Doomwatch The Human Time Bomb

Writer Louis Marks takes on the planning industry in this well delivered episode centred on what would then be seen as a modern high rise development. The cameras look up and around it from the start as if it is some menacing monster which in some ways it turns out to be though we’re never left in any doubt as to the complicity of those who designed it. Essentially undercover for six weeks in the Langley Estate, Fay Chantry gradually becomes less stable and more fearful but of what? With some simple accomplished shots director Joan Kemp takes us into a world that might seem to have been designed for people but is soulless and isolating. As with several episodes in this run of the series, the questions raised are still relevant today.

Fay is present just after a nervy man called Hetherington (an all too brief appearance from 70s tv’s go-to Welshman Talfryn Thomas) is so spooked he runs into a car and is killed. The reaction from passers by roughly equates to the same one you’d expect if they were watching something far less serious. Something is up with these people and the more Fay tries to delve into matters the more she begins to flip out. A lively encounter with planner Scobie, who later is himself taken away, arouses even more suspicions. Played like a thriller without the luxury of incidental music it is to the episode’s credit that the tension is maintained when not a lot happens. It’s all hints and suggestions.
The disadvantage of watching this is 2015 rather than in 1971 is that we now know Marks was right. High rise flats went up by the hundreds in the Sixties and Seventies but proved to be just as alienating and unpleasant as this episode depicts even if none of them probably had plastic doors. At the time this must have been seen as a much more powerful piece of work seemingly deriding what many people had been told was the bright future of modern living. Looking at the flat Fay is in, we are told it meant for a family but its dimensions are not much larger than the modern student flat. The only bit that’s dated is asking us to believe that an intelligent scientist of Fay’s distinction would be quite so helpless enough not to be able to change a fuse or indeed to work out why she was feeling so weird.
Jean Trend has a lot of work to do in the episode as Fay gradually succumbs to what Quist will conclude is a scenario that is at the root of violence in society. Her reaction to events grabs our sympathy even more because of both Quist and Ridge’s initially nonchalant response to it. This is another excellent episode in what was quite a purple patch for the series.

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