Doomwatch The Red Sky

This week Dr Quist is even grumpier than usual perhaps because John Ridge has turned up for a vital experiment sporting an outrageous cravat rather than a lab coat. In fact the two men are still niggling at each other over one thing and another. Anyway after Ridge and co have finally told Quist to his face he needs a holiday in that way that only ever happens on TV he promptly announces he is going to be away for a few days anyhow and stomps off. Forget the supposedly vital experiment, which admittedly looks like a kids’ toy with lots of coloured tubing and dials. Turns out that Quist, like Miss Marple, is someone you should never invite over because you’re likely to end up dead if you do.
The experiment on Ridge's cravat had begun.

Kit Pedlar and Gerry Davis’ script is ingenious enough until the explanation and knowing this, they eek it out till the last possible moment. It opens with a bearded, wild haired man looking confused and throwing himself off a cliff after which his friend Bernard Colley invites his old mate Quist down to check it out. For Quist this passes muster as a holiday. Soon Colley himself has fallen victim to a seemingly invisible sound that causes visions and can be fatal. This is rendered in Doctor Who style with the camera zooming in and out, people clutching their faces in agony and a weird noise. All that’s missing to separate it from a Time Lord’s adventure is the picture turning red. The victims resemble the famous painting The Scream painting, something not lost on the director. We eventually see these visions ourselves through Quist’s eyes and they are quite alarming, both the eyes and the visions. Fire, ships moving, glass wobbling. It has the hallmarks of a ghost story too albeit one that does not take place in the middle of the night.
What the episode really seems to be about is two fold. Firstly there’s the team’s loyalty or otherwise to their ill- tempered leader. This plays out in a series of arguments as the tension between Quist and Ridge rises though interestingly later on the latter expresses the view that Quist is “usually right”.  Some of these disagreements seem odd when you think Ridge is a member of a team assigned to investigate unusual matters and here he is given the role of the sceptic preferring to believe Quist has flipped his lid rather than being on to something. Perhaps the idea is that his moral clashes with Quist have made him lose perspective on the team’s goals.
Caught in the middle Toby Wren prefers a quiet, practical approach and it is he who first vaunts the theory of what is causing this problem which turns out to be sound waves from a test plane resonating in the unusual shape of the lighthouse where it Is heard. Quite how he makes this deductive leap after just hearing it himself, as the others did, and why he runs out and they don’t is not so well explained but it leads into the second theme, that of big business attitude towards protesters.
It’s a message that isn’t new now, and may not even have been then, but to hear Quist vent against the self interest of large companies for whom matters such as this are to be papered over is satisfying anyway. It still has currency today; just look at the way fracking companies respond to opposition. The result is a partial victory for the team as you sense the company will experience a hiccup in their operation rather than any lasting damage. It’s a victory for the series however because this mix of the bizarre, the scientific and the personal anchored by a strong performance from John Paul, proves very successful.

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