WATCH FANZINE ISSUE 3 REAL NEWS... ▲ JOBY BLANSHARD as Colin Bradley
THE DAILY EXPRESS - 30th January 1970
IT'S THE DR. WHO TEAM AGAIN!
The BBC is joining the debate on pollution hazards – with a fictional TV thriller series. The series, 'Doomwatch', will move into the 'Take Three Girls' spot on Monday nights next month and promises to be fairly controversial. Not only does it seem to be based on Mr. Harold Wilson's latest crusade for the environment, it is also about a Government, catching votes by promising a special 'watchdog' unit to combat the hazards from new scientific discoveries. POISONED The series has been devised by the 'Dr. Who' writers Gerry Davis and Dr. Kit Pedler, a real life scientist who invented those TV space horrors the Cybermen. Now the scientific inventiveness that went into creating havoc for Dr. Who is about to be launched on the problems of our own poisoned planet. Heading the Doomwatch unit is a Nobel Prize winning scientist played by actor John Paul and among his assistants is dolly girl Wendy Hall who is guaranteed to brighten up any environment.
DOOMWATCH FANZINE ISSUE 3 - JULY 2011
DOOM-MONGER Or the Michael Seely issue as I’m sure it will be known! Michael has written a fantastic analysis of the premier episode of DOOMWATCH - The Plastic Eaters, and he has taken a look at news stories from the 1970s that reflect the influence the show had. Plus, if you don’t already own it (and why not?) an analysis of Mutant 59: The Plastic Eater book. So, I am very proud to present you with the latest issue of the fanzine (the biggest so far) and I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have producing it. Scott Burditt www.doomwatch.org
Contents Index 2 The Plastic Eaters preview 3 Planning for Doom 4-5 Character Profiles 6-7 The Plastic Eaters analysis 8 - 19 DOOMWATCH Investigations in the Daily Mirror 20 - 21 Real-life DOOMWATCH 22 - 23 Mutant 59: The Plastic Eater book synopsis 24 - 28
DOCTOR DOOM ► a.k.a Kit Pedler
The Doomwatch Fanzine is designed and produced by Scott Burditt. Doomwatch is ©BBC and no infringement on this is intended
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stewardess goes down the aisle checking on the passengers... And the very first actress seen in Doomwatch is Gracie Luck (now author Susan Surman). “At the time of Doomwatch, I was living in London as an actress, later writer. I played the First Stewardess in Ep. 1 - The Plastic Eaters. I had 3 different agents, can’t remember who arranged this job. It’s odd - I can remember what I wore in 1956 as a summer stock apprentice in Connecticut, but as the First Stewardess, in Ep. 1, it was such a brief moment, I can’t remember much. I never had a script. And regrettably, I have no pictures. I think I was introduced to Powell and Oates at a rehearsal (they were very polite) and then for filming, I was in and out. I don’t think I had any lines. I buckled up someone’s seat belt on the first flight out. I think it was my first job with the BBC, although I had been living and continuing my acting studies in London since the early 60’s and was working my way up to becoming an Equity member.” Six extras made up the compliment of the airline passengers, none of them looking terribly South American though. The extras are listed in the camera script: Dylis Marvin, Earl Gray, Maria Allen, Isobel Sabel, Bob E. Raymond and John de Marco. Two of them will be seen in the Beeston laboratories. Of one, all you can see is her red sleeve in the right hand corner of the very first shot, whilst another unseen is the chap who has his belt tightened by Gracie Luck! The tannoy announcer has an American twang. Her identity is currently unknown. All the passenger extras were needed on Friday 28th of November, the first of three studio days for this episode. This was the first ever studio day for Doomwatch. The schedule was quite unusual for television drama at the time. Scenes were rehearsed and then recorded between 2:30pm and 5:30pm, and again after dinner from 7:30 pm and 10:00pm. Presumably this was for the complicated effects of the plastic melting, and the new CSO process. The flight is reaching its end when the pilot notices one of his dials is not working, he gives it a tap to see if it will register but nothing. The Flight Engineer pulls out a panel and notices inside that the cable insulation is melting... As
the air hostess make sure their passengers are safely belted, the situation worsens in the cockpit. Anything plastic is softening and melting. The Captain orders a mayday alert and initiates an emergency descent drill. Controls begin to spark. It’s colour TV and here we see an early example of what the BBC was pleased to called colour separation overlay (CSO) whilst the rest of the industry called it chromakey. Tony Sibbald, Richardson Morgan and Monty Brown played the First Captain, First Engineer and First Co-pilot respectively. A lot of this dialogue was improvised in rehearsals and some of the camera directions were worked out on the day by director Paul Ciappessoni. Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis had this and their other two scripts adapted as an educational book called World In Danger, edited by Gordon Walsh and with illustrations by Richard Osbourne. This pretitles sequence has far more dialogue, explaining what is inferred in the scene. Even the First Stewardess gets a line: ‘Sir, it’s terrible in there! All the plastic’s melting – the roof, the walls, everything... And it’s the same in here isn’t it?’ Thirty five people died in the crash and this bit takes place on a Tuesday! 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. The rather melodramatic stock footage seen to depict the crash, complete with crash dummies in their seats comes from a 15 minute film produced by the FAA in America, called the Phoenix airplane crash in the camera script, the Douglas DC7 was sent down a run way full of obstacles to study the resulting devastation. Instead of fuel, coloured water was placed in the tanks in order to study its dispersal. This happened on April 24th 1964 near Phoenix, Arizona. You can see a bit of it on Youtube. Until you realised that the nuclear explosion that followed was part of the main titles, the first time you watch this episode, you felt that was a little bit over the top...
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PLANNING FOR DOOM...
Early 1968 and the eleven page format for Doomwatch was submitted by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis to Andrew Osborn, Head of Drama. He was very keen on the potential of a series like Doomwatch and investigated the rights issues over a collaboration between a freelance and a BBC staﬀer. A pilot episode script was commissioned with Gerry Davis after he was given special dispensation to collaborate with Pedler towards the end of June on the grounds that he 'is the most obvious and suitable person to collaborate with him on this pilot script.' The ﬁrst half of the £275 fee was paid to Kit Pedler to cover his share of the script. Davis was working on The First Lady with producer Terence Dudley at this point, writing an episode called 'Take-Over Bid.' The script was submitted with the title 'The Plastic Eaters' to Osborn and by September, the BBC were about to engage in serious discussions about the script, recognising that it required considerable revision. As he told an excited Pedler, 'This is not to say that I do not believe the idea to be an excellent one or that there is anything in the script which cannot be put right. This is a strong contender for a pilot spot early next year.' By the end of the year, Terence Dudley was assigned Doomwatch as his next project, and a second script, 'Operation Neptune' and other story lines were commissioned from the pair...
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cientiﬁc research has now advanced to the stage where, unless carefully monitored, mankind’s greatest hazard may well be from his own discoveries. Already we have the nuclear bomb, rising radiation levels, the risks of poisoning by insecticides. How many other scientiﬁc advances will prove double-edged weapons unless handled with great vision and restraint? The time will certainly come when a measure of governmental control will have to be devised to keep tabs on the long range effects of the various discoveries made in private and public workshops and laboratories. To perform this task a group of exceptional men must be assembled. In the wrong hands, administered with too much power, such a check could be as disastrous as the effect of the Inquisition upon Galileo. The group must therefore be much more than trained scientists – they must be men of vision, able to estimate the long term implications of an investigation. They must possess the capacity for taking quick decisions and, occasionally direct action to avert a possible disaster.
They will probably operate as a semisecret department under a code name. This series takes a look forward at the possible
situations that could evolve. We call our group “DOOMWATCH”. The series is set in present day Britain. A newly-formed Government have been elected on a main platform of concern for the individual against the encroachment of the State and technological advance. The people of Britain have become increasingly disturbed about many of the after-effects of current industrial, medical and fundamental scientiﬁc research. The "Ombudsman" department has been enlarged but is clearly incapable of dealing with increasing complaints on the lines of "Silent Spring", destruction of wild life, pollution of the seas with atomic wastes, tanker oil fouling the beaches, missing H-bombs, etc. For this reason the Cabinet, through the Ministry of Defence, have decided to setup a small group to study the effects of ethical/moral problems arising from speciﬁc research activities. On the surface the group, code-named "Doomwatch", is little more than the equivalent of a Royal Commission and is quickly forgotten by the public since it is clear that any information
he group is housed in a converted, but closed, church in Westminster. On the outside of the building there are “Keep Out” “Dangerous Building” notices. Inside and down in the crypt, there are oﬃces, bedsitters, a laboratory and a communications room. In the laboratory is a combined analogue-digital computer. This looks on the outside to be conventional but has “graphic readout” facilities: that is, any item of information that is recalled from it can be displayed on a screen, Thus faces, documents, places etc. can be put on the screen. Print-out facilities also exist thus, given certain coordinate information about events, the machine can formulate strategies in much the same way as the “war game” machine of the Rand corporation. Thus the activities of the group can, when necessary, be planned by the machine, although the members may not necessarily take the advice of the machine.
Of course, this location was altered to a tower block in Westminster overlooking the Post Oﬃce Tower as it was then known. they might produce will not be forthcoming for some months or years. What has not been made public, however, is the fact that the group is very well ﬁnanced and has been given the brief not only of investigating and making reports but also taking action. Thus, if any technological danger arises they are empowered to put it right. When the series opens, several months after the inauguration of the Department, it has become obvious to Dr.QUIST, the Head of Doomwatch, that the Government have had cold feet about the amount of freedom and initiative to be allowed him and his team. The pressures of both private industry and Governmental research installations, alarmed at the reports circulating regarding the powers of Doomwatch, have resulted in the Minister (of Defence), who is responsible for the Department, clamping down on the project and trying to clip their wings. This prowess proves much more difﬁcult than anticipated, however, because they have failed to take into account the full character and calibre of DR. QUIST. As one of Britain’s Nobel Prize winners, he was carefully picked for the job and his appointment received the maximum amount
of publicity. Once given his mandate, he refuses to be inﬂuenced by the blow hot, blow cold currents of higher politics. He has been given a job to do and he intends to carry it through – no matter what. He remains impervious to either threats or the bribes of a title, a higher paid job, and his dismissal would lead to exactly the kind of searching publicity as to the function and effectiveness of Doomwatch that the Government are so anxious to avoid. The Minister, therefore, starts a steady campaign of attrition to wear QUIST down, demolish his enthusiasm for the post and drive him to resign. But in QUIST they have chosen the last man ever to submit to threats, pressure or bribes. A man of fanatical dedication to his job, and a deep-seated personal reason for wanting to make a success of it.
The men of Doomwatch are by no means omnipotent supermen. There are many failures on their ﬁles. On two occasions the computer “Doomwatch” has broken down or its message jammed with disastrous results. Sometimes
their on-the-spot evaluation of a situation causes them to disregard the computer’s advice. WREN habitually follows his own line of enquiry with varying results. All too often they work against the direct instructions, or prohibitions of their ofﬁcial brief. This puts not only their jobs in jeopardy but, confronted with police, troops etc. they could face a possible prison sentence or bullet. One of the minor irritations of being, even loosely, a government department means that right in the middle of an urgent investigation they are apt. to be side-tracked by trivial cases sent on from other departments. They are apt. to retaliate by using the latest scientiﬁc discoveries to create confusion among the more parasitic and time-wasting of their colleagues. For example, a carefully administered paperdestroying-virus planned to eradicate ﬁles shortly to be passed over to them. These activities provide a little light relief from the high tensions of their main job besides identifying them in the Civil Service as a department to be left strictly alone.
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The Contented Sole (Victorian Fish and Chip shop pictured above) in South Kensington, where Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis spent many lunches evolving DOOMWATCH
DOOMWATCH - THE ORIGINAL CHARACTER PROFILES by KIT PEDLER & GERRY DAVIS
PAT HUNNISETT ttractive, quick-witted, loyal, she A is secretary, teamaker, mother and potential mistress to the group.
DR. SPENCER QUIST ge 50. Formerly read in pure A mathematics at the University of Ipswich. After a brilliant university career he gained his F.R.S. at the age of 26 for his original study of the topology of Riemann space. This early brilliance also drew the attention of the Atomic Energy Commission and he spent the latter years of the war at Los Alamos, where his calculations provided an indispensable link in the creation of the ﬁrst Atomic Bomb. While there, he met his future wife, an American scientist also engaged on research. They were married and Quist spent the next few (and happiest) years of his life working on the successors to the ﬁrst Atomic bomb. Then, in 1950, his wife fell ill of radiation poisoning. Quist resigned from the project and spent the next seven years nursing his wife and trying to combat the eﬀects of the radiation. When she died in 1957, ironically the year he received his Nobel Prize, he took a prolonged sabbatical from the world of science. On his return, despite oﬀers of posts from all over the world and much to everyone’s surprise he retired to the New University of Ipswich, a sardonic, withdrawn man living alone with few friends or intimates.
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Now, at the age of 50, his suﬀering and soul-searching have left him with a sizeable guilt neurosis about his early work and its result upon the world. Unable to unmake the situation he helped to bring about, he is determined to make sure as far as he can, that scientists will face the moral and ethical implications of the work they do and become aware of the consequences before the decisions taken are irreversible. As a further goad and spur he keeps a large blow-up of the Hiroshima mushroom on the wall opposite his desk as a perpetual reminder. He is a powerful and strong personality with an obsessional thirst for knowledge. A walking compendium with instant recall of many other subjects ranging from zoology to experimental psychology, he is outspoken and aggressive. The latter quality caused him much trouble in the quiet surroundings of the University Campus. At scientiﬁc meetings his criticism from the ﬂoor was often brutal and totally destructive, although correct. He suﬀers fools not at all. At times a sardonic sense of humour and a sudden unexpectedly warm charm suggest that there is another man hidden beneath the
Pursued by RIDGE she, in fact, favours the unresponsive TOBY WREN. formidable persona he has created around himself, but a chink rarely shows in his armour. The exterior is very nearly, but not quite, the total man. He has made a special study of the qualities of leadership. These, he believes to be composed of rigid personal discipline, total command of his feelings, objectivity and total application to the job in hand. He can be ruthless, is often arrogant, but bears absolute responsibility for the notions of any member of his group. His qualities earn him complete loyalty from his group. He will ﬂay them for the slightest negligence, drive them to breakdown, but let anyone from the Minister downwards criticise any one of them and he will ﬁght like a tiger and be prepared to sacriﬁce job, reputation and even his personal liberty in their defence. They answer only to him and he judges them entirely from his own unorthodox standards. His distinguished but erratic group presents a rather unwholesome appearance to their fellow civil servants. Each, while brilliant in his own right, has a character ﬂaw that might disqualify him from a key position under a more conventionally minded leader.
JOHN PAUL RIDGE
TOBY WREN ge 26, just graduated from M.A. A from Cambridge, he is the baby of the Doomwatch team. Initially,
ge 38. Ridge’s career has been A equally as individual and erratic as DR. QUIST’S. After a near scrape through Cambridge and a degree in Organic Chemistry, he proceeded to make a name for himself in a brilliant line of research into antibiotics. Then, unexpectedly, after collecting a doctorate and an invitation to take a chair at Keele university, he threw it all away and went on a scientiﬁc expedition to the interior of Brasil. He ended up ﬁghting for a lost cause with Bolivian guerrillas, only just escaping with his life. On his return to Britain, he was contacted by M.I.5. with a particularly dangerous and specialised espionage job, spying in an Iron Curtain country. To this end, he was thoroughly trained in espionage techniques. He was successful in the ﬁrst job and took on a further assignment. He returned unexpectedly from this second trip and with little explanation to M.I.5., resigned from the service. This has caused them to regard him with some suspicion. olin is a highly-skilled C Instrument Designer with a pass science degree. A slow, big North-countryman, he has a dry throwaway humour. He can do anything with his hands, make, unmake, or redesign any device. He has become almost a friendly uncle to RIDGE and WREN and
In fact, he was thoroughly disillusioned with the spying game and with his fellow scientists on both sides of the cold war. QUIST met him at Ipswich when RIDGE was trying, unsuccessfully, to read just to provincial university life, and picked him for Doomwatch for his scientiﬁc background and, more especially, for his espionage training. He was also attracted by the very quirk in his nature that brought him under suspicion by M.I.5. – his sense of the greater loyalty to mankind in general as against the purely narrow loyalties to class, nationality or race. He needs constant action and is suspicious of intellectual solutions to particular problems. At 38, he is slowing down a little and suspects that he may be incapable of forming any permanent relationship with anyone, man or woman. This bothers him. Underneath his rather hard exterior he is a kind man and is able and happy to help the weak. He ﬁghts when fought. QUIST has chosen him because of his amoral approach to any given problem.
very overawed by the whole set-up and especially by the vast prestige of DR. QUIST, he grows in selfknowledge and conﬁdence along with the series. In eﬀect, he represents to some extent the ordinary viewer in the programme. We occasionally see developments “through his eyes” as it were. He is an average young man in looks and personality, at times a bit tongue-tied before the clashing egos of QUIST, RIDGE, and BRADLEY. His particular strength, spotted by QUIST after reading his research thesis, is his imagination – in fact he is the most imaginative member of the group. Whereas RIDGE is all cold logic and action, WREN is very much the intuitive artist. He can very often ﬁnd a completely unexpected solution to a problem. He is not as physically tough as the others on the Doomwatch team and, unlike RIDGE, uses his wits rather than physical notion to get out of a tough situation. Because of his sensitive, highly strung temperament, he is chivied and occasionally babied by the others and especially by Pat.
arbitrates their disputes. He can also be seen, on occasions, to stir it up between them and initiate a row. He comes from a working-class background and is very slightly jealous of their demeanour and ability. He tends to do things by the book. He maintains and programmes the group’s computer.
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The Plastic Eaters was transmitted on BBC1 on the 9th February 1970 between 21.41 and 22. 29, lasting 48 minutes and 10 seconds.
THE PLASTIC EATERS by KIT PEDLER & GERRY DAVIS Analysis by Michael Seely The story title and writer credit is played over a shot of Ridge’s feet up on his desk in the Doomwatch outer office.
According to The World In Danger book, it’s the following Monday following the San Pedro crash. In the Doomwatch office, the secretary Pat Hunnisett shows in Toby Wren and heads towards Quist’s office but 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 had 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 telephone and tells Pat that Wren will have to wait. ”John Paul, best known in the ITV “Probation Officer” series, gives Quist an indignant integrity.” - Sylvia Clayton, The Daily Telegraph Quist resumes talking to Colin Bradley about the San Pedro air disaster. Something affected the wires
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or the insulation and Quist wonders if that is why it was sent down to them. It almost looks like solvent action. ‘You better find out and quickly. What’s up with that overgrown adding machine of yours?’ So where is San Pedro? Is it in Spain or Mexico? The episode never goes into this. There's talk of the plane over the Atlantic, but that's it, and the passengers are terribly British. The Pedler/Davis adaptation in The World in Danger changed the location to the original one in the camera script: El Dorado, Bogota! The Radio Times and the newspapers say it is South America. San Pedro does sound nicer... In the lab between the outer office and Quist’s, Ridge is showing Wren around. Their pride and joy is a computer nicknamed Doomwatch. And never again is it referred to by name! Doomwatch – the name of the computer and the nickname for the department. In The World In Danger, Ridge tells Wren the purpose of the
Department: ‘Science has given the world many good things – but science can also be dangerous. Sometimes scientists make mistakes; they can be careless. So the government have started ‘Doomwatch’. We’re all scientists too, and we watch all the scientists work in Britain. If we’re sure it’s safe, we do nothing. But sometimes we find work that may be dangerous. And then we have to stop it.’ Makes you wonder if Wren read the job description when applying for the job. cont.
Three white coated extras can be seen lurking around the computer. These actors are Karl Bohun and Ron Gregory. The third is not listed. Presumably they are here to repair it for until the third series, the Doomwatch team never have any extra staff except for the occasional scientist like Stella Robson or Professor Ensor. They last for the rest of the scenes set inside the lab. Since they keep their faces away from view as practically possible, they probably double up as lab assistants at Beeston, of which there are four. ‘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; Quist tells him that 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
develop. Barker mentioned here, will be seen in the fifth episode Project Sahara played by Robert James. In The World In Danger, Ridge mentions that Barker doesn’t like Doomwatch and feels he should be running the department himself.
he has joined and this is his first effort. Pat gives him some reading material for the flight...
”...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.” - Sylvia Clayton, The Daily Telegraph, 10th of February 1970. Wren studies the photos from the crash next to a rather bemused passenger...
So that’s the core cast set up. Like a lot of first episodes in any type of series, a newcomer is used as a way of Needless to say, the one section of introducing the set up, meet the regular the flight cabin is used to represent the cast and, perhaps, make mistakes which three planes seen in the episode. distinguishes them from the rest. Precisely who the four extras are, However, unlike other first episodes, including the one conveniently shielded this is it for Wren’s interaction with the by a newspaper is unknown. regulars! Next week’s episode, Friday’s Child will see Wren interacting with Quist and Ridge and the core triumvirate of the Stewart Lane, The Morning Review relationship
“It makes you think. And a series which does just that is worth having around.”
vis and re of Pedler, Da dio Times pictu gs in Ra s pp ou cli r fam pe at In th of newspa ail er with a host m The Daily M fro s Dudley togeth wa e on t ell... the cleares ST TUBE... W TE behind them, IN D TE IS CREA headlined LIFE - 5th of June 1968
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London, and the gas it produces is explosive, creating the resulting exciting devastation in the book. The description of carnage on pages 109 to 111 could not have been achieved on a Doomwatch budget. Scott’s researches inspired the plot of the novel although Pedler later refused to name the man nor his university in an interview with The Guardian in 1973 promoting the book’s publication by Pan. According to an earlier Guardian interview in 1971, the original title of the book was The Death of Plastic. You can see an interview with Professor Gerald Scott, talking to ATV news in November 1970 here: http://www.macearchive.org/archive.ht ml?Title=15290 More from this man later. Pat has the Minister on the phone. Quist talks to him about the San Pedro air disaster. 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. Although the script had apparently been written in 1968 or early 1969, the problem of plastic waste was something that had been long recognised as a serious problem. According to the newspapers of the time, 250,000 tons were disposed of in 1970 with this projected to increase five fold by 1980. The Science Research Council’s biological Sciences Committee met with representatives from major industrial companies to discuss the problem of waste disposal in May 1970 aware that there was no quick fix solution to the problem. However, a Professor Gerald Scott of Aston University, Birmingham had been investigating the possibility of ‘sunlight initiated breakdown... A highly photosensitive ethylene carbon monoxide copolymer has recently been developed in the United States to be used for such things as disposable drinking cups...’ (The New Scientist, 25/02/1971.) In other words, a plastic which breaks down when exposed to sunlight. The Daily Mirror, who by July had their own Doomwatch team consisting of Kit Pedler and two Daily Mirror journalists, one of whom was their science correspondent, welcomed the advance which Scott hoped would be usable in three years. Well, the editorial welcomed the news. Kit Pedler
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did not. Pedler and Davis’s first novel Mutant 59: The Plastic Eater features such a material, and solved the problem of how to control the reaction of turning a plastic bottle into powder until it is no longer needed. However, the plastic eating virus of this book was developed at home by a scientist who is killed by a brain haemorrhage at the point he realises he has made an exciting 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 underneath
ROBERT POWELL Robert Powell was contracted to play Toby Wren on the 2nd of October 1969, to appear in a minimum of ten episodes between 2nd November that year and the 2nd May 1970. His contract – unlike those of his fellow male artists, did not feature an option for a second series. Like the others, his special activity was to drive a car. The contract speciﬁes that he could not appear on any other non-BBC programme transmitted within the United Kingdom.
Here we see John Barron playing the Minister. But he is clearly not the avuncular Sir George Holroyd whom producer Terence Dudley claimed to have created in You Killed Toby Wren when seeking permission to write Fire and Brimstone. He is more a George Wigg type, an MP under the Wilson administration who worked with the security services and did not engender many feelings of affection, especially from the left of the party.... This minister is cold, undemonstrative, secretive, sly, almost sinister. contained in his movements, almost the complete opposite to how Terence Dudley will write his lookalike 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. In The World In Danger, Quist knows that the Minister only saw the good things from science and did not like Quist because he has stopped projects. 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 reelected 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.... And in The World in Danger, that would be Barker. Practically re-elected? This suggests a third term for the Harold Wilson government which was widely expected to happen later this year. It didn’t happen and Edward Heath’s Conservatives beat him in a surprise result. 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 was referring to unions and industry resistant to change. Government is pushing. He had a vision of science and technology solving problems. Lots of people did because it was possible! New vision politics. But by the sixties, people were becoming suspicious. There were side effects. Waste, poisons, devastated environments... And for what ends?
(‘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, new forms of pollution competing with the old Victorian problems. Plastic waste is one of them. And our Minister, has a New Vision. “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 getout-there-and-do-things outlook...” Brain Walden, himself an ex-Labour MP at this time writes in 2001. Kit Pedler saw the dangers of our new life style... and saw the need for Doomwatch. To him, a plastic eating virus was a technological fix, a toy, which did not address the central issue: do we need as much plastic as we have, or indeed at all? ...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. In The World In Danger, Ridge was formerly army intelligence. 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. Two of the three blown up photos of nuclear explosions came from the Bikini Test and the Nagasaki explosion. The Doomwatch office was designed by either Barry Newbery or Ian Watson, the episode’s two designers. The episode was recorded on 30th of November 1969 following a day of camera rehearsals. Newbery would have been about to start a mammoth and stressful seven episode stint on Doctor Who and the Silurians which started filming earlier in
THE DAILY EXPRESS 10th February 1970
'DON'T PREACH DOOM AT ME!' TV by James Thomas I don't think I would have chosen 'Doomwatch' as a title likely to gladden the hearts of Monday viewers. And, however seriously the BBC may pretend to take its message, for me it was just a new kind of romp which is probably going to be a secure successor to 'Quatermass.' WAYLAID 'Doomwatch' is the code name of a department set up to stop the population coming to harm from the activities of the scientists (it seems a little late off the mark), an idea born from the conversations of the original script editor of 'Dr. Who' (Gerry Davis (sic)) and anatomist Dr. Kit Pedler. Between them they decided that the very progress man was making in research was in danger of rebounding. And so was created Dr. Quist (John Paul) and his off-beat team. Their first episode spent so much time setting up the characters that the story seemed to get rather waylaid. Its theme was about Variant 14, a top secret formula designed to destroy plastic waste. But nobody realises its massive danger potential until it is accidentally carried out of the plant and plastics begin to melt in such unfortunate places as airplanes which end up in disaster. FANTASY A highly improbable story despite the eager performances, and one which veered towards the ridiculous. Last night, one of the senior officers of the department actually had to break into the government laboratories to find out what was going on – and there seems no point in Whitehall taking the trouble to keep a curb on the scientists if the very investigators they employ are denied access to secret information. For myself, I like science fiction kept strictly in its place as fun and fantasy. 'Doomwatch' tends to preach too much about the danger of man's inquiring mind. As an idea I feel it will take a lot of sustaining. It is only fair to let the series develop its motives. But on this showing it looks as though we shall not have the excitement of being either frightened or informed.
THE DAILY MIRROR 9th February 1970
THE PERILS OF WENDY Wendy Hall stars in a TV version of the Perils of Pauline in a new thriller series, 'Doomwatch', starting tonight (BBC 1, 9.40) The perils she faces are caused by man's scientific progress. Wendy plays Pat Hunnisett, Girl Friday to a Government department team whose job is to ensure that man does not destroy civilisation with his own ingenuity. Irresponsible factory farming, pollution, atomic waste disposal. These are some of the evils they will investigate. Tonight's episode is called... 'The Plastic Eaters.'
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November with recording in studio in December . Ian Watson will design Terror of the Autons, another Doctor Who serial featuring a plastic menace... But first he had another five episodes of Doomwatch to get through. 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 to replace the fake one he brought into the office. Ridge takes some miniature pictures of the appropriate document. “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.” Stewart Lane, The Morning Star, 14th February 1970. This is Miss Wills' first of two appearances on Doomwatch although Jennifer Wilson will also appear in the third season episode Cause of Death, reuniting with John Lee. She will play Ridge's sister, which makes these scenes highly interesting in hindsight... Her christian name incidentally, is Alice. Jennifer Wilson made irregular appearances in the first incarnation of Special Branch transmitted at this time as Detective Sergeant Helen Webb. She is still working on stage and TV and is married to actor Brian Peck who plays Doctor Fulton in the third season episode Without The Bomb. Of The Plastic Eaters, Jennifer remembers how much fun Doomwatch always was, and that even from this early episode, Robert Powell had no intention of doing another series... Christopher Hodge is the Commissionaire. He was lucky to avoid the editor's scissors. This scene, and indeed set, and the next few shots of Ridge entering the Minister's offices
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were allocated for cutting if the episode over-ran its forty nine minute length. Had this happened, the scene would have picked up from Miss Wills entering the office and then discovering Ridge in her boss's room. 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. Robert Powell filmed this scene on either the 4th or 5th of November 1969. He stayed overnight at Bishop’s Stortford where he travelled to and from by train. 16mm film stock was used in this story. Bishop’s Stortford is close to Stanstead Airport, which became London’s third airport later that decade. 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! 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, Ridge is in all black. Whether some night filming was intended is not known. It beggars the question what sort of security does this establishment
with the flask of – presumably – Variant 14! And Miss Wills doesn't escape untarnished neither. 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?’ 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. Michael Hawkins will play Beavis in the 1972
he is from the Sunday Gazette. Bennett is shocked. 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. Kevin Stoney makes his only Doomwatch appearance in this episode. However, he did appear in the Kit Pedler sourced Doctor Who story The Invasion as Tobias Vaughn. Jones is played by Brian Gidley whose height the camera script conveniently lists as 6' 1”. The Daily Express thought this idea was ludicrous. ‘...there seems no point in Whitehall taking the trouble to keep a curb on scientists if the very
“There is no longer any need for thriller writers to invent a menace from Mars. Horror is here and now and in newspaper clippings.” Nancy Banks-Smith The Guardian have? This was filmed on the 3rd of November, again at Bishop’s Stortford. 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. Sexism alert! Doomwatch will be criticised by George Melly in The Guardian for being sexist by having at least two women being responsible inadvertently for the problems in Tomorrow, the Rat and Project Sahara because of their emotions getting in the way. And here it is - a female lab assistant (June Hammond) who fumbles
episode Hair Trigger, one of the triumphs in that season. As he leaves the multi-levelled set to fetch Symonds, notice how wobbly the book shelves next to the door are! The three lab assistants are Bob E. Raymond, John de Marco and Bill Lodge. Quist is in the computer lab, determined to find a link between Beeston and the aircraft 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
investigators they employ are denied access to secret information.’ Which was the whole bloody point! In The World In Danger, the Minister stresses to Quist that Doomwatch is a small department and if it needs information, it will be given it. The Minister does not want the Dungeness test stopped or interfered with. 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
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edler and Davis wanted Doomwatch to be far more hard hitting than the BBC would allow them to be. Their original format shows how the Doomwatch team was envisaged to be more of a secretive, troubleshooting agency, with a super computer (a tool Pedler would later see as essential for a real-life Doomwatch) constantly under attack from the establishment.
“A highly improbable story despite the eager performances and one which veered towards the ridiculous.” James Thomas The Daily Express 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. It was the Prime Minister who appointed Quist, something that he will use to his advantage during Project Sahara. Hardly surprisingly we never see the PM during the series but he is briefly mentioned in Flight Into Yesterday and Flood. 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.
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‘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... I know!’
Pat Hunnisett is presented as the person who asks the boffins all the questions that we need answered. But did she have to be presented in such an obviously brain dead, dolly manner? No wonder Wendy Hall was keen to find a better role as much as Robert Powell did not want to be tied down!
Quist is 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 bit 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. The idea of a plastic eating virus was certainly one which people remembered as quintessentially Doomwatch. It was often used as an example of how the third series and its concepts paled in comparison by readers and writers of The New Scientist. Raymond Williams mentioned the episode in his review of that month's television for The Listener: 'In Doomwatch I liked the emphasis on social responsibility in science and that suspicion of secret research which is now becoming habitual. But I remained puzzled that a virus could consume plastics...' He would repeat this complaint the next time he
talks about Doomwatch, and in more detail: The Red Sky. 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. Wren returns to his seat and hands over his tray to a passing stewardess who is asked by an elderly passenger if they are running to schedule... Every airplane disaster movie has at least one elderly passenger going berserk and The Plastic Eaters is no exception. Here, he is played by Andreas Malandrinos. The Visual Effects were provided by Peter Day. 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. The Daily Express felt that they were being preached at. They only reviewed Doomwatch again (as far as we can tell) when No Room For Error was aired to see what the new girl was like! Perhaps
TROUBLE AT’ MILL... apidly becoming a disillusioned research scientist himself, and reevaluating his own life (in creating the Cybermen, Pedler feared that in himself he was all intellect and no love), Pedler saw Doomwatch as a weapon against all that he loathed in science. He had attended enough seminars, conferences, etc and talked to enough people from diﬀerent disciplines to see that the human condition getting worse rather than better, Science and technology, rather than liberating people, was enslaving it further, as a tool of commerce and politics. He also wanted to write science ﬁction. Science ﬁction was a way of expressing his fears and anxieties. He was a man of contradictions, and at this point in his life, he was beginning to formulate a way of living that he would one day embrace, and would soon start to explain in lectures and talks, but not yet practise himself. Back to 1969, and he had a message to give. Pedler was certainly not a brilliant writer of ﬁction, and needed the support from his friend Gerry Davis. Davis had enough experience in writing, but their joint approach was more direct, less subtle and frankly more refreshing than the rather stodgy aﬀair BBC drama could produce at this time. It veered more towards adventure, and away from the over the desk debates favoured by more conventional writers. They wanted to shock the audience and frighten them with what they could see, not by a clever, nuanced line. But the BBC probably feared another contentious series like Adam Adamant Lives! or Counterstrike, an attempt at an ITC adventure series on 625 line videotape. They probably also feared murmurings of discontent from their drawing room drama loving peers...
But Terence Dudley did support Doomwatch, and what it stood for, but he wanted it rooted in reality, and probably quite rightly too. "Entre nous, Pedler is brilliant in his ﬁeld but doesn't understand (or choose not to understand) the nature of the Civil Servant Animal and consequently
underestimated the 'Doomwatch' opposition. The characterisation in his two direct contributions (with Gerry) needs to be much tougher minded and a good deal more sophisticated." Memo from Terence Dudley to Head of Series and Serials. 26th June 1969. Dudley explained further in a series of interviews he gave to Doctor Who fan Anthony Howe, ﬁnally published in the Telos book Talkback: 'We quarrelled over the over-simpliﬁcation that Kit particularly wanted in the characterisation of Doomwatch's opposition. I felt that it was too tendentious – and too like propaganda, actually, to be dramatically viable.... He was so obsessive about the 'message' of the series that he was convinced all the villains should be despised as fools or rogues, and I felt that to fall in with this view would depreciate the format.' Doomwatch was to be a civil service machine, albeit an unconventional one. It would have oﬃces in an oﬃce block, not a disused church. Dudley won that ﬁght for plausibility, and fought for rewrites when he felt they were needed. Pedler and Davis wrote all the storylines for the ﬁrst series together, an idea that Dudley supported in the hope of getting scientiﬁc accuracy in the scripts. Dudley wasn't afraid to reject storylines he felt were too fanciful, and towards the formation of the second series, rejected those he thought were more suitable for Doctor Who. Gerry Davis went ahead and commissioned some of those storylines into scripts anyway. Dudley asked for his head of department to arbitrate on matters of quality and won his support. Dudley then withdrew the right for the pair to write the storylines and Pedler became simply a reader of scripts and Davis asked to be moved to another programme. The programme, under Dudley's control, moved further and further away from science ﬁction and the ﬁnal expression of that was 'Public Enemy,' an episode the BBC very much approved of. 'It is what Doomwatch is all about,' said the Head of Series. The BBC had claimed Doomwatch for itself. But the resulting unpleasantness is for another time...
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they were disappointed that the star of the series was not Wendy Hall ‘guaranteed to brighten up any environment!’ as their preview of the series suggested... 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’d been 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. 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! An air hostess is surprised to see a plastic cup has melted, and its contents all over the tray previously used by Wren. As she clears up, placing a contaminated hand on a table, a telegram has arrived for Toby. He is soon to be appalled by its contents and looks at his briefcase in horror. Has he only just noticed the mess inside it??? A boom mike briefly comes into shot at the top right hand corner of the screen as Wren is handed the telegram. This would not be noticed on a VHS video played on an ordinary TV.
softened... Ridge re-enters the room and tells her not to move and not to touch anything. “We were also treated to a tense moment of the don’t move – there’s – a – tarantula – on – your – sleeve variety, this time using a contaminated plastic pen picked up inadvertently by one of the characters, and I really could not see why it was such a dramatic moment to reveal that it was the Minister himself who had transmitted the substance to the plane. They were not suggesting he had done it on purpose, so it was no more than a red herring.” The Stage, John Lawrence who rather misses the point that it was the Minister’s secret recording that had inadvertently caused the crash.
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 off it, she finds the plastic tube has
Toby Wren shows the Captain in the flight deck the telegram. ‘What are we supposed to do about it?’ The Captain needs more evidence. Playing First Pilot is John Lee, a familiar face on television in the sixties and seventies. This was his first of three roles in Doomwatch. He would later play a Scandinavian in The Web of Fear and the doctor who favours euthanasia in Cause of Death. Eric Corrie is the Second Co-Pilot and Edward Dentith is the Second Engineer. 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...
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The second set of passengers who have lines to say or direction to take, are Mike Lewin, Pat Beckett, Toba Laurence, Cynthia Bizeray, Peter Thompson, Michael Earl and Tony Haydon. The camera script lists Elsie Arnold and Ned Hood as passengers on the second plane. 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... There are no lectures about the evils of plastics 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 yet 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 our reliance on an artificial material and how another artificial product can destroy it. A second or third season episode would have had debates about landfills, pollution and strangled swans. The fear expressed in this episode, is of a leak... Roger Lewin, writing in the New Scientist summed up the problem of tackling plastic waste ‘A good deal of useful scientific work could be done on devising ways of recycling plastic waste: this makes good economic sense.. The whole area of plastic litter is a mass of scientific, technological, social and economic problems. It is important to identify in this morass what the real problem is, and then solve that. Leaping to tackle a challenging scientific problem just because it exists should be avoided...’ And that’s the point of the episode. It could go wrong.
Pedler would, in the words of The New Review in 1975, tick us off for an over-reliance on plastic in his documentary Choices For Tomorrow. ‘More could be made of natural materials like wood.’ 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. For plastic, read iron. The Victorians and Edwardians had fears of how society would cope if this staple metal rusted away too quickly. 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! In The World In Danger, Barker is put
in charge of Doomwatch... Ridge has Miss Wills taken back to the Doomwatch lab to decontaminate her. 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 film of the fighter was taken from the Royal Air Force, silent 16mm film, nine feet in length! The Minister tells Quist that Miss Wills can’t be responsible for spreading the virus. She went to Beeston with the Minister but 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... Discussing the barriers facing plastic disposal, Doctor Roger Lewin in the New Scientist edition dated 25th of February 1971, he notes: ‘Doomwatch fans should note that no plans were made to cultivate bacteria with a penchant for
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Cornwall and tells a nervous Wren, trying to crack a joke, to shut up. These scenes were also recorded on the Friday. The Saturday was taken up with camera rehearsals for the following day's scenes which took up all the non-airplane stuff. The extras for the labs were booked for these later days. The third studio day over-ran, which meant overtime payments for the cast and crew! A photo call was held today although the pictures in the Radio Times seem to come from the earlier session in Dr. Pedler's lab with his precious electron microscope. Robert Powell was also paid for overtime on November 22nd, presumably during rehearsals. He is also listed as being paid overtime on camera rehearsals day and performed in a pre-recorded insert.
devouring plastics...’ Oh really? Professor David Hughes of Cardiff University was reported in The Daily Express (7th of June 1971), of making a bio-degradable plastic – one that is vulnerable to bacteria in the same way paper and wood is. The paper described it as one of the most controversial ideas ever thought of to Keep Britain Tidy. ‘An army of little germs gobbling up oil slicks and cast off cans and boxes made of plastic.’ He stressed that though his present research is not directed at turning out test tube germs to get rid of waste, “in the long term it is on...”‘ Hughes explained: ‘What we do is sink the slicks by spreading something like ash on them. In the ash we put food for the bacteria like nitrogen and phosphate. We feed them up and make them multiply and they eat the oil. There is no danger that they could overfeed and go on to attack other forms of marine life.’ He knew it was a touchy subject. ‘Some firms are absolutely wild. But I must stress no one is tampering with nature.’ Professor Gerald Scott was asked to comment. ‘A very dangerous development,’ he is reported to have said. ‘The prospect has the sort of ‘Doomwatch’ implications that are frankly frightening. Some distinguished men feel it is too dangerous even to contemplate.’ 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. The striking image used on the cover of the Radio Times to promote the episode would later be reused as the cover to the 1973 edition of the novel
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based on the ideas. It was taken by Julian Cottrell. The photograph accompanying the listing was apparently part of a photo call for the cast taken at Kit Pedler’s own lab at London University. 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.
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?’ Quist will visit Beeston as mentioned in a throwaway line during Re-Entry Forbidden. The co-pilot spots Newquay and the pilot prepares to bring them down.
To add to the impact, it looks as if a video disc was used during the recording to slow down some of the ooze effects and add to impact. Video discs were used by the sports department for action replays and drama sometimes had to beg, borrow or steal the facility for their dramas. It could slow down or speed up action as required, something normally done on film. ‘It looked very nice too. Like a dripping multi coloured ice cream cone.’ The Daily Sketch, Gerald Garrett. 9th of February 1970. So he had a colour television set, did he? Most of the rest of the country would have seen this in black and white, and not necessarily as a 625 line picture, but a fuzzy 405. The Captain needs all his concentration now they are close to
At the RAF station, ambulances and the fire brigade rush 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.
landing, British Latino Airlines went out of business rather rapidly through no fault of their own! Quist would have kept good to his word and maintained silence on the matter, but what of the passengers telling their tale of a melting aircraft? Were the infamous Dnotices slapped around Fleet Street advising the press to remain quiet on the matter? Did the airline sue the government? Were they paid off?
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 copilot. 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. ‘I could have wished that last night’s episode was a serial so that the enzyme could continue its rampage. Decomposing and liquefying television sets and telephones and typewriters and washing up bowls. I can think of nothing plastic I possessed which I could not cheerfully live without.’ Nancy Banks-Smith, The Guardian. 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 runway, 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 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. Very English. Presumably the majority of the fire fighters in this scene are not extras but the real thing in a practice drill? The film was edited by Alastair MacKay. The film effort on this serial was transferred to videotape after the recording of Friday's Child, by the same director. It was scheduled to take place after 10:00pm for half an hour. One can only imagine that following a fatal crash followed swiftly by a crash
The passengers on an infected plane in Mutant 59: The Plastic Eater were not so fortunate... Still, it meant that a romantic sub-plot could reach fruition now that an irritating husband was removed. “The production lacked tension throughout. I would not have thought it possible that a plane fighting to land before it crashes could be shown battling its way down without communicating any feelings of excitement or suspense whatsoever, but between them, the writers Kit Pedler (sic) and Gerry Davis, and the director Paul Ciappessoni managed it. “ The Stage, John Lawrence. Director Paul Ciappessoni was a prolific series director for the BBC with credits stretching back to episodes of Dr. Finlay’s Casebook in 1965. He would go on to direct another two episodes of the first series, Friday’s Child and ReEntry Forbidden. He only recently died. 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.’ 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. However, with later ministers, they will understand each other better. The World In Danger: The Minister was thoughtful. Again, Doomwatch had saved lives. Their careful watch was necessary, he knew. But Quist was a very difficult man...
“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.” Sylvia Clayton The Daily Telegraph
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FIRST ASSIGNMENT: CASE OF THE TATTERED TIGHTS DOOMWATCH investigations in The Daily Mirror Doomwatch struck a chord note not only with nine million viewers but also The Daily Mirror. A month after the series finished, the soft left paper began their own Doomwatch style investigations, with help from a certain Mr. Pedler... By contrast, the Daily Express would ignore the Doomwatch phenomenon as best it could and it would be a further year before the latest new buzzword in the English language began to make regular appearances in their vocabulary and they started to cash in upon the growing concern over the environment and the menace of unchecked science... On the 22nd of June, the Daily Mirror launched its Doomwatch Mirror Team. 'It's object,' declared the leader, 'to probe and crusade against the dangers that
After ruling out cigarette ash fall or spills from alcoholic drinks, Pedler applied strong acids. Only this reproduced the problem. In both cases, acid was to blame, tiny microscopic particles of the stuff, probably discharged from factory chimneys. The GLC scientist Mr Daniels concluded that they came from a factory boiler burning oil which contained too much sulphur or a chemical process discharging acid fumes or a factory boiler with an unsuitable chimney. "I have an uneasy feeling that this is a concentrated sample of what is going on fairly generally... I think that the smuts are too small to be dangerous to health but it is nevertheless wrong that we have to live with little drops of acid in the air.' A spokesman from British Cellophane in Barrow, one of the suspected factories, denied responsibility. The acid smuts come from oil fired boilers, not the burners they use. 'We are taking steps to reduce any pollution for which we are responsible,.' Under a year later, a factory in Doomwatch land would be under a similar spotlight from Quist, but melting tights were the least of their problems... Ten days later, on the 2nd of July, under the banner DOOMWATCH: WHAT IS WORRYING YOU? the paper reported that the concerns of readers stretched from what are they doing to our bread to what are pesticides on our food doing to our insides? Why do birds no longer sing in certain places in the countryside? Very valid questions. The issue of bread was one Pedler would talks about in depth in The Quest For Gaia, especially the high technological process of making white bread, which seemed to be designed to take out what is actually good about that staple food! Another rather traditional worry or paranoia for the time was how much radiation does a colour television screen emit? The answer: not as much as the luminous dial on your watch. This weeks case was the mystery of the dying plants. One side of Mr Pelling's garden in Sutton, Surrey, died overnight. What killed off his marigolds, geraniums and roses? Kit Pedler sent samples to plant pathologists at London University where they concluded that one plant died through natural causes but the others had been poisoned by a weed killer. Mr Pelling suspected someone outside his garden was responsible. He was relieved that there was nothing sinister in the soil... Dr. Pedler's services were not in evidence until the end of the month. In the meantime, two days later, the word Doomwatch was used to headline a story about a rather invasive new plant called the Giant Hogweed that was creating extreme allergic reactions amongst people who came into contact with it. Seeds
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CALL IN DOOMWATCH! THE
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threaten the world around you. Many people in Britain fear the effects of scientific progress. Technology is all very well - but what are the scientists doing to YOUR lives?' The team comprised of Kit Pedler 'a distinguished doctor and scientist and runs a research team at London University.' Mirror Science Editor Ronald Bedford and writer Michael Hellicar made up the rest of the team. The Mirror declared: 'Now they are waiting to hear from YOU about the things that worry you - from aircraft noise to insecticides, from the state of your breakfast kipper to the state of your local river. In fact anything, however trivial or baffling, that disturbs you about the conditions of your daily life. CALL IN DOOMWATCH! THEY ARE READY FOR ACTION!' And the paper had a case already lined up and not only did it seem to be trivial, it was also nice and scintillating for a tabloid readership! 'FIRST ASSIGNMENT: THE CASE OF THE TATTERED TIGHTS... There was a picture of a lady in just her tights to remind you of what they looked like... A case for Doctor John Ridge, certainly... It transpired that there was a mysterious blight afflicting tight wearers three hundred miles apart, in Erith in Kent, and at Barrow in Furness. Could the villain of the piece be the British Oil and Coke Mills upon whose sports ground lady golfers were finding their nylons melting, especially when the wind blows from the west where another one of four industrial plants can be found...? Whilst scientists from the Greater London Council's Environmental Sciences Group studied the Erith sunbathers' tights, Pedler performed some experiments on the stockings from Barrow, and found that the areas exposed to the air - between the skirt hemline and above the shoes were certainly marked.
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from this foreign plant apparently escaped from Kew Gardens where it had been brought in as a novelty. Kew scientists said that it was only dangerous when handled in direct sunlight. Recent hot weather had helped the Hogweed to become more noticeable this year. On the 14th of July, the Mirror's Doomwatch team got involved on the day a debate was due to be held in the House of Lords upon the subject. They asked ten questions... And that was it. However, in a comment piece, the Mirror welcomed news of a Professor Gerald Scott of Aston University in Birmingham who was developing a process of reducing plastic to a disposable powder, an idea Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis would expand upon in Mutant 59: The Plastic Eater novel. The Doomwatch team was very interested in plastics, they related. After a scare story about pollution threatening the Loch Ness monster, and a far more interesting story concerning the setting up of an international watchdog by young scientists, Pedler was called in to comment on a new scare, this time super mice. If cannibal rats weren't enough to deal with, now there were nests of mice becoming immune to Warfarin, which has been used by the Ministry of Agriculture and local authorities for more than twenty five years. This was a horrible poison that caused death by internal bleeding over a ten day period. The Ministry was quoted as saying that the mice were far more widespread and more of a problem than the super rats which bred mainly around Welshpool, Carmarthen and parts of Kent and Scotland. Cases of super rats were now being reported in Hull, Suffolk, the Isle of Wight, the Cotswold's and the West Midlands. One official from Rentokill stated: 'Once the Warfarin resistant rats get into the towns no one can stop them.' The use of stronger poisons posed risks not only to pets and live stock,
but also creates 'bait shyness.' If a rat or mouse drops dead after taking the bait, the others are not so keen to follow... And here, six months after Tomorrow, the Rat, is Dr Kit Pedler, chief scientific adviser to the Mirror Doomwatch team reporting: 'The answer is to find a new wonder-killer but everyone from the Ministry to private drug firms and local councils so far failed. But something MUST be done. Cases of leptospirosis, a potentially fatal disease spread by rodents nearly trebled between 1968 and 1969. In the meantime, rats and mice, which already outnumber us by two to one, are increasing steadily, at a rough annual cost to the nation of ÂŁ1 a rat and ten shillings a mouse. THREAT TO NEW BORN BABIES Read about an unseen menace investigated by the Mirror Doomwatch team in the Mirror next week. If this advert on the front page of the first edition in August hadn't terrified parents everywhere, then the actual story three days later would, especially if you lived in an area which got its water from the North Lindsey water board in Lincolnshire where the nitrate level was a level higher than that recommended by the World Health Organisation. The first warning was a bluish tinge to the new born babies skin, showing a reduced oxygen carrying capability leading to possible brain damage. The cause could either be from fertiliser or from bacteria which live around the roots of plants such as the pea, and the catchment area for the reservoir is a big pea growing area. The bacterial takes up the nitrogen from the air, uses it to make a chemical compound and this ultimately turns into nitrates.' A local health officer favoured intensive agriculture to blame, whilst the secretary to the Lincs County National Farmer Union favours over pumping of the water supply, and has investigated such matters himself and was not simply passing the blame. The article was trying to strike a balance, as was everybody else. However, one case of serious nitrate
experiment in the affects of air pollution with science correspondent Michael Hellicar reporting. The experiment was to measure the levels of carbon monoxide absorbed into the blood stream from the exhaust fumes of the traffic in central London. Not so easy because being a smoker, Pedler would have had carbon monoxide in his blood stream anyway. So something had to be done about that. The paper tells the story best: 'Fourteen hours before taking his first blood sample, Dr. Pedler gave up smoking and stayed overnight at Knockholt, Kent, in the country air; sixteen miles away from London's traffic fumes. This was to disperse the CO already in his blood. Next morning, when he arrived at Leicester Square in the West End of London, his CO level was 0.8 per cent. Two hours later, this had almost doubled to 1.4 per cent. When a light breeze sprang up, he took another blood sample (because CO fumes are carried away by the wind) and found a slight drop to 1.1 per cent. This level was maintained until the late afternoon until the late afternoon traffic had begun to build up. After standing on road islands amid heavy jams for two hours, the CO level had trebled to 3.2 per cent. 'By this time,' reports Dr. Pedler, 'I felt sick and had a slight heachache. This was not only due to the carbon monoxide. The traffic noise, smell and residues of lead and sulphur from the petrol also affected me.' He then smoked three cigarettes - his first for nearly twenty four hours - and took the final blood sample. This showed another steep rise to 4.6 per cent saturation. The Medical Research council's Air Pollution Unit is currently investigating what long term effects - if any - the CO fumes have on us. The article then goes to talk about the affects various levels of carbon monoxide have on the human being, with a warning from car manufacturers - as they were prone to do - about
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EY ARE READY FOR ACTION!
pollution in Suffolk in 1954 resulted in a death. Kit Pedler took the matter seriously. 'Nitrate will always get into the water, no matter what precautions are taken. It can come from animal matter, manure, even from cemeteries and the build up may take hundreds of years. 'No one really knows the long term effects of continually spreading the land with fertilisers containing nitrate. It's a 20th century problem which has no simple answer. 'We have to rely on the vigilance of public health experts and laboratory chemists. Too much nitrate puts too many young lives - and eventually our own future - in danger.' Interestingly, high nitrate levels was the reason why Doomwatch was sending young potholers into Yorkshire caves, an episode that was being filmed... By the August bank holiday weekend, the Mirror was concerned about the state of our beaches because of the amount of raw sewage being pumped into our seas. Although they were suggesting that the shore was an unhealthy or a dirty place to be, there was concern of a rapidly growing ring of dark water surrounding the UK. The River Thames, said the paper, swills 500,000,000 gallons of sewage every day into the estuary. Kit Pedler, on the other hand, could see problems ahead: 'Water which has been contaminated by sewage can carry many diseases - such as typhoid, polio, hepatitis and dysentery. It is time for an up to date examination of the dangers in the sea.' The last report on the subject had apparently been conducted in the late 1950s by the Medical Research Council. In two years time, Doomwatch found out what happened when the sea is polluted by human waste and agricultural wash-offs. you get killer dolphins. It was until the beginning of October that Kit Pedler was once again assisting the Mirror with their enquiries and this time with something a little more substantial. Kit was the focus of the Doomwatch article, conducting an
how expensive petrol would become if carbon monoxide was cut. Waiting For A Knighthood was only two years away too. 'Britain's cities are comparatively clear of fumes. We do not yet have the choking traffic smogs which blanket Los Angeles and New York... And in Tokio (sic), the most air polluted city in the world, traffic fumes are so thick that policemen on point duty are relieved every ten minutes to clear their lungs with whiffs of pure oxygen.' And that was it. Although Doomwatch would prefix 'warnings' to describe anything as hazardous to health for the foreseeable future, there were no more investigations for Kit Pedler to get involved in. Either he was too busy with the next phase of his life away from London University, and as a campaigner or a simple parting of the ways. He was now to be found broadcasting and lecturing on the need for a real life Doomwatch. Earlier in the year he gave a talk at a science fiction convention in London for the need of a scientific ombudsman. They would be called Czars now... The Daily Mirror would continue to keep an interest in pollution and campaign quite aggressively against transgressors as a certain Mr. Dumper would find out in a year's time... It is interesting how several of the issues described above are still a cause for concern today. The state of our water, either from the tap or by the beach; traffic fumes, and what comes out of the factory chimney - acid rain. Kit Pedler was consulted, although how much of his statements were cut down for size and rewritten or para-phrased into 'mirror speak' is unknown. Though the headlines suggested shock horror, the articles were soothing in tone and less sensational than they could have been. Lots of 'possibles, maybes,' and so forth and counter arguments were heard. On the face of it, good reporting. The second series episode By The Pricking of My Thumbs, on the other hand, will show us the side of a clumsy, sensationalist journalist, having his own scare stories affect his family with near tragic consequences.
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e f i l l a e R by MICHAEL SEELY POLLUTION Prince Charles, on St. David's Day in 1971 spoke of the 'final horror' of pollution. A man who is often mocked and riled for his stance on architecture, homoeopathy, and distrust of progress loathed pollution and not just as an aesthetic conceit. 'The Doomwatch warnings about pollution are not all exaggerated. If we are not careful and if we continue to use the sea as a vast dustbin, we shall destroy some of the oxygen making processes. Then we shall be in a real mess.' He toured an oil terminal at Milton Haven and couldn't resist a dig. 'To go on virtually destroying what we live in, and on, until the final horror really strikes us, and then start trying to do something is surely an 'Raise production, raise insult to human rational consumption, raise wages, thinking... Because of it you advance the standard of get angry demonstrations living. But is anyone any and opposition to new happier? All that happens proposals like the building of oil terminals. for is that the debris that must instance, you have the inevitably accumulate in situation of a factory the process, slowly builds producing something up until one day it must which has chemical eﬄuent choke us.' and one day a committee Quist – Public Enemy demonstrates about pollution outside its gates, something no one has bothered to do before.'
PROPHETS OF DOOM Prophets of doom were springing up everywhere. The end of the millennium was seen as the cut oﬀ point if nothing was done to stop the population explosion and the constant release of chemicals into the seas and the land. Then, as now, there were those who couldn't or wouldn't accept the realities of the situation. It wasn't helped when the Prophets slipped into hyperbole or at least, reported by the media as such. The left wing saw pollution as a necessary by product of technology improving the life of ordinary people. If it hurt people, another ingenious technological fix can sort it out. The right wing saw pollution as an unfortunate by product of wealth creation – where there's muck there's brass. As long as it didn't interfere with the trout fishing... But by the early 70s, more and more people were sitting up and paying attention that the rush towards a technocracy during the post war period was having alarming consequences as much, if not more, than the industrial revolution's pollution of body and mind in Victorian Britain.
DOOMWATCH DEBATE 1971's Trade Union Congress conference held a Doomwatch debate on the overuse of chemicals in farming and what impact they are having
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In 1970, a new word had entered the language. DOOMWATCH.
Although it was supposed to be a word synonymous with dangerous, foolish unchecked science and research with catastrophic consequences, it soon became a more general description for environmental pollution; industrial waste products, the more mundane but nasty everyday realities which the programme started to deal with once it lost its more imaginative sci-fi orientated originators.
outside of their intended uses. Congress wanted stricter controls and a research programme on toxic side eﬀects. One delegate said, 'We are drifting into an ever-widening sea of uncertainty which may easily create disaster or even destruction for future generations of mankind. We must beware that technical skills do not outweigh our ability to control them.
FAMILY PLANNING In October, the threat from over-population was concerning The National Council of Women of Great Britain. They called for free family planning advice for all but drew the line at sterilisation on the National Health. Mrs Enid Evans, who worked in a family planning clinic who may have watched The Human Time Bomb or even Tomorrow Has Been Cancelled Due To Lack of Interest a fortnight later – and will enjoy Without The Bomb, added to the debate: 'England is now the third most crowded country in the world. If it continues how can everyone be housed, fed, educated and have their health cared for? I am sorry if this sounds like Doomwatch. But having successfully interfered with death, we must interfere with birth.' No one argued for a lipstick contraceptive aphrodisiac. At least not in public.
LEGISLATION Legislation, as Fire and Brimstone will have Ridge argue, seemed to be the only answer. 'Debate centres on the way control should be operated,' said the Guardian on the 24th of July 1971. 'In the United States the Administration is experimenting both with direct physical bans on certain forms of industrial waste disposal and with schemes to tax companies for the amount of pollution they produce.' Would curtailing growth contain pollution? Would that stop the third world from developing? Or would rampant growth cause even more problems?
CYANIDE The Ecologist printed their landmark edition A Blueprint for Survival (later to be a book) in January 1972 written by scientists, looking for answers to the pollution and population debate and saw economic growth as the problem. Public Enemy did it in 1971! Britain's Conservative Minister for the Environment Peter Walker did 'Nobody's denying not think that a national there’s a pollution Doomwatch committee as problem. But you don't recommended should be set up to prevent mankind from destroying solve the problem by crippling the economy... itself. Questioned by the press on the 15th of January, Walker We pollute within 'commended them for their permitted limits.' concern but disagreed with the Fielding suggestion that economic growth – Spectre At The Feast should be stopped and that we
should go back to what Mr Walker called 'primitive living.' He said that without economic growth he would be unable to find the resources to clear slums, improve public transport, restore derelict land and clean the air and the rivers.' Even as Walker spoke those words of wisdom, cannisters of cyanide were being washed ashore the coast of Cornwall by two separate freighters.
NEW SCIENTIST This debate happened on the pages of the New Scientist later that March. An editorial spoke for the need of 5% growth and a letter quickly arrived to criticise the view. 'It is deplorable that such naivety should appear as the editorial opinion of New Scientist.' OK, not much of a debate admittedly, but it was there.
LEGISLATION Even The Daily Express, a paper slow to notice Doomwatch type aﬀairs, or perhaps not wanting to copy the left leaning Daily Mirror's cash in crusade, decided to wade in. Their 19th of January edition introduced their plan... 'Hardly a day goes by without some new wave of pollution – of the mind, of the body, or of the land – flooding across our country. Are we powerless to turn the tide? The Daily Express gives its answer in a massive, 'What happened to the campaigning counter-attack. Tobacco Bill? Talked out! Today we turn on the The manufacturers spoilers of the environment.' volunteer their Chapman Pincher, billed as minuscule warning... The Man Who knows even Legislation! The only before MPs – and had an ear salvation we've got. in the intelligence services – Outlaw the poisoners! wrote a powerful argument Outlaw the filth makers! demanding legislation with teeth 'to force industrialists It's our only chance! and local authorities to spend Publicity, publicity and more on pollution still more publicity!' abatement.' He identified one Ridge of the problems was the – Fire and Brimstone public's reluctance to spend more money. 'An increase in the price of coal to prevent mine washings fouling rivers or a rise in the rates to pay for a better sewage works is usually resisted.' He's been watching Public Enemy, this boy! His third point on why inaction is the cause of the day is the industrialists argument that anti-pollution restrictions will cause unemployment as they are put out of business.
GOD God, too, wanted Doomwatch – or at least the Bishop of Oxford, the Right Reverend Kenneth Woollcombe. In May, he was reported in The Daily Mirror as recruiting thousands of 'Doomwatch' spies to curb pollution in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. . The aim is to pinpoint the indiscriminate dumping of rubbish and waste. 'We must be able to mobilise public opinion in such a way as to prevent the kind of disasters that have happened as a result of water pollution in America.'
MR DUMPER The Daily Mirror had been continuing their own Doomwatch investigations into 1971 and 1972 without Kit Pedler. One of their more successful campaigns was against waste disposal firms who cut corners and just dumped where ever they felt they could get away with it. Regular reports would appear of hazardous substances found near playgrounds. Their biggest attack came on a man they nick-named Mr Dumper, the boss of Britain's biggest waste disposal firm faced allegations that his company was illegally tipping on council rubbish dumps up and down the country. MPs of all parties were concerned about their revelations. New legislation was announced in March as a result of the publicity the Mirror gave to the issue – or so they would claim! The same paper also saw documents relating to the problems of lead poisoning at a smelting plant in Avonmouth owned by Rio Tinto Zinc. A reference to this would
be sneaked into Waiting For A Knighthood, the last episode of Doomwatch to go before the cameras in a few months time.
THE DAILY MIRROR 22nd of April 1970
WELCOME TO WESTMINSTER'S REAL LIFE DOOMWATCHERS
In March, the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution issued its second report: The BBC may not know it, but a handful of avid viewers of their weekly 'Three Issues in Industrial Doomwatch play is to be found in the House of Commons. Pollution.' The Commission had Doomwatch is a not so fictional been set up in 1970 and is due to series about a dedicated government department whose job it is to discover be axed by the current coalition and eliminate threats to humanity and government. It too called for an its environment by some modern scientific techniques. early warning system against the The thrilling (and so far always successful) battles are with the introduction of new products technocrats of commerce and the which could cause pollution. The bureaucrats of the State. These are continually trying to knock the public issue 'was not being given off by poisoning, by noise, and by other adequate priority by the ways of upsetting the balance of nature. How near to real life problems are Government,' it said. 'While it those which Doomwatch poses? Some M.Ps, including Labour's Ray would not be reasonable to regard Fletcher, think they could be very near substances as guilty until proved indeed. Inside Page learns that Fletcher and a innocent,' it is reasonable to regard group of colleagues are planning to form them as under suspicion...' Firms a Doomwatch Committee based on were legally permitted to keep the Parliament. The idea is to discuss regularly with composition of pollutants a secret scientists, technologists, architects and planners what sort of dangers future on grounds of commercial holds and to get Ministers to act out on their warnings. sensitivity – the usual excuse. It One of those said to be extremely urged the Government to act interested is biologist Dr. Kit Pedler, who helped devise the television series. sooner since the the current plan was to wait until 1975 before the new system of local government would begin to operate 'new comprehensive control of waste disposal.' Mind you, the Express reported how Norfolk County Council's countryside committee were setting up their own vigilante Doomwatch committee to keep an eye on pollution and waste disposal. A similar group in Warwickshire exposed illegal sodium cyanide dumping to the press.
CLUB OF ROME Just as Doomwatch was about to return to BBC1, the United Nations environment conference opened in Stockholm. 112 nations, including China attended. But politics being so polarised in the 1970s, this event, planned for three years was boycotted by the Soviet Bloc because of the exclusion of East Germany. The issues of the environment seemed to be dominating the schedules. Thames, an ITV channel, had Limits of Growth, about the Club of Rome's recent projections for the future. This group of professionals from diplomats to industrialists to scientists, were created to lobby governments about 'the concerns of unlimited resource consumption in an increasingly interdependent world.' Limits of Growth was their report based on the findings of a group of systems scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It showed the contradiction between unlimited consumption and finite resources. Something To Say – a debate following the main programme featured the former Labour Minister Tony Crossland who was accused of watching a serious documentary on the environment with his eyes closed (suggesting which side of the fence he sat on). BBC2 had an edition of Man Alive focusing on how a big oil multinational was aﬀecting the lives of the people of Aberdeen in their quest for an oil strike, whilst Down to Earth, billed as the first ever series on environmental concerns, which featured contributions from our Kit was in the middle of its run. And then Doomwatch was back – tackling issues which were old ground like over-population, pollution, vested interests... It was suddenly ordinary. Except for remote controlled pyschopaths, perhaps. Even Doomwatch itself was now seen as establishment. It wasn't sure to whom it was shaking its fist at! It wasn't about taking an existing problem and giving it a sci-fi boost any more. It was pedestrian. Real life had made it seem tame. But all the same, it had done its job. We had that word.
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A routine space shot goes tragically wrong during re-entry... a plane crash lands into a town centre near Heathrow in the fog, a Royal Navy exercise featuring Polaris missiles is cancelled, a new scheme for controlling and regulating traffic flow ends in disaster as the experiment is switched on for the first time, and a robot display in a toy store goes berserk...
Book analysis by Michael Seely
MUTANT 59 The Plastic Eater 24
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Each incident is connected by some small isolated circuit, carbon dioxide build up. They discover a tunnel that has had where the insulation has vanished, creating a short circuit or workmen using it recently. Meanwhile, the rest of London failure to do what it is supposed to do. In the case of the robot, becomes a disaster zone as the plastic melting menace spreads there is a softening of the Aminostyrene plastic where no solvent throughout the capital, shutting it down. Radio stations come off has been anywhere near... Its creators are called in... air, gas mains with polypropylene seals fail, and water pipes This is a scientific consultancy or think-tank, convened by the burst. A state of emergency is declared on the television as the Harvard educated Arnold Kramer, a man once driven by nature of the emergency becomes clear and decontamination scientific ideas, now looking for money spinners, devised a new squads are set up. London is sealed off. plastic called Aminostyrene, a cheap and easy to produce plastic. The survivors break through into an old disused station called This think-tank comprises of Gerrard, Buchan and Wright. Gray’s Inn. One of their number, Wendy, had been electrocuted Aminostyrene is their biggest money spinner, the foundations of when a live cable touched water she was wading through. their success. Wright, by chance, experimented on Aminostyrene Resting, a stench makes Ann Kramer, Gerrard and Slayter and together with Buchan devised an experimental compound, investigate its source: underneath the platform is a seething mass which, when exposed to sunlight and oxygen broke down after a of bubbling brownish slime. Gerrard recognises the smell from few hours into a disposable powder. Thus they created a the decaying cables in the tube and gears of the robot. Amidst the biodegradable bottle called Degron. Pull a strip of other plastic of corruption are remnants of Degron bottles which the substance is the surface and the bottle breaks down and with a bit of tinkering, particularly keen to feed on. Ann takes a sample as Gerrard the other plastic, too, would melt! A soft drink manufacturer use experiments with a cheap plastic ball pen, and it begins to soften the destructible plastic container as part of its sales campaign for and melt. Gerrard postulates a bacteriological attack on plastic, Tropic Delight. feeding on the biodegradable residue of Degron before mutating Gerrard, the hero of the novel, is starting to become attracted into eating other plastics. It has spread from the sewers, forming to Kramer’s ex-wife Anne who has been investigating the failure new conduits seeping throughout the underground. At the same of the toy robot display. He is slowly becoming aware that all the time, Buchan’s experiments with Degron and the plastic eating plastics involved in the recent disasters, are Aminostyrene based. foam prove that there is a bacteriological agent at work. ‘He looked back at the array of shapes on the wall. On the display Meanwhile the authorities underneath the Horseguards’ board were mounted various examples of the use of Aminostyrene: Parade are sorting out the details of the decontamination squads, telephone cables; gas pipes; electricity conduits. Suppose there was some evacuations of Londoners, and the need to find an antibiotic that fault in the basic plastic and, under certain conditions, it all started to will fight the plastic eating bacteria. The army find it difficult break down? What sort of chaos would communications be thrown dealing with Londoners in a state of shock, refusing to accept the into?’ enormity of the crisis. Soon, an eerie silence settles over the Gerrard meets Slayter, who was the brains capital. Except for a group of robbers, lead by behind the Knightsbridge traffic control an ex-army man Menzelos, who take On the 23rd of February 1972, Kit system which ended in disaster. Slayter is advantage of the situation and blow their Pedler was interviewed about his being held up for blame but Gerrard is not way into a jeweller’s merchants – and destroy book on Late night Extra on BBC too sure. The air crash investigators Myers a section of street! Radio 2, and was joined by Gerry ‘Complex biochemical signals began to pulse and Holland are also onto the insulation Davis for a two and a half minute as the static protoplasm of the cells began once failure and the company making chat on New Worlds on Radio 4 which was taped on the 22nd. The again to constrict and divide. By now the Variant Aminostyrene, Neoplas, take it up with the pair also gave an interview to The was an almost perfectly equipped biological entity. Kramer Group. Is there a fault in the product Guardian - Prophets of Doom which Defying the laws of Darwin, each generation was itself or is it sourced from a pirated version? was published to coincide with the acquiring some of the most successful attributes of Tempers become frayed when the Kramer paperback release on the 13th of the last, learning new methods of unstitching group discuss the issue. Their product is December 1973. plastic molecules to get energy and life. Learning everywhere: if there is a failure, their responsibility will be huge. Buchan, the more to use the complex artefacts of man.’ responsible of the group, says it is their duty to take a long hard Kramer is now fighting for the future of the Consultancy now look at it again. Kramer gets Gerrard to speak to the departments that they know Aminostyrene is not directly responsible for the investigating the disasters... failures. Kramer prepares to fly off to New York and talk with a Meanwhile, a London underground tube train halts mid rather concerned NASA. Kramer sees it as a contract worth about tunnel due to a signals failure. The confused driver discovers a a million and a half dollars in royalties lost if he cannot persuade section of cables ‘covered by a glistening wet mass of multithem. coloured viscous slime dripping slowly away on the track Meanwhile, the trapped group of survivors encounter one of beneath.’ Then, as Gerrard talks to Myers and Holland, they are their original number, Purvis, who has become demented with his summoned to the Admiralty – the first Poseidon sub – the HMS struggles. They have to burn down a boardered up door in a Triton has been lost with all hands west of Arran... Circuit failure signal box to reach a short tunnel to a shaft which takes Gerrard - leading to a catastrophic implosion. to the surface. He needs to get samples to St. Thomas’s hospital. ‘They were all imagining the sudden – rending – water rushing But before he can find help for the others left behind, he runs into death of 183 officers and men – the great steel hulk – an almost perfectly Menzolo’s gang who have no intention of letting him go. designed submarine microcosm of warmth and security, plummeting Menzolos sees an opportunity and uses Gerrard’s credentials to through the dark cold water. The implosion of the hull round the nuclear get through a road block with some booty – but also specimens of pile and sixteen multiple warhead Poseidon missiles.’ Gerrard’s of the slime. They are decontaminated, but pretending The investigation of insulation failure has now reached his booty is a part of Gerrard’s specimens, that avoids treatment. Cabinet level. An exhausted Gerrard gets to St Thomas’s, where it is a bit of a Gerrard, Slayter, Holden and Ann Kramer descend into the blur after that. Kramer infects the flight to New York. The cabin crew think underground to investigate the signal failure. Suddenly, a series of explosions rock the underground, and as a train halts, is caught someone has used thinners in the cockpit and wince at the smell, a stewardess watches a plastic cup melt and buckle before her by fire. Total panic and a stampede. With a few survivors, the eyes, a passenger wonders if a heater is on as her handbag is investigators and the station master begin to find a way back to detached from its handle, and then the plane nose dives due to the surface unaware of the chaos afflicting London at this moment. King’s Cross has exploded from beneath after two wires, insulation free wires, before the captain regains control. Kramer realises what is happening and has difficulty in persuading the stripped of their insulation explodes pockets of gas created by steward and then the Captain. soon, preparations are made for an the melt and from something in the sewers... Gerrard and the emergency landing in Boston. But it is too late, and a build up of survivors struggle to reach another station, starting to suffer from
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PROPHETS OF DOOM Raymond Gardner interviewed Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis in The Guardian 13th Dec 1973 ONDON is melting screams the blurb on the back cover of the American edition of an uncomfortable bit of predicta-fiction which will hit the station bookstalls here this week. The French titled it “La Mort du Plasti-que." which, if spoken slowly in a gravelly voice, has a nice doom laden aura. In Britain we'll just be reading “Mutant 59: The Plastic Eater." It's just as well that the British title keeps its cool, otherwise London Transport might find itself with a few more recruitment headaches since the book opens with the extermination of King’s Cross station, its environs, and a few thousand hapless humans. Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis have certainly devised a novel if extreme solution to the problem of one or Britain's most grotesque city environments. But it's all in the cause of science fiction, although the reader might hesitate over the book’s fictional qualites since Kit and Gerry have an uncomfortable knack of finding their creativity come true. They devised the BBC-TV's ecological drama series “Doomwatch" and stayed with it until the fiction became larger than the science, which is to say that the originators of the series wanted a fairly tweaking sort of programme which might encourage gran to stop ditching her empty stout bottles in the canal while the BBC had its eye on a straightforward science fiction cops and robbers. And so “Doomwatch” lost its story editor and scientific adviser. But before their resignation the programme chalked up a few notably uncomfortable coincidences.' There was the one about the trawler which hauled up a neat piece of nuclear hardware in
its nets and almost solved the problem of the fish shortage by killing of the demand. Kit and Gerry set off for the Holy Loch to confirm at their idea was feasible. They were sufficiently impressed to ditch the story whereupon the US Air Force wrecked a neat PR job by accidently dropping a warhead in Texas. When the top brass went to inspect their toy they discovered that five of the six failsafe devices were in the unsafe position. Four days later Kit and Gerry emerged sleepless but triumphant with a new script for " Doomwatch." Kit and Gerry are an unlikely duo, not quite Eric and Ernie, but they have their moments. Gerry has been in television, as he puts it, for 20 years. He worked his passage to Canada on a Clyde-built tug which almost foundered in mid-Atlantic, worked for CBC and the Canadian Film Board, and returned to Britain and Granada for the early days of Coronation Street. Then he freeked out to Italy to train as an opera singer. He mumbles something about music being his hobby, a notion which is readily confirmed since his front parlour bears more than a passing resemblance to a recording studio. Kit graduated as a medical doctor –in 1953 and practised in medicine and surgery for two years before taking a second doctorate in experimental pathology. He then spent 12 years in brain research. His publisher obviously thinks this a fitting start for the doom business. Pan's PR man waxes eloquent about their author being into electron microscopy cybernetics. Gerry says that his colleague concocts a very nice home brew. The two met via a Horizon programme on Kit’s research. They continued their discussions at‘ The Contented Sole, a pricey fish and chip shop in Knightsbridge. There, says Kit, science and show business met in order to save “Dr Who” from too few Daleks and too much fantasy. It seems that when the Daleks departed .”Dr Who” could only master an audience of three million. And so Kit and Gerry devised the Cybermen. Very frightening, says Kit. Not at all toylike, as were the friendly Daleks, says Gerry.
gas ignites. Anne Kramer was more upset that her late husband was flying out to America to defend the consultancy than remaining behind, waiting for news of his wife. Menzola is killed when his ocean going cruiser is infected by the spoils of his burglary and the engine tank explodes. The remaining scientists from Kramer’s group assist in finding a ‘cure’ for the plague. Professor Kendall talks to Wright who designed Aminostyrene. Wright is getting more and more defensive and hostile and still refutes the idea of a plastic eating bacteria. Gerrard suggests an azide of cyanide molecule could act as a poison. They are running out of time as the bacillus is eating out the heart of the city. Back at the Consultancy’s labs, progress is made and they plan to make enough for Neoplas to mass produce. Buchan works out that the common factor between the various disasters that started the crisis, and the one on board the Triton, can be traced to the same component. A small integrated circuit element – a logic gate called M13. Buchan was sent some examples of the gate from the makers and found spores of the bacteria inside – germinated by heat and moisture generated on a cadmium plate. A biological time bomb in each gate. The earlier outbreaks were mild but each new generation adapted and increased and consumed more rapidly until the situation which they are in now occurs. The firm that made the contaminated circuits have supplied aircraft makers, road computer makes and to NASA. In particular, to the California Rocket Corporation, the who built the unmanned Mars probe – the Argonaut One. And that took off six weeks ago. Gerrard leads a field test on the cure - infected Aminostyrene on a designer clothes shop where an outbreak had occurred, and it succeeds. It takes a couple of weeks before the bacteria is
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In fact the Australians refused to screen one of the Cybermen episodes says Kit. A great seethe, says Gerry. Kit confides that they did go a bit over the top with the things spewing “Fairy Liquid” out of their joints and generally writhing about. While contemplating their respective soles Kit and Gerry came up with the idea of an ecological adventure series. They brought together the story lines, wrote the first four episodes and sold the complete package. as “Doomwatch,” to the BBC. Kit was moonlighting at the time between his university research project and the studios. The boffins didn't like it. He says: “While I was still working in university I got a tremendous amount of crap flung at me. I was a popularist, I was a fiction writer. I had to take this and my skin was no thicker than anyone else's and it upset me a great deal. But now I've left the organisation within which that criticism starts and I've started, on my own, hopefully, socially responsible science. I think that science must turn towards the needs of people socially. But it was a bad time. At one point I was almost kicked out. I wrote about animal experiments which were being conducted for careerist rather than scientific purposes. I knew perfectly well that it was true but I made the mistake of saying so in a daily paper and so they tried to grind my testicles in public." Kit has left the university and continues his scientific endeavours in ecology. He has finished his first project on ecological housing, which will be published shortly. His own Victorian house in Clapham has already round itself shot in the twentieth century with a methane fed generator which provides 1ighting and eventually he hopes to run this from the family garbage, And just in case it all sounds a little po-faced Kit is thinking about a rate rebate when his house becomes fully self-sufficient. Going public has had its problems for Kit. While guesting on a television programme he referred to a number of atom bomb experiments in Nevada where rabbits were put in cages with their eyelids sewn
back. Their eyes were burned. He said that this was bad science because the dosage could have been found by calculation. It was degrading both to the animals and to the experimenters. Next morning a lady phoned the Home Office to complain that a British scientist called Kit Pedler was conducting a series of brutal experiments. Kit calls it the media problem. In “Mutant 59” a series of scientific accidents and straightforward short cuts result in the destruction of all the plastic in London. Electricity cables are exposed and ignite gas supplies and an explosive chain reaction begins. The fact that we can read such a book and then toddle off to bed for a peaceful night's sleep is a small example of our conditioning which scientists like Kit Pedler would like to change. Kit believes that one of the problems of the environmental issue is that people are saturated with horror stories. If energy sources are drying up, says Kit, it is no use saying to people that they have been wicked and raping the earth for too long. You must say that, but you must also suggest what they can do. Kit says that the best title for an ecological documentary was “ Due to Lack of Interest Tomorrow has been Cance1led." And as evidence of his concern he points out that the documentary was shown on BBC2 to a small converted audience. Which is why he was pleased to work with Gerry Davis on "Doomwatch." “Mutant 59" is based on an idea being worked on at a British university which Kit refuses to name. Their concept was of a biodegradable plastic which would break down under ultraviolet light. It may seem unlikely that as the first biodegradable milk bottle goes on sale in their novel that another scientist working in the same area of self-destruct plastic should release a plastic-eating virus into the sewers of London. But then no one ever thought the Americans would accidentally drop a nuclear warhead in Texas. Mutant 59 : The Plastic Eater was published as a Pan paperback at 40p.
brought under control. Taking a break from the work that has driven him, Gerrard realises that to the consultancy, he is a form of traitor as it was he who pointed the blame at their product for feeding the plastic eating bacterium. A battle is about to commence for the control of consultancy now that Kramer is dead. Wright and Scanlon would not want him to remain. Gerrard had joined the group because Kramer was developing a policy of increasing social responsibility in science. At the meeting, Gerrard is outraged that Wright expresses no regret or self-recrimination at having been indirectly involved in the deaths of thousands. Gerrard argues that their group can work to design and fabricate on behalf of people, not to just make a profit. ‘No one will ever know just how much responsibility we will bear for this disaster. It looks like the We made Degron, we designed the bottle. Comic 2000AD Issue 139 from 1979 Nobody could have foreseen the bacteria which grew on it, but our product – the result of our was inﬂuenced thinking – our ingenuity – played an essential by a certain Doomwatch story, part. None of us set out to do anything more as Judge Dredd is than be technically ingenious. We succeeded involved in “The and London nearly died. Surely that’s more than enough to make us redirect our activities. Great Plasteen The next time it may be the whole world.’ Disaster!” Wright sarcastically dismisses his concerns and finds himself nominated as a new chairman of the Consultancy by Scanlon and Sir Harvey Phillips, the accountant. Buchan nominates Gerrard. It made sense. Wright calls this nomination frivolous but Anne Kramer takes over the chair of the meeting – Wright is not yet the leader and the lawyer, MacDonald seconds the nomination. This leaves Anne with the casting vote and Gerrard wins. Wright withdraws: a broken man. As Gerrard makes a pass at Anne, she tells him to be patient – her husband has only just died, for heaven’s sake. Meanwhile, on Mars, Argonaut 1 has made its descent. Two hours later, NASA loses communications with it. A circuit has lost its insulation...
COMMENTARY: 19 overview, who rather misses the point of the book! The book opens with the obituary of Doctor S. Ainslie, whose p52/3 Here we have Pedler’s view of the responsibility of the unknown invention was the catalyst for the events in the book. scientist writ large: Gerrard remembers how Kramer was once One concerned for the future of science and how he wanted to reorient The first two pages are of the doomed space flight, which does the skills of the scientist towards social problems before a remind you of Re-Entry Forbidden but also Kit Pedler’s first cofinancial bonanza corrupted his ideals. Five written Doctor Who script The Tenth Planet. He likes killing astronauts... Gerry Davis remembered in his 1988 interview with When the Kramer Group discuss the possibility of a flaw in Doctor Who Bulletin that Pedler liked writing about rockets and Aminostyrene, Wright, who was one of its major developers, silos whilst Davis favoured dark, claustrophobic environments accuses Kramer of pressurising him into finishing his researches which may well explain the adventures in disused underground before he was ready. He defends his tests, that he is incapable of stations later. faking good results. ‘I’m a technological animal – brainwashed if The plane crash described vividly up to page 13 is the first of you like – but for me the only bad technology is technology which the mass slaughters that strike Greater London. It makes Flight doesn’t work.’ In other words, the product he devised is perfect. Six Into Yesterday seem quite tame. Like other incidents in the book, the build up to the event is described cleanly and clinically. Just p69 We get a lovely vivid description of what’s underneath the way in which a scientist would relate. The crash does remind your feet in central London close to the Mall where the Admiralty you of the opening to the television version of The Plastic Eaters. hosts one of the most secret rooms in Britain, and here we learn No stock footage of test crash dummies here! details of the missing submarine. p13 We meet Anne Kramer here, the estranged wife of the p73 Here we get to look inside the mind of Arnold Kramer’s leader of the consultancy group observing Royal Naval exercises wife and what lead to their marriage to breakdown; when the which are delayed for mysterious reasons. initial inspiration of the consultancy began to fade. She even p15 Here we meet Lionel Slayter PhD and learn how suspects her husband had caused the breakdown of the Gerrard’s he came up with the new traffic flow system by marriage, and then hired the man! Seven glancing down at a Brooklyn street system from a plane. We get an insight into how a scientist stumbles p84 Brilliant! The team of investigators upon a ‘good and original idea.’ We learn of the civil from different areas of responsibilities get service resistance on the day of the great switch on as caught underground by a series of explosions it is watched by a Minister, and how it goes wrong, and a train which halts and catches fire. The and why it goes wrong. We as readers are never kept writers go into detail in the chaos: an elderly in the dark over the issue. We always know more man is carrying a polythene container of paraffin than the participants. Pedler was very sceptical and explodes into a ball of flame, a woman stares about city living and the conditioning it inflicts at horror as her maxi-coat catches fire... The upon its citizenship in order to survive. wooden frames of the coaches burn merrily, ‘and Two people fall like blackened dolls as the flames p21 We meet Luke Gerrard and washed over them.’ It’s really quite gruesome! Our his fellows at the Kramer characters are joined by survivors. Gerry Davis gets Consultancy: Buchan, Wright and to write his favourite claustrophobic scenes at last! Eight Scanlon. We get the background to Arnold Kramer and his transformation The chapter begins with one of Pedler’s themes from a socially conscious man excited that London is not built on land, but ground. It by ideas, to the businessman wanting to describes the complicated network of tunnels make money. Also, we get the first hints underneath King’s Cross and St Pancras – the By 1975, Disney were interested in tube lines, the gas, electric, sewers, walkways, of Gerrard’s unconscious fascination with making a ﬁlm from the book and Kramer’s wife as the toy robot goes conduits and escalators, the diverted rivers optioned it. Nothing would come of wrong. such as the Fleet. It also explains the unique this, in much the same way as The Three circumstances that lead to the disaster and Dynostar Menace never became a p38 We return to Slayter and the inquiry hints what might be in the sewers. The rest of ﬁlm despite a script being written. into the road chaos. He is more than a little the chapter takes up the trapped characters anxious and is running through people who trying to get to a station and Gerrard’s interest might back him, from the unlikely – the civil servant Atherton to in Anne and her legs. Well, it’s the 1970s... academics and suppliers of computer components. This chapter A genuine disaster will befall King’s Cross in the 1980s. Nine shows the link between all the recent disasters with the chairman of the enquiry, Holland, talking to Myers, the air crash p109 We read about further explosions in London created by investigation officer. the gas from a ‘malodorous corruption .. thrusting its way silently Four towards the surface’ in the sewers. One explosion is caused by a p51 As Gerrard becomes aware of the link, the chapter delves commuter tossing a lit match into a grille. London’s breakdown into how Aminostyrene was developed and then how it was continues. As London is isolated, Scanlon, Myers and Wright at licensed. This is clearly based on the 1970 researches conducted the Group argue over whether their product’s breakdown by Professor Gerald Scott of Aston University, Birmingham. (See mechanism has contaminated all plastic? One postulates a factor elsewhere in this issue). The disposable bottle is called ‘Degron’. X that is transferable between plastics, a cell with possessed Pedler and Davis have some fun in the team’s original names stored information... Ten such as Suncrap, Kramer’s Krumbling Krud or the more boring When Wendy dies, she screams. Apparently, you don’t Oxynure. (Manure?) They make their feelings clear on this technological quick fix to the problem of plastic waste disposal! scream when you are electrocuted. Gerrard, Anne and Slater discover the source of the explosions. Pedler also gets in a dig in the soft drinks industry: the Eleven successful winner of the license was a manufacturer who This chapter details the experiments of Dr Simon Ainslie, an ‘basically wanted a new gimmick to sell the mixture of tartaric unremarkable bacteriologist, who got an idea when unblocking a and citric acid, saccharin and colouring which he shamelessly drain and found some polythene sheeting down there. It would called Tropic Delight.’ Kit has made his feelings on Coco-Cola never have been harmed by bacteriological attack. He hit upon an very clear in lectures and later in The Quest of Gaia, which rather idea and was lost in its research back home, dreaming of prizes. upset the writer of his profile in the magazine In-Vision, Season
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He continued his experiments at home and succeeded – and died at the same time from a brain haemorrhage, and his plastic eating bacterium, the fifty-ninth variant was accidentally spilled down a sink – and into the sewers. This is a lovely couple of pages; no over-dramatization, almost a series of scientific explanations detailing what was killing him. Now the bacteria died off, starved of food, but spores remained, and the years passed until the biodegradable bottle began to be washed down into the sewers, and the spores woke up and fed. Shades of Tomorrow, the Rat with unwise experiments at home. Twelve p145 More adventures underground, this time underneath the Horseguards’ Parade – an underground city in times of emergency. Here, the powers that be discuss their plan to seal off the city and how they will fight the menace. A Colonel Sethbridge is in control of the south sector perimeter. Just a letter away from Doctor Who’s Colonel Lethbridge (later Stewart – an addition made by the director of his first appearance,) who was played by actor Nicholas Courtney, became a very good friend of Gerry Davis. This chapter also introduces Harry Menzelos, a former company sergeant major, now head of a band of jewell thieves! On the side, he paid income tax on his shoe shops and a club. Thirteen We see more effects of the bacteria as extends its reach: it consumes a hanging drip during an operation, affects air traffic control at Heathrow, silences Scotland Yard’s radio car control centre, and causes a cyanide spill from a long distance vehicle carrying the stuff. p174 We see how the variant is creeping into people’s homes and how the authorities come into decontaminate the place. The sergeant in one home is quite sympathetic to a couple whose kitchen is practically melted! They’ll get compensated, make a mint probably. They came from the Chemical defence unit, Beeston – a cheery connection to the original episode of Doomwatch from whence the original Variant 14 came from.
Sixteen What could have been a re-run of The Plastic Eaters sees Kramer en route for New York on Flight 1224 and the virus is onboard! The dried bacteria is on Kramer’s metal pen, and the sweat from the man’s fingers woke it up. He then spread the bacteria to the plastic arm rest. Here, it is explained that Ainslie’s bacteria has no stationary or decline phase. ‘Once again they prepared for their only task, to live, to feed, and to divide.’ Pedler enjoys analysis and breaks down technological and biological machines into their component parts. He once broke down a fruit machine to discover just what it was made from. Here, the airplane is broken down into its parts as the background for the bacteriological attack. It is described almost clinically. Seventeen The first few pages deals with Anne Kramer’s emotional response to her husband’s death, and her feelings about his alleged affair with Gerrard’s ex-wife. p219 Menzelos’s greed catches up with him as he is killed when variant fifty nine escapes from his smuggled jewells. His last action is to try and reach out as a jewel bag races past as the boat sinks. Eighteen It’s the 1970s, and how can a fashion designer not be a very camp homosexual of the Mr Humprhries line? The soldiers make their feelings quite clear after invited upstairs for a drink. ‘Not tonight, Josephine.’ Nineteen Here, Gerrard’s speech about how the consultancy should proceed is pure Kit Pedler. Anne Kramer’s view is that her husband ran the group as an autocracy and that their ideals were blinded. Wright and Scanlon represent the commercial pressures of science; a useless product in order to make a profit with long or even short term dangers that are not recognised. Needless to say, their unwillingness to face the facts leads to their comeuppance – well, Wright at least. We end on Mars, another beautiful passage with the sting in the tale... Mars is now contaminated.
REVIEWS fter the huge success of the first
Aseries of Doomwatch, Pedler and
Davis were besieged by book and film offers,and wrote their first novel together over the autumn and winter of 1970/71 having cut their ties with Doomwatch. Pedler, still working at the Institute of Ophthalmology, hoped it would be lucrative, a much needed source of funds to set up a real Doomwatch unit. By now he was looking for a way out, having found his stance on animal experimentation, and his populist approach causing him great problems at work. Gerry Davis was now script editing the police series Softly, Softly, working out his contract with the BBC in order to go freelance. Their publishers were confident that it would be a worldwide best-seller. It was published in February 1972 in hardback by Souvenir press for the princely sum of £1.80.. The New Scientist reviewed it, felt that today’s sci-fi was suffering from a bout of gloom. ‘The authors may be trying to tell us that we have got to be a bit more responsible in our scientific research (the hero never lets up telling us how responsible he is) but they mostly manage to prove how much society depends upon plastics. At least they have got away from the notion that man only has to fear the intervention of a Wyndham
DW FANZINE - ISSUE 3
like Kraken or some uncontrollable natural catastrophe. Man is more likely to bring doom upon himself. And the conjunction of two divergent scientific discoveries presented here offers Pedler and Davis the opportunity to work out their scientific detective story in a detailed and readable novel.’ The American edition reprinted the Literary Guild Magazine review that it was ‘the most riveting novel of speculative fiction since The Andromeda Strain... an edge of the seat thriller.’ The back had the words ‘London is melting!’ across the blurb, whilst the French went with the original title of The Death of Plastic – or La Mort du Plastique. The Guardian promoted the paperback edition with a rare interview with both Pedler and Davis, where the origins of the story was discussed. “‘Mutant 59 is based on an idea being worked on at a British University which Kit refuses to name. Their concept was of a biodegradable plastic which would breakdown under ultra-violet light. It may seem unlikely that as the first biodegradable milk bottle goes on sale in their novel that another scientist working in the same area of self-destruct plastic should release a plastic eating virus into the sewers of London. But then no one
ever thought the Americans would accidentally drop a nuclear warhead in Texas.”. “The fact that we can read such a book and then toddle off to bed for a peaceful night’s sleep is a small example of our conditioning which scientists like Kit Pedler would like to change. Kit believes that one of the problems of the environmental issue is that people are saturated with horror stories. If energy sources are drying up, says Kit, it is no use saying to people that they have been wicked and raping the earth for too long. You must say that, but you must also suggest what they can do.” It was published as a paperback by Pan, price 40p in the last week of December, 1973. It re-used the rather wonderful cover for the Radio Times promotion of the original series of Doomwatch. The Daily Express, in a feature where Kit Pedler describes his work on constructing an eco-friendly house, called the book a chilling story ‘in which plastic eating germs, originally intended as a cheap way of disposing of old plastic bottles run wild.’ Gerry Davis described it more accurately as ‘topical and ironic. It’s an illustration of what can happen when scientific research, done in the name of progress backfires.’