Doomwatch – Sex and Violence

sex

There’s a clear irony in the fact that Sex & Violence, a story which concerned itself with the question of censorship, was pulled from the schedules and was never transmitted.  Given the very depleted nature of season three Doomwatch episodes it’s odd, but welcome nonetheless, that an episode which didn’t even make it to the screen somehow managed to survive the archive purges (logic would have suggested it would have been the first to go).

One suggestion for the reason why the BBC got cold feet concerns the use of real-life Nigerian executions.  It’s certainly shocking – but this footage had already been transmitted on several occasions prior to this, so it’s reasonable to assume that for viewers at the time the shock value wouldn’t have been too great.  And had this really been a cause of concern it would have been easy to excise the section without damaging the narrative flow too greatly (we could have cut away from the clip before the shooting and simply shown the reaction of the watching committee).

It seems much more likely that the episode was pulled since several characters were thinly disguised caricatures of real people.  Both Mrs Catchpole (June Brown) and Mrs Cressy (Noel Dyson) have more than a touch of Mary Whitehouse about them.  This is made very obvious in the pre-credits sequence, which sees Mrs Catchpole holding forth at a public meeting – held in a church – and railing about the filth thrown at people like her (her audience is comprised of middle-aged, middle-class women) by the intellectual media elite.

Unlike Mrs Whitehouse, Mrs Catchpole isn’t a national figure, therefore she tends to exist around the fringes of the plot.  So Mrs Cressy also acts as a Whitehouse substitute – she’s less of a rabble-rouser, but is equally vehement about stamping out sex and violence.  Mrs Cressy is a member of the Purvis sub-committee, who have been charged with investigating all aspects of pornography and violence in the media.  Quist is also asked to look into the same question, which he’s less than keen about.

Pollution in the air or the sea he can understand, but moral pollution?  It’s not his thing at all.  But as we’ve seen several times before, Quist starts off doubtful but eventually gets more interested as the story progresses.  It’s just a pity that yet again he’s operating on the periphery of the plot. Dr Tarrant is seconded to the sub-committee, which means she’s as an active participant, leaving Quist as a fairly passive onlooker.

The other members are Professor Fairbairn (Brian Wilde) and Steven Grainger (Bernard Horsfall) who tend to lean towards the permissive end of the spectrum.  Mrs Cressy and the Rev Charles Garrison (Llewellyn Reees) take the opposing view, which means that Dick Burns (Christopher Chittell) is a valuable floating voter, since he holds no firm opinions either way.  Burns, a pop star, is another clear analogue to a real public figure (at the time Cliff Richard had been asked to sit on a very similar committee).  Although Burns is a much less straight-laced figure than Richard, the parallel seems clear.

Sex & Violence is a dense, talky episode – a great deal of it revolves around the committee’s debates – which really comes alive thanks to the first-rate guest cast.  Brian Wilde and Bernard Horsfall are always a pleasure to watch, whilst June Brown (a decade or more away from achieving national fame in EastEnders) has some sharply written comic scenes.  It’s fair to say that Mrs Catchpole isn’t a subtle character though, and it’s no doubt this less than veiled attack on Mrs Whitehouse which sealed the story’s fate.  The Doctor Who fan in me was quietly delighted to see Llewellyn Rees and Bernard Horsfall in the same scene (a few years later they’d both appear in The Deadly Assassin).

There’s no stunning revelations here.  For example, Anne is attacked by Mrs Hastings (Angela Crow) as she attempts to buy a ticket for an Oh Calcutta type play.  Although Anne’s hurt and bruised, she’s much more interested why a law-abiding person like Mrs Hastings would be incited to violence.  The answer seems to be that she’s always been fairly repressed about sex (since her parents didn’t talk about it at all) which it probably didn’t take a psychiatrist to work out!  It’s also worth mentioning the décor of Mrs Hastings’ flat, which has the most garish early seventies wallpaper you could possibly imagine.

When Quist later wonders exactly why Doomwatch is involved, it’s easy to agree with him.  It’s an interesting enough story, but it’s also yet another example of how far the series changed from the early Pedler/Davis ecological tub-thumping.

Possibly the most interesting part of the plot revolves around the character of  Arthur Ballantyne (Nicholas Selby).  He’s a political figure who’s made considerable capital out of the sex and violence debate (he’s revealed to have financed a number of pressure groups, including Mrs Catchpole’s).  It’s easy enough to look around today and find politicians who have risen to prominence on the coat-tails of controversial debates – which is a final demonstration that Doomwatch, even forty years later, can continue to hold a mirror up to our society.

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Doomwatch – Hair Trigger

hair trigger

Anne is at Weatheroak Hall Maximum Security Medical Research Unit.  She’s there to meet Doctor McEwan (Barry Jackson) and Professor Alec Hetherington (Morris Perry) who have developed a revolutionary process to deal with hardened and psychopathic criminals.

Behind a glass panel she observes Michael Beavis (Michael Hawkins) receiving treatment.  Anne is horrified to learn that he’s essentially little more than a radio-controlled puppet – electrical impulses, controlled via a computer, damp down any negative or violent feelings he may have and McEwan is convinced this will enable him to be reintegrated into society (otherwise Beavis would remain a prisoner in Broadmoor and therefore a severe drain on the nation’s finances).

But for Anne, Beavis isn’t cured – his psychopathic tendencies are simply being suppressed.  Apart from the ethical issues this raises for her, she’s also far from convinced that the treatment is foolproof.  McEwan is happy for her to speak to Beavis on a one-to-one basis in order that her fears may be allayed, but by doing so she re-opens his long-buried trauma and after attacking her, he escapes ….

Hair Trigger was tapping into something of a zeitgeist about how technology could deal with violent criminals.  This was a theme of A Clockwork Orange (both the original book and the later film) whilst the 1971 Doctor Who story The Mind of Evil  also had its own method of removing evil impulses from the minds of criminals (an alien parasite).  Although the Doctor Who story was much more fantastical than Hair Trigger,  there are some similarities – not least Anne’s statement that by suppressing all the violent tendencies from any given subject they’ve basically been neutered and aren’t really human beings any more.

Director Quentin Lawrence creates a decent visual joke as the episode title and writer credit is displayed following the opening credits. They’ve overlaid over what appears to be a pastoral scene, but a few seconds later it’s revealed to be an album cover of classical music, which Anne puts onto the turntable as she attempts to convince Quist that McEwan’s process is fundamentally immoral.

Quist is slow to agree (although there’s the suggestion later that he was playing devil’s advocate). That Anne is the one who’s concerned whilst Quist remains a passive onlooker is another example of the way his role was downplayed during series three. He acts as a decent sounding board for Anne to develop her arguments, but apart from that Quist has little involvement in the main narrative.

The rest of the Doomwatch team are also pretty much surplus to requirements in this one. Bradley is absent, whilst Stafford and Barbara only have a couple of scenes. Although even in the limited screen time they both have, Barbara’s obvious dislike of Stafford is made quite clear.

Morris Perry and Barry Jackson both give characteristically solid performances, but the acting honours must go to Michael Hawkins as Beavis. When we first meet him, Beavis is desperately keen and eager to please, although when McEwan gently tells him that Anne will want to talk about his past life there’s a strong sense that his former crimes (he murdered his wife and children) still trouble him.

This is therefore something of a story weakness. We’re told that McEwan’s work has a zero failure rate – yet as soon as Anne starts to probe Beavis about his history he goes berserk. And the computer control isn’t able to stabilise him afterwards, as he escapes from the compound and takes a family hostage.

If the Doomwatch team aren’t terribly well used here (remember that Anne isn’t actually a member of Doomwatch) then Brian Hayle’s script is still a tautly written and well-acted affair. As I’ve said, acting kudos must go to Hawkins, especially in the final ten minutes as the hostage situation plays out to an inevitable but nonetheless powerful conclusion.

Doomwatch – Waiting for a Knighthood

waiting

Although Waiting for a Knighthood was only the fourth episode of series three, there had already been a number of key developments during the first three (all now sadly wiped) episodes.

The series opener, Fire and Brimstone, had seen John Ridge steal a number of anthrax phials in order to hold the government to ransom.  This plotline had been developed to lessen Simon Oates’ involvement in the show, as he’d disliked the way the second series had developed and didn’t wish to remain a regular for the third run.  Waiting for a Knighthood, which sees Ridge ensconced in a secure nursing home following his breakdown, is the last existing episode which features him.

Ridge’s removal from Doomwatch meant that a replacement had to be found – hence the introduction of Commander Neil Stafford (John Bown).  Stafford isn’t a scientist, he’s a security man, which meant he could take over the security and clandestine aspects of Ridge’s role whilst remaining a distinct character.  He’s certainly no womanizer and the fact that he reports to the Minster means that it’s not always easy to know where his loyalties lie.  Given the small number of series three episodes existing, he looked to be an interesting character and it’s a pity that we don’t have the opportunity to see more of him in action.

Perhaps the most jarring aspect of this episode is that we see Quist relaxing at home (or as it turns out, Anne Tarrant’s home) – the picture of perfect domestic contentment.  Up until the end of series two, Quist had been an emotionally isolated figure – living only for his work – so it’s something of  surprise to find that he’s now deep into a relationship (and also that Anne calls him “Spence”! which is something nobody else has done).

Given that when Dr Fay Chantry was introduced in series two Ridge mentioned casually in passing that she might be a decent match for Quist, it’s intriguing to wonder whether any thought had been given to matching them up.  It’s just as likely a coupling as the one-off character of Dr Tarrant (who had appeared in You Killed Toby Wren) linking up with him I guess.

Waiting for a Knighthood opens with Anne attending a church service.  Along with the other parishioners, she’s perturbed to see the vicar suffer a breakdown and it’s later revealed that he’s suffering from lead poisoning (he’s a keen mechanic and had ingested a dangerous level of fumes).  A similar thing seems to have happened to Ridge, which provides an explanation for his behaviour in Fire and Brimstone.

These incidents, and increasing concerns about the levels of lead in petrol, indicate that there should be tighter controls – but Richard Massingham (Frederick Jaeger), after enjoying a decent dinner with the Minister, Sir George Holroyd (John Barron), tells him he’s not convinced.  Massingham is an oil man and doesn’t see why a few high profile cases should mean swingeing restrictions.  After all, he says, it’s not as if people are dropping down dead all over the place.

The debate about harmful levels of lead both here and at the Doomwatch office keep the story ticking along, but the main part of the plot concerns the kidnapping of Massingham’s young child (played by Stephen Dudley).  Dudley, the son of producer Terence Dudley, would be a regular a few years later in Survivors (and already had another Doomwatch credit – Tomorrow the Rat – to his name).  Dudley the younger is rather irritating in this one, so I’m thankful his screentime was fairly limited.

Coincidence is the name of the game here.  The boy was kidnapped by Mrs Sylvester (Glenm Watford) who happened to be passing Ridge’s garage at just the right moment to hear Bradley and Stafford discussing the possibility that Ridge had suffered from lead poisoning.  Her own son had died from something similar and so she decides to kidnap Massingham’s boy in revenge.  And Massingham has direct links with the Minister, which means that Doomwatch are involved straight away.

If the plot seems a little messy and rather open-ended, then there’s still some useful food for thought about the dangers of lead in petrol.  Bradley gets  decent share of the action (as does Barbara, who becomes more of a central character during series three – just a pity that we can’t see most of it).  Frederick Jaeger as Massinghm is suitably solid.  Massingham isn’t a cartoon villain – knowingly polluting the air – he’s a realist who knows that the only way for the government to take action is if they raise petrol prices substantially, which of course they won’t do.

A pity that Quist’s rather sidelined though, but that tends to be par for the course with series three.

Doomwatch – Public Enemy

public enemy

After a young boy retrieves his football from the roof of Carlingham Alloys he collapses and later dies.  His death shocks the local community, not least Arnold Payne (Derek Benfield).  Payne’s family had previously owned the factory but sold it some time back to a major multi-national concern (and he now views it with a very jaundiced eye).

Carlingham are developing a new process to produce a low-cost substitute for carbon fibre.  If they succeed before the Americans then the profits will be immense – which explains why lead scientist Dr Anthony Lewis (Trevor Bannister) spares little thought for the fate of a child who had been trespassing.  But the later death of a factory worker confirms there is a major problem and Quist and the others are on hand to suggest a series of measures which will tighten up safety procedures to ensure such tragedies never happen again.

But the story doesn’t end there …..

Public Enemy is a Doomwatch tale of two halves.  It begins very much in the mould of a series one episode – a mysterious unexplained death which the team investigate.  The show had also covered the conflict between big-business and the environment before (for example in Train and De-Train).  Indeed, it’s interesting to directly compare this episode with Train and De-Train.  In Train and De-Train, Mitchell, the head of Alminster Chemicals, is only concerned with Alminster’s profit margin.  If they’re responsible for environmental damage along the way then that’s regrettable, but to him it’s just a fact of life (his chief scientist is the one shown to have scruples).

In Public Enemy the position is totally reversed.  The managing director of Carlingham Alloys, Gerald Marlow (Glyn Huston), totally takes on board all of Quist’s safety recommendations and promises to ensure they’re put into practice.  It’s Dr Lewis who’s shown to be dismissive and obstructive – he feels that as the boy shouldn’t have been on the roof it’s not really their fault that he died.  His attitude appalls Quist – Lewis is the sort of scientist who, in his opinion, cuts corners and is therefore dangerous – which leads to a major confrontation between Quist and Geoff.

It’s a lovely moment which helps to flesh out Geoff’s character in what turned out to be his final appearance (it was Fay’s last story too).  After the pair spend a few seconds staring at each other following Geoff’s outburst, the atmosphere is lightened by Ridge who asks Quist if he’d like him to throw Geoff against the wall to see if he bounces!

Both Glyn Houston and Trevor Bannister (best known for his later role in Are You Being Served?) offer first-rate performances.  Houston plays Marlow as the sort of caring, considerate employer who seems almost too good to be true whilst Bannister’s Lewis spends most of the episode simmering with barely concealed rage at the nosy do-gooders from Doomwatch.  When Marlow first tells him that Doomwatch have been called in, he reacts by calling them “failed boffins”.  Marlow then counters by replying that Quist can hardly be called a failed boffin, but Lewis doesn’t reply, he simply smiles faintly.

After Doomwatch have identified the problem, that seems to be an end of it.  But Carlingham are not prepared to pay the hundred thousand pounds needed to implement the safety procedures recommended by Quist – instead they decide to close the factory and move production up to Leicester.  All the workers’ jobs are secure, but few are keen to up sticks and move.

This is where the second part of the story kicks in.  Up until now both the works committee and Payne have been fully behind Quist’s recommendations.  But Payne (a noted local businessman with several shops) knows that once the factory closes he’ll lose most of his trade, so his former virulent criticisms of the factory’s safety record now undergoes an ironic adjustment.  If it means keeping the workers here, then surely a little pollution is a small price to pay?  The works committee also accepted Quist’s recommendations and indeed welcomed them, but if it’s a choice between a move to Leicester and staying at the old factory (even if, as Quist says, they could face serious lung problems in as little as five years time) many would prefer to stay put and take their chances.

The shift in emphasis helps to spin the story off in a very different direction.  Had this been a series one episode then it’s highly likely that the creative team of Pedler and Davis would have chosen to highlight the heartlessness of profit-driven modern corporate business (as happened in both The Red Sky and Train and De-Train).  But that doesn’t happen here, which is a good example of how Doomwatch changed direction once Terence Dudley wrested creative control of the series from Pedler and Davis.

The episode culminates in a blistering final scene, excellently performed by John Paul, as Quist addresses the various vested interests who have most to lose if the factory closes. As Quist finishes his impassioned speech, the camera zooms into his face as he stares directly down the lens.  Breaking the fourth wall like this was unusual and it can be taken as a clear hint that Quist’s message was meant for the watching millions at home as well.  The speech isn’t subtle, but it’s powerfully delivered and closes series two very memorably.

Raise production, raise consumption, raise wages, advance the standard of living. But is anyone any happier? All that happens is that the debris that must inevitable accumulate in the process, slowly builds up until one day it must choke us.

Now we all want a clean, healthy world to live in, don’t we? We’re all against pollution in any form? But only when the cost of fighting it is borne by someone else. When our own pocket’s hit, a shilling on the rates, six weeks on the dole, a capital investment which makes a company merely viable, then no thanks, let’s forget it. Well, I’m warning you, forget it and you’re dead.

Not just this community, but the whole of industrial civilisation. The way we’re carrying on, the way we’re polluting, over-crowding, chemicals, noise, we’ve got thirty years. Thirty years of, dirty, slow, dirty dying. Or it’s thirty years for us to clear up the mess. That’s the choice! That’s your only choice! Pay up or pack up! Not only you, or you, or you, but every single one of us, every living one of us, all of us.

It’s a pity that both Jean Trend and John Nolan were written out of the series following this episode. Nolan spent most of the second series doing very little, but that’s no criticism of him as an actor – simply that Geoff Hardcastle was such an undeveloped character. When he was given a role to play – his double act with Ridge in Invasion or indeed in this episode – he was very watchable.  Trend will also be missed.  As she was replaced by the rather similar character of Dr Anne Tarrant during series three (who had first appeared in You Killed Toby Wren) I do find the change a little baffling.

Other major changes would occur during the third and final series, but with only three episodes existing from the transmitted twelve, sadly most of the stories now are only accessible via scripts or synopsis.

Doomwatch – The Logicians

logicians

Fay and Ridge are at Beresfords, a major pharmaceutical company.  Beresfords have been been developing a powerful new antibiotic, K27, which Doomwatch have been closely monitoring – due to concerns over possible side-effects.

But since all the potential problems now seem to have been ironed out there seems no reason why K27 shouldn’t go into production.  However the next day, Beresfords’ managing director, Priestland (Noel Johnson), discovers that the formula has been stolen.

Although Ridge briefly becomes a suspect, he’s intrigued that a party of boys from a nearby private school called Elsedene were at Beresfords on the day of the robbery.  He and Geoff visit the school and Ridge is perturbed to see how dominant both computers and logical teaching methods are.  Could this be a breeding ground for emotionless, logical criminals?

Based on a story outline by Kit Pedler, it explored themes that he’d already developed in several Doctor Who stories, notably The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Wheel in SpaceTomb introduced us to Klieg and Kaftan, members of the Brotherhood of Logicians.  Pure logic was clearly something that perturbed Pedler – as it allowed Kleig to ally himself with the Cybermen with no thoughts given as to the consequences of his actions.  The Wheel in Space has even closer links to The Logicians, thanks to the appearance of Zoe.  Zoe, like the boys in this story, is a product of computer teaching and is shown to be emotionally deficient (“all brain and no heart”).

The scenes in the school, with the boys working at computer terminals, is clearly meant to be disturbing – although to a modern audience it probably seems perfectly normal.  Geoff isn’t happy with what he finds.  “It looked more like a space shell than a classroom to me. All the kids in headphones, wired up to a computer being fed questions and feeding back answers.”  This would have been a science fiction concept in 1971, but in 2016 it’s nothing out of the ordinary.

Quist approves of logical teaching for the young.  “Youth without an adult’s emotional stresses can absorb an enormous amount of this symbolic training. The ability to think straight, a cool appraisal of any situation, uncluttered by emotion or bias, that’s what the modern world needs today.”  But there are inherit dangers to this type of schooling.  Ridge tells Quist that the boys appeared to be display a type of mental arrogance (likening them to the Hitler Youth).

One slight flaw with the story is the notion that the boys are potentially dangerous because they’ve been computer taught – i.e. without the input of human teachers.  But when Ridge and Geoff observe them, the class is clearly being run by a teacher and the computers are only used as a aid to the lesson, they aren’t in control.  Elsedene is also the sort of public school where the only type of discipline is self-discipline, so even had the pupils not had access to these type of logical computer lessons they still might have developed along similar lines.

Although they’re criminals, it’s later revealed that the boys only stole the formula in order to extort a ransom (£25,000) from Beresfords so they could anonymously donate the money to Elsedene (which has been suffering from extreme financial difficulties).  But the unanswered question is what will happen when they leave school?  Will logic once again triumph over universally held notions of right and wrong?

Although the idea of a school dominated by computers may carry little resonance in the twenty first century (it’s a fact of life today) there’s plenty to enjoy in Dennis Spooner’s script.  Spooner was always the sort of writer who liked to inject humour whenever he could and this is reflected here.

Ridge is the recipient of many of Spooner’s funniest lines and Simon Oates delivers them perfectly.  Ridge and Geoff have some nice bantering scenes – Ridge turning his nose up at Geoff’s new coat and Geoff being theatrically disappointed at being forgotten when Ridge lists all the other members of the Doomwatch team.  Ridge is also on hand to pour cold water on Priestland’s gallant attempts to chat up Fay and he’s also entertaining when tangling with the police.  When Ridge later makes a clandestine call to the Doomwatch office from Elsedene and calls Fay “mother” you know that Spooner is enjoying himself!

Noel Johnson (Radio’s original Dick Barton) is suitably solid and dignified as Priestland, he’s a major plus point throughout the story.  Amongst the schoolboys is a young Peter Duncan, who’d turn up later in the Terence Dudley produced Survivors, as would Michael Gover (here playing Priesland’s number two, Kelsey).

If The Logicians is another Doomwatch story which feels a little underdeveloped (is there enough evidence to suggest that computer and logical teaching alone is responsible for turning the boys into criminals, or would that have happened anyway in the rarefied atmosphere of an unsupervised public school?) Dennis Spooner’s script clips along at a decent enough pace to cover any lapses in, well, logic.

Doomwatch – The Inquest

inquest

Geoff heads down to the country as Doomwatch’s representative at an inquest due to be held into the death of Marion Duffy, a ten year old girl who died from rabies.  John McAlister (Robert Cawdron) from the Min. of Ag. and Fish believes that this rabies infection was due to contact with an infected dog, but Mary Lincoln (Judith Furse) has another theory.

Ms Lincoln is a local resident who is bitterly opposed to the laboratory run by Dr Henry Fane (Frederick Treves).  Dr Fane’s lab is licenced to carry out experiments on animals – something which Ms Lincoln is horrified about – but he also conducts research on insects.  Ms Lincoln is convinced that an infected tsetse fly escaped from the lab and bit Marion, thereby causing her death.

The smooth running of Geoff’s preparation for his appearance at the inquest is rather derailed after shots are fired at Dr Fane’s lab and Geoff finds himself laid up in hospital, with Bradley called on to deputise for him.

The Inquest is another Doomwatch episode with a strong hook in the pre-credits sequence.  After a couple of shots are fired, Dr Fane finds Geoff senseless on the floor – although since he was clutching his shoulder it’s clearly not a fatal wound.  The post-credits meeting between Quist and Bradley is also memorable, as Quist casually mentions that Geoff’s been shot and he therefore needs to hop on a train and take over his work.  Quist’s seemingly unfeeling and cold nature is again highlighted here – although it appears to be more that he knew that Geoff was fine (with only a superficial scratch) and had therefore had mentally moved onto more pressing matters.

With both Simon Oates and Jean Trend absent, this is that rarest of beasts – a Bradley-centric episode.  Joby Blanshard naturally seems to relish having more to do then simply react to the others.  Bradley’s a key participant at the inquest, although when he expresses the opinion that all dogs within a five mile radius should be shot he doesn’t find many supporters amongst the villagers!

It’s an interesting twist that for once there’s no twist.  Since we’ve become so used to seeing Doomwatch stories where a death that appears to have been caused by x was actually caused by y, it’s a neat trick when it’s revealed that a rabid dog was responsible after all.

This follows lengthy and passionate arguments from Ms Lincoln at the inquest, who remained insistent that Dr Fane’s tsetse flies were responsible – to the growing exasperation of the coroner (very well played by Edward Evans).  The revelation that it was just a dog does take the wind out of her sails, but Dr Fane is still culpable (the infected dog had been released from his lab) but he’s not the only one.

It was the landlord of the local pub who obtained the dogs for Fane – and with the money that Fane was offering he wasn’t too choosy about where they came from.  The long arm of coincidence comes into play when it’s established that the landlord’s son Harry was responsible for tending to the released animals (and also was the one who took a pot-shot at Geoff).  Like Marion, Harry’s been bitten, and the episode ends with the boy taken to hospital and it’s left open as to whether he’ll live or die.

The nature of the story means that this is a static, wordy episode.  The scientific content is pretty low – although Bradley goes into considerable detail about why he believes tsetse flies couldn’t be responsible for carrying the rabies virus, since that whole part of the plot was a red herring it doesn’t really matter either way.

Judith Furse is excellent as the animal loving Ms Lincoln and the ever-reliable Frederick Treves is equally as good as her implacable enemy Dr Fane.  Given that Fane has a licence for animal experiments, it’s never made clear why he should have gone to such extreme measures to obtain potentially dangerous dogs (unless he needed infected animals for his experiments?)  It’s also never explicitly stated, but it seems probable that Ms Lincoln released the dogs, if so then she must take part of the blame for the child’s death.

Quist keeps a fairly low profile, although he pops up at the end of the inquest (rather stealing Bradley’s thunder!)  And even though he gets shot, Geoff is still something of a third wheel, although the absence of both Ridge and Fay means that he does get a few more lines than usual.

Scripted by Robert Holmes, The Inquest is a well-written character piece.

Doomwatch – The Human Time Bomb

time bomb

Doomwatch have been asked to investigate the Amblethorpe project.  The brainchild of Sir Billy Langly (Kevin Brennan) it aims to solve the problem of population overcrowding.   Langly paints a nightmarish vision of the future to Quist.  “By the year 2000 there’ll be over eighty million people living in this country. They’ll want cars and places to park them. They’ll want clothing and feeding and educating and work to do, to say nothing of housing…”

Langly’s solution is to build more and more high rise flats.  With a booming population, he sees no other solution – but concerns have been raised about the dehumanising effect such places have on their occupants.  Fay has been assigned to do research at a typical block of flats – the Langly estate – living and working there for an extended period.  There certainly seems to be a malaise affecting some of the people and Fay herself also begins to crumble under the pressure …..

The Human Time Bomb has a social, rather than a scientific, problem to deal with.  Although tower blocks were still a fairly modern concept at the time, it’s plain from the tone of Louis Marks’ script that their inherent dangers were already clearly understood.  We open with the unfortunate Mr Hetherington (Talfryn Thomas).  As he joins his neighbours waiting for the lift, he gives them a cheery greeting – only to receive blank contempt from them.  As the lift descends, his anxiety at being jammed in like a sardine begins to tell.  Once he gets outside he rushes straight into the path of an oncoming car – still observed with dispassion by his neighbours.

When it’s later revealed that Hetherington worked for the planning office, it’s possible to wonder whether Langly is targeting people who might be a threat to him.  Fay has begun to receive crank calls and also has to deal with innuendo and abuse from some of her neighbours, whilst another member of the planning team, Scobie (Roddy McMillan) also has a breakdown.  This turns out not to be the case though as it simply all seems to be a coincidence, which is slightly hard to swallow.

The Human Time Bomb is an excellent vehicle for Jean Trend.  Fay, seemingly by the nature of the work she’s doing at the Langly estate, becomes isolated and paranoid.  This is demonstrated best when she asks the odd-job man Donovan (Ray Armstrong) to come to her flat to repair her lights.  He does so, but Fay interprets his attitude as hostile and attempts to attack him with a hammer.  Armstrong cleverly plays the scene in a fairly neutral way, so although his line about her promise to make his visit worth his while could be taken several ways, it does seem that Fay jumped to the wrong conclusion.

Quist is fairly dense throughout.  He seems to regard Fay’s concerns as the ravings of an unbalanced woman (surprising, since he’s supposed to consider her a first class scientist) and it’s only at the eleventh hour that he realises she could well be right and rushes back to her flat – just in time to save her from attacking Donovan.  Earlier, he failed to acknowledge that she saved him from being attacked by a young boy with a hammer – which confirms that by not living in the Langly estate like Fay he’s been unable to pick up on the atmosphere of fear and alienation.

If the vision of urban, inner-city life we see here isn’t terribly oppressive in a visual way (later productions would do it much better – in The Human Time Bomb everything still seems a little too neat and tidy) then Louis Marks’ script still manages to pile on the misery.  There’s few moments of light relief – even Ridge doesn’t really crack any decent gags – so the overall impression is quite relentless, which I presume was the tone Marks was aiming for.

The main flaw with the story is that it’s debatable just how much the tower block environment is responsible for the behaviour we see. Quist is convinced – but there’s little of the rigorous, methodical research he usually champions to back this up (instead, his conclusions seem to be derived more from hunches and guesswork). Fay’s bouts of hysteria do give Jean Trend something decent to work with, but it also has the unfortunate side effect of making her character seem rather neurotic.

So whilst this isn’t the strongest that series two has to offer, thanks to placing Fay front and centre it’s certainly of interest.