Doomwatch Sex and Violence & The Iron Doctor

The infamous banned episode that became part of the argument it discusses. It’s easy to see why it upset people in the 70s as some of the views espoused within Stuart Douglass’ dense script are more in tandem with ideas that were rarely debated till much later. That the opposition to a growing feeling that society was being swamped with pornography begat violence in itself is apparent in the early part of proceedings when Dr Tarrant is attacked as she tries to see a play rather amusingly titled `Do It`. Being a psychologist and also lately co-opted to a government committee reviewing such issues she wants to know why the woman attacked her. This leads to the meat of the episode in which the committee discuss the pros and cons of parent’s attitude to sexuality and how children can grow up ill equipped to properly deal with it. Heady stuff especially as the committee comprises a number of familiar television actors of the day more usually seen discussing less risqué matters. Bernard Horsfall, how could you have such views?!!

How, you may be wondering, does Doomwatch become involved in something far more theoretical than their usual fare and the answer comes when the Minister refers to “pollution of the mind.” As the committee discuss various avenues of thought a number of theories are put forward about society and changing attitudes especially why the campaigners might call sexual matters “disgusting.” There are- more than 40 years later- still no answers to these questions though today we are considerably more open and open minded about it.
Just when you’re ready to applaud the daring of the episode Douglass rather spoils it by having a `villain` appear in the form of Ballantyne, a rich chancer of a politician who is fuelling protestors and publicly stating extreme views of banning just about anything fun in order to further his own career. It all feels a bit contrived, as if the writer is not confident enough of concluding the episode without pinning the blame on someone,
Nonetheless it is definitely an episode to make you think and it included two moments that span quite a spectrum. On a serious note the committee watch a film in which we see several people executed, something that would not be shown in full even now. You expect the camera to cut away like they do on the modern news but it does not and before you know it you’ve actually seen someone being shot, for real, for the first time ever. On the other end of the scale Colin Bradley is back from the shops this week and his task is to feed all the information the committee discusses into the computer to try and come up with an answer! That program is probably still running today!

The Iron Doctor
This is actually a season 2 episode that turned up much later than the others in this watch and an intriguing story it is too. It depicts a prototype computer system that monitors hospital patients and if need be administers basic treatment. It’ll even print out a complete medical record in seconds. If you’ve had anything to do with hospitals lately you’ll know that more than forty years on there is still nothing like this and perhaps the episode explains why. Amongst this computer’s armoury of programs is one called a Survival Index which rates a patient’s likelihood of recovery. Only someone forgot to tell the machine how to deal with it and therefore patients are starting to die suddenly. When the disgruntled Dr Carson who distrusts the machine calls in Doomwatch they uncover an oversight that could lead to the computer arbitrarily withdrawing life support, effectively killing the patient.
There’s not much more to the episode that this but writer Brian Hayles fashions a worthy narrative from Carson’s warnings to his attempt to access some software resulting in him ending up in the care of the machine. You can see where it’s going though Hayles sensibly does not allow melodrama to upstage his moral argument. The ending is thus left with a question mark as to what might happen next.
There is a dryness to the exchanges between Carson and his superior, surgeon Dr Whitaker who wholeheartedly supports the machine though the latter’s refusal to even countenance the idea of failure at what is an experimental project seems a touch unprofessional. At times it can feel like one of those disaster movies where the Mayor won’t cancel the shindig despite warnings that the volcano is about to explode. However it is the reality of the situation that grounds matters; after all would you really want to have your clinical care decided solely by a machine?

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