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Cult Times #51
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Quist focusses on the Plastic EatersThe Premise: Doomwatch is the nickname of a scientific group with the power to assess new technology and ban dangerous developments. It wasn’t supposed to cause trouble, but unfortunately for the government, this watchdog insists on biting.

Background: In 1966, Doctor Who’s script editor Gerry Davis recruited medical researcher and ecologist Kit Pedler as the show’s scientific advisor. After creating the Cybermen together, they went on to develop Doomwatch, but quit the show mid-way through Season Two after disagreements with producer Terence Dudley.

First Run: January 1970, for three seasons on BBC1. Channel 5’s new TV movie runs this month.

Number of Episodes: Thirty-nine, including banned episode Sex and Violence and Channel 5’s new TV movie.

Good Guys:
Dr Spencer Quist (originally John Paul, now Phillip Stone), Doomwatch’s Nobel prize-winning chief who’s haunted by guilt because he helped create the atomic bomb; also Dr John Ridge, hot-headed ex-marine turned eco-terrorist; Dr Toby Wren (Robert Powell), idealistic young hero; Sir George Holroyd (John Barron), the minister responsible for Doomwatch; Neil Tannahil (Trevor Eve), Doomwatch’s new chief in the Channel 5 revival.

Bad Guys: The Minister; various shady businessmen; scientists who think Doomwatch is a ‘scientific Gestapo’ determined to kill their research; workers who don’t care about pollution so long as they’ve got a job.

And Isn’t That... Second Doctor Who Patrick Troughton as a dying man in In the Dark; Brigadier Nicholas Courtney moonlighting from UNIT to play Ridge’s brother-in-law in Cause of Death; Elisabeth Sladen playing an eco-terrorist called Sarah in Say Knife, Fat Man, two years before she became Sarah Jane Smith.

Overdone Clichés: Ridge accusing Quist of caving-in to the politicians before apologizing later; blinkered scientists realizing how wrong they were in the final scene; Ridge getting crucial information by bedding a lady scientist; Doomwatch secretary Pat Hunnisett asking stupid questions so the men can explain the science.

Fashion Statements: Concerned scientists should wear trip-ready flares, day-glo shirts with collars you could use as a hang-glider, and (once in a while) a leather dog-collar complete with studs.

Ones to watch

The Plastic Eaters
Toby Wren accidentally infects his own plane with a virus designed to dissolve waste plastic. Just what you need at 20,000 feet…

Toby ends up defusing a damaged nuclear weapon. After a tense countdown, he’s a bit too slow and ends up scattered across most of the English Channel, mixed up with radioactive fallout.

Two teenagers break into a disused laboratory, and get infected by the germ warfare virus, forcing the army to seal off the contaminated village, shooting animals as they evacuate the population at gunpoint.

In the Dark
Quist persuades an old friend who’s had half his body replaced by artificial organs that life at any cost isn’t worthwhile. Patrick Troughton is superb as the proto-cyberman, as is the ending where his daughter ‘turns him off’.

Doomed to failure

Flight into Yesterday (jet-lag drives you mad); The Human Time Bomb (so do tower blocks); Hear No Evil (your boss has got your bedroom bugged); Sex and Violence (because the BBC banned it for using real footage of an execution)

Doom Watch (1999) UK Transmission details:

Channel 5, Tuesday 7th December, 21.00. See magazine for more details

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Anthony Brown

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Photo © BBCFeature © Visual Imagination 1999.
Not for reproduction.