Doomwatch – You Killed Toby Wren

you killed toby wren

Whilst it’s more than a little irritating that the final episode of series one – Survival Code – is missing, it’s some consolation that the last few minutes do exist (it was recycled as the pre-credits sequence for this episode).  If you want more info about Survival Code, then Doomwatch.org has a detailed synopsis here.  There’s also a fan-made audio reconstruction which can be found here.

Back in the VHS days of course, we just had to get on with it – as the second tape jumped from The Red Sky to this episode.  But it’s quite possible to watch You Killed Toby Wren without having detailed knowledge of the previous story – the pre-credits tell us that Toby was killed attempting to diffuse a bomb and that Quist looks to be culpable (which is essentially what this episode is about).

The Minster (John Baron) is absolutely delighted.  “Not only did he interfere, he obstructed the police.”  It’s his chance to nail Quist once and for all and he’s going to relish every moment.  The Minister claims to have respect for Doomwatch, but he also regards it as a dog that needs to come to heel, which he’s convinced will happen once Quist is removed.  Incidentally, it’s never stated where the Minister we saw in The Battery People has gone and why Barron’s character (not seen since the debut episode The Plastic Eaters) has returned.  Unless there were several snap general elections?  Given the events of 1974 that’s not impossible.

Barbara Mason (Vivien Sherrard) has a baptism of fire as Doomwatch’s new secretary.  She first meets Colin, who’s pleasant enough, ironically referring to himself as Doomwatch’s chief cook and bottle washer!  Ridge of course, is his usual charming self.  “Hello darling, may I help?”  When she introduces herself as the temp, his reply is classic.  “I’m John Ridge, tempt me”!

Although Ridge is jocular with Barbara he’s still in a foul mood and it’s all directed at Quist.  He’s got a large photograph of Toby which he pins on the noticeboard – and is clearly waiting for Quist’s reaction when he sees it.  When Quist enters he doesn’t say a word, but John Paul is still able to express considerable pain and suffering non-verbally.  It’s interesting that Quist soaks up Ridge’s early scornful attacks and doesn’t respond – at this point Quist looks like a broken, weary man.

Geoff Hardcastle (John Nolan) is something of a Toby Wren substitute (like Toby he finds it difficult to get through to Quist to begin with).  Although there’s a slight wrinkle in that Geoff isn’t looking to join Doomwatch – he just wants Quist’s help.  His tale – the first animal/human hybrid has been created by Professor Eric Hayland (Graham Leaman) – is an eye-raiser, which he relates to Ridge over a drink at the pub.  A chicken with a human head …….

This is very much a subplot, as the main thrust of the story revolves around Quist’s crisis of confidence and the political maneuvering in the corridors of power.  The discussion of the hybrid does lead to a classic confrontation between Quist and Ridge though – Quist believes the hybrid is an inevitable development whilst Ridge finds it disgusting and abhorrent.  We can tell that Ridge is at breaking point when he pushes over a chair in Quist’s office (yes it’s a fairly low-key display of anger).  Quist fires him but Ridge isn’t prepared to go quietly.

Quist’s relationship with the atomic bomb has been touched on before.  Ridge tells him that he enjoys wallowing in guilt about it.  “You haven’t got an honest feeling in your body. You’re an emotional hypocrite. You’re a self-indulgent bloody murderer. What’s more you’re finished, bust, kaput!”  It’s brilliant stuff and both John Paul and Simon Oates clearly relish these highly dramatic scenes.

John Paul is in impressive form throughout.  He has several key monologues, including this one.  “It was a long time ago that I realised the most important thing in life is life. Not science, not technology, politics, religion, riches, power, none of these were sacred. Only life. Sum total of man’s knowledge written down for all to read. What is it amount to? Better to be a live idiot than a dead genius.”

Quist is packed off to speak to a psychiatrist, Dr Anne Tarrant (Elizabeth Weaver).  She begins by enquiring about his sex life (he doesn’t have one) and later asks him if they can talk about the bomb.  Which one? he replies.  The Manhattan Project is the one that’s remained on his mind for the last twenty five years.  He tells Anne that he never believed it would be used.  All one hundred and thirty scientists who worked on its development wrote to the White House, requesting that it be tested in the ocean – that, he believed, would be enough to convince Japan to surrender.  But instead, two bombs were dropped on Japan and Quist has lived with the guilt ever since.

If Quist is going through the wringer then so is Ridge.  He’s romanced Dr Judith Lennox (Shirley Dixon) in order to gain access to Professor Hayland’s lab.  Once there, he’s disgusted at what he finds (not the most impressive animal mock-ups, it must be said, but never mind) and lashes out at the nearest person – breaking the jaw of one of Hayland’s assistants.  Dr Lennox is equally disguisted with him.  “You’re not only a narcissistic, nasty thug, you’re a hypocrite. A sick hypocrite. I don’t think you’re capable of any genuine feeling. You came here knowing exactly what you find and yet you’re shocked, aren’t you? But you enjoy it, don’t you? You enjoy it. You’re wallowing in morbidity up to here. You make me sick.”  Like Quist earlier on, Ridge has no answer – he just stands there and has to take it.

The evidence given to the enquiry seems stacked against Quist, with the Air Commodore (Donald Morley) especially vociferous in his criticisms of his handling of the crisis.  But then Ridge is called and unexpectedly backs his ex-boss.  “He has the sharpest, most elegant mind I know, he is also the most morally courageous. Without him there would be no Doomwatch. So if you want Doomwatch, you’re stuck with him.”  It’s quite a reversal from his previous position, presumably brought about by his confrontation with Dr Lennox.  Quist is impressive when he presents his evidence.  His earlier hesitancy has gone and it becomes clear that he will be totally exonerated.  The Minister’s insincere delight when he meets Quist afterwards is a lovely moment!

Human drama was always key to Terence Dudley’s scripts and You Killed Toby Wren has it in spades.  John Paul and Simon Oates dominate and it’s just a pity that when Quist and Ridge reconcile at the end it signals that from now on they’ll enjoy a more settled working relationship.  This is understandable – there’s no way they could have gone on sniping at each other – and the story does work well as a cathartic experience for both of them, but it’s a shame that we never see them so combative again.

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