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Cult TV Essentials: Doomwatch

Created by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, Doomwatch was a British science fiction show than ran between 9th February 1970 – 14th August 1972 (Three seasons/ 38 episodes – 14 of which are missing). The show follows Department of Measurement of Scientific Work (nicknamed Doomwatch) who are a scientific government agency led by Doctor Spencer Quist (played by John Paul) who are responsible for investigating and combating various ecological and technological dangers.

In the opening episode, The Plastic Eaters, a passenger flight on the way to San Pedro in South America crashes after all the plastic on board inexplicably melts. Later, scientist Tobias ‘Toby’ Wren (Robert Powell) applies for a job at Doomwatch. Wren is immediately given the job, and promptly sent off to investigate the crash. Meanwhile, Quist’s colleague Doctor John Ridge (Simon Oates) investigates at a laboratory in Beeston, and uncovers events surrounding a new experimental chemical. The outcome of this episode sets the team up for rest of Season 1 as Quist; Ridge, Wren as well as  technician and computer specialist Colin Bradley (Joby Blanshard); and secretary Pat Hunnisett (Wendy Hall).

Robert Powell decided to leave the series and not to return in season 2 so it was decided that Tobias Wren was to be killed off by being in an explosion in the season 1 finale Survival Code. Unfortunately this episode is missing/lost. The ramifications of Wren’s death continued in Season 2 Episode 1: You Killed Toby Wren where Quist finds himself wracked with guilt over Wren’s death, and facing an investigating tribunal. Under pressure from the inquiry, and confronted by a furious Ridge – who holds Quist personally responsible for Toby’s death – Quist turns to a psychiatrist for help. Then Geoff Hardcastle (John Nolan) arrives at the Doomwatch office, bringing with him disturbing news concerning horrific genetic experiments being conducted by Professor Eric Hayland (Graham Leaman). Ridge decides to investigate, but becomes more involved than he was expecting to!

As Season 3 opens (Fire and Brimstone) Ridge suffers a breakdown from the pressure, and decides that, due to the excessive threat of pollution on the environment, drastic steps should be taken. He steals some phials of the deadly virus anthrax, and holds the government to ransom: unless his anti-pollution terms are met, he will destroy humanity by releasing the virus in a number of major cities. A race against time begins – can Ridge be tracked down before it is too late?

As a result of Ridge’s actions the government place Commander Neil Stafford (John Bown) onto the Doomwatch team, where he would remain for the season.

The season 3 episode Sex and Violence has attained a mythical status. The episode remains unbroadcast with rumours running rampant as to why! One myth is that the episode as banned because it incorporated footage of a real military execution but this was just circulated to cover up the real reason – the episode spoofed real-life personalities such as Mary Whitehouse, Lord Longford and Cliff Richard who were conducting an investigation into the moral pollution of the nation, as mirrored in the programme. The BBC felt it would have been too libellous to broadcast the episode so BBC’s director of programmes David Attenborough made the decision to pull it. More than three decades later the episode still hasn’t been broadcast in the UK or even released commercially. With 14 episodes missing/lost, ironically Sex and Violence remains fully intact but banned from being seen!

 

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