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Room 101


A Sci-Fi Worlds Interview with Scott Burditt,
Webmaster of Doomwatch.org

Created by Cybermen co-creators Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, Doomwatch is a largely forgotten cult hit that deserves better. The series centred around a scientific government agency (Doomwatch) responsible for investigating and combating new ecological and technological hazards to mankind. The groups' leader, Doctor Spencer Quist, riddled with guilt for his part in the Manhattan Project and the creation of the Atomic Bomb.

In its time, Doomwatch was every bit as popular in Britain as Doctor Who is today, or, at the very least, Who's sister series Torchwood. Unfortunately, unlike Who, there is very little material available for fans to consume. Only four episodes were ever officially released on VHS video and only two of them ever made it to DVD. So, when I discovered Scott Burditt's excellent fan site, doomwatch.org, in a mad search for more, I was thrilled to discover that he was planning a new fanzine to celebrate the shows 40th Anniversary next year. Excited by this news, I thought it might be a good idea to do an interview with Scott to get the BoA readers up to speed with one of the most intelligent sci-fi series ever made.

Richard Thomas: First things first, thank you so much for giving the BoA readers the time to answer these questions. I'm a big fan of Doomwatch and I'm sure that, after reading this, many of our readers will be too, so it's really appreciated.

I first heard of Doomwatch because of its connection to Doctor Who and a few years ago I was lucky enough to win a pirate DVD box set on eBay with all the existing episodes. What most impressed me about the series was that it wasn't so much Science Fiction as Science Fact: raising legitimate concerns about the dangers posed by unregulated developments in technology. With the advent of the internet, genetic engineering and stem cell research are problems that have only gotten more dangerous since the series went off the air.

How did you first become a fan of Doomwatch and why do you think the series is still so fondly remembered today, despite the fact that the BBC haven't released all the surviving episodes on DVD yet and there haven't been any reruns in years?

Scott Burditt: I first became a fan of the series in 2004. A friend of mine at the time had VHS copies of a series he thought I might like. I watched The Plastic Eaters and The Red Sky episodes over a couple of bottles of red wine and loved them (and the wine as well!). Always a good way to introduce someone to the series, I think. From that point onwards, I was hooked. I am lucky enough to have the UK Gold repeats of the programme and I even have the infamous untransmitted episode Sex and Violence.

The show only ran for three series in the early 70's, so I am not surprised if people ask, "Doomwatch, what's that?" Those that did see it the first time round, never really forgot it. It achieved impressive ratings for it's first season as it really captured the public's imagination, capturing the fears of potential scientific disasters in the face of progress. It's a fascinating series and is fondly remembered for it's opening episode where a plastic eating virus causes a plane to melt in mid-flight and crash, shortly followed by another potentially fatal flight for Doomwatch's new recruit Toby Wren (played by the frighteningly young Robert Powell) who introduces us to the world of Doomwatch perfectly.

The episode Tomorrow, the Rat, in which the Doomwatch team confront man-eating rats, is another episode well remembered by fans for it's graphic and hard-hitting final moments as Doomwatch's own macho dandy about town Doctor Ridge, discovers that his date Doctor Bryant is involved in genetically engineering rats by finding her eaten alive. Unfortunately, it is also remembered for the scene in which Toby Wren and Colin Bradley fight off sewn on rats with saucepans, which is very Pythonesque. The series itself is typical of most of the BBC's output at the time and although it lacks in the finance department, it is more than made up for by the wealth of it's creative writing team, the legendary Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis and stalwart producer Terence Dudley.

Richard Thomas: There are very few Doomwatch sites on the web and the few there are seem to be in a state of decay, so it was a pleasure to find yours. How did the website first come about and is there anything you're particularly proud of?

Scott Burditt: I set up the website for two reasons: the first was my shared frustration with yourself that there didn't seem to be an up to date website and the second is that I felt that a central location for discovering the series while being able to share views and opinions with others was long overdue. The BBC's Doctor Who is quite rightly well served on the internet and I felt something similar to the sites that fans have built for that series should also be done for this classic BBC TV series. Doomwatch.org is my first ever website and I was determined to build a new community for such an important series. I am most proud of the support I have received since the site was built. A lot of good people have come forward and helped me make this happen and hopefully new people will discover the series and also inquire as to why the BBC have not released it as yet on DVD.

Richard Thomas: Looking back on it, I think my personal favourite episode has to be In The Dark starring Patrick Troughton (the second Doctor) as a man trying to cheat death forever using technology. Sadly, though, he gradually loses his humanity, piece by piece, as he becomes more and more machine, becoming little more than a human head on top of a box of tricks. What is your favourite episode or moment from the series and why? Also do you have a favourite actor from the series?

Scott Burditt: Yes, In the Dark shows a frightening potential future in which people could end up, basically, as Cybermen.

My favourite episode is The Web of Fear. The episodes opens with two minister's sweating in a sauna, how's that for a shocking start! The episode follows the outbreak of Yellow fever, spread by hundreds of blue coloured spiders carrying the disease. The scene where Ridge produces a feather duster to clear away cobwebs and the spiders in order to affect a rescue attempt of a fellow scientist is sheer class.

Simon Oates (Doctor John Ridge) is on top form in this story. Ridge is definitely my favourite character in the series and it is so sad that he died earlier this year. His humour and personality, not forgetting his eye for the ladies proves to lighten the tone in the episodes he features in.

Richard Thomas: Sadly, like the black and white episodes of Doctor Who, most of Doomwatch was lost during the infamous BBC tape purges of the 1960s and 1970s. However, all is not lost as missing episodes of Doctor Who turn up from time to time. If you could pick one lost episode from each of the three seasons of Doomwatch to be found, which would they be and why?

Scott Burditt: From Season One, I think many Doomwatch fans would agree that the return of Survival Code would be most welcome! Mainly to fully appreciate the final episode of the season and the somewhat explosive departure of Robert Powell.

Season Two is thankfully complete but a UK 625 line version of The Web of Fear would be nice, as good as NTSC to PAL conversion is you can't hope to match the original format.

Season Three is a tough one, but I would choose Cause of Death, as this is potentially one of the most touching episodes of the much maligned Season 3, featuring the death of Ridge's father.

Richard Thomas: The creators of Doomwatch Kit Pedlar and Gerry Davis were, of course, also the original creators of the iconic Cybermen of Doctor Who. Personally, I'm a little concerned by what is called 'Transhumanism,' a growing movement advocating upgrading the human race via genetic engineering and similar advances in technology.

It's still a very long way off but I think there needs to be some kind of international law banning the creation of a Trans or Post-human (basically a Cyberman) as well as strong laws limiting the use of the technologies involved. What do you think Doctor Quist's thoughts on the matter would be?

Scott Burditt: This is a fascinating subject. I think, as a scientist, Quist would be fascinated with the concept, but he would be appalled with any execution of it. I am sure he would argue that nature and evolution should ultimately be allowed to decide man's future development. For a start, where do you draw the line? Would only the rich be the benefactors from this? Human's would effectively would make themselves extinct as a species. Kit Pedler thought up the Cybermen, one Summer, when he was out relaxing in the garden and I am sure no one would want to foresee a future where we live as cold unfeeling machines.

Richard Thomas: 'Transhumanism' might be a good topic for a revived series. Back in 1999, Channel Five tried to revive Doomwatch with a TV movie. Why do you think they failed and, if you were writing the pilot for a new series, what would you do different?
Scott Burditt: I think the Channel 5 TV Movie was a missed opportunity. The central plot concerning a man-made black hole was never going to connect with the audience in the same way that stories about drugs, surveillance technology or subliminal messaging did (and still do today). Although exploring the potential dangers in providing an alternative cheap source of power is very Doomwatch. Despite its decent production values and effective and eery music the story is quite frustratingly muddled and never really bothers to introduce the characters properly, so you end up not caring about them. You never get the sense that they are working as a team either. Some aspects, such as the talking super computer with Angels on strings completely jar with the viewer.

If I was writing a pilot for a new series, I would ensure that the series would go back to basics in its approach. As was the case back then, newspapers and scientific journals would still be a central sci-fact source of stories. I feel in order to attract an audience you need to address the concerns of everyday people, while informing and educating them at the same time as entertainingly as possible. There is no shortage of stories, anything from cloning, toxic waste, global warming and genetically modified food and corporate greed would never go out of fashion. I feel it is essential to introduce a new recruit to the team to help explain to the viewer what Doomwatch means and what it's purpose is.

I am currently working on a new story for the fanzine with our new writer Grant Foxon, where I have devised a new fan fiction story called The Plastic Rain, which is a direct sequel to Doomwatch's premier story, The Plastic Eaters. In it we see Adam (Our fictional son) of Spencer Quist following his father's footsteps despite a rocky start to his life and eventually the reformation of Doomwatch following the use of the Plastic Eating Virus by eco-terrorists. The story and contents are subject to change, but this is the main premise. Hopefully lots of scenes of melting aircraft, cars and bank cards will feature prominently as the virus accidentally affects members of the public during one of the attacks on government and corporate greed.

Richard Thomas: The original series certainly didn't suffer from a lack of original ideas: plastic eating viruses that can reduce an aeroplane to liquid muck, genetically modified rats that can outsmart a human being, and a plague carrying spiders with Yellow fever venom. What scenarios do you think could most effectively be reused for any revived series and do you have any ideas of your own for possible new ones?

Scott Burditt: There are simply loads, open up any newspaper, they are all there in the open, ready to use! Doomwatch lives on in print and on the internet. The news in general loves downbeat doom and disaster stories, so obviously the public must do too!

Richard Thomas: With the 40th Anniversary year coming up, do you know if the BBC have any plans to celebrate the series? I'd love to see a Doomwatch Night on BBC 4.

Scott Burditt: I think a new Doomwatch night on BBC4 would be fantastic. An updated documentary would be welcome and, even if they couldn't, stretch to a new episode of Doomwatch. I believe they could make a new story from the memories and recollections of Dr. Fay Chantry (featuring Jean Trend), possibly telling Adam Quist (our fictional son of Doctor Spencer Quist) of his fathers exploits and heroism, which would feature sections of the series seen as flashbacks.

I will ask BBC4, but I suspect the answer will be no. The DVD release of the series has been mooted since 2006 and it still hasn't been scheduled. Apparently some research work has been done for a potential DVD release, but there are still some issues holding up a release.

Richard Thomas: Whatever the BBC plans are, I know you're planning to celebrate Doomwatch's 40th in style. How is work on the fanzine going and what are some of the things you have planned already?

Scott Burditt: As I mentioned before, "The Plastic Rain" will feature heavily. I am a great believer in fresh new content. As far as I know there has never been a fanzine produced for the series and I hope to provide a high quality glossy product that will also be available to order from the website. I will add interviews and stories as they are fed to me. It's quite exciting stuff!

Richard Thomas: Thanks again Scott. Tell our readers where they can find your website and get your forthcoming fanzine? It might be a good idea to let any potential writers for the fanzine know how to contact you too.

Scott Burditt: The website can be found at www.doomwatch.org

If anyone would like to contribute to the fanzine or the website, you can contact me directly at info@doomwatch.org or personally at snhbuk@googlemail.com

I will post up the information on the fanzine nearing it's completion date (should be ready for February 2010 in time for the 40th Anniversary) I hope people enjoy finding out about this fascinating series.

Richard Thomas, BoA UK Correspondent and Columnist.

Check out the latest video blog from Richard @ his YouTube Channel.