1 9 7 0 – 1 9 7 2 (UK)
38 x 50 minute episodes
Arguably the first ‘green’ television series, the principal thrust of Doomwatch was simple, direct, and – most of all – timely.
The runaway advances in every field of British science and technology since World War II had initially offered the promise of a bright, utopian vision of the future, but as the decades passed, the vision increasingly proved to be overly optimistic.
Debuting on 9 February 1970, the BBC series questioned the moral and ethical application of technology and the sometimes less than noble motives of those who wielded the power of its application.
The core characters worked for the Department for the Observation and Measurement of Science (codenamed ‘Doomwatch’), a highly specialised government department set up to monitor and, if possible, control major advances in science and technology which could possibly be of danger to humanity.
The leader of the team was the aggressive Dr Spencer Quist (John Paul). He was an abrasive but moral and incorruptible scientist who refused to tow the party line and had open contempt for the numerous vested interests of ambitious politicians and profit-obsessed businessmen.
The twin mainstays of Quist’s small team of brilliant but highly unconventional field investigators were the unorthodox Dr John Ridge (Simon Oates) and the young and idealistic Tobias ‘Toby’ Wren (Robert Powell).
The series was created by Gerry Davis and Dr Kit Pedler and had naturally evolved over time out of their private concerns with the inherent dangers posed to humankind’s future survival by unchecked scientific progress. The two first met when they were working on Doctor Who where they had created the Cybermen.
United in their common interest, Davis and Pedler began building a file on new potentially questionable advances and devastating hazards, slowly compiling whole scrapbooks with examples on pesticides, defoliation, chemical and atomic waste, pollution, genetic experiment and the like.
Prophetically many of the issues the series dealt with did indeed go on to become chillingly realised as genuine headlines over the course of years to come.
The series quickly gained a huge following, netting in its first season an audience of 12 million viewers – the record for a first run. The show was not afraid to shock and play with the audience’s expectations.
A prime example being the audacious decision to kill off the immensely popular Toby Wren character, blown up whilst heroically attempting to defuse a bomb on a South Coast pier (a bold move at a time when viewers weren’t used to seeing their television hero’s die).
Unfortunately, the series eventually began a slow decline. New characters were introduced only to vanish just as quickly as they had arrived – including Dr Fay Chantry (Jean Trend).
The decline proved to be irreversible, and the hoped-for fourth series never materialised – although a 1972 movie version did, starring Ian Bannen.
Doomwatch could be said to have acted as the unofficial voice for the ecological and scientific concerns of a large proportion of the nation. Sadly, almost 50% of the episodes no longer exist in any form.
Dr Spencer Quist
Dr John Ridge
Tobias ‘Toby’ Wren
Dr Fay Chantry
Dr Anne Tarrant
Commander Neil Stafford