The Plastic Eaters

DoomwatchAn airliner bound for San Pedro experiences serious problems during descent: something is eating away at controls, insulation on wiring, anything made of plastic. The pilot issues a mayday, but nothing can be done to save the plane or anyone on it.

Tobias Wren arrives to interview for a job at the recently formed Department of Scientific Work (informally called Doom Watch by those who work there), only to be given an immediate assignment by the Department’s director, Dr. Simon Quist: investigate the San Pedro plane crash. When Quist phones his government contacts to enquire about any experimental means of disposing of plastic, he’s given the cold shoulder, and sends Dr. John Ridge to dig deeper. Ridge finds reports pointing to a biological agent – “Variant 14” – that dissolves plastics. Ridge’s “research” draws the fury of a government minister, who intends to suspend both Quist and Doomwatch. In the meantime, Wren has obtained pieces of the wreckage and is flying back to London with them, completely unaware that the wreckage could introduce the hungry plastic-eating bacteriological agent to a new plane full of plastic…

written by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis
directed by Paul Ciappessoni
music by Max Harris

DoomwatchCast: John Paul (Dr. Spencer Quist), Simon Oates (Dr. John Ridge), Robert Powell (Tobias Wren), Joby Blanshard (colin Bradley), Wendy Hall (Pat Hunnisett), John Barron (The Minister), Jennifer Wilson (Miss Wills), Kevin Stoney (Hal Symonds), Michael Hawkins (Jim Bennett), Tony Sibbald (First Airline Crew), Monty Brown (First Airline Crew), Gracie Luck (First Airline Crew), Richardson Morgan (First Airline Crew), John Lee (Second Airline Crew), Eric Corrie (Second Airline Crew), Pat Wallen (Second Airline Crew), Caroline Rogers (Second Airline Crew), Edward Dentith (Second Airline Crew), Christopher Hodge (Commissionaire), Andreas Malandrinos (Airline Passenger), Mike Lewin (Airline Passenger), Pat Beckett (Airline Passenger), Toba Laurence (Airline Passenger), Cynthia Bizeray (Airline Passenger), Peter Thompson (Airline Passenger), Michael Earl (Airline Passenger), Tony Haydon (Airline Passenger)

DoomwatchNotes: Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis are well known to fans of UK sci-fi fandom as the creators of the Cybermen, one of Doctor Who‘s most persistent enemies. Much as the Cybermen were the result of former Doctor Who script editor Davis and Dr. Pedler brainstorming about organ replacement gone berzerk, Doomwatch is the result of them continuing their brainstorming sessions about scenarios resulting from human technology and science growing faster than human wisdom. Of the 38 episodes of Doomwatch produced over three seasons (only 37 of which were shown, one being deemed too violent for the BBC), only 24 episodes are still known to exist, and those 24 have been released on DVD.

LogBook entry by Earl Green

Tomorrow, The Rat

DoomwatchA spate of unusually aggressive rat attacks calls Doomwatch into action. The victims include the elderly, children, other small animals, and other relatively defenseless targets, and to the alarm of Quist and his team, it would seem that along with this atypical vicious streak, there are signs that the rats are beginning to use rudimentary tools and reasoning. The rapidly mutating, evolving rat population is a dire threat to the human race, and John Ridge meets the scientist who originally released the rats into society…and finds that he is attracted to her. With the death toll mounting, those feelings may be a fatal distraction for more than just the two of them.

written by Terence Dudley
directed by Terence Dudley
music by Max Harris

DoomwatchCast: John Paul (Dr. Spencer Quist), Simon Oates (Dr. John Ridge), Robert Powell (Tobias Wren), Joby Blanshard (Colin Bradley), Wendy Hall (Pat Hunnisett), Penelope Lee (Dr. Mary Bryant), Hamilton Dyce (Minister), Robert Sansom (Dr. Hugh Preston), Eileen Helsby (Joyce Chambers), Ray Roberts (Fred Chambers), Stephen Dudley (Small boy), John Berryman (Reporter), Marcelle Samett (Nurse), Ian Elliott (Ambulance driver)

LogBook entry by Earl Green

Project Sahara

DoomwatchTobias Wren and Dr. Stella Watson are informed by Spencer Quist that they’re suspended, effective immediately, moments after Quist receives a phone call from the Ministry. Suddenly out of work, Wren hits the bottle, as he is wont to do when the chips are down, and winds up confiding in the wrong person on the topic of Doomwatch. Dr. Watson also finds herself under scrutiny, to the point that she suspects her own boyfriend is spying on her. Furious, Quist descends upon the Ministry to demand explanations, discovering that the “preemptive firings” he’s been instructed to carry out are based on computer predictions of potential criminal behavior, rather than on past actions with any basis in fact.

writer not credited
(written by Gerry Davis with additional dialogue by N.J. Crisp)
directed by Jonathan Alwyn
music by Max Harris

DoomwatchCast: John Paul (Dr. Spencer Quist), Simon Oates (Dr. John Ridge), Robert Powell (Tobias Wren), Joby Blanshard (Colin Bradley), Wendy Hall (Pat Hunnisett), Nigel Stock (Keeping), Robert James (Barker), Hildegard Neil (Stella), Philip Brack (Jack), Erik Chitty (Old Man), John Linares (Young Man), Peter Hawkins (Computer Voice)

Notes: For a television show produced in 1970 (and likely written and filmed in late 1969), this episode does a remarkably good job of anticipating the “slow scan” loading of an interlaced JPG file at dialup internet speeds…even though neither JPG files nor the internet were in existence at the time. Also Doomwatchanticipated: the pieced-together-by-computer speech patterns of pre-recorded words and phenomes now commonly associated with “voice assistants” such as Siri (and even in early video game voice synthesizers like the Voice of Odyssey2). The writers of this episode are not credited on screen, a very rare occurrence. The story seems to have been inspired by elements of Philip K. Dick’s “Minority Report”, which was published in 1956.

LogBook entry by Earl Green

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