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MAD AND BAD: 60 YEARS OF SCIENCE ON TV


"Put a scientist under political pressure and he'll do anything you like..." 

Tonight on digital channel BBC4, a light hearted documentary about science on TV showed some excellent clips of DOOMWATCH. It premiered at 9pm (an Radio Times Choice) and is repeated again in the early hours of Thursday 16th December. A repeat on BBCi player is available for UK viewers for the next seven days here (The Doomwatch section occurs 50 minutes 46 seconds in). Overall, the programme was a pleasant surprise. Very entertaining throughout and narrated to perfection by Robert Webb. This was perhaps, predictably BBC and UK-centric although there were some exceptions as ITV and Channel 4 were acknowledged. It was also a good excuse to show a nice selection of classic BBC TV sci-fi clips and their connection to attitudes towards Science at the time. Interspersing with clips of Quatermass, Doctor Who, Blake's 7 and A for Andromeda and The Day of the Triffids proved to be a smart move as this could easily have been a very dry documentary. Out of all of these dramas Doomwatch was easily the most qualified to feature heavily in the 1970's section and yet somewhat underserved as overall more screen time was given to Doctor Who which annoyingly, given Doomwatch's brief appearance on TV was only fair.

Clips were used from The Plastic Eaters (including Toby Wren's shock reaction to the Plane melting around the passengers) and Tomorrow, the Rat (surprise, surprise, including the infamous Rat's sewn on trousers scene) plus a good section from The Battery People including the trimmed section from UK Gold of Ridge's disgust at the Chicken Factory as a conveyor system carries chickens around the factory before they get their feet snipped off. An extended version of this is upsetting section is available here.

Transcript (The 1970's): 


Narrator - Robert Webb: As TV non fiction continued to explore Science as a force for good in the 60's, that started to change in the 70's. The oil crisis gripped world affairs. Britain went dark with strikes and then the three day week. Science too was under fire from the press and the media. Popular TV news coverage of Science changed from reverential in the fifties to a more questioning approach in the 70's. So, in a misery Science face-off, Science fiction went darker.

Kim Newman: The 70's obviously in Britain were a very traumatic time and it's reflected in our TV Science fiction at the time which is almost uniformly grim and downbeat and miserablist, which may be why I kind of like it. 

Narrator - Robert Webb: The 1970's saw the start of DOOMWATCH

Kim Newman: DOOMWATCH is a very down show. It's all about everything going to hell.

Narrator - Robert Webb: With a very pessimistic view of Science it followed an agency setup to preserve the world from the dangers of unprincipled scientific research. The programme was created by real scientist Kit Pedler.

Kit Pedler: I think the public now is innacurately and incompletely informed.

Narrator - Robert Webb: Pedler had been the unofficial scientific adviser on Doctor Who in the 60's. This was the first series to frequently focus on environmental issues.

Kim Newman: You can tell what we as a society were worried about. You know, whether it be pandemics or over population or increasing dehumanisation of people through over reliance on Science and technology.

Narrator - Robert Webb: The series scared us with embryo research, toxic waste and animal exploitation, plus stuff that looked borrowed from B-movie horrors such as genetically engineered killer rats. A lot like ??GM tomatos and a plastic eating virus that caused planes to fall out of the sky.

Kim Newman: We may slightly misremember it as a show about bad Science, about how Science was going to do terrible things. If you look at it episode by episode, usually the problem isnt the Science, the heroes are Scientists, it's usually irresponsible Science.

Over a clip of The Plastic Eaters...

Narrator - Robert Webb: Dohh...Budget Airlines...Urgggh too late


Reviews online :- 
BBC News
The Independent

Report by Scott Burditt