Doomwatch is a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC, which ran on BBC One between 1970 and 1972. The series was set in the then present-day, and dealt with a scientific government agency led by Doctor Spencer Quist (played by John Paul), responsible for investigating and combating various ecological and technological dangers.
The actual name of the department was "Department for the Observation and Measurement of Scientific Work". Officially Doomwatch was an agency dedicated to preserving the world from dangers of unprincipled scientific research. Unofficially it was meant as a Government agency set up with little power meant to stifle protests and secure (green) votes. However the incorruptible Dr Spenser Quist and companions soon gave the agency some real power and people had to listen.
Quist had worked on the development of the atomic bomb and seen his wife die of radiation poisoning, Ridge was the secret agent type and Wren a conscientious researcher. Together they took science into people's living rooms, explaining about embryo research, subliminal messages, wonder drugs, dumping of toxic waste, noise pollution, nuclear weaponry, animal exploitation, etc.
There were other storylines such as genetic mutation creating a particularly large and vicious race of rats, and a virus that ate away at all types of plastics causing aeroplanes to fall out of the sky. There were also everyday stories like when Dr. Quist turned up at a meeting and was thought to be drunk but turned out to have severe jet lag. However, after Davis and Pedler left the series at the conclusion of the second season in 1971, it turned into a more conventional thriller drama, which the two creators openly criticised.
The first two seasons both consisted of thirteen episodes, and the third of twelve, of which one - titled Sex and Violence and intended to be shown as the fifth episode - was not transmitted. It has been suggested that this was because of objections to either its use of stock news footage of a public execution in Lagos, or its presentation of characters designed to be satirical analogues of Mary Whitehouse, Cliff Richard and Lord Longford. The execution footage has appeared on British television a number of times since the 1972, notably in a 1988 edition of Panorama about violence on television.
The programme was very popular and drew audiences of as high as 12 million at its peak. The start of every season merited a cover feature on the BBC's Radio Times listings magazine, which even today is a prestigious feat for a programme. The show was also sold abroad, gaining some popularity when transmitted in Canada.
As was common at the time, the BBC wiped the Doomwatch mastertapes soon after transmission, regarding them to be of little further use. Although many episodes have been returned from Canada or exist as telerecordings, several are still missing, and will likely remain so. However, a copy of the unbroadcast episode survives in the archives, one of only three from the final season to do so. Thanks to the Canadian returns season two is complete, but season one is missing five of its instalments. Some of the existing episodes have had a limited release on VHS and DVD in the UK, and all - except Sex and Violence - were repeated on the satellite channel UK Gold during the 1990s, although the episode was erroneously scheduled.
Pedler and Davis re-used the plot of the first episode of the series, The Plastic Eaters, for their 1971 novel Mutant 59: The Plastic Eater, although this was not officially a Doomwatch novel and did not contain the characters from the series. The book also re-used the Radio Times cover photograph of a melted plastic aeroplane in a briefcase.
The other main regular character throughout the run was Dr John Ridge, played by Simon Oates, although he appeared in only four episodes of the final season. One of the first season's main characters was Tobias 'Toby' Wren, who provided one of Doomwatch’s most memorable episodes when he was dramatically killed off in an explosion at the conclusion of the season one finale, Survival Code. Wren was trying to disarm a terrorist's nuclear device, which had been traced to a pavilion at the end of a seaside pier. Having done most of the work, a screwdriver slips from Wren's hands and falls between boards where he cannot reach it. Wren tries but knows he is doomed and with the nuclear part of the bomb defused, we see the pavilion explode as the conventional explosive goes off, taking Wren with it. Wren was played by Robert Powell, who later found worldwide fame as the title character in the television series Jesus of Nazareth, and starred in films such as the 1978 version of The Thirty-Nine Steps. The ministerial antagonist to the Doomwatch team, determined to keep the department following the government line, was played by John Barron, better known as 'CJ' from the comedy series The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. Other members of the cast were: Joby Blanchard as Colin Bradley, Wendy Hall as Pat Hunnisett, Vivien Sherrard as Barbara Mason, John Nolan as Geoff Hardcastle, John Brown as Commander Neil Stafford, Jean Trend as Dr. Fay Chantry, Elizabeth Weaver as Dr Anne Tarrant, and Moultrie Kelsall as Drummond.
Throughout its run, Doomwatch was produced by Terence Dudley, who also contributed several scripts himself. Dudley later went on to produce another well-remembered BBC science-fiction drama Survivors, and in the early 1980s wrote and directed episodes of Doctor Who. Aside from Davis, Pedler and Dudley, several other writers wrote episodes for the programme, including well-known veterans of several other British television science-fiction productions such as Robert Holmes, Dennis Spooner and Louis Marks.
In 1999, Channel 5 bought the rights to revive Doomwatch from the BBC, and on 7 December that year screened a 100-minute TV movie produced by the independent production company Working Title Television. Subtitled Winter Angel, the television movie was unusual in that, unlike most television revivals of series from previous decades (one exception being the 1996 Doctor Who television movie), it was a continuation of the story rather than a remake.
Written by John Howlett and Ian McDonald, only one of the original characters from the series appears, an aged Dr Spencer Quist, now played by actor Philip Stone as John Paul had died in 1995. Quist is killed off during the course of the TV movie, and the main character was Neil Tannahill, played by Trevor Eve, who at the conclusion of the story sets up a new 'Doomwatch' group to pursue the same aims as that of the original series. The film was about the creation of a black hole as an energy source but the dark side was revealed that once born, a black hole must be forever looked after or it could explode with force enough to destroy a country.
Although Channel 5 had intended the production to act as the pilot for a possible series and it had been generally well received by critics and public, further episodes were not forthcoming. This was generally accepted to be for reasons of cost.
NB: It's unlikely that Sex and Violence was intended to be run as episode 12, as it's placed fifth in a 'Early Warning Synopsis' booklet for the season, but the precise planned placing isn't definitively known. There are no continuity references which dictate its placing.