back to article The harbingers of Doomwatch: Quist is quite the quasi-Quatermass

"Plastic-eating bugs [...] could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis," was the Guardian's rather chirpy take on this story, triggering the recollection of a childhood nightmare. I inhaled my mouthful of coffee. The office youngsters couldn't understand my panic. "It's the Doomwatch scenario!", I coughed. "The skies …

  1. Dodgy Geezer Silver badge


    ...this really makes me feel my age. And don't I wish I were back in the early 70s again....

    1. Alien Doctor 1.1

      Re: God!!!!

      Same here old chap, have a double diamond on me! (At least the beers are better now)

      1. fedoraman

        Re: God!!!!

        It works wonders!

      2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: God!!!!

        have a double diamond

        Infinitely preferable to Watney's Red Barrel.

        1. DJO Silver badge

          Re: God!!!!

          Infinitely preferable to Watney's Red Barrel

          As is everything from Chateau Margaux '82 to raw sewage.

    2. Peter X

      Re: God!!!!

      ...this really makes me feel my age.

      Yeah... EXE magazine. I've still got a stack of them!

    3. ishoukaty

      Re: God!!!!

      Bug behaviour in the wild

      Stob "Plastic-eating bugs [...] could help solve the global plastic pollution crisis," was the Guardian's rather chirpy take on this story, triggering the recollection of a childhood nightmare.

      Doomwatch was an early-1970s BBC TV sci-fi series that differentiated itself by dramatising plausible scenarios.

      We find ourselves aboard a passenger jet that in rapid succession suffers various electrical faults, has its joystick go horrible and squidgy in the hands of the pilot, and descends to earth into a vast and ghastly explosion of stock footage.

      This spot-on description is quoted by Powell himself in the disc 3 documentary The Cult of Doomwatch, a rich source of reviewers' factoids).

      The extant team comprises: team leader Doctor Spencer Quist (John Paul), a fashion victim called John Ridge (Simon Oates), a token girly tea-maker, a man with thick eyebrows whose name I missed, plus two blokes who stand in the background discussing things in silence.

  2. jake Silver badge

    "I borrowed it from a friend and sharpened the wooden needle on my DVD player."

    Might want to splash for a bone stylus. Longer wearing and better frequency response. Don't bother with the "Monster Ivory" brand, that's just separating fools from their money.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I don't remember this show

    If you were watching TV in the early 70s you weren't really there. I certainly didn't, there were free festivals to attend.

  4. iron Silver badge

    I don't remember Doomwatch, I suspect I was a bit too young to watch it at the time, but it sounds right up my street for some nostalgic 70s viewing. This is the sort of thing the BBC should be making available on iPlayer not Eastenders, Masterchef and the rest of the tripe they have on there.

    1. Dan 55 Silver badge

      There does come a point where the the historical "the way we were"-ness about TV series has some, dare I say it, cultural value and it should be made available on-line. When you've flogged 2000 DVDs of some 70s series, you're not going to flog any more.

      I think there's two whole episodes of Micro Live on iPlayer. Why not put the whole lot online? Have BBC marketing decided there's some as yet some unidentified section of the public that wants to buy a box set of one-screen long BBC Basic programs?

      News programmes, the whole lot, just put it all up. Perhaps then we might find out that the past isn't as rose-tinted as some would have us believe and it might not be a good idea try and get back to something that doesn't exist.

      1. Mage

        re: just put it all up

        They reused the tapes to save a pittance. I was working in the Beeb then (mid 1970s) and we all protested at the short sighted vandalism.

        What we didn't know was that they were scrapping film to save some storage space.

        Do have accountants tell you the budget, profit, loss, costs. Do NOT have administrators or accountants decide policy or decide what the money is spent on.

        The BBC digitization and archives and iplayer is a shambles. They had a good project & killed it.

        Apart from the issues of destroyed stuff. They periodically call for help with missing or lost episodes/programs. Euphemism for wilfully destroyed by order of management!

  5. Phage

    Wasn't this also the start of 'The Andromeda Strain' ?

    1. Version 1.0 Silver badge

      I think you are remembering "A for Andromeda"

    2. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker

      The elements of plastic/rubber-eating and virus growth/spread analysis contributed to both plots.

      But in "The Andromeda Strain", this "feature" of the "virus" came later: it mutated to eat certain kinds of rubber, like the hermetic seals of the Wildfire lab studying it.

      At the same time, the original landing site of the ill-fated Scoop satellite was about to be atomic bombed to destroy Andromeda, but the Wildfire group realized it would spread worse instead, thanks to some reused military chemical weapons studies (wind effects and all that). Then the lab's seals gave way and their own a-bomb self-armed to (supposedly) destroy it, setting up the climax.

  6. Scroticus Canis

    Oh God ... I remember watching that episode on ye olde CRT TV

    Strangely enough it was the first thing that crossed my mind when I came across this in the press last week or so.

    I demand an old-fart-tard icon.

  7. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Cheers Verity!

    Yes, I remember watching that too ... it wasn't as scary then as it is now - it's a clear lesson that we learn nothing from history. Make that series these days and we'd have all sorts of protests from the affected industries of scare-mongering and a demand for an investigation - people would be resigning.

  8. Anonymous Coward


    This articles really need an high-level degree in British TV archeology, and we foreigners may have issues to understand many jokes....

    1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

      Re: Ouch!

      I'm trying to work out if "Nigerian firing squad" is a sex thing. But I think it must be a violence thing. It could be both.

      1. ArrZarr Silver badge

        Re: Ouch!

        From the context the phrase is used it, it looks like she's talking about a regrettably literal thing.

      2. Trumpet Winsock

        Re: Ouch!

        " Ugandan discussions " was a euphemism for sex in Private Eye magazine.

  9. AndersBreiner

    Thanks for the recommendation

    Next time I'm in a place where I can torrent without getting menacing letters I'm going to torrent the Shiite out of this.

    1. DiViDeD

      Re: Thanks for the recommendation

      "I'm going to torrent the Shiite out of this."

      Good luck, but bear in mind there's very little of it left, and almost nothing in the form of high quality torrents*. Maybe the DVD release will improve the situation (or you could just buy the boxset)

      * or <ahem> so I'm told. Here in Australia the government's team of highly skilled technical experts have made it totally impossible for anyone to download any unauthorised torrent, ever. Although, since their interception page has an invalid certificate, I understand that a scurrilous group of miscreants report it as dodgy every time the warning pops up.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Thanks for the recommendation

      "Next time I'm in a place where I can torrent without getting menacing letters I'm going to torrent the Shiite out of this."

      I wait till I get home from the office.

  10. Wellyboot Silver badge

    Don't worry.

    It's (currently) far cheaper to export the waste plastic to far off land for 'processing'.

    On a serious note - The Gruniad story happily states 'back into original components', will this resulting bio-contaminated yukky gunge be of any actual use?

  11. Paul Johnson 1

    Sex and violence: the double standard

    I wonder if the decision to show the firing squad was a deliberate "take that" to the Mary Whitehouse brigade: it contrasted the extreme violence we were allowed to see with the very mild sex that we were not.

  12. Jeffrey Nonken

    That episode was based on a book called "Mutant 39: The Plastic Eaters" by Kit Pedler. Actually, from the description, I suspect the plot was lifted wholesale and only edited for length and technical limitations. (I don't remember the misogyny. Could be selective memory. Could be they felt it was a delightful addition.)

    It's been years since I last read it and I have never seen the show, but I suspect the book holds up better.

    I myself have fond memories which are associated with dating my high school sweetheart, who was working at the local public library at the time, and recommended the book. (She's now happily married and the proud grandmother of a small clan. We keep in touch via Facebook. -ish.)

    Back to the book. Like Ms. Stob, any time I hear of a plastic-eating bug, that cautionary tale immediately comes to mind.

    Be warned!

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge

      That episode was based on a book called "Mutant 39: The Plastic Eaters"

      I think you'll find it's the other way round.

      IIRC there were several novels done by Read & Pedlar, using roughly the plot of an episode but losing the Dept of O & M connection.

      When oil had just quadrupled in price (I looked it up. to $12/barrel) and people thought the human race would wise up (and a big mainframe had a whole 512KB of core store).

      What should really scare people is that 4 decades later the human race has not wised up.

      In Thunderbirds "The Hood" was an occasional hazard for International Rescue.

      IRL he's the new British Home Secretary :-(.

      The world did not get Space:1999. It got Captain Scarlet and the even more sinister UFO.

      But don't worry. A short visit to "Dr Jackson" and you'll forget about such inconvenient memories.

  13. Mage

    It's a shame

    BBC kills of good series, resurrects junk ones and generally now more into pushing their own agenda than any real education or drama.

    1. ArrZarr Silver badge

      Re: It's a shame

      *Poster on wall inside Broadcasting house*

      Here lies

      Robot Wars - 02/1998-10/2002[1]

      And its loving son

      Robot Wars - 07/2016-12/2017

      Dead but not forgotten

      [1] The channel 5 series is a myth and will stay that way if it knows what's good for it.

  14. Alister

    Yay! Stob!

    Truly a good day, today.

    1. My other car WAS an IAV Stryker

      Re: Yay! Stob!

      I'd like to see her take on an episode of BOFH.

      But seeing as her own work is even less frequent than Simon's, I am not holding my breath.

  15. Putters


    Until then TV was strictly Black and White.

    Cue Hale and Pace's other* funny sketch.

    * their first one being the Billy and Johnny 'One skin, two skin...' banana one.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: 1977

      Your TV may have been ... BBC2 went over to colour broadcasting in 1967, BBC1 and ITV in 1969. My parents got a colour set in 1973. I remember it was 1973 because that was the year my parents got the colour TV set.

      1. Alister

        Re: 1977

        My parents got a colour set in 1973. I remember it was 1973 because that was the year my parents got the colour TV set.

        WARNING! circular reference detected!


  16. pickmh

    wow, so cool.

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