Doomwatch – tape 1766

Back to UK Gold for this tape, which opens with the end of The Onedin Line.

Then there’s an episode of Doomwatch. Another organisation are monitoring the Doomwatch team. I love the production team’s attempt to simulate a ‘computerised’ picture – in those days (1970) there wasn’t really a consistent visual vocabulary for that kind of thing.

Quist pixellated

The computer operator appears to be examining exchange rates rather than personnel files.

Exchange Rates

I love her typing action. She reminds me of French and Saunders doing background artiste work on Grandstand.

According to the computer, Dr Quist has a personality type ‘Picnic’.

This is Project Sahara, and the team are being monitored because of their current investigation into the titular project.

God, the sexism on show is a bit awful. “Two females in one office, it never did work out.”

Project Sahara is a spray which reduces vegetation to desert. “We must ban it.” “We can’t, we can only recommend.”

Quist gets a call from the minister, and both scientists looking into the project, Stella Robson (Hildegard Neil) and Toby Wren (Robert Powell) are suspended on security grounds.

Even young, trendy, cravat-wearing Robert Powell gets in on the sexism when drowning his sorrows after the suspension. “Do you really want to take my mind off it? Then how about going to bed?” Not the behaviour I expect from a future Jesus of Nazareth.

But Powell (Wren) shouldn’t really be drowning his sorrows, as he’s being watched by government man Nigel Stock.

Nigel Stock

I think I’ve worked out what might be happening here. Wren asks Stella ‘Who are you saving it for?’ in that gross entitled way that men sometimes do. But then we see her at home, with her partner, and he’s more interested than he should be in her documents from work. And we also learn that her security screening has only just completed. I suspect he’s been stealing secrets. We’ll see as the programme continues.

It gets creepier as Wren passes out while at Stella’s house, then Nigel Stock turns up at the door. He talks to Stella about her background – she’s part Syrian. But she has no political axe to grind. But her boyfriend is a spy, and she tricks him by leaving an interesting looking secret envelope around the house.

But the moral of this story isn’t spying, it’s the use of a computer to determine the likely security risk of someone.

The next episode is Re-Entry Forbidden. There’s a space flight, including a British astronaut. And James Burke is doing the TV Coverage.

James Burke

Also doing the coverage is Michael Aspel.

Michael Aspel

Something went wrong with re-entry, and the British astronaut is acting a bit snippy with his wife. He was one of Quist’s pupils, so there’s a personal connection, and Doomwatch also investigates space missions.

When a second space mission takes place, also featuring our British Astronaut, the American TV presenter is rather louche. It seems unbelievable to me that TV presenters would happily smoke away while presenting.

American Announcer

Quist believes that the British astronaut is paranoid, and a danger to the crew, but due to hopeless communication, he manages to broadcast that information to the entire crew, and shortly after that, they mess up a manoeuvre and the spaceship burns up on re-entry. Rather grim.

Before the next episode there’s the end of The Onedin Line.

The next episode is The Devil’s Sweets. Some women are handing out free samples of sweets to people on the street. Pat from the Doomwatch team (Wendy Hall) tries one.

Free Samples

The team are closing up an investigation into the dangers of smoking, and are happy that figures show smoking has dropped. But when Colin reviews the latest figures, he finds that in the GLC area, smoking has increased by 49% in the last two weeks.

Toby is visiting the manufacturers of Checker Board cigarettes, who have seen a sudden and unusual increase in sales over the last two weeks. Checker Board seems to be the only brand seeing the increase in sales.

Checker Board

The advertising for Checker Board is being run by a fairly small firm, run my Peter Shipton (Maurice Roeves) and his magnificent telephone.

Maurice Roeves

The team are surprised when Pat pulls out a pack of Checker Board cigarettes – she hasn’t smoked for five years, but suddenly  wanted to smoke.

There seems to be some kind of conditioning effect of the checkerboard pattern – strangely reminiscent of QR codes – and drugs, which might be in the free sweets.

Patterns

The professor at the university doing experimentation on conditioning has a strange telephone technique, holding the earpiece a couple of inches from his ear. Perhaps his telephone is inadequately sanitised.

Telephone Technique

There’s a rather incongruous action beat where John Ridge has been photographing documents at the university, and feels he has to pull the fire alarm and speed away in his Jaguar, despite the university seemingly only being staffed by one professor and a single guard at the gate.

Pat is taken quite ill, and ends up in intensive care. She’d been taking slimming tablets. “Why couldn’t we have a male secretary?” asks Quist.

There’s some very odd moments in this episode. Shipton gets a phone call that upsets him, and he puts the phone down, cross. Then his secretary walks in and puts a cup of tea on his desk, seemingly just so he can swipe the cup off the desk in anger.

In another scene in the university lab, Quist is angry that they can’t locate the drug that was in the sweets, so he strides the length of the lab, picks up a large beaker filled with (it looks like) egg yolks and hurls it into the sink. The effect is somewhat undercut by the fact that it’s a plastic beaker, so it makes a rather underwhelming sound.

Then, when Ridge gets a call telling him that Pat has died, he smacks Shipton across the face in anger as he argues his innocence.

It’s very stagey, but the underlying story is fine, and the final scene, where Ridge, still thinking Pat is dead, is told by Quist that it was all a ruse, is powerful and genuine.

After this episode, recording switches to another episode, but the tape is nearly over. We’ve skipped to the first episode of series 2, which starts with the shocking climax of series one. Toby Wren is defusing a nuclear bomb under a pier. He thinks he’s got all the wires, and he drops his wire cutters into the sea as he tries to remove the detonator, but find one last wire that he tries to unscrew, and runs out of time. The bomb goes off, not a nuclear blast, but enough to kill Toby.

This is the start of You Killed Toby Wren and features John Barron as a minister.

John Barron

There’s only the very start of the episode here, although I clearly tried to record it. There’s only the first five minutes here. I think I had this episode on commercial VHS which might be why I didn’t record it properly.

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