This is the story of just one of several scripts that did not make it on to the screen for the first series.
Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis came up with a story idea that was topical to the late 1960s. Methods of crowd control were being used or mooted at the time were little better than indiscriminate chemical warfare inflicted upon civilians. CS gas was one, and would be used in Northern Ireland in 1969. The American government used it in Vietnam and believed that CS gas was not a chemical weapon as it was non-toxic and did not have a long term effect and thus should not be withheld from warfare. Mass demonstrations were flaring up in major cities around the world either in support of the civil rights movement, against the war in Vietnam, or against nuclear and chemical weapons. In March 1968, students from New York University demonstrated against Dow Chemical, the manufacturer of napalm. So... What would happen if a 'benificient' nerve gas was used on students in order to pacify rioting students but that this was complicated by their drug taking, i.e. pot? Add into the mix microbiological warfare establishments such as Porton Down?
Jan Read had written a script called The Seige (sic) Cocklaws for Martin Worth who was script editing a historical drama series called The Borderers and was hoping to contribute a second story. He was also working with Roger Parkes on a much delayed thriller series called Suspect, and was also waiting upon a film about prison to go into production. It was Parkes who had tipped Read off about Doomwatch, as well as putting his name forward to Peter Bryant who was looking for new ideas for Doctor Who. Gerry Davis was amenable to Jan Read writing a script, and arranged to contact him in the New Year. He was given the story idea called The Pacifiers to develop, with an early copy of The Plastic Eaters for reference. Whilst waiting to begin the next stage of work on The Borderers, he developed a storyline along the lines discussed.
On 29 January 1969, Read sent in the first two thirds of the plot which he felt gave scope for some real scientific detection for the Doomwatch team, gets Quist into conflict with 'Holroyd' and leads into a demonstration at Beeston with Symonds making another appearance in the series. This would allow plenty of argument over the pros and cons of places like Beeston or Porton Down. He looked forward to discussing the story with Davis and, he hoped, Kit Pedler.
An impatient and over-worked Quist is not looking forward to a dinner engagement at the Athenaeum club with Professor John Porteous – head of the pathology department at a provincial university. Over coffee, Porteous tells Quist that his department specializes in tropical diseases and has a research contract with the Ministry of Health. A few months back, a sample of a virulent strain of bubonic plague had been sent to them from Hong Kong via the Colonial Office. It was an unusual mutation of Pastaurella Pestis which has never before been encountered in tropical medicine. The Ministry has questioned their results and vetoed publishing. Quist agrees to double check their results. 'This is a case after (his) own heart.' Following some enquiries, Quist is summoned to the Ministry of Defence where Holroyd curtly informs him that security is involved and he is to drop the matter forthwith. Meanwhile, the Doomwatch team has been investigating the sample. Ridge checks with the W. N. O. about the outbreak in Hong Kong whilst Bradley discovers that the mutation is man-made. This must have been engineered at Beeston. The Ministry of Health is pulling a fast one and Porteous is outraged. Despite being an establishment man, Porteous decides to take his his younger students into his confidence. A research student called Fowler challenges Quist if it is true that Beeston is making biological weapons? Quist says that they don't have evidence yet but Fowler gets heated and thinks there must be ways to protest effectively if they cannot publish...
Read added some notes as to how he felt the story should conclude. The story will follow the lines of the existing story idea with overtones that the Minister lays on Quist the onus for the attack on Beeston, and Fowler is centrally involved. Only the extremists who attack Beeston smoke pot and this does not include Fowler. Therefore, the effect of the Inhibitane gas used by the police to subdue the students should leave him in a stupor and the others deranged.. Some should break in and threaten to smash culture vessels which Fowler will stop, knowing the consequences, and release the imprisoned Quist, Symonds and Wren who have been taken prisoner by the students. A possible climatic moment would involve the smashing of a flask which turns out to be innocuous. Read concludes: 'It has never been established that Porton-Down is engaged in large-scale manufacture or stock-piling of agents for biological warfare, and I do not think that, by implication, we should infer that this is the case. The question can very well be left open.'
Gerry Davis scribbled his reactions at the end of the story line (except for wanting 'action up front') for the opening. Davis felt there was an uneasy conjunction of two stories here: escaped bacteria and the use of nerve gas. He thought that the first experiment should be with one of the Doomwatch team or a short bit with Fowler bringing a sample of the bug to Doomwatch. Quist was also to get more involved.
The Pacifiers was commissioned as the fourth script (project number 2249/1267) on the 28 January 1969 by Gerry Davis. He was paid his first half fee on 10 February. Read sent in his step outline (or scene breakdown) following discussions on the 19 March. He hoped it would make a gripping play which would examine the long term effects of 'innocuous' crowd control gases. Read had just finished his second script for The Borderers and was meeting Martin Worth the following day.
The step outline went like this:
Following an establishing shot of the University Campus, we go into the canteen of the Student's Union where Bill Fowler, a personable young post-graduate student, a Scot and President of the Union, is taking to task Mike Duffy, whose activist group is responsible for some outbreaks of violence. Fowler is late for his seminar where his professor, Porteous asks for some data for which his team is waiting. Does he want to be a scientist or a politician? In some emotion, Fowler begins a distillation and makes an error: the flask slips and smashes onto the floor. Fowler tries to clean it up – and collapses in a dead faint. Wren spends the weekend with Fowler and learns about the mishap and is suspicious of the effects. Fowler is suffering from memory lapses but does not see a connection since they are investigating pesticides of the paraquat type. Wren asks for a sample. Wren tells Quist that the seemingly innocent pesticide is chemically very similar to nerve gases used in crowd control. Quist agrees and wants the matter investigated. Fowler is told by Porteous that their research programme is being wound up and his grant terminated. Fowler, who is getting more unbalanced and emotional can't accept this and thinks that this is a personal criticism on him. Fowler tells Duffy what has happened but the activist says this is what happens when you cow tow to the authorities. Wren arrives and conducts an experiment showing the true nature of the pesticide. Under the action of heat, it becomes a nerve gas. Porteous is furious at the unauthorised experiment but admits that their results are being handed over to the Ministry of Defence for evaluation. The matter is out of their hands. Fowler realises that the Beeston laboratories are not too far away, and is now aroused and aggressive. He declares that England is not yet a dictatorship and there remains ways and means of effective protest. Holroyd summons Quist and hauls him over the coals for their interference. He has been informed that Fowler is stirring up trouble and Quist had better get down there and talk some sense into him. Quist and Wren arrive too late: Fowler, Duffy and some students are on the way to Beeston. As it is a Sunday there are few guards on duty and they are easily over-powered. They enter the Laboratory block ignoring the 'Danger' notices. Fowler has to stop them from smashing flasks and declares they are in complete control and in a position to dictate terms. Quist, from outside, tries to talk to them but the students want the director. With the police on their way, Quist goes to see 'his old sparring partner' Symonds at his converted manor house near by. Symonds is flustered and recriminatory and soon with the chief of police, discuss what action to take. Symonds reveals that adjoining the house is an underground store with a new gas called 'Inhibitone.' It is the ideal riot control agent and he wants to use it. It would make for an excellent field trial. Quist objects as it has not been adequately tested. He goes back to the labs and the police use a loud-hailer to ask the demonstrators to let Quist and Wren in. Fowler gives Quist a list of demands: no student to be punished, full publicity of the work at Beeston and for Doomwatch to investigate. By now the Minister has arrived and coldly rejects the demands, thinking that Quist has manipulated the situation to his own advantage. Fowler has been growing more and more disorientated and threatens to smash the culture jars even though it means suicide and contamination of a wide area. He thinks it is a price well worth paying. A deadline for surrender has passed and Holyroyd gives permission for the gas cannisters to be used. Wearing gas masks, the police and Symonds break into the laboratories and use the gas. Fowler snatches up a 2 litre culture flask and threatens to break it – it contains a deadly pasteurrella culture to poison the whole of London. As he climbs a steel ladder, he is gassed and drops the flask. It smashes. Quist is overcome by the fumes and collapses. As Quist comes to, Symonds discovers that the flask was harmless. Fowler is still unconscious, and Quist is furious. Fowler has already been exposed to the nerve gas. The doctor examining him says they don't know if he will recover. 'And as Quist faces Symonds,
The only written comment on the outline was 'Excellent: but, what happened to the Pot & Nerve gas business, the reason for the script?'
The script was delivered on 10 April, a few days later than expected thanks to visitors coming down for Easter. By now, Read was no longer keen on the given title and suggested How Safe, Is Safe, which he felt had an up to date ring to it and was relevant. Read wrote again nine days later, surprised not to have heard from the script editor, but Davis replied saying he had been collecting comments on the script and would be in touch. Unfortunately, when Read met up with Gerry Davis at the very end of April, these comments were not good and he was to come away rather depressed at what he felt was an unenthusiastic response to his script. Gerry Davis did not like the characterisation of the Minister and Symonds, feeling that were not as pompous as in the pilot script. Read was puzzled by being told that there were Pinteresque elements in the dialogue of The Plastic Eaters! Kit Pedler wasn't convinced by the dialogue given to the students but Read felt that the substance of what they said was correct, so the only thing to do is find a student activist and go through the script line by line for authenticity. Read also offered to show the script to Professor Cadogan, a 'brilliant and very human young chemist' who he had met in his laboratories at St. Andrews, and actually once had a research contract at Porton Down. (In the end, he didn't, fearing it would encroach upon Kit Pedler's ground.) Read thought that Terence Dudley's reported criticism of the Police Superintendent's attitude towards Quist was 'carping', since he had discussed this with Superintendent Maclean of the Metropolitan Police who had regular experience of dealing with student demonstrations and had advised Read in the past. 'He tells me that Terence Dudley is completely misinformed and that the policeman would behave as he does in the script.' There were a number of suggestions for changes to various scenes. Fowler was to have a love interest in the form of Jenny, who was to be a junior researcher, and it was she who brings Toby Wren into the story. Read was prepared to do a lot of additional work but wanted to know if it would be a waste of everybody's time if he did?
Davis telephoned him on 2 May and Read decided to go ahead and have the second draft ready soon. Read asked a militant student at the London School of Economics, John Suddaby to check the student attitudes and dialogue which he did and was very enthusiastic about the story. The London School of Economics was being affected by student radicalism at the time. The authorities had installed steel security gates leading to the students claiming that they made the school look like a concentration camp!
Read took scientific details on pesticides and nerve gases from recent articles in the New Scientist. Davis was away on holiday during May as Read sent in his new version on the 29th. The script was still not what was wanted. Dudley was concerned that this would be an expensive script to realise and Davis wanted some explanations moved further up the script. On 10 June, Read outlined the further rewrites needed. Davis wanted a new streamlined opening scene, and proposed rearranging some scenes which involved scrapping the first, saving a set. Read didn't like the idea of having Porteous confronting Fowler and spill all the beans at the outset as he felt that there was little reason for Doomwatch to investigate, and made for bad story telling. The several pages of notes saw a lot of planned film sequences removed, and making full use of the studio sets for scenes set outside the Beeston gates. Scenes were to be entered into more directly, and to find a new name for Fowler and emphasise his Scottishness. The second revision was sent on 23 June.
However, Terence Dudley made his views clear on 2 July. He thought the script was expensive, dull, pedestrian, and contrived. 'It's not got an honest, inevitable flow!' He asked Gerry to prove him wrong and ended the memo with a lot of exclamation marks.
Although the script was accepted on 7 July, and Jan Read was paid his second half of the fee on the 10th, it was formally written off the following year.
Michael Seely’s Prophets of Doom, An Unauthorised Guide to Doomwatch is released in June by Miwk Publishing.