Two of the most frightening programmes of the '70's featured rats; Nigel Kneale's 'After Barty's Party' ( an episode of the 1976 A.T.V. anthology series 'Beasts' ) was one, the other was this, the fourth transmitted edition of 'Doomwatch'.
Dr.Mary Bryant ( Penelope Lee ) is breeding flesh-eating rats in a laboratory in her West London home. Some have escaped, and taken to the sewers. In a harrowing pre-credits scene, a little boy ( Stephen Dudley ) in a pushchair is attacked by one such rat. Dr.Toby Wren ( Robert Powell ) and Dr.Colin Bradley ( Joby Blanshard ) set up traps, but the rats elude these ( they have not only developed immunity to poisons, but also a degree of intelligence ), and attack the scientists.
Dr.John Ridge ( Simon Oates ) wines and dines Bryant, and, after she is suspended from her job following the leaking of her discovery to the press, co-operates with 'Doomwatch'. The attacks escalate, and Dr.Quist ( John Paul ) takes to the sewers to gas the rodents. Just as the affair looks to be over, an angry woman ( whose son had been killed by one of the rats ) turns up at Bryant's house, attacks her with a knife, and runs off. Later that evening, Ridge discovers her half-eaten corpse...
The clip of Wren and Bradley being attacked by the rats was shown on 'The Clive James Show' in the '90's, where it attracted derisive laughter from the studio audience. While it is impossible to deny that the sight of Robert 'Jesus Of Nazareth' Powell staggering about a kitchen, using a frying pan to bash toy rats clinging to his trouser leg has its absurd side, this is still a gripping and ( if like me, you have an aversion to rats, including Roland ) frightening piece of television. Crude special effects were to be found in countless '70's British sci-fi shows, but that has never bothered me in the slightest. Real rats ( trained by John Holmes ) featured in scenes shot on film, such as those set in the sewer. For me, the most nightmarish moments involved the horse owner who ventures into her stable to find her beloved animal's innards strewn everywhere, the poor housewife distracted from her chores when a rat emerges dripping from a toilet basin, and the motorist ( Terence Dudley ) unlucky enough to find himself sharing his car with an uninvited ( furry ) passenger.
Shortly after this was broadcast, massed rat sightings in Shropshire were reported, triggering fears of an incident like the one seen here.
The gory ending caused the switchboard at the B.B.C. Centre to be jammed overnight with complaints, and questions were even asked in Parliament. A tour-de-force then from Terence Dudley, who not only played the aforementioned motorist, but also wrote, produced and directed the programme! There's no such thing as bad publicity, as someone once said, and the furore helped push the show even higher up the ratings. The name 'Doomwatch' soon became a byword for science gone awry.
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