Review: The Quest for Pedler – The Life and Ideas of Dr Kit Pedler / Author: Michael Seely / Publisher: Miwk / Release Date: March 20th
Dr Christopher Magnus Howard ‘Kit’ Pedler is one of the great and largely unsung heroes of Doctor Who. Drafted into the series in 1966 by then-producer Innes Lloyd and tasked to inject a bit of real-world scientific oomph into a series which was running out of steam and drifting into fantastical whimsy, Kit found a kindred spirit in the show’s story editor Gerry Davis. Motivated by shared concerns about the unfettered nature of contemporary scientific advancement, they together created the Cybermen, one of the Doctor’s most persistent and implacable enemies. Pedler himself wrote three Cybermen scripts for Doctor Who between 1966 and 1967 and provided the storylines for three other serials between 1966 and 1968.
But there’s so much more to Dr Kit Pedler than a fairly brief flirtation with the world of Doctor Who, so fans expecting pages of fascinating behind-the-scenes gossip and anecdotes about the making of the series in the 1960s will be sorely disappointed. So too will fans of classic 1970’s enviro-drama Doomwatch, which Pedler and Davis also created (the same author has written a couple of other titles which comprehensively chronicle this ground-breaking series), although, in fairness, it is covered in appropriate detail here. Because in many ways Doomwatch wasn‘t just the name of a TV series Pedler worked on for two years (before creative differences with the producer drove him way from the third season); it was also pretty much a way of life.
The Quest for Pedler is really a book about an extraordinary, quirky, visionary human being who recognised and appreciated the danger man represented to his own world and his environment years before such issues became headline news or trendy T-shirt slogans. Kit spent many years doing research into eye disease at London University’s Institute for Ophthalmology (and setting up its electron microscopy department) before being seduced by the allure of writing for television which, in turn, led to the publication of a number of luridly titled SF novels which all shared Pedler’s trademark concerns about the ecology and the perils of unchecked scientific progress. His falling-out with the BBC during the era of Doomwatch distanced him from the TV world until later in his life and he continued championing his dream of humanity leading a less frenetic and more natural existence and at one point he was part of a consortium bidding to create an idyllic alternative technology centre on the banks of the Thames.
Michael Seely’s book is a staggeringly thorough piece of work, exhuming scripts, lecture notes, obscure magazine articles and interviews and with contributions from many of Pedler’s family and friends. Literally no stone has been left unturned in presenting an exhaustive record of the life and times of a unique and rare talent, from an intricate ‘family tree’ account of the lives of his ancestors to what at times seems like a day-by-day diary of his early days as a struggling house physician at Kingston Hospital and years of penury as a young husband and father. Long sections detailing many of Pedler’s scientific detours may lead to a certain glazing-over of the eyes and the author’s text is occasionally a little breathless but it’s impossible not to be dazzled and overwhelmed by a work which is quite clearly an absolute labour of love.
Kit Pedler, who never enjoyed the best of health, died suddenly (and peacefully) in May 1981 at the age of just 53 at a time when his TV career was finding its feet and he was within an ace of achieving what must surely have been one of his great ambitions – to become a respected and recognised popular scientist. The Quest for Pedler is an engrossing and challenging read but it’s also inspirational, life-affirming and potentially even life-changing.