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SEASON 1 EPISODE 1 THE PLASTIC EATERS by by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis


Cover of the Radio Times - 7th - 13th  February 1970


A routine flight to San Pedro is in trouble. The flight was reaching its end when the pilot noticed one of his dials was not working, he gives it a tap to see if it would register but nothing. The Flight Engineer pulls out a panel and notices inside that a cable is melting... As the air hostess make sure their passengers are safely belted, the situation worsens in the cock pit. Anything plastic is softening and melting. The Captain orders a mayday alert and initiates an emergency descent drill. Controls begin to spark. On the ground, emergency airport response teams drive out from their hangers. The Captain and his crew have lost control of the plane, his joystick or yoke breaks up in his hands as a sticky mess. The plane crashes in the scrub land and is destroyed.

TITLES

The Doomwatch office: the secretary Pat Hunnisett shows in Toby Wren and sees if Doctor Quist can see him now. Before she goes into the next room, she glares at Doctor John Ridge who is having a cup of coffee with his feet on his desk. Ridge introduces himself to Wren and says that Pat would have introduced them but he pinched her bum just before lunch. 'Hunger, nothing more.' Wren doesn't look too impressed. Since Wren has been let in, this means he's joined Doomwatch. 'Gawd help yer,' says Ridge.

Doctor Quist is on the phone and tells Pat Wren will have to wait. He resumes talking to Colin Bradley about the San Pedro air disaster. Something affected the wires or the insulation and Quists wonders if that is why it was sent to them. It almost looks like solvent action. 'You better find out and quickly. What's up with overgrown adding machine of yours?'

In the room between the outer office and Quist's, Ridge is showing Wren around the lab. Their pride and joy is a computer nicknamed Doomwatch. 'It's an analogue digital hybrid, y'know.' Quist emerges and tells Ridge to investigate plastic solvents old or new, from the data retrieval service, if there is a Governmental project it will be under wraps otherwise they would have a file. Ridge suggests talking to the Ministers PPS, Barker. Wren follows Quist about trying to get his attention and fails. Everyone is focused on their work. Quist goes back into his office and Wren has had enough and turns to leave. Quist calls, 'Where do you think you're going?' 'Out,' replies Wren. Apparently so; he is catching a plane in three hours to investigate a plane crash! Wren protests that he is not a crash specialist, he came here for an interview for a job, but Quist knows his background and says he has joined and this is his first effort. Pat gives him some reading material for the flight...

Wren studies the photos from the crash next to a rather bemused passenger...

Ridge reports to Quist. There's plenty on solvents but nothing that could account for that wiring. Barker just gave him the usual departmental codswallop. Why does Quist think the government knows something about this? The source could be anywhere in the world. 'But we're one of the most congested. Our problems with getting rid of plastic waste are liable to be somewhat more acute.' And the Minister would like to be remembered as the man who had the foresight to tackle the problem. Pat has the Minister on the phone. Quist talks to him about the San Pedro air disaster.

Colin Bradley, meanwhile is trying to get the computer to work.

Quist is pressing the Minister hard on any new development of plastic solvents that he is aware of. Despite Barker's assurances, Quist doesn't believe that they are being properly informed. 'We cannot function without a full and frank exchange of information on every new project.' The Minister disagrees. When Quist asks about the Beeston Laboratories the Minister becomes alarmed and shortens the call by saying that there is nothing in Beeston that need concern them. The Minister reflects for a minute and then dictates a memo onto a Dictaphone about Dr. Quist and Doomwatch: 'Far too much license has already been given to the director. He and his department must be made to conform to Ministry policy. If not...'

Bradley enters Quist's office and tells them that the computer is working again, it only took four and a half hours. But Quist doesn't see the point since they have no information to feed it. 'We were set up to investigate any scientific research public or private that could possibly be harmful to man. In fact, the government was practically re-elected on this very issue. Now we're a dustbin for every routine job that could be shoved on to us. If we do get anything, the essential information is withheld.' He had considered resigning but the Minister would be too eager to accept and replace him with a robot civil servant. A telegram tells Quist that Wren has arrived in San Pedro and is on his way to the scene of the crash. Ridge coolly suggests breaking into the Minister's office! Bradley is appalled and Quist doesn't want to be forced into becoming some quasi-MI5 in order to get basic information. Ridge goads him on, asks him why he took on this job. Pew in the house of Lords or an attack of conscience? He points to the three pictures of a nuclear blast on Quist's wall. 'I just wondered how much your maths helped to make that possible.' Quist is lost for words and Bradley tries to get Ridge out of his office. Quist stops him, Ridge is waiting for a confrontation but instead is told to do it. Quist is left alone and stares at the pictures.

Ridge is shown to the Minister's office by a helpful commissioner and Ridge pretends that Miss Wills, the Minister's secretary is already there. Alone in the office, Ridge makes a warning signal to be alerted to any visitors and runs through drawers and filing cabinets before entering the Minister's office. He is alerted to someone entering the office and is nearly caught in the act by Miss Wills as he is trying to close a stuck drawer. With a diversion from a painting and a spot of flirting he pretends he is returning some files for the Minister. Ridge smashes a vase behind her back and pretends he is a clumsy man, offering to help the annoyed, but secretly amused Miss Wills to clear up the mess. She tells him to wait in the outer office. With the file he needs replacing the fake one he brought into the office, Ridge takes some miniature pictures of the appropriate document.

Quist studies the document in the office later on. There is work going on down at Beeston on plastic solvents, but it seems to be a biological mechanism rather than a chemical one because that is what Beeston does, it is a purely microbiological research station. They call it Variant 14. But what the devil could it be?

Wren meanwhile is inside the remains of the crashed fuselage of the San Pedro flight. He finds more examples of wiring stripped of its insulation and places it in a plastic bag inside a metal container.

They can't confront the Minister with their information without revealing how they got it, Ridge agrees, and not very seriously suggests breaking into Beeston. This time Quist likes the idea, but Ridge doesn't agree! 'That's a germ warfare establishment!' 'With your training Beeston should be a push over.' They need a sample of the variant 14. And if Ridge is found, Doomwatch will disclaim any responsibility! He's had his revenge now...

With appropriate equipment and a rather unwise all black outfit, Ridge breaks through the wire fencing of Beeston with ease, even though it's broad daylight!

Inside a well equipped lab, Jim Bennett is supervising a test. A protected assistant is trying to remove a sample from an inspection hatch and nearly drops it. Bennett comes over to help her and isn't impressed. Ridge enters the lab and quickly dons a white coat. Ridge has done his research. He goes over to Jim Bennett and pretends to know him from school, and that the Minister has sent him down. 'In connection with the Dungeness test?' But Bennett is suspicious and asks for his D14. Ridge bluffs that Hal Symonds, the director, obviously hasn't written it yet. Bennett goes off to check, leaving Ridge enough time, and unnoticed by the other lab assistants to acquire a test tube of something and put it in his top pocket.

Quist is in the computer lab, determined to find a link between Beeston and the air craft crash. As Bradley goes over the list of names of passenger and crew, the name of a stewardess Wills alerts Quist to a connection with Miss Wills, the Minister's secretary!

Symonds is brought into the lab and does not recognise Ridge who pretends he is from the Sunday Gazette. A lab coated man, Jones, takes Ridge, none too gently outside. Symonds wonders who he really is. He phones the main gate and asks them to photograph Ridge and do a thorough security check on him.

The results lead Symonds to the Minister's office who disclaims any authorisation from him over Ridge's breaking and entering. He tells Symonds about Quist. 'He heads a special investigation department, he's somewhat unorthodox.' The Minister did not make the appointment either. He tells Symonds of the exaggerated publicity over Quist's appointment. You can't remove a man like that. The Minister wants the sample of Variant 14 returned his way. He won't allow there to be any interference on the Dungeness test.

Ridge is worried, they have had time to trace him. Pat Hunnisett offers to send his effects to Pentoville! Quist is studying the results of their tests of four trails on Variant 14 with Bradley. Quist has worked on the assumption of how the variant would react in an ordinary environment. It would spread like a plague, from plastic to plastic like food, growing exponentially. 'It would go through a city like a bush fire,' Quist tells Pat. It could go through London in twelve hours! Quist and Brad explain that it has been developed to rid the country of plastic waste. Quist knows that they must be planning a field test which leads to Ridge remembering what Bennett told him about Dungeness. 'Have they got all this data? Do they know a way of limiting its growth?' Pat thought that surely they would wouldn't do a test without knowing it's safe. 'Put a scientist under political pressure, and he'll do anything you like, he'll even justify it, believe me I know!' He's not ready to face the Minister, who according to Pat, is hopping mad. They need more data to prove it brought down the first plane. A cable has arrived from Wren: he is on Flight 272 from San Pedro with a sample of the crashed air craft on-board in his brief case. If that plane returns back to the airport and if the virus is out, it could infect the whole world... To divert the plane to a West country RAF field, they first need to convince the Minister.

Wren is making notes on board, opens the metal box and takes out his plastic wrapped sample. He holds a coffee tray with a hand whilst a stewardess pours in coffee.

The Minister summons Quist and tells him to bring Ridge. Quist feels this would be useful: whilst he works on the Minister, Ridge can work on Miss Wills. 'He'll do that alright,' says Pat as she leaves. 'It's our last card. If appeals fail, we may have to use it.'

Unnoticed, Wren's plastic bag is melting, dripping down inside his brief case.

Quist is introduced to Symonds by a cold Minister. Ridge is introduced and sent to wait in the outer office. Quist begins. He has evidence of a disaster that could have been averted had proper care been exercised.

Ridge congratulates Miss Wills on her perfect self composure.... She is puzzled by him, he has been sitting on a desk staring at her in a very penetrating manner. 'I think, that if I were in your shoes, I would feel the slightest twinge of compunction... If I were responsible for the deaths of some thirty five people ... including my own cousin.' This gets through to Miss Wills. Janet Wills, the air hostess on British Latino airlines. He shows her pictures of the crash but she can't bear to look at it, he tells her about the melted insulation, that she had been to Beeston Monday, and the plane crashed on Tuesday. Confused and upset, she refuses to help. Ridge tells her that as a direct result of her action there is another plane in danger. Miss Wills finally co-operates, pressurised by Ridge into remembering when she last saw her cousin, owed her money, wrote her a cheque, with a pen, her pen. Ridge forces her to remember where the pen is.

An air hostess is surprised to see a plastic cup has melted, and its contents all over a tray. As she clears up, placing a contaminated hand on a table, a telegram has arrived for Toby Wren. He is appalled by its contents and looks at his briefcase in horror.

Both the Minister and Symonds finds Quist's evidence inconclusive. 'Purely circumstantial.' Variant 14 could be the cause but Symonds won't admit to it, making Quist angry. Quist has some new data from one of his own tests.

Miss Wills find the pen she used at Beeston – and at the airport where she met her doomed cousin – in her handbag. Taking the metal lid of it, she finds the plastic tube has softened... Ridge re-enters the room and tells her not to move and not to touch anything.

Toby Wren shows the Captain in the flight deck the telegram. 'What are we supposed to do about it?' The Captain needs more evidence.

He soon gets it: a plastic handle bag between two passengers has melted and one of the women adjusts the air conditioning thinking it must be at fault...

Quist tells the Minister that another plane is in danger over the Atlantic. The Minister is pleased that Symonds dismisses it as rubbish. The Minister will allow Quist to examine the plane after it has landed. That's his final word. Suddenly Ridge enters holding a metal tray containing the melted plastic of the pen. 'Exhibit A. The missing link between Beeston, and the crash and your staff.' Symonds cannot deny that this isn't Variant 14. Miss Simms is being taken care of according to Ridge. Symonds cannot understand. Their isolation procedures are 100% effective. 'But exceptions are apt to be lethal,' says Quist. Now does he have permission to isolate the airport? 'In different circumstances I would regard this as blackmail...' The Minister is also annoyed that the Doomwatch offices have phoned him on his private line to talk to Quist! It is Bradley. The virus has got out on board the San Pedro flight... Quist asks Symonds to get down to Cornwall, where Brad was earlier dispatched to, with as many of his Beeston staff ready for the plane. The Minister quietly agrees and asks Quist to stay behind. There is a great deal to discuss. Quist wants to know about the Dungeness test...

The Captain broadcasts to his passengers for them to stay in their seats. But the PA packs up. The plastic bag is now almost totally dissolved, ugly orange liquid has spread down the gang way. The Captain had been trying to tell the passengers that they would be landing in the RAF Station St Morgan in Cornwall. There's a fault in the main power pack as well. The automatic pilot has also gone... Wren watches from a corner.

The Minister assures Quist that any news will be relayed to them. Quist knows: he's arranged it. Infuriated by his taking over, the Minister decides to launch an exhaustive inquiry into the activities of Quist and his staff and that as director, he is suspended!

By now, the plane is being escorted by an RAF jet but they cannot hear him. They must have been sent to take them down which is good because the Captain has no idea where they are.

The Minister tells Quist that Miss Wills can't be responsible for spreading the virus. She went to Beeston with the Minister because she did not enter the biological laboratory.

An elderly passenger is beginning to lose his nerve as another PA announcement on a different route is made. He wants to see the Captain... He had been sitting opposite Toby Wren. They both watch as melting plastic oozes from the ceiling and the cabin wall...

The pilot and second pilot are struggling to control the plane. 'It's going to be a bumpy landing...' jokes Wren but it is not appreciated.

This time, a window blind has melted. A plastic rain coat in the passenger rack is dissolving. The elderly passenger panics and forces his way onto the flight deck but Wren pushes him out, and stops the flight engineer from touching the door. They watch as it starts to ooze... Unnoticed by the second pilot, complaining about the murk.

An oxygen mask descends, dripping wet all over a passenger.

The Captain needs all his concentration now they are close to Cornwall and tells Wren to shut up.

Quist watches the Minister finishing a memo on his Dictaphone. This gives Quist an idea. He asks to speak to Miss Wills. The Minister sees his drift as Quist questions her about the cassettes used... Is there one labelled Beeston? The Minister nods and Miss Wills confirms this. She goes to fetch it, as the Minister, trying to cover up his feelings of nerves, tries to explain that they are strictly confidential and his responsibility. He refuses to open the metal container. Quist picks up the case and notices a smell. Inside is a congealed mess of tape which Quist holds up with a metal spike. 'You took this to Beeston,' he tells the numb Minister. 'It was concealed, wasn't it?'

The co-pilot spots Newquay and the pilot prepares to bring them down.

At the RAF station, ambulances and the fire brigade rushes out to prepare for the landing.

As the plane begins a 360 degree manoeuvre to reduce height, a section of the plastic overhead units collapses onto the passengers. Passengers use their coats to try and block the hole.

Wren is told to go back into the cabin and tell the passengers that they are going straight in. The Captain is having to be directed visually by his co-pilot. Wren is reluctant and as he pulls open the curtain, sees the depressed and anxious passengers, terrified of their ordeal – and the virtual plastic rain around him.

The three flight crew with their remaining working instruments prepare for their emergency landing. The Captain notices the reception committee of ambulances and fire engines racing to meet them as they touch down and bring the plane to a juddering halt. They have made it. Now they sit tight.

There is a fire on the run way, which the fire brigade using foam quickly extinguishes. The plane is covered in the stuff. Two suited men climb up a ladder to get into the plane.

The safe landing is relayed to the Minister who tells Quist. All alive. The Minister regrets this terrible tragedy, he couldn't have been properly briefed. Quist has checked and he was. And they can expect the same thing again at Dungeness? 'The people aren't ready for this test. The proof is there. And you were the carrier.' Quist knows it would be grossly unfair to blame the Minister directly but he doesn't think the press or the opposition would think so... 'The facts are there. People have died. The mud will stick.' The test will be deferred. And Doomwatch? There will be no need for another Beeston affair if Quist's department is kept properly informed... Quist gets up and leaves. 'Good day, Minister.'

Synopsis by Michael Seely

Review

By the decade of the 1960s, scientific breakthroughs and advances were still seen as the way forward but their side effects, sometimes lethal was causing alarm. Despite all the advances in home consumables like fridges, washing machines and the like making life easier, especially for the house wife (no more mangles, hours in the wash tubs and having to buy fresh food every day) we were also living under the shadow of the nuclear bomb. CND was created in the 1950s and late 1962 saw the Cuban missile Crisis and the world was perilously close to its first, possibly last, nuclear exchange. After that things cooled. Harold Wilson wanted to modernise British industry which was lagging behind America and places. He created the Ministry of Technology. 'The Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of technology will be no place for restrictive practises or for outdated methods on either side of industry.' He had a vision of science and technology solving problems. He was referring to unions and industry resistant to change. Government is pushing. New vision politics.

“Watch out for the technological appeal. Harold Wilson cooked this one up and he was a master of political tactics. Technology means the use of scientific knowledge for practical purposes. That's a little vague and hard to pin down. So another characteristic of New Vision politics is that it promises a fresh set of technological toys to solve problems. New visions never have any sympathy with anybody who wants to sit whittling a piece of wood in the back garden. A new Vision demands a get-out-there-and-do-things outlook...” Brain Walden, himself an ex-Labour MP at this time writes in 2001.

But by the sixties, people were becoming suspicious ('We've grown up,' declared Gerry Davis in a contemporary interview,) and not so ready to embrace the revolution. Disasters at Windscale, the side effects of modern industry, there was a new form of pollution competing with the old Victorian problems. Plastic waste is one of them. And our Minister, has a New Vision.

Several things strike you after watching this episode. First of all, there are no lectures about the evils of plastics and their waste. We don't need it. The problem is how to dispose of it, and how a method which has been developed is not safe enough to be used, but the New Vision of political pressure is forcing through an early test. There doesn't need to be a lecture because the episode demonstrates are reliance on the artificial material and how another artificial product can destroy it. A second or third season episode would have debates about landfills, pollution and strangled swans. The fear expressed in this episode, is of a leak...

In traditional, first series Doomwatch, we have a trail for our three scientific detectives to follow and our fourth journeyman detective is in the thick of it! Like in The Devil's Sweets, assumptions are made to advance the plot: Quist is convinced that the melted wires was created artificially and by something originating in this country because of our acute plastic waste problem. Not being allowed access to Beeston adds to his hypothesis. And so on. What a good job Miss Wills' cousin hadn't married... That gave them the link from Beeston to the Minister's Office and to the doomed flight. And it is the Minister who secretly used a nice bit of modern technology, the Dictaphone, in a restricted area who was responsible. Why on earth did Miss Wills continue working for this man? She is still name checked in the third season!

This minister is cold, undemonstrative, contained in his movements, almost the complete opposite to how Terence Dudley will write him in the second and third series. Likewise, characters like Bennett and Symonds speak terse, direct language. The 'flowerful' dialogue of Terence Dudley and later, Martin worth won't begin to blossom until later.

As an introductory episode, I can't think of many examples that sets up the premise of the series and its characters in as satisfactory a manner. We learn what we need to know of Quist – his passion, his frustration with being kept at arms length from inconvenient facts he may need to know in order to fulfil his function; his guilt and involvement with the creation of the atomic bomb; his nobel prize, and popularity with the press and public. Like a hound dog he cannot leave the trail alone once he's caught its scent. He goes ahead and ruffles more than a few feathers. It's almost as if he has nothing to lose. The Minister, at this point, is an enemy he has made. Later, they will understand each other better.

Ridge we learn was a former MI5 man and demonstrates his skills in handling people, especially women and in breaking and entering, although why he wore that slinky black number in broad daylight AND break into the lab during the day is best left for revisionists to consider. He does – and he uses his real name, and is released from Beeston without too much fuss... Perhaps Symonds fears the press more than spies and saboteurs? He is also abrasive with Quist, manipulates him into authorising his first escapade.

Toby Wren gets precious few lines of dialogue and is thrown into the thick of the action and barely has a chance to interact with the rest of his regular cast. Unwittingly he throws the second flight into mortal danger and can do little but just watch events unfold. His first brush with death, and certainly not his last.

Colin Bradley is presented as a computer expert, and doesn't approve of Ridge. Of all the cast, he is the one who will see the series through with Quist right to the bitter end with killer dolphins. A rock, but not the conscience.

Pat Hunnisett is seen as the one with the mini-skirt, who mocks Ridge, and asks the questions on behalf of the audience. A handy device, but not very rewarding to play.

In other reviews and articles over the years, the words 'chilling', 'frightening' and 'paced' are used to describe early Doomwatch. Well, if you are prone to a nervous disposition, Doomwatch can certainly be; the ideas are frightening enough. What if a plastic eating bug which can reproduce no end escape from a laboratory and endanger us all? The only problem with the visual side of this episode is that the effects of the melting plastic are too small to have a great visual impact. But you get the message. Pens, cassettes, raincoats, bags, cups, trays, doors, oxygen masks, window blinds, insulation on wiring, all fall victim.

The set piece of the episode is the forced landing at the end, although where all those flames come from, someone tell me. Was it the burning tyres, if so why are there flames in front of the plane? Never mind, that foam stuff looks gorgeous, strangely erotic. Yes, I said erotic. I also love the fact that an ambulance will park where a man puts a sign for it. God Save The Queen. This sequence is far better than the opening one with its painful CSO and mixture of stock footage showing test crash dummies being thrown about in their seats. Until you realise that the nuclear explosion that followed was part of the main titles, you felt that was a little bit over kill.

Only a few years later, Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler write a novel called Mutant 59: The Plastic Eater. Here, the plastic eating virus is developed at home by a scientist who is killed by a brain haemorrhage at the point he realises he has made a breakthrough and as a result, the virus is thrown into a sink during his death spasm. The virus feeds on the rotting remains of plastic powder from packaging designed to disintegrate when exposed to sunlight. This gives the virus food in the sewers, and the gas it produces is explosive. The description of carnage on pages 109 to 111 could not have been achieved on a Doomwatch budget. And the passengers on an infected airplane were not so fortunate as Wren's flight...

Reviewed by Michael Seely

NEWSPAPER REVIEWS

THE GUARDIAN NEWSPAPER 10th February 1970

Doomwatch

IN DOOMWATCH (BBC1) science invents a scavenger enzyme to decompose plastic. Lest, one day, the world should disappear under a heap of empty cartons. This amiable enzyme, however, finding itself footloose aboard a plane, begins gamely eating its way through the plastic fixtures and fittings. There is little to beat that cloud-hanger, a plane in distress. I am even adapted to the ones where Doris Day takes the pilot’s seat and is talked down to a perfect three-point landing. I could have wished last night’s episode was a serial so that the enzyme could continue its rampage. Decomposing and liquifying television sets and telephones and typewriters and washing-up bowls. I can think of nothing plastic I possess which I could cheerfully live without.
“Doomwatch” is a series, and each episode will refer to the efforts of Dr Quist and his lads to prevent some new miracle of modern science throttling the life out of us. It is, as the writers Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, say Sci-fact not Sci-fie. There is no longer any need for thriller writers to invent a menace from Mars. Horror is here and now and in newspaper clippings.
This down-to-earth idea gives “Doomwatch” great immediacy and veracity. Though the characters are such irremediably plastic people that one hungry enzyme could eat the whole lot of them for elevenses. Still, as thrillers go, it went down very nicely. And, it could be argued, that a mass appeal thriller format is a better way than many of getting not as serious a concern across to those whom it should concern seriously. You will not have had the opportunity to see both “Doomwatch” and “Suicide Club":-(Thames) as the channels love to hit the public with the same kind of programme at the same time on the same night.
But you will, of course, have read the original story. And permit me to congratulate you, for I had not. (How contagious its straightbacked style of dialogue is). And be familiar with that fiend in human form. The President, who to judge by their hysterical whooping kept a studio audience in his cellar, that “diamond of the nobility.” Prince Florizel and Lieutenant Brackenbury Rich who “made a single mouthful of a hoard of barbarian cavaliers.” Let me commend all three for their stylish acting, which made me choke now and then on a laugh as if I had committed a deplorable solecism. (I must stop writing pastiche to Stevenson. I must take something for it). With time, the story has grown mutton-chop whiskers, but its marvellous muscles are barely wasted.


Nancy Banks-Smith
The Guardian 10 February 1970

N.B Kit’s name was spelt Tedler in the original article. The ITV series Mystery and Imagination is refferenced in this article. Luckily Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Suicide Club episode still exists in the archives and hs been released onto DVD by Network DVD 

THE DAILY SKETCH NEWSPAPER - 10th february 1970

When sci-fi runs wild

Before the credits of “Doomwatch” we were dazzled by an exploding aircraft and thereafter blinded by science.
This new BBC1 series belongs to the popular category of tele-science fiction in which Superman has got with it and formed himself a corporation. Like “NEMESIS” in “The Champions” and “UNIT” in Dr. Who,” “Doomwatch are dedicated to righting evil.
The evil in this case comes from the lunacies of science. Last night researchers were experimenting with a virus called Variant 14, and it melted plastics.

Melting

Carelessly, the experimental station lost some. It would go “through a city like a tidal wave” and finish off London or at least all the plastic bit, in 12 hours.
The super-scientist of Doomwatch saved the day. But not before it destroyed one aeroplane and started melting another. It looked very nice too. Like a dripping, multi-coloured ice cream cone. I suppose this is today’s version of the gothic shockers that frightened the Victorians.
Robert Louis Stevensons “Dark Tale” began the latest ITV series “Mystery and Imagination”
Prince Florizel, a sort of titles hippie out for kicks, joined a suicide club where the members executed each other and the president sold the corpses for dissection.
Robert Muller’s adaption chilled the spine and threw in a few Victorian kinks as well. We supped satisfyingly on horrors last night even before the Elvis Presley film.

LAST NIGHT article by Gerard Garret

THE DAILY TELEGRAPH NEWSPAPER 10th February 1970

Inventive new science fiction series
by Sylvia Clayton

All the familiar nightmares of the nervous air traveller and a few new ones were fused into the first episode of Doomwatch, the science fiction series which began last night on BBC1 television.
“I'm damned if I know where we are,' said the pilot, trying to land a plane in which everything plastic, from cups to ceilings was starting to liquefy like melting chocolate.
The idea behind the series is the setting up of a small government department to see that man is protected from the hazards of scientific research. “The Plastic Eaters” pivoted on a formula useful for destroying plastic waste but lethal when uncontrolled.
The hero is an intrepid Nobel prizewinner, Dr Quist, who with his dedicated team fights against the evils that science can invent and politicians permit. It is rather like a Doctor Who for adults which is not surprising since the authors, Kit Pedler, a professional scientist and Gerry Davis, both worked on the children's programme. It looks a vigorous, inventive series produced at such a spanking pace by Terence Dudley that one overlooks holes in the plot/. John Paul, best known in the ITV “Probation Officer” series, gives Quist an indignant integrity. I was pleased to see that Robert Powell, whom, I thought too scholarly to be a labourer in a recent play, is cast as Quist's assistant and credited with a first at Cambridge. 

THE MORNING STAR NEWSPAPER 14th February 1970

Unorthodox
by Stewart Lane

In Monday's first episode of Doomwatch, BBC-1's new science fiction (or is it?) series, a plastic eating virus – developed at a secret bio-chemical warfare centre and highly contagious – caused one plane to crash, threatened another, or worse.
Battle was joined, not only to contain the danger but to smash through bureaucratic departmental secrecy, through the unorthodoxy of a department such as Doomwatch does take a bit of swallowing.
Capably done, however, with a high degree of suspense and what's perhaps more important, fairly clear implications.
After all, how much do we know about what's going on at (illegible word) and other places? Indeed, isn't it possible that there could be a leak of some grisly toxic bacilli and that it could be too late before we learned about it?
It makes you think. And a series which does just that is worth having around.

With thanks to Michael Seely and Andrew Wilson


FACT FILE

Project Number: 02249/4079

TC3
Friday November 28th 1969
Rehearse/Record (VTC/6HT/55040A/B) 1430-1730 (With TK-22)
DINNER 1730-1930
Rehearse/Record 1930-2200

Saturday November 29th 1969
Camera rehearsal 1400-1830 (With TK-22)
DINNER 1830-1930
Camera rehearsal 1930-2200

Sunday November 30th 1969
Camera rehearsal 1030-1300 (With TK-22, 1100)
LUNCH 1300-1400
Camera rehearsal 1400-1800 (With TK-22)
DINNER 1800-1900
Line-up 1900-1930
RECORD: (VTC/6HT/55040/E) 1930-2200
FILMING: Bishop's Storford.
3rd November (Filming) SIMON OATES
4th & 5th November (Filming) ROBERT POWELL
One standby filming day. SIMON OATES
One night's subsistence ROBERT POWELL
1 return fare London/Bishop Storford ROBERT POWELL & SIMON OATES
Footage: 129' Sound 16mm
22nd November (Overtime) ROBERT POWELL
28th November Pre-recorded insert ROBERT POWELL
29th November Pre-recorded Insert ROBERT POWELL

Cast

Dr. Spencer Quist
JOHN PAUL

Dr. John Ridge (appearing on film and studio sequences)
SIMON OATES

Tobias Wren (appearing on film and studio sequences)
ROBERT POWELL

Colin Bradley
JOBY BLANSHARD

Pat Hunnisett
WENDY HALL

The Minister - Sir George Holroyd
JOHN BARRON

Miss Wills (Alice Wills)
JENNIFER WILSON

Prof. Hal Symonds
KEVIN STONEY

Jim Bennett
MICHAEL HAWKINS

First Airline Crew

First Captain
TONY SIBBALD

First Co-Pilot
MONTY BROWN

First Stewardess
GRACIE LUCK (now SUSAN SURMAN)

First Engineer
RICHARDSON MORGAN

Second Airline Crew

Second Captain
JOHN LEE

Second Co-Pilot
ERIC CORRIE

Second Stewardess
PAT WALLEN

Third Stewardess
CAROLINE ROGERS

Second Engineer (Navigator)
EDWARD DENTITH

Commissionaire
CHRISTOPHER HODGE

Airline Passengers
ANDREAS MALANDRINOS
MIKE LEWIN
PAT BECKETT
TOBY LAURENCE
CYNTHIA BIZERAY
PETER THOMPSON
MICHAEL EARL
TONY HAYDON

Extras

(Friday 28th November 1969)

Passengers (Plane 1)
Dylis Marvin
Karl Gray
Maria Allen
Isobel Sabel
Bob E. Raymond
John De Marco

Passengers (Plane 2)

Elsie Arnold

Ned Hood

Saturday 29th, Sunday 30th November 1969
Lab Assistants
Bob E. Raymond
John De Marco
Bill Lodge
Brian Gidley (6' 1")

Computer Technicians

Karl Bohun
Ron Gregory

Girl in Lab
June Hammond

Crew

T.M.1
JOHN TREAYS

T.M.2
TOMMY HOLMES

P.A.
ROBERT CHECKSFIELD

A.F.M
JANE SOUTHERN

Assistant
JILL HAWORTH

Floor Assistant
JOHN WILCOX

Vision Mixer
JOHN STEVENS

Grams Operator
GERRY BORROWS

Crew
NINETEEN

Film Cameraman
EDDIE BEST

Film Editor
ALASTAIR MacKAY

Series Devised by
KIT PEDLER
and
GERRY DAVIS

Make-up Supervisor
ELIZABETH ROWELL

Makeup and Hair Stylist
JOAN STRIBLING

Costume
DOROTHEA WALLACE

Graphics
ALAN JEAPES

Visual Effects (Special Effects)
PETER DAY

Lighting
JOHN TREAYS

Sound Supervisor
LARRY GOODSON

Music composed by
MAX HARRIS

Script Editor
GERRY DAVIS

Designers
IAN WATSON
BARRY NEWBERY?? (He is not listed on Camera Copy)

Assistant to Producer
GLYN EDWARDS

Producer
TERENCE DUDLEY

Directed by
PAUL CIAPPESSONI

TX:
9TH FEBRUARY 1970
9.40PM - 10.30PM 

Technical Requirements
Friday 28th November: 4 peds, 1 creeper, 4 booms, fishing rods
Saturday 29th/Sunday 30th November: 5 peds, 4 booms.

FILM SEQUENCES USED

BBC STOCK FILM Footage 57' Sound 16mm
Probably from the Phoenix Plane Crash (Library Material)

BBC SPECIALLY SHOT Footage 129' Sound 16mm
OUTHER SOURCES Royal Air Force Footage 9' Silent 16mm

MUSIC DUBBED ON TAPE
THE MAX HARRIS ENSEMBLE Signature tune 2'00


Radio Times Feature
Elizabeth Cowley introduces Doomwatch – a fictional drama series frighteningly close to reality.

The honeymoon of science is over - and married life is not so rosy
Doomwatch: Monday 9.40 BBC1 Colour

Fact: Nuclear powered space vehicles will be needed in order to reach the outer planets of the solar system. If one should crash, explode or leak during take-off, there could well be radioactive contamination on a vast scale.
Fact: In Asia there are seven rats to every Asian; in Europe the ratio is far less: one rat to every European. Rats are used in advanced experiments in genetics. An experiment which went wrong would produce a breed of killer rats.
Fact: One human being is born every second; mankind makes waste, waste pouring into our rivers at the rate of thirty gallons per person per day. In Britain, over five thousand miles of river are polluted. By the year 1990, we could be drastically short of clean water. Meanwhile on land, we are reducing green belts to deserts with our pesticides and agricultural policies.
Fact: Man is the most destructive species on Earth. And the irony is that it is often from his very genius for making a cleaner, fuller and faster life he destroys the balance of nature and perhaps will destroy himself!
Fact: Two thirds of this planet are covered by sea.An infinitely smaller fraction is arable land. Into the sea-on government authority - we are dumping chemical and atomic waste...in canisters which are known to corrode with time. On the land we are reducing green belts to deserts with our pesticides and defoliation techniques. Starvation on an unprecedented scale, has already begun.

These facts - and you have only top pick up a newspaper to find more - have been the private obsession for four years now of two men: Gerry Davis, the original script editor of Dr Who, and Dr Kit Pedler, Head of the Department of Anatomy at the Institute of Opthalmology in the University of London.

‘I started picking Kit’s brains for scientific advice during Dr Who’ said Davis, ‘and gradually v=began to find we thought alike about what was happening in the world. Without being aware of it, we were quietly cutting our own throats. We began to keep scrapbooks about each new, devastating hazard – we have literally thousands of examples now – and out of these scrapbooks, Doomwatch was born.

It’s the code-name of a government department set up to keep a private eye on the forms of research which can produce these types of hazard – and stop them from getting out of hand. ‘Our chief is an incorruptible scientist, Dr Quist (John Paul), who doesn’t give a damn for the inevitable political and big-business pressures put on him to make him soft-pedal his investigations. ‘While he and his team are observing the scientists in their work, MI6 are observing them. They’re a highly strung, highly independent team – and this doesn’t always go down well with the authorities. Quist is often in hot water – and he can be a bastard. But he has integrity – and he wins through. Usually.’

Said producer Terence Dudley: ‘In crude terms, Quist and his lot are the “goodies,” breaking their necks to save us from ourselves. But the “baddies” are not necessarily the scientists. Sometimes they’re the men who exploit science for their own ends. In an episode entitled ‘The Battery People,’ it’s a retired army officer who, though he is within his legal rights in rearing battery hens by ultra-efficient methods, quite knowingly allows the excreta of his hens – containing artificially added hormones – to be sold commercially as manure. The men who collect the manure absorb enough of a new hormone (Actimycin S) to make them impotent. Result: a staggering divorce rate in the local village! It’s frightening but scientifically plausible.’
Doomwatch isn’t set in the distant future,’ said Davis. ‘It’s next Tuesday if you like. In ‘Burial at Sea,’ we’ve got a famous pop group. They’re found flat out – drifting at sea in a luxury yacht. Of course the police pounce, looking for drugs. But what has actually crippled the kids is something far more sinister.’

The Doomwatch men weren’t keen to give away too many plots – and even less keen to talk about some of the extraordinary special effects the series demands. But what about this week, episode one ‘The Plastic Eaters’? ‘Well,’ said Davis, ‘what are you sitting on? A plastic-covered chair. What’s this ceiling lined with? Another type of plastic composition. And what are your squeezy soap containers and toothpaste tubes made of? Plastic. The world is awash with the stuff. ‘Now suppose science produced a plastic-eating agent to destroy plastic waste and stop it from clogging our rivers. And suppose some of the stuff was inadvertently carried onto an aircraft. And suppose it got loose…?’

As scientist behind the series, Dr Kit Pedler says, ‘I think the story closest to home is the one about heart transplants. ‘In that one we’ve moved into the field of producing animal hearts which cannot be rejected by human tissue. I know that may sound all right – but I can tell you there’s a horrifying twist in it.’
‘Look,’ said Davis, ‘the whole point about Doomwatch is simply this. The days when you and I marveled at the “miracles” of science – and writers made fortunes out of sci-fi – are over. We’ve grown up now – and we’re frightened. The findings of science are still marvelous, but now is the time to stop dreaming up science-fiction about them and write what we call “sci-fact.” The honeymoon of science is over That’s what Doomwatch is all about!’

1 comment:

  1. Hi,

    I have just noticed a typo in the review above.

    Spencer Quist is reported as saying "Put a scientist under political pressure, and he'll do anything he'll like, he'll even justify it, believe me I know!" What he actually said was, "and he'll do anything you like..." See your own item on "Mad and Bad: 60 Years of Science on TV" here:

    http://doomwatchblogger.blogspot.com/2010/12/mad-and-bad-60-years-of-science-on-tv.html

    A significant difference in meaning.

    Thanks for some very helpful material.

    ReplyDelete