premiered on BBC1 in early 1970 and immediately captured headlines
and a large and loyal audience of over 13 million. The environmental
drama also attracted serious attention from politicians and
scientists, says Anthony Clark...
show was created by writer Gerry Davis and scientist Kit Pedler,
a well established partnership that had already spawned the
Cybermen for Dr Who. But this time the pair's focus
was far closer to home.
one of their regular creative sessions Pedler posed the seemingly
simple question - what happens when technology fails? The
ensuing discusion sparked off the idea for a television series
about a team of government scientists responsible for watching
over new research and investigating technology abuse.
pair felt that plots should be drawn from real events with
the emphasis on scientific fact rather than science fiction.
Both men started to keep scrapbooks of newspaper cuttings
on possible Doomwatch subjects and within a very short
time they had collected "literally thousands of examples",
titles were suggested for the show and for a while it was
to have been called Earth Force. However, when the
name Doomwatch suggested itself its sinister overtones
seemed more in keeping with the programme Davis and Pedler
had it mind and the name stuck. The choice proved to be a
judicious one - the word gained an entry in the Oxford English
Dictionary - Doomwatch: observation to prevent destruction
of the environment.
show's format was registered with the BBC in July 1968 with
the serious work of developing characters and plots underway
before the end of the year. The series was put into studio
just before Christmas 1969, with the first episode - The
Plastic Eaters - screening the follow February.
Radio Times carried a Doomwatch cover to promote
the show (as it did for seasons two and three) and a feature
under the headline: The honeymoon of science is over - and
married life is not so rosy.
article detailed events that had inspired some of the first
season episodes along with interviews with the production
team, which had been expanded to three with the appointment
of Terence Dudley as produced - the role of script editor
having been taken by Davis with Pedler acting as scientific
everyone liked Doomwatch at first. Mary Malone, The
Daily Mirror TV critic at the time, gave the opening episode
the thumbs down. She considered it "unbelievable" but before
the year was out her paper had taken a very different view.
It set up its own Doomwatch team, including Pedler, to investigate
issues on behalf of its readers under the headline: Call in
Doomwatch! They are ready for action!
government considered going one step further, and for a while
thought about setting up a real-life equivalent to the TV
series. The Labour MP, Ray Fletcher, planned to create a Doomwatch
committee at Westminster which was to have included Pedler
among its members. It never came about but by that time the
publicity Doomwatch had given environmental issues
had started to pay off.
was partly helped by the show's uncanny knack of predicting
real events, sometimes to within days of the transmission
of an episode. The press started to refer to environmental
issues as 'Doomwatch' issues and a series of headlines spelling
out the series' vision littered the papers:
- the fiction that keeps coming true
crystal ball one step ahead of reality
was quoted in the Daily Mail as saying: "It is a staggering
coincidence that many of the programmes we put out turn into
reality a few days later. Of course we do our research in
scientific journals but that does not explain everything."
feeling of reality was compounded by constant references to
the series by scientists and politicians. A college in Plymouth
went even further and ran a course on the social responsibilities
of science called 'The Doomwatch Diploma'.
is not science fiction," insisted Davis. "We go to great lengths
to check our scientific facts. I think the programme is successful
because of its elements of suspense, but also because it is
real as well."
phenomenal reaction to the show guaranteed it two more seasons
although these never managed the same prophetic levels as
the first batch of episodes despite some inventive writing.
However, the real strength of Doomwatch is that many
of the issues it tackled are still relevant today.