Doomwatch – tape 1889

After yesterday’s tape, looking at Chris Carter’s Millennium, we got back to the 1970s to see how scientific urban paranoia is really done, with Doomwatch.

Doomwatch was created by sometime Doctor Who writers Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis. Davis was a writer by trade, but Pedler was a working scientist who was a sort of scientific adviser for the Doctor Who team in the 60s – most notably, he and Davis created the Cybermen.

In 1970, Pedler and Davis created Doomwatch, a science fiction series centred around a government research centre investigating modern disasters and dangers.

The first episode here is The Red Sky. It opens with a teaser, where a man runs from his lighthouse home, close to the edge of a cliff, clutching his ears. He runs to the edge and jumps off. Cue a fairly unconvincing dummy falling from the cliff, hitting several rocks on the way down.

I’ve often thought that if the dummies used in scenes like this were more realistic, they’d never be shown. If they genuinely looked like real people, such a scene would be horrifying, but because they look like a shirt and trousers stuffed with straw, it’s acceptable.

Doomwatch comes right at the start of PAL colour broadcasting. A sign of how primitive this is, the episode titles are achieved using a simple vision mixer, rather than Colour separation overlay, so you can see the background through the text.

By Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis

This episode concerns noise pollution. The head of the Doomwatch office, Spencer Quist, is persuaded to take some time off, to reduce his stress levels, so he visits friends of his, who happened to witness the death at the start of the show. He quickly realises that excessive noise from a nearby jet engine testing facility might have had something to do with the death – a suspicion made stronger when his friend also dies of a cerebral heamorrhage. He summons the rest of the Doomwatch team, but they’re not sure his suspicions are correct.

Paul Eddington turns up as the head of the aircraft research centre, obviously covering something up.

Paul Eddington and John Paul

While he’s in the lighthouse setting up testing equipment, Quist is struck by the same phenomenon that affected the first two victims, and there’s some vintage 1970s effects.

In the next episode, Train and De-Train, this one written by Don Shaw, a small boy discovers a dead squirrel still sitting on a tree branch. The team investigate and find almost 2000 dead animals. Toby Wren (Robert Powell) thinks it’s pesticides, but is counselled by white-coated sciency type Joby Blanshard to collect the facts first.

It turns into a story not just about toxic pesticides, but also about a chief scientist who has been deemed ‘past his usefulness’ by the company, and is slowly being moved out of the company. George Baker plays the incredibly paranoid head of the chemical company who’s prepared to go as far as secretly taping conversations with his state of the art tape recorder.

The Doomwatch Tapes

Doomwatch is a gritty, angry show that’s firmly rooted in its time. It was that brief time when a cravat was an acceptable piece of menswear.

Cravats

The trimphone was the ultimate in communications.

Trimphone

It was a time when men wore sideburns without irony, and going outside meant you were shot on film, not videotape. In many ways I miss it.

Before the next episode, there’s a bit of the end of The Onedin Line, a mainstay of Sunday Nights when I was growing up.

Then another episode of Doomwatch, The Battery People by Elwyn Jones, which opens with someone giving the least convincing fake injection being given to a fish.

Fake Fish Injection

This opening is odd – the wide shots, in some kind of fish factory farm, are obviously shot on location, and therefore on film, so it’s lit like a carry-on film. But there’s a smaller close-up scene shot in a studio.

There’s a tastefully edited scene at a cock-fight – no animals were harmed in this programme.

The plot of this episode is looking at the possible emasculation of the men working at the battery farm, and there’s a lot of implication and innuendo – in 1970 it’s hard to talk about a subject like this.

I’m spending far too much time looking at the 1970s artefacts, rather than paying attention to the story – here’s the old-style milk bottles that were phased out sometime in the 70s for the shorter, squatter bottles that take less glass to manufacture.

Old Milk Bottles

 

After this episode, there’s the start of an episode of Shoestring which I’ve always thought of as the older, less respectable brother of Bergerac. The recording stops about seven minutes in.

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3 comments

  1. The only bit anyone apparently remembers from Doomwatch is the rat attack episode, specifically where Robert Powell is whomping the rodent on the edge of the kitchen table, so it’s interesting to see another clip which is similarly amusing. Does this mean they had a massive freak-out every week?

    There was a film, too, wasn’t there? It was a staple of late night weekend BBC1 for a while.

    1. They might also remember the episode where Robert Powell’s character has to defuse an atomic bomb – that episode might be missing from the archive, though.

      There are two films – one from 1972 starring Ian Bannen, which is familiar to me, so I might have watched it. There’s also a 1999 TV movie starring Trevor Eve, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen.

  2. I’d totally forgotten about the TV movie, I think it was a pilot that failed. It was on Channel 5 just after it started. The only notable part was the unintentionally hilarious supercomputer operating system, but nothing else has made an impression.

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