Doomwatch Public Enemy

In a sometimes powerful and occasionally odd episode, Patrick Alexander pens a missive to the future. By the time we reach a final speech that might have been written about global warming far more recently, `Public Enemy` manages to make a mark in excess of any other episode of the series so far. That it was written in the early 1970s when issues like these were a lot further down the political agenda is remarkable. 
After a boy dies within two hours of retrieving an errant football from the roof of a chemical factory developing a new alloy, Doomwatch are called in to investigate. I’ve no idea how real the science is but it sounds convincing enough even if Trevor Bannister’s thrusting scientist Lewis is surely a little hot headed to be working with such potentially dangerous material. After a second death and a phalanx of safety recommendations from Doomwatch the already strong episode kicks up a gear. Previously entrenched attitudes shift when it turns out that the owners won’t pay the amount these measures require and instead decided to move the business elsewhere. Cue a change of heart from allcomers as both sides start to edge together. Thus the narrative piles on some great twists as the threat to their livelihood brings out the self interest of those who earlier were calling the place for everything.
Alexander’s lively script and some inventive direction from Lennie Mayne add a potency to the brew; everything seems so real and moves so quickly that you forget you’re watching something from the supposedly slower television drama of more than forty years ago. The occasional jarring edit seems to suit the urgent nature of the story, as if all concerned can’t wait to reach the point. Director Mayne is in top form throughout giving the episode an identity and style to match its potent dialogue.
The episode is not without its oddities though. The graphic deaths of two characters contrast with a jaunty section in which Hardcastle is seen quizzing factory workers in a montage of still photographs that look like they come from a technical manual to the accompaniment of swinging London 60s music. Then there’s the two housewives whose interjections could have been used more often; they are a whisper from being comedy characters.  There’s also a less than convincing line of argument from Hardcastle against Quist’s recommendations which only stands out because of the otherwise perfect way Alexander arranges his characters.
Matters coincide with the most barnstorming Quist speech yet in which our angry expert rails against objections to the cost of safety when it clashes with personal concern. “Somebody has to pay!” he yells, a double meaning if ever there was one, rather like the clever episode title. And when he warns we have thirty years it becomes almost surreal to hear the kind of words we’ve heard so many times since warning about pollution, global warming, waste and so on. It feels like the episode is pleading for those who watched in 1971 to invest- both financially and mentally- in a better, cleaner future. The point is underlined when Quist delivers his last line to camera, to viewers then and you feel even to us now.

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