. Edna is worried... Phillip doesn't know her brother as well as she does.

Father Ridge finds reaching for a glass of water difficult and makes it fall to the floor. A nurse responds to the smash and looks at him in concern.

Back in his London flat, Ridge is surprised when Barbara turns up. He had left a message cancelling dinner but she came anyway. She has a message from Quist. 'What does he want?' groans Ridge. It's about the job offer in Manchester and if he is he is to contact Stafford at once. She's invited to stay and Ridge is not interested about the job not if they're handouts from Quist or Stafford. Ridge is depressed, and moody. 'I'm finished with Doomwatch and everything it stands for. No, I mean finished.... Pollution... desecration of the environment... despoiling of nature... I really wonder if any of it matters. Maybe it's a hopeless bloody world because it's a inhabited by hopeless bloody people. Maybe what's happening's right. Maybe we're creating just the kind of world we deserve. And if it finally destroys us or drives us mad, that'll be what we deserve too.' He asks about her parents and says isn't it ridiculous? In all the time they have worked together, this is the first time she has mentioned her parents. 'We keep them hidden like some dark family secret, and yet our parents are possibly the most important factor in our lives.' He remembers his childhood and the close community ties before the tower blocks eradicating his father;s way of life, something he 'educated' himself into despising. She asks why is he telling her this? 'Just trying to come to terms with some unpalatable truths I've found out about myself... Like the over inflated view I seem to have developed about the importance of what I am. Of the work I do.' Barbara detects self pity. He agrees that it doesn't help but he has to do the right thing but is aware he has a talent for the wrong thing these days. He explains the situation he has discovered his father is in. What should he do? Report Cordell to the Ministry of Health? 'That would be the Doomwatch thing, wouldn't it?' He very nearly did it before she called. By sheer chance, Barbara remembers that Doctor Tarrant has been doing some research into psychiatric care of the elderly and Colin has been feeding the data into the computer, but Ridge is concerned about one human being. Barbara is sure she could help. Ridge slowly agrees...

Meanwhile, Wilfred Ridge's condition is getting worse, and Cordell examines him.

Stafford is giving Anne some papers for Quist to read. She tells him that Quist is prowling the cottage all day like a caged lion. 'In that case he needs an understanding lioness.' Ridge turns up and ignores the Commander and wants to talk to Anne, rudely telling Stafford what he can do with the job. Barbara tries to placate Stafford but he says it makes no difference. It's too late anyway. He can't allow the name of Doomwatch to be jeopardized in any way. Barbara tries to defend Ridge but Stafford isn't interested in dying fathers. She goes to talk to Doctor Quist. Anne is collecting cards from Colin as she tells Ridge what she knows about Cordell. He has been advocating voluntary euthanasia for the elderly chronic sick. She gets a bit flustered when Ridge wants some information from her research. She says she has received voluntary and confidential reports. He should discuss it with Spencer. 'Why should I discuss it with him?' 'He's adamant that it's not a Doomwatch matter. ..We got this report in about Cordell's clinic which I took to Spencer right away. But he said the only action we could take was to refer it to the Ministry of Health as it was nothing at all to do with us...' She kept a copy for her own work. 'Politics being more important than morality,' sneers Ridge. Anne says it is difficult since Cordell has one of the best reputations in geriatrics in the country and she has reports of surveys carried out in every regional area. 'And I can tell you there are thousands of sick old people living in conditions with which Cordell's clinic is a luxury hotel.' Ridge thinks what Cordell is doing is murder, and not a complex question. Anne sees the problem as life expectancy gets longer, more die from long, painful, degenerative illnesses, needing an enormous amount of care and nursing. They become vegetables, and the cost and strain on the National Health Service is enormous. Ridge responds to her passionate answers and becomes apologetic and backs off. As she goes to answer a call from Quist, Ridge is left alone, and he eyes her briefcase.

Anne's call seems to be about Barbara and Ridge, the latter she says is in an emotional state about it... Stafford too talks to Barbara and has been thinking about what she said. Perhaps he was a bit inconsiderate and that 'the sooner he can make up his mind... the university really does want top fill the post quickly.' But Ridge has gone – and so has Anne's briefcase. A lab assistant saw Ridge go out the back way. She tells Barbara she thinks John Ridge has stolen the report Doctor Quist sent to the Ministry of Health.

Cordell phones Edna and Phillip about her father's worsening condition. Edna wants Ridge to be told, for Doctor Cordell's sake as well. 'In case there are any questions after. I don't want him exposed to any danger. It'll be better for everyone if John's here.'

The Minister is gloomily reading the evening newspaper – an expose on Cordell's clinic.

Barbara can't contact Ridge by phone in his flat. He must be on his way to the Clinic. Anne has told Quist and he can't understand it. 'All anyone will see will be the conceit of a man who can turn even the plight of his own father into a public crusade... The point is John's finished now.' But Anne gets a phone call from Nurse Mary Kendrick from Cordell's clinic with whom she spoke to before. The Nurse had been to Anne's flat and the people next door tolod her where she worked. She has seen the papers and wants to talk to her. They arrange to meet.

The Minister wants to know what has happened and Stafford explains that it was a private project of Anne's. He doesn't want the whole blame to be put onto Doctor Ridge's shoulders... Stafford is happy too! The Minister simply sees this as ammunition for Doomwatch's enemies. Stafford fights back that perhaps if they had taken action in the first place, but the Minister says that the Ministry of Health is, in its own way. They wanted to avoid public alarm. 'I know there's a moral issue here. But I'm morally committed to the survival of Doomwatch. And it's not going to be easy now.'

Phillip and Edna are shocked that Wilfred Ridge has pneumonia, a predictable result following a fall. If it;s allowed to take its course, Wilfred would die in a matter of hours. But in view of what has happened, he has prescribed every possible remedial treatment. He has no choice considering the press interest. Ridge enters, looking unkempt. He is given the news. Edna is cold. 'You've got what you wanted. I hope you can live with it.' They see their father, unconscious in an oxygen tent being cared for efficiently. He is responding. 'Another triumph for medicine,' mutters Cordell.

Stafford tells Susan to call Scotland Yard. He is going to report Ridge, since he cannot find him and ask him, but Barbara asks him where would he do if his father was dangerously ill. Stafford cancels the call.

Ridge wants to stay with his father a bit longer, as Edna and Phillip go out, reassured that Cordell will tell them in the morning how their father is going. Ridge is left alone, sitting by his father's side...

A little later, we see Cordell working in his study by lamp light. Ridge comes in, asking for the time. His watch has stopped. He asks if Cordell always works this late. Ridge turns to leave but stops. 'I'd like to thank you for saving my father's life.' Cordell said he had no choice. 'You mean a doctor has no choice?' Ridge tells him that as soon as his father is well enough, he will be moved from here to somewhere where he will be treated as important, precious, respected... Cordell says he won't find that easy. Ridge agrees. Since this morning he has been looking for places for a sick old man, and he is shocked by what he has seen. Over-crowding, men lying in their own filth, unattended, treated like naughty children or dogs by the few nurses and auxiliaries there. Cordell does not react. Ridge continues and blames everybody who has any responsibility for places like that. 'We subject our old people to tortures and humiliation because we simply don't care. No one cares.' Cordell feels this vindicates his view that they should be spared the humiliation and suffering. Ridge disagrees. It sounds like a solution but it isn't. It's just one more blow, one final rejection. 'Nothing that happens there justifies you...Once society accepts the fact that it's right to let the old die as soon as they become a burden how is it ever again to be able to appeal for people to give care and devotion to those who are unfortunate to linger on?' Cordell asks about the right to choose to die but Ridge reminds him that young and old want to die. 'But society doesn't put out theories in favour of suicide.' Cordell still believe people have a right to kill themselves, such as his father. 'He won't thank me tomorrow morning for saving his life.' Ridge agrees, and suspects part of the reason he wants it is him. He could make excuses, but everyone in those wards has a relative who could make excuses too. Inexcusable excuses. Ridge refuses to make excuses any more. He wants his father to come and live with him in London at his flat. He'll learn how to look after him. 'What can he expect that's so hard to provide?' A nurse comes in to talk to Cordell and tells Ridge that there is someone here to see him. As Cordell leaves, Stafford comes in. Ridge immediately says that he will return the papers to Doctor Tarrant in the morning. Stafford explains they thought he had leaked the report to the press which Ridge is surprised at. It turned out to be a nurse who resigned from the clinic six months ago because she couldn't agree with what was happening here and got impatient. It was her report. Ridge needed Anne's report for names of as many places for old people he could find, and they weren't any use. Stafford tells him that the University post is open until he can make up his mind. Ridge asks if he came all this way to tell him that. It isn't. Cordell is to have certain charges brought against him. Doomwatch has become involved. 'There's nothing Doomwatch can do about this problem. Nothing,' says Ridge firmly.

Cordell enters and tells Ridge that his father died about three minutes ago from heart failure. There was nothing they could do. Ridge's head bows slowly...

We close with Ridge staring at his father's dead body, and slowly crosses to the bed...

Synopsis by Michael Seely 


Hospitals did not have a good reputation in the 1960s or indeed the 70s. Those much vaunted matrons that recent governments wanted to resurrect in NHS hospitals not so long ago (in order to maintain they are clean) brought back bad memories for those who had been hospitalised in the past and were subjected to rather patronising treatment by so called professionals. You almost expect to have your illness beaten out of you by nurses, as if driving away bad demons! Thus the treatment of the elderly in wards as described by Ridge in his last scene with Cordell rings true, and probably comes from research discovered by Anne Kaliski. It is almost Victorian in description.

For Doomwatch to tackle this subject in its final season is quite surprising considering it has been dealt with before and in a far more imaginative and less straight forward manner. One can almost imagine Dudley in conference with Pedler and Davis and saying, 'What about the euthanasia argument, the quality of life, should life be preserved at all costs?' and the creators of the Cybermen rub their hands with glee: 'Right! Ward controlled by cost conscious computers!' 'No, no, no, dear fellows,' says Dudley before making a mental note, 'I'm sure that nice Louis Marks can write me another very depressing script on the subject without computers!' In The Iron Doctor, the computer discontinued active treatment because of the survival index of a patient determined whether he or she could survive without the expensive treatment, which determined whether they should just be allowed to die. No mercy killing, just budget considerations.

Cordell allows his patients to die with dignity, a debate still raging today. The right to end your own life. The law is being debated as to whether it is murder to assist your partner to die via a trip to a clinic in Switzerland. The Suicide Act 1961 still applies.

We see the strain on Ridge's sister's family, who cared for an elderly relative. We only hear from Ridge's father (unnamed in the script) from second hand sources. He does not want to be a further burden to his family when his degenerative illness was first diagnosed. What is not established in the episode is whether Cordell declines to treat all his patients when it looks like they are on the verge of death, despite having the medicines to revive them. When the press take interest in the leaked report on Cordell's clinic, he suddenly has to give all his patients treatment! This hints that his euthanasia policy is universal. But with informed consent at the heart of it. He is not a secret serial killer of the Harold Shipman stamp, or an Angel of Death – a ward stalking killer nurse. Cordell is presented as having a solution, an advocate of euthanasia but seems rather over-enthusiastic over the issue.

The problem is excellently presented by the script with no conclusion drawn. Anne Tarrant does not have an answer to the problems in geriatric care, with a force of passion that takes Ridge by surprise. Ridge diagnoses the problem – the excuses of the descendants, (or is that reasons?) with himself as guilty as anyone, but overlooks the fact his sister has been the primary care giver for sometime. No religious argument is offered in the script which makes a refreshing change when this subject is dealt with.

For Ridge this is probably his best episode of the series, but it is also a very definite conclusion. He is now thoroughly disillusioned with Doomwatch and what it stood for, perhaps an over-reaction to his father's plight and how in his crusade he overlooked the personal. This is rather unfair. His brother-in-law dismisses his previous career as 'Doomwatch nonsense' and no one is interested in his recent illness either. Quist describes him as a crusader, who takes the world's problems upon his shoulders. This is almost the flip side of what Ridge said to him in In The Dark. Quist is now accusing Ridge of walking the shattered planks of a sea side pier. But this week, ridge is more concerned with his father than in saving the world. The Cordell situation he does nothing about, he nearly does... but doesn't. Perhaps Ridge does take that job in the University after his father's funeral. Perhaps he fades into academia... Ridge tells Barbara that he has been taking the wrong actions recently, thinking perhaps of Deadly Dangerous Tomorrow – not to mention the anthrax business. But that's not his fault – it's those bloody writers!

This episode underlines the basic misunderstanding of the Doomwatch concept. It is no longer about the frights of science and imbalances of technology. Doomwatch was never about, as the Minister puts it, the preservation of the environment. Quality of life without manipulation, not an aesthetic, middle class ideal. Not for the first time this series, this is a story that does not involve Doomwatch directly. There is no reason for the department to get involved (thus safe to give Quist a week off with the 'flu), just like in Deadly Dangerous Tomorrow, and Sex and Violence. The back stage political skull-duggery is simply there for Ridge to apparently rock the boat, as it were. The Minister is fighting, again, for Doomwatch's survival – having tried to do what the think tank wants to do back in High Mountain. Terence Dudley has now brought Doomwatch firmly as an arm of the state and the Minister declares that it is part of government thinking. A triumph, perhaps, but dramatically invalid. Still, it does give the series a feeling of development.

But the big question of the episode is just what is going on between Barbara and Ridge? She says that she is a shoulder to cry on, but is there a little nibble in there too? The dialogue reads quite chaste, and the relationship is probably quite platonic, but it is a shock when you read it for the first time!

The cast list is quite interesting for this episode too. John Lee plays his third Doomwatch character. Viewers of The Web of Fear can imagine the same actor playing this quiet doctor, firmly committed in his beliefs but without the Nordic accent. Ridge's sister is played by Miss Wills herself which makes memories of the mild flirting seen in The Plastic Eaters a little disconcerting. 'Have I ever told you, Miss Wills, that you're the spitting image of my sister?' And she's married to Doctor Who's Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart who would work with director Lennie Mayne a little later in the year on The Three Doctors!

Review by Michael Seely

SIMON OATES Interviewed by Avengers Declassified

The one part ever where I had a hard time of it for this reason was in a Doomwatch programme. At the time, my father was dying and I had to leave for a couple of days to be with him. Coincidentally, the storyline for that particular episode replicated that situation and my character’s father was dying, too. I said to the producer, Terence Dudley, that I couldn’t do the scene until it was all over and asked if we could shoot that scene last. Terry understood and agreed to it. So, we shot that scene last. I did it, got it out of the way, and was cuddled away to my dressing room. I knew I couldn’t have done it until then.


This had the working title 'Birds of Prey' and was the tenth commission for the third series on the 13th of October 1971 as project number 2241/0544. The episode title changed to Cause of Death by April the following year. The final number appears to be 2240/4591



Thursday 1st June 1972
Camera Rehearsal: 2.00pm - 7.00pm (with TK36 from 2.00pm - 2.30pm)

DINNER: 7.00pm - 8.00pm
Camera Rehearsal: 8.00pm - 10.00pm

Friday 2nd June 1972 
Camera Rehearsal: 11.00 am - 1.00pm - (with TK36)
LUNCH: 1.00pm - 2.00pm
Camera Rehearsal: 2.00pm - 6.00pm
DINNER: 6.00pm - 7.00pm
Line-Up: 7.00pm - 7.30pm

TELERECORD: 7.30pm - 10.00pm on VTC/6HT/79082 With editec and roll back & mix during recording

The VT Edit took place on Monday 5th June 1972 from 9.00am to 1.00pm


Dr. Spencer Quist

Dr. John Ridge

The Minister - Sir George Holroyd

Dr. Anne Tarrant

Commander Neil Stafford

Barbara Mason


Dr. Cordell


Wilfred Ridge

First Hospital Sister

Second Hospital Sister

Susan Proud

Laboratory Assistant

Series originated by

Script Consultant

Theme music by

Costume Supervisor

Make Up Supervisor

Film Cameraman

Film Editor

Studio Lighting

Studio Sound

Assistant to Producer



Directed by

Uncredited Cast


Mrs Wheeler

Uncredited Crew


Sound Supervisor


Vision Mixers

Grams Operator

Costume Supervisor

Make Up Supervisor

Floor Assistant

Programme Assistant

Assistant Floor Manager



Senior Cameraman

TX: 7th August, 1972
9.20pm - 10.10pm

With thanks to John Archbold for the Radio Times listing and cover.