Introduction by Nick Cooper © 1988

"Doomwatch." It is a word that has become a part of the English language - synonymous with ecological threats/disasters and mishaps in general, and yet it has almost outlived the popular memory of the series that coined it. To all intents and purposes, Doomwatch is a "forgotten" programme which is hardly ever discussed un-prompted, but its title as a "real" concept lives on.

Even as I was preparing this introduction, The Guardian used the title as a single word heading for a "trailer" for a series of articles starting in the next day's edition. The articles considered how we in Britain respond - or rather fail to respond - to "disasters" such as the Zebrugge ferry sinking and the Hungerford massacre by gun-freak Michael Ryan. It is interesting to note that neither of these events would have fallen remotely within the scope of the Doomwatch team of the TV series and, while they proposed the setting up of a national rapid-deployment disaster squad, these articles made no comparison with the drama that pre-dated them by some 18 years.

So, just how relevant is Doomwatch today, 18 years on? The answer is, quite a lot - perhaps more so now than when they were first transmitted. None of the threats that the Doomwatch team faced have really gone away and - if anything - threats that were only speculations in 1970 have become realities, or near-realities, in 1988. True, no-one has developed a plastic-eating virus or a strain of hyper-intelligent rats, but - on the other hand - politicians are beginning to seriously talk about the allocation of healthcare resources in direct proportion to the survivability and "worth" of the patient, and the prophecies of Project Sahara (Season 1 Story 5), wherein the use of computer dossiers affects peoples' lives, are now an established fact.

I would go as far as to say that Doomwatch could be re-made today, scene-by-scene, and their impact would be just the same as long as the productions were up to scratch with the originals. That said, I doubt very much whether the BBC would take such a risk with such a controversial product. In the late-1980s, when the BBC is under attack from all sides for imagined "political bias," and when "political bias" means anti-Tory, I fear Doomwatch would be considered too controversial. By their very nature, most of the early Doomwatch episodes hardly showed the government in a good light, and the since the same party has been in Government since 1979, attacks would be perceived, even if they were genuinely not intended.

The time is no riper than it can be for Doomwatch 1990, but I fear that Dr Spencer Quist, Toby Wren and John Ridge are crusading from a perhaps too optimistic past. Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis created them to save us from the inevitable ecological suicide we are still sliding into, but they were never counterparted in real life. They never did come to save us, nor will they ever. It is interesting to speculate on how the Department for the Measurement of Scientific Work would cope with AIDS, nuclear weapons convoys rumbling through our cities every week, or the rapidly thinning ozone layer, but the BBC - and TV in general - have moved on to "safer things," with only the odd hiccup like Edge of Darkness or Wipe Out to remind us of the spirit of those idealistic days.

If evidence of the above be needed, TV50 was supposed to "celebrate" 50 glorious years of BBC television. 1984 (Nigel Kneale's 1954 adaptation) was trodden on by Richard Branson's lawyers, but there was no such excuse for Doomwatch. One would have expected that a series which was on everyone's lips in 1970, and even led to "questions in the House" on more than one occasion, would have merited - at the very least - a clip in the main compilation programme, but there was nothing. Even 18 years on, the risk they presented was too great and so no episode has ever been repeated, and one still remains un-transmitted. In the latter case, TV50 would have been the perfect time to right this and should have continued a precedent already set by the eventual screenings of The War Game and Brimstone and Treacle.

Like Doctor Who, Doomwatch suffered in the 1970s BBC Archive purges, and now only the following episodes exist:

Episode title Writer Director 1st TX Archive
The Plastic Eaters Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis Paul Ciappessoni 09/02/70 c625VT [1]
Friday's Child Harry Green Paul Ciappessoni 16/02/70 n/e
Burial at Sea Dennis Spooner Jonathan Alwyn 23/02/70 n/e
Tomorrow, the Rat Terence Dudley Terence Dudley 02/03/70 c525VT [1]
Project Sahara Gerry Davis (additional
dialogue by N.J.Crisp
Jonathan Alwyn 09/03/70 c625VT
Re-entry Forbidden Don Shaw Paul Ciappessoni 16/03/70 c625VT
The Devil's Sweets Don Shaw David Proudfoot 23/03/70 c625VT
The Red Sky Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis Jonathan Alwyn 06/04/70 c625VT [1]
Spectre at the Feast Terence Dudley Eric Hills 13/04/70 n/e
Train and De-Train Don Shaw Vere Lorrimer 20/04/70 c525VT
The Battery People Elwyn Jones David Proudfoot 27/04/70 c625VT
Hear No Evil Gerry Davis Frank Cox 04/05/70 n/e
Survival Code Kit Pedler & Gerry Davis Hugh David 11/05/70 n/e
You Killed Toby Wren Terence Dudley (pre-
title sequence by Kit
Pedler & Gerry Davis)
Terence Dudley (pre-
title sequence directed
by Hugh David)
14/12/70 c525VT [1];
Invasion Martin Worth Jonathan Alwyn 21/12/70 c525VT;b/wTR16
The Islanders Louis Marks Jonathan Alwyn 04/01/71 c525VT;b/wTR16
No Room for Error Roger Parkes Darrol Blake 11/01/71 c525VT;b/wTR16
By the Pricking of My Thumbs... Robin Chapman Eric Hills 18/01/71 c525VT;b/wTR16
The Iron Doctor Brian Hayles Joan Kemp Welch 25/01/71 c525VT;b/wTR16
Flight Into Yesterday Martin Worth Darrol Blake 01/02/71 c525VT;b/wTR16
The Web of Fear Gerry Davis Eric Hills 08/02/71 c525VT;b/wTR16
In the Dark John Gould Lennie Mayne 15/02/71 c525VT;b/wTR16
The Human Time Bomb Louis Marks Joan Kemp Welch 22/02/71 c525VT;b/wTR16
The Inquest Robert Holmes Lennie Mayne 01/03/71 c525VT;b/wTR16
The Logicians Dennis Spooner David Proudfoot 15/03/71 c525VT;b/wTR16
Public Enemy Patrick Alexander Lennie Mayne 22/03/71 c625VT
Fire and Brimstone Terence Dudley Terence Dudley 05/06/72 n/e
High Mountain Martin Worth Lennie Mayne 12/06/72 n/e
Say Knife, Fat Man Martin Worth Eric Hills 19/06/72 n/e
Waiting for a Knighthood Terence Dudley Pennant Roberts 26/06/72 c625VT
Without the Bomb Roger Parkes Darrol Blake 03/07/72 n/e
Hair Trigger Brian Hayles Quentin Lawrence 10/07/72 c625VT
Deadly Dangerous Tomorrow Martin Worth Darrol Blake 17/07/72 n/e
Enquiry John Gould Pennant Roberts 24/07/72 n/e
Flood Ian Curteis Quentin Lawrence 31/07/72 n/e
Cause of Death Louis Marks Lennie Mayne 07/08/72 n/e
The Killer Dolphins Roy Russell Darrol Blake 14/08/72 n/e
Sex and Violence Stuart Douglass Darrol Blake [2] c625VT

c625VT Colour 2" 625-line PAL video tape
c525VT Colour 2" 525-line NTSC video tape
b/wTR16 Black and white 16mm tele-recording
n/e Does not exist in the BBC Archives

1 Episode available on video
2 This episode (recorded circa 21/03/72) was decided to be unsuitable for screening and was never scheduled for transmission.  It contains footage of an actual public execution in Lagos, Nigeria, as transmitted, "Late night in September 1971."


In the decade since the above was written, Doomwatch did experience a sort of renaissance, albeit a small-scale one. In 1991 BBC video put out four episode on two tapes , while clips turned up in the 1970 edition of Channel 4's TV Heaven series the following year. All the existing episodes bar Sex and Violence were eventually screened several times on the satellite channel UK Gold, but even so one - The Logicians - did prove somewhat contentious, and suffered a delayed transmission. Apart from the two examples quoted of long-banned BBC programmes eventually being screened, Roy Minton's Scum finally received an airing in 1991, but the same reprieve has not yet been granted to Sex and Violence, perhaps more out of a sense of artistic snobbery than anything else. Since it was neither written by a Dennis Potter, nor directed by the likes of Alan Clarke, it will remain lost to the general viewing public.  In truth Sex and Violence, while good television drama, isn't actually a good episode of Doomwatch, but that's no reason for it's continued suppression.

In May 1998, the industry magazine Broadcast reported that Channel 5 have commissioned, "... a pilot being produced by Working Title Television. The two-hour programme is a reworking of classic 1970s series Doomwatch. If successful a full commission could follow. The show is expected to air in the autumn," although at present it is not entirely clear whether this is an actual remake of an original episode, a continuation of the 1970s series, or simply a new one exploring the same territory.

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