Doomwatch – The Future Looks Bleak … Again

One of the shows that had a real impact on me as a youth, and which is strangely under-appreciated today, was Doomwatch, in which a team of British investigators look into the disturbing side-effects of contemporary science. Created by Gerry Davis and Kit Pendler, who had previously worked on Doctor Who, the series concerned a government unit led by Professor Quist, a deeply moral figure who spends most of the series fighting the dark forces of the British establishment.

There is a film version and some later spin-offs but the key period (for me at least) was three series that ran in the early seventies, and featured weekly stories in which Quist and his team battle bureaucracy, big business and killer rats.

The first episode, “The Plastic Eaters”, featured a new microbe that gets out of hand (it is developed to eliminate waste) and develops an appetite for plastic. Planes start falling out of the skies and all manner of other mayhem ensues. It is a wonderfully apocalyptic scenario, but was followed each week by a succession of potentially world-destroying scientific mysteries for the team.

Which brings me to the killer rats. The episode that I remember the best was “Tomorrow, The Rat”, in which science creates a race of super-rats that threaten to overwhelm humanity. One of the reasons that it was so effective was that it was around the time of panics over the side-effects of warfarin on rats – in that context, the idea of the world being taken over by super-rats was particularly and James Herbert’s The Rats would come out only a few years later (1974).

Why this show isn’t available on DVD is a complete mystery to me. Okay, so there are missing episodes, but that is no excuse. What is the BBC thinking?

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