'They lie, they cheat, they sell the future down the river...'
Doomwatch is a branch of the Ministry of National Security, although it can be seconded to any governmental department that needs their help whether it be Agriculture and fish (The Inquest) or Health (various episodes). There is a Minister in charge.
When The Plastic Eaters was made in 1969, the Labour government, then in its second term, was expected to win a third election the following year. Hence, in The Plastic Eaters, Quist mentions how the government was practically re-elected on the issue of Doomwatch. As if! That might explain why we have a Welsh MP as Minister for National Security in The Battery People. You can get Conservative Welsh MPs in the 1960s though but mining communities more often than not sent Labour MPs to represent them in Parliament.
It is almost a safe bet to say that the Minister for National Security that John Barron played in The Plastic Eaters is a totally different character to the verbose, witty, erudite Sir George Holroyd first seen in You Killed Toby Wren, whose first name is only referred to once that season, in his very first scene. When being cleared for his internal commission for Waiting for a Knighthood, Dudley makes clear that he created this character as well as Anne Tarrant who also appeared in You Killed Toby Wren. Otherwise, what on Earth happened to the sly, almost sinister bastard from the very first episode to turn him into this jolly chap? The former was the sort of politician that Pedler and Davis wished to portray, a sort of simplistic characterisation which Terence Dudley deplored. The next time the first Minister is mentioned is in another Pedler/Davis script, The Red Sky with a direct reference to the 'Beeston affair.'
The Red Sky also introduces Richard Duncan, who is described as 'the Minister's hit man'. In Fire and Brimstone, the camera script calls him the Minister's Private Secretary. He is a PPS but whether the first P stands for Parliamentary or Private, we're not sure. and, precisely who he is, not even the production team seemed to know according to his actor, Michael Elwyn, who decided that the man was an MP and not a civil servant, after all. In any case, he is attached to the Ministry for the three years Doomwatch covers. Barker, played by Robert James, is the PPS in both The Plastic Eaters and Project Sahara but, again, we don't know what the P stands for!
In any case, when The Battery People begins, the first Minister is replaced by the Welsh MP John Timothy Davies, a safe Party man. But he cannot have lasted for long. You Killed Toby Wren sees 'George' in the hot seat. But is he Minister for National Security by this juncture? Who is the Minister for Survival Code and which department did he represent? We first see him in Tomorrow, The Rat, - rat control doesn't really come into the same pervue as lost nuclear bombs, so we can envisage the same cabinet reshuffle saw him promoted as well as Davies. Perhaps he is a junior minister with George as his superior, hence organising the tribunal of enquiry into the Byfield bomb?
By the time writing begins for Season 2, Edward Heath's Conservative government is in.
You Killed Toby Wren was written and produced during the first year in office. John Barron's character simply oozes Conservativeness! He does not have his knighthood referred to at this point. How many knighted Labour ministers can you recall in the 60s and 70s? There were unelected Lords in the Conservative government at this time (one of which was about to succumb to a delicious sex scandal). We meet Duncan for a second time in Invasion, still at the Ministry and therefore working for his third Minister - which makes him more a civil servant than an MP as these sort of appointments tend to be made by the Ministers (with Prime Ministerial approval) on personal levels rather than as a sense of continuity. MPs move around - civil servants stay forever. Junior Ministers do not want to remain junior for long. The Islanders and No Room for Error show us various civil servants, before we return to our George for Flight Into Yesterday, backed up by Richard Duncan (who seems to be an MP again, running around the Houses of Parliament) and we re-meet Miss Wills, the secretary from The Plastic Eaters, once again.
Following on from his heart attack at the end of the episode, George seems to be replaced by John Savident's character first seen in Burial At Sea. This scuppers any theory that there may have been a snap election which brought in George, replacing Tim. Savident's character was in charge of the department which dumped chemical weapons at sea which is not specified in Dennis Spooner's script. In The Web of Fear, he is the Minister for Health, presumably seconded to National Security whilst George recuperates. Duncan is with him too. We next see Duncan in Public Enemy, intervening with Doomwatch on what seems to be a local matter but if the local MP was from the same party as in power, or the chairman was a party fund raiser, would have lobbied the Ministry to put pressure on Quist.
By series three, Sir George Hollroyd - becomes a regular character, and seems to have been allowed to remain in this highly pressurised post, despite his heart attack. Assuming he got the job before the Byfield Bomb, he would have been in this post for at least two years, which is not unusual. He survived a cabinet reshuffle, alluded to in Flight Into Yesterday, George is a highly cultured man and has friends in business and science, such as Massingham and Fulton. After the first two episodes of this series, he no longer tries to close down Doomwatch, snip back its wings or regard Quist anything other than a necessary nuisance. Doomwatch has become accepted by the State, by the Government, by most people really... Except Ridge's brother in law.
Article by Michael Seely