Doomwatch Train and De-Train

Don Shaw’s latest episode parallels the pesticide a company uses with the ruthless way it operates internally. After hundreds of dead animals are found in woodlands a container marked with AC3051 leads Doomwatch to the company producing it. Meanwhile we follow the travails of their chief chemist Wilfrid Ellis who in what at first seems like a rather comedic “who moved my chair” series of events discovers his working life being dismantled piece by piece. First he loses his parking space to a subordinate, then his phone is taken and eventually the partition that separates his office from another, then the desk itself. In what seems to be Shaw showing how intelligent men sometimes struggle with the everyday he seems unaware of the aim of the literal re-arranging of furniture which is to make him so frustrated he leaves. We’re told this is an American technique to be followed, if he doesn’t take the hint, by de-training. This means he would then be given a less important job. So if you get into work and find your chair gone, it might be something more than someone else just borrowing it.

"Why is my desk glued to the ceiling?" "I don't know; shall I call Wexford?"

It’s a very dialogue driven episode so luckily it’s manned by actors who are good at this sort of ting, primary amongst them George Baker who plays the company’s boss Mitchell with just enough of a dislikeable charm to make you really hope he gets his comeuppance at the end, which he does. It’s also a chance for Robert Powell to make an impression; whether someone wiped the episodes in which he made the most impact isn’t clear but Toby Wren has not been an especially memorable character in the surviving ones till now. However the fact that Ellis is Wren’s former tutor enables a bond that drives him to make somewhat reckless accusations that get him –temporarily as it turns out- fired by Quist.
There’s a satisfying symmetry to the episode with Ellis’ treatment mirroring the biological risks created by the pesticide especially Mitchell’s talk of redundancy. Yet Shaw resists the temptation to make the argument one sided; while his methods are dubious and too eager to fast track, Mitchell’s aims are acceptable enough The one thing I don’t buy is Ellis’ suicide which seems out of character given that he’s taken the time to pen a number of letters incriminating the company for their lack of rigorous testing. Considering how befuddled he’d seemed by his being inched out of his job, such clarity of thought is quite a turnaround. Nonetheless it’s all an intelligent, reasoned sort of drama which you wouldn’t necessarily expect from a programme that begins with a stuffed squirrel falling off a branch!

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