By Anthony Brown and Scott Burditt
THE political and scientific thriller series DOOMWATCH centred on a team of scientists led by the incorruptible and guilt-ridden Dr Spencer Quist, established by the government to appease public concern over scientific progress by monitoring it, which proceeds to embarrass the government by regularly doing just that. Predicting what could happen if a particular experiment or technology got out of hand, the series was anchored in scientific fact and is sometimes close to reality.
The series was created by the writing partnership of script editor Gerry Davis and qualified doctor and medical researcher Kit Pedler, which had formed when they created the Cybermen for Doctor Who. Pedler provided thoughts on more than a dozen areas of science and technology which concerned him, which he and Davis developed into outlines that were generally passed onto other writers for scripting (with one concept, about hospital automation, passing through the hands of no fewer than three separate writers who each started from scratch before reaching the screen). Among the writers whose work was shown were Doctor Who stalwarts Louis Marks, Dennis Spooner, Brian Hayles and Robert Holmes, while the series’s producer Terence Dudley would later take the same role on Terry Nation’s Survivors.
Aside from John Paul, still well remembered as the star of Probation Officer, as Dr Quist, the cast of Doomwatch featured a career launching role for the young Robert Powell as idealist Toby Wren, with Simon Oates as the more cynical ex-spy and ladies’ man John Ridge, a character not dissimilar to the one he’d previously played in The Spies/The Mask of Janus. 38 episodes were recorded and all but one aired between 1970 and 1972, with a spin-off film starring Ian Bannen and Judy Geeson produced between seasons two and three.
The series’s greatest strength was the frequency with which real life events would echo its fears, at the time of transmission or even during recording, though other concepts have proven unfounded in later years and can now seem slightly comical. As a result it struck a chord with audiences and its cast and crew alike, with actress Jean Trend (who joined the cast for season two) taking onboard Kit Pedler’s fears about wasteful packaging and water use long before such lifestyle changes became widely fashionable, while Simon Oates chose to leave the series after the second season as he felt that, without Kit Pedler’s direct involvement, it had already lost its edge (though he did agree to return for some third season episodes, and remained keen to participate in any revival until his recent death).
But this also proved its Achilles’ Heel, as producer Terence Dudley became so keen on his vision of the series that he clashed with Pedler and Davis, who left mid-way through season two, with Pedler publicly attacking the third season on BBCtv. This perhaps contributed to the decision to end the series after its third run, with the season cut back by one episode leaving a completed script unproduced, while a completed episode, “Sex and Violence”, was pulled from the schedules and left unshown.
Ironically, “Sex and Violence” is one of the few third season episodes that still exist, though it still remains unshown, despite being scheduled for transmission by UK Gold during the early 1990s. Unfortunately, Doomwatch was produced just early enough to be a victim of the BBC archive purges, with five episodes missing from season one, and nine from season three (season two is thankfully complete). It is the series’ 40th Anniversary next year and it would be a perfect time for people to search for and come forward with new missing material.
From season one, the PAL 625 master tapes of “The Plastic Eaters”, “Project Sahara”, “Re-Entry Forbidden”, “The Devil’s Sweets”, “The Red Sky” and “The Battery People” were all preserved intact, along with the final season two episode “Public Enemy”, and the third season episodes “Waiting for a Knighthood”, “Hair Trigger” and the aforementioned “Sex and Violence”. Black and white film prints made for overseas sale were also retained for the entire season two.
In addition, Canada’s CBC purchased the first season episodes “Tomorrow The Rat” and “Train and De-Train” in 1971, along with the entirety of season two, and these NTSC 525 line recordings were returned to the BBC in the early 1980s. The CBC had screened all the episodes they had except “Train and De-Train”, second season opener “You Killed Toby Wren” (which opens with a recap of the final scenes of the missing first season finale “Survival Code”) and “Public Enemy”.
Since then, rather astonishingly, no episodes of Doomwatch have been among the gems turned up by episode hunts, though there is reason to hope that more of season one may exist, as at least one of the crew was given a black and white film print of a favourite episode. Unfortunately, the episode writer Gerry Davis chose was “The Red Sky”, which is intact in colour, but it suggests more prints were made, and that other production staff might still have them somewhere.
Details of the missing episodes are as follows:
|Episode Title||Transmission Date|
|Burial at Sea||23/02/1970|
|Spectre at the Feast||13/04/1970|
|Hear no Evil||04/05/1970|
|Episode Title||Transmission Date|
|Fire And Brimstone||05/06/1972|
|Say Knife,Fat Man||19/06/1972|
|Without The Bomb||03/07/1972|
|Deadly Dangerous Tomorrow||17/07/1972|
|Cause Of Death||01/08/1972|
|The Killer Dolphins||08/08/1972|
An official BBC list can be found here.
- For more information about Doomwatch, visit Scott Burditt’s website: www.doomwatch.org.