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It's nothing to do with want. It's not intended to drown. Not this time, anyway; and I think probably not the next time either, depending on results of course.
~ Dr. Boycott to Stephen Powell while testing Rowf's endurance.

Dr. James Robert Boycott is one of the three main antagonists (alongside Digby Driver and William Harbottle) of Richard Adams' 1977 book The Plague Dogs, and its 1982 animated film adaptation of the same name by Martin Rosen. He is the chief scientist of a research station known as A.R.S.E., where he tortures animals for experiments, including two dogs named Rowf and Snitter.

In the 1982 animated film adaptation, he was voiced by the late Nigel Hawthorne, who also played Campion in Watership Down, and Raymond Cocteau in Demolition Man.

Biography

Dr. Boycott is a senior researcher at A.R.S.E. in charge of the experimental program which involved Rowf. He is callous and unsympathetic, with complete apathy towards either the animals in his experiments or his subordinate, Stephen Powell. His inept handling of the situation arising from the dogs' escape serves both to antagonize the local farmers, who are losing sheep to the dogs, and to provide grist to Digby Driver's mill despite his efforts to do the opposite. He considers Powell's concern for experimental animals unprofessional and "emotional", which he claims has no place in science. Throughout the plot, he uses a monkey for a pointless deprivation experiment by confining it in a metal cylinder until Powell quits his job and takes the monkey with him, while Dr. Boycott plans to replace Rowf with another dog for his water immersion experiments.

Personality

He was a qualified expert, initiative was expected of him, his subjects had no legal rights; and intellectual curiosity is, after all, a desire like any other. Besides, who in his senses could reasonably expect Dr. Boycott to ask himself, on behalf of the human race, not "How much knowledge can I discover?" but "How much knowledge am I justified in seeking?". Experimental science is the last flower of asceticism and Dr. Boycott was indeed an ascetic, an observer of events upon which he passed no value judgments. He represented, in fact, a most ingenious paradox, noble in reason, express and admirable in action, his undemonstrative heart committed with the utmost detachment to the benefit of humanity. Something too much of this.
~ The Narrator describing Dr. Boycott's motivations.

Dr. Boycott is portrayed as an extremely inhumane, ruthless, sadistic, brutal, unethical, apathetic, unpleasant, unsympathetic and egotistical scientist who loves to use animals for experiments, performing thousands of torturous experiments on animals. It is explained that he is nothing like any other known scientist and that no real-life experimental station would cover so much a wide range as Animal Research. Despite the cruel experiments that he has performed on his animals, he makes it clear that they are usually commercial. In one experiment, he made a television commercial on a poison that is immune to humans and fatal to rabbits. It is made clear that Boycott is only motivated by experimenting on animals to satisfy his curiosity, rather than to solve or discover anything to benefit society. Boycott also has an assistant named Mr. Lubbock, who is in charge of the homing pigeon experiment, which was used to test their homing exercise with their damaged sensory organs. He seems to be a reputable scientist, with Cambridge showing interest in his research in social deprivation. Dr. Boycott has also experimented on many of Rowf and Snitter's friends and many of them died, such as Kiff (who was sentenced to death as part of an electrocution experiment), Clusker (who died after being experimented on a cosmetic fatal to fleas), Brot (who was put to sleep and blinded before being euthanized), Jimjam (who was forced bitter stuff into his stomach before dying), Lodo (who was forced to smoke cigarettes), Licker (who was restrained in a mental harness as he witnessed another dog being clubbed to death), and Zigger (who was forced to work on a treadmill before tiring).

After Ann Moss sold Snitter to their lab, he had Dr. Fortescue do numerous unethical vivisection experiments on him, mainly because he wanted to see if Snitter's hallucinations would have similar effects to the titular character from Pincher Martin by William Golding and in addition to Ann Moss claiming that Snitter had a vicious nature. It is also stated that his experiments had no legal rights and that he is intentionally cruel to his subjects, from dripping hairspray into rabbits' eyes to see how long it takes for them to go blind to confining a monkey in an isolated cylinder for a deprivation experiment. He emotionally abuses his subordinate, Stephen Powell for being unprofessional and "emotional", which he claims has no place in science. This eventually leads to Powell quitting his job and taking the confined monkey to look for a new career after he becomes too uncomfortable with Boycott's inhumane experiments. In the film, he acts more polite than in the book and is pragmatic enough to not be a jerk to his subordinates. Most of the experiments depicted in the movie are also more brutal rather than pointless and nonsensical.

When Boycott hears about Rowf and Snitter's escape, he decides to keep it a secret from the public and deny any awareness of their escape, hoping that the two dogs will either starve to death or get shot. By ignoring his dogs' escape, despite the situations of the farmers' livestock getting killed by the dogs, this shows that he's willing to avoid any accountability for his actions and responsibility. Boycott's justification for his negligence in the dogs' escape was to avoid the increasing risk of giving rise to public anxiety about the plague-carrying dogs, as implied by William Harbottle. While Boycott tried to ignore the fact that the dogs have escaped from his lab, he hired a bounty hunter named Ackland in the film to take down Rowf and Snitter; he tells Ackland that he works at the research station, but doesn't mention that the dogs were lab experiments that came from the laboratory. When the Under Secretary called him to tell him about suspending his work completely, he becomes shocked by the news until he reluctantly agrees to do so.

History

Ever since A.R.S.E. had been approved and established at Lawson Park after a political battle, Dr. Boycott got a job there and began performing thousands of torturous experiments on animals. When a black labrador named Rowf was born, he began testing his endurance throughout his lifetime by systematically drowning him for survival expectation experiments.

Five years later, Boycott hired a man named Stephen Powell to take the job as a scientist. In addition, a fox terrier named Snitter was sold to the research station by Ann Moss after he accidentally caused a traffic accident on her brother, Alan Wood, leaving him to believe that he killed his master. Ann Moss claimed that Snitter had a vicious attitude and the whitecoats (namely Dr. Fortescue) have been performing unethical vivisection experiments by plaguing his conscious and subconscious mind, causing him to have hallucinations and seizures. Kiff, Rowf and Snitter's friend, was later taken away by the whitecoats and died as part of an electrocution experiment.

One day, the station's janitor, Harry Tyson, accidentally leaves Rowf's door open after returning him to his pen when he left in a hurry to do an errand. The following evening, Snitter sneaks into Rowf's cage and they discover that the door is unlatched. They explore the facility while discovering other animals who were having horrible experiments done on them until they climb into an incinerator. Snitter eventually finds an opening and the two dogs manage to escape before Tyson could ignite the incinerator. This leaves the two dogs to roam across the Lake District in an attempt to survive in the wilderness with the help of a fox known as "the Tod".

Tyson and Powell eventually notice that the dogs have escaped, but Tyson has already concealed his mistake by shutting the kennel. Dr. Boycott and Powell wonder how the dogs could have escaped and Powell informs him that they couldn't have gotten into Dr. Goodner's section. Powell figured that the two dogs must be starving and attacking sheep, to which Boycott replies that the farmers will either shoot the dogs or call the research station once they realize where the dogs came from.

When the farmers realize that their livestock are being attacked and set out to kill the two dogs, the Tod comes to warn the dogs about their presence. Rowf considers giving himself in for the whitecoats, but Snitter convinces him that it is crazy and dogs were not meant to be abused. The farmers arrive at the mine after the trio have escaped and realize that the two dogs must be from the research station. One of the farmers, Dennis Williamson, calls Powell and inquires if the research station lost any dogs, but Powell refuses to give a straight answer. Powell informs Dr. Boycott about the call he received from Williamson and his chief decides to hide the truth about the dogs from the public.

In the film, Boycott phones the experimental station and hires a bounty hunter named Ackland to exterminate the dogs after Snitter accidentally killed a Jewish businessman named David Ephraim. Later, when the two dogs scavenge the Dawsons' dustbins, the owners drive Rowf away and lock Snitter in a shed before phoning the police. The police inform Powell about Snitter's capture and he heads out to retrieve him, while also leaving a note for Boycott. When Powell and the policeman arrive at the Dawsons' residence, the Tod manages to help Snitter escape before the authorities could capture him. Meanwhile, a reporter named Digby Driver arrives and takes Powell back to the research station, while Powell chats about Dr. Goodner's defence work on bubonic plague.

Upon returning to the station, Boycott chastises Powell for going out with the police, as they probably confirmed that they are indeed the owners of the dogs and Boycott stated that they would have killed Snitter had the police caught him. At the station, Digby Driver blackmails Dr. Goodner about his defence work and publishes an article about the two dogs carrying the bubonic plague. Boycott is suspicious about the media reporting the dogs carrying the plague and Powell claims that he didn't know anything about Goodner's work on the plague. Boycott says that the dogs can't be carrying the plague and the Under Secretary thinks that it's unlikely.

Later, Boycott informs Powell about Goodner's meeting with the Director and reminds him of the experiment on beagles with radiation sickness. Powell informs Boycott that he hardly knew Goodner's defence work and his chief tells him to go home. The next day, Powell is forced to suspend his job after catching a severe cold. After Driver tries to call Powell, Boycott offers to interview with him in two days once Powell is back to work.

Powell eventually returns and they continue their experiments on the dogs, while Dr. Boycott tells Powell the news about the two dogs raiding Geoffrey Westcott's car. Dr. Boycott asks Powell about how the Assistant Secretary knew about the plague-carrying dogs and he assures his boss that he didn't reveal any secrets, because they're scientists and don't get mixed up with politics. Boycott then informs Powell about another defence project: a refrigeration unit where animals are forced to travel for miles in search for food and shelter. Powell asks Dr. Boycott about hiring someone else and Boycott notices in horror that Powell is crying. Boycott tries to comfort Powell and informs him that one of his assistants already finished the experiment on rabbits with hairspray before they had to be euthanized.

On a snowy day, Geoffrey Westcott (Ackland in the film) follows the dogs' trail. The hunter arrives at the Dow Crag and takes aim at the two dogs. As the hunter prepares to shoot Rowf, he falls off the crag to his death, but not before he shoots off Rowf's collar. The two starving dogs then devour the hunter's corpse and his body is later found.

Driver arrives at the research station and interviews with Boycott and Powell. They chat about the two dogs' experimental uses and Driver asks why there is no specific purpose of these experiments, to which Boycott justifies this by claiming that it's always the advancement of knowledge to benefit men and animals. They discuss about the dogs wreaking havoc across the countryside and Driver lashes out at Dr. Boycott for being grossly irresponsible. Boycott and Powell argue with Driver about his false plague rumors and Driver reminds Powell about how he told him about Goodner's defence work, to which Powell denies it. Dr. Boycott then receives a call and Powell picks the phone. Powell is shocked as he learns about the incident of the hunter's death as well as Rowf's severed collar and sends someone to the station. Powell then informs Boycott that they should discuss about the incident and Driver leaves the research station. Driver then posts an article about Westcott's death and how Boycott refused to comment about their missing dogs.

After receiving a letter from an exhibition company requesting to purchase the two dogs from Dr. Boycott, he rejects the offer and informs Powell that there will be drastic changes within the research station. Boycott then asks Powell about the deprivation experiment and Powell begins to worry about the monkey, to which Boycott replies that it's been fed in accordance with the schedule. Boycott then receives a letter from the government recommending reductions in laboratory staff, to which Boycott signs the decree. Later, Powell begins to wonder why he's being dismissed from his job, to which Boycott replies that he's actually being transferred in his grade and tells him to talk to the Director about the issue. Powell thanks him and then leaves before quitting his job and taking the confined monkey to look for a new career.

When the two dogs are being chased by the 3rd Battalion, Snitter claims to see an island and they swim out to sea to escape with Rowf following him, while the soldiers shoot at them. Meanwhile, Boycott receives a call from the Under Secretary and is shocked as he overhears that he should suspend work completely.

In the book's ending, Rowf and Snitter were rescued by two naturalists named Peter Scott and Ronald Lockley and were reunited with Snitter's long-lost master after Digby Driver redeemed himself and helped him find them, thus ending their suffering at the hands of the whitecoats.

Quotes

(Stephen Powell: I think he's starting to pack it in.) [Rowf drowns] Now, Stephen. [Rowf is pulled out of the tank] (Stephen Powell: Two hours, twenty minutes, fifty-three and two fifth seconds. Six and a half minutes longer than Wednesday's test, and about twelve minutes longer than the one before that.) It's remarkable how regular the increase appears to be, isn't it? It'll be interesting to see what happens when its expectation of removal is countered by its physical limits. Shouldn't wait too much longer. (Stephen Powell: Shall I schedule the tank for Monday, Doctor?) Same procedure as last time. And oh yes, Stephen, Cambridge are anxious for us to go ahead with the social deprivation series. We do have a monkey set aside for that, don't we? (Stephen Powell: Just waiting for the go-ahead.) Right. Then, get it into the cylinder this evening. Oh, and that tank, Stephen... better clean it out a little bit.
~ Dr. Boycott testing Rowf's endurance with Stephen Powell, while planning to use a monkey for a deprivation experiment.
It's most unfortunate. I still can't quite understand how it happened. (Stephen Powell: As far as I can make out, there was a length of wire netting loose, and 815 must've got under sometime that night.) But if the door had been fastened, it wouldn't open of its own accord, would it? (Stephen Powell: It is possible that Tyson didn't shut the door properly, of course.) They couldn't have gotten into Dr. Goodner's section, could they? (Stephen Powell: No, no, no. We're quite sure of that. That was the first place I checked. I've spoken to Dr. Goodner, and he's sure that...) Yes. Well, that's something, anyway.
~ Dr. Boycott finding out about Rowf and Snitter's escape.
(Stephen Powell: They must be starving by now. Suppose they start worrying sheep?) Well, then some farmer will shoot them, or realize where they're from and get onto us. In which case we'll only have to pacify one local instead of the whole district. Damn shame though. All that work on those dogs, gone for nothing.
~ Dr. Boycott about the situation over the dogs attacking sheep.
Telling this Williamson that we have nothing to say was exactly the right light to take. (Stephen Powell: He's gonna think that's very suspicious. And what about Tyson?) I've already had a word with Tyson, and the most he can say, if he's asked, is that two pens were found empty. (Stephen Powell: Do you think Williamson's going to accept that?) I don't think we're under any obligation to answer that farmer's questions. If he thinks evil, let him prove evil, if he can.
~ Dr. Boycott deciding to ignore the dogs' escape.
(Ackland: Ackland here.) Mr. Ackland. I wonder if you'd consider doing a small job for me. (Ackland: Uh, who's this I'm talking to?) Boycott, Dr. Robert Boycott. I'm with the Lawson Park experimental station in Coniston. (Ackland: Alright. What kind of job?) Well, I understand that there are two dogs that have worrying sheep up near Thirlmere. If you have the time, I'd... I'd be most grateful if you could... see your way clear to ensuring that they... they don't do any more damage.
~ Dr. Boycott hiring Ackland to exterminate Rowf and Snitter.
(Stephen Powell: It was the police, I had to go.) By going with them, it looks as though we're admitting our connection with the matter. Oh well, it can't be helped now. Perhaps our best cause is to make a short announcement, acknowledging that two dogs have escaped. (Stephen Powell: Do you think that will satisfy them?) All they're concerned with, is not getting involved. They know the kind of work we do here. If we prove to be an embarrassment, they'll drop us in a minute.
~ Dr. Boycott warning Stephen Powell that they'll be discredited from their job if the authorities find out about the dogs coming from the research station.
What I want to know is: How did the media get hold of all this? Have you said anything to anyone? (Stephen Powell: Me? No! No, not a thing!) Not absolutely certain? Not to anyone? (Stephen Powell: Well, I... I might have mentioned something about the dogs to a lady who drove me back to the lab after the incident with the police. Nothing about Goodner's work or bubonic plague. I couldn't, could I? I didn't even know he was working with the damn plague!)
~ Dr. Boycott to Stephen Powell after Lynn Driver published rumors about the dogs carrying the plague.
We're certainly not denying that two dogs got out. We said as much in an early press release, but, what happened to them after that, I'm afraid I can't tell you. (Lynn Driver: You'll forgive me, Dr. Boycott, if I can't help feeling that that's just a shade lacking in... well, frankness.) Now, when we say something here, it's always one-hundred percent reliable. But, for all practical purposes... (Lynn Driver: Would you care to amplify that a little?) No, I don't think I would. It's really a matter between the local health authority and the responsible government party. If they're not bothered... (Lynn Driver: Not bothered?) They're not bothered that any risk of bubonic plague exists. Now, if you want to know more than that... [telephone rings] Excuse me, please. Dr. Boycott. You're sure it was one of ours? The green collar? Um, yes, I'll... I'll ring you back. Yes, immediately. And... um... someone will be down the station straight away.
~ Dr. Boycott interviewing with Lynn Driver and learning about the incident of Ackland's death.
Boycott, here. The Under Secretary? Yes, of course I'll speak to him. Good afternoon, sir. It has been inconvenient. I've taken steps to ensure it doesn't happen again. Suspend work completely, sir? Couldn't we... no of course not, mister. I understand completely.
~ Dr. Boycott's last line as he overhears about suspending his job.

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Trivia

  • Dr. Boycott only appears in person in the beginning of the film and his voice is only heard in the background throughout the rest of the film, as the filmmakers wanted to have audiences focus more on the animals' perspective by not showing any of the human characters' faces on screen to avoid them being sympathized with for anything.
  • His voice actor, the late Nigel Hawthorne, also voiced Campion from the 1978 film Watership Down, which is another movie directed by Martin Rosen and based on a book by Richard Adams.
    • The film also starred John Hurt, who would go on to play General Woundwort in the Watership Down TV series.
  • Due to the grim nature and graphic content of the film, including the torturous experiments conducted by the whitecoats, The Plague Dogs has been characterized by critics as one of the darkest animated films of all time.
  • In the film, Boycott hires a bounty hunter named Ackland to hunt down the dogs until the latter eventually falls to his death and is scavenged by the dogs. However, in the book, Ackland never existed and the hunter who fell off a cliff was a bank clerk named Geoffrey Westcott, who does appear in the film and only wanted to kill the dogs for raiding his groceries. Also, the Tod was killed in a fox hunt before Westcott tried to kill Rowf and Snitter.
  • In the book, Boycott is the one who calculates Rowf's endurance, but Stephen Powell does this in the film. Boycott also leaves to do a brain surgery, while his subordinate resuscitates Rowf by himself.
  • In the director's cut, Dr. Boycott is at his lab and he overhears that he is forced to suspend his job when the Under Secretary called him before the two dogs try to escape the army as the camera cuts to the monkey in the isolation chamber. In the theatrical cut, while the two dogs are being chased into the sea by the army and the helicopter, Dr. Boycott is forced to suspend his job as the two dogs swim out to find the island.
  • In the book, Boycott didn't receive a call from the Under Secretary about suspending his job at the end.
  • Dr. Boycott and the other whitecoats are partially based on Nazi experimenters, as the experiments they conducted on animals symbolize the torturous experimentations conducted at Auschwitz and A.R.S.E. acts like a concentration camp. In addition, every experiment described in the book happened in real-life.
    • Snitter's surgical scar reminded David Ephraim about the experiments he witnessed at Auschwitz and Dr. Goodner used to work as a Nazi scientist at Buchenwald.
  • His act of confining a monkey in the isolation chamber for a social deprivation experiment is inspired by the infamous Pit of Despair experiment invented by Harry Harlow.
  • In the book, the monkey used by Dr. Boycott for his sensory deprivation experiment was taken by Stephen Powell after he quits his job. However, in the film, the monkey is still in its confinement while Dr. Boycott is forced to suspend his job by the Under Secretary. This is likely due to the fact that Powell is portrayed as an animal researcher in his own right, rather than being the guilt-ridden assistant like he is in the book, as the filmmakers wanted to avoid audiences sympathizing with any human character.
  • In the film, during Boycott's conversation with Lynn Driver, she didn't confront him for his actions. Plus, Powell was the one who picked up the phone and learned about the incident of Geoffrey Westcott's death in the novel, instead of Boycott learning about Ackland's death.

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