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|“||(Stephen Powell: No, I was right the first time, it is going. Do you want it out now?) When it definitely sinks and stops moving. I thought I'd made it clear the other day, what the precise moment of removal should be. (Stephen Powell: But you don't want it to drown, do you? If it...) No! 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 arguing with Stephen Powell while testing Rowf's endurance.|
Dr. James Robert Boycott, or better known as Dr. Boycott, is the main antagonist of the 1977 Richard Adams book The Plague Dogs, and its 1982 animated film adaptation of the same name by Martin Rosen. He is a callous and apathetic scientist who runs the A.R.S.E. and tortures animals for experiments, including two dogs named Rowf and Snitter.
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 no remorse for 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 an isolated 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.
|“||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 implied that he is only motivated by the knowledge that he wants and to experiment on animals to answer basic questions, rather than to solve or discover anything. One of his main colleagues is 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 by cumulative electrocution), Clusker (who died after being experimented on a cosmetic fatal to fleas), Brot (who was put to sleep and blinded before being killed), Jimjam (who received bitter stuff in 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 be similar to the titular character from Pincher Martin by William Golding and also because Ann Moss claimed that he 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 basically bullies his subordinate, Stephen Powell for being unprofessional and "emotional", which he claims has no place in science and only uses him. This eventually leads to Powell quitting his job and taking the confined monkey to look for a new career. 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 in the movie are also more brutal instead of pointless and nonsensical.
When he hears about Rowf and Snitter's escape, he decides to keep it a secret from the public and not reveal about their details, despite the situations of the dogs killing the livestock from the local farmers. It is implied by William Harbottle that he kept it a secret in order to avoid the increasing risk of giving rise to public anxiety about the plague-carrying dogs. While he tried to ignore the fact that the dogs have escaped his lab, he hired a bounty hunter named Ackland in the film to take down Rowf and Snitter; he tells him that he works at A.R.S.E., but doesn't mention that the dogs came from the Research Station. When the Under Secretary called him to tell him about suspending his job, he reluctantly agrees.
Ever since A.R.S.E. had been approved and constructed at Lawson Park after a political battle, Dr. Boycott got a job there and began performing thousands of torturous experiments on animals. He then hired a man named Stephen Powell to take the job for his sick daughter, Stephanie. When Rowf was born, he began testing his endurance throughout his lifetime by drowning him for survival expectation experiments.
5 years later, 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. She claimed that Snitter had a vicious attitude and the whitecoats (namely Fortescue) have been performing unethical vivisection experiments by plaguing his conscious and subconscious mind, causing him to have hallucinations and have seizures. Kiff, Rowf and Snitter's friend, was taken away by Dr. Boycott and sentenced to death by cumulative electrocution.
One day, the 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 with a laboratory assistant. The following evening, Snitter squeezes into Rowf's cage and they discover that the door is unlatched. They explore the facility in order to escape while discovering other animals who were having horrible experiments done on them until they sneak into an incinerator. When the dogs wake up, Snitter senses another opening as Tyson prepares the incinerator. They narrowly escape as the incinerator starts, leaving them to roam the countryside.
While the dogs are out looking for a new master, they stumble across a driver. The driver notices Snitter's green collar and decides to take him back to A.R.S.E., but Rowf scares him away. Meanwhile, Tyson and Powell 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 and they figure that the dogs must be worrying sheep.
When the farmers learn about the dogs killing sheep, Dr. Boycott and Stephen Powell discuss their experiments on guinea pigs with tobacco tar condensates. Stephen asks if he considers using anesthetics like Dr. Walters said, to which he replies that it's expensive and that he is in charge of the experiment instead of Walters.
When the farmers raid the Tod's area with hunting dogs, the Tod comes back 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, but discover that the dogs have already fled. Dennis Williamson calls the facility and inquires if they lost any dogs, but Stephen refuses to give a straight answer. Dr. Boycott decides to hide the truth about the dogs from the farmers and thinks that it's unlikely that they would sue them otherwise.
In the film, Boycott phones the experimental station and hires a bounty hunter named Ackland to take down the dogs after Snitter accidentally killed a Jewish businessman named David Ephraim. Ackland finds the derelict area the dogs have been sleeping, but finds nothing. When the two dogs scavenge the Dawsons' dustbins, the women drive Rowf away and lock Snitter in a shed before phoning the police. Rowf warns the Tod about Snitter and they head out to rescue him. When the police and Stephen Powell arrive, the Tod manages to help Snitter escape before the police could catch him. Meanwhile, a reporter named Digby Driver arrives and takes Stephen back to the Research Station, while Stephen chats about Dr. Goodner's defense work as well as his history as a Nazi scientist.
Upon returning to the station, Boycott berates Powell for going out with the police, as they probably confirmed that they are indeed the owners of the dogs. It is implied that he was planning on destroying the two dogs and burning their corpses in the incinerator once they've gotten them back. At the station, Digby Driver blackmails Dr. Goodner about his defense 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 Stephen claims that he didn't know anything about Goodner's work on the plague. Boycott says that the dogs couldn't be carrying the plague and the Under Secretary thinks that it's unlikely.
Later, Boycott informs a sick Powell about Goodner's meeting with the Director and reminds him of the radiated beagles experiment. Powell informs Boycott that he hardly knew Goodner's defence work and tells him to go home and drink hot whisky. The next day, as Powell heads for work, he catches the flu and is forced to suspend his job. Digby Driver tries to call Powell, but is informed that he's sick and they wouldn't give him his number. Digby Driver later calls the Research Station and Boycott offers to see him by appointment in two days and informs him that Powell will return when they meet.
Powell eventually returns and they continue their experiments on the dogs, while Dr. Boycott tells Powell the news about the dogs raiding Geoffrey Westcott's car. Dr. Boycott asks Stephen about how the Assistant Secretary knew about the plague-carrying dogs and he assures him 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, which is 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 to his horror that Powell is crying. Boycott pretends to comfort him and informs him that Avril finished the hairspray rabbits experiment before they had to be killed.
On a snowy day, Geoffrey Westcott (Ackland in the film) follows the dogs' trail. He arrives at the Dow Crag and takes aim. However, as he prepares to kill Rowf, he suddenly falls off as he shoots off Rowf's collar. The two starving dogs then devour his corpse and his body was eventually found.
Digby Driver arrives at the Research Station and enters an interview room with Boycott and Powell. They chat about the two dogs and their experimental uses. Driver asks why there is no specific purpose of these experiments, to which Boycott replies 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, though Powell denies it. Dr. Boycott then receives a call and Stephen picks it up. Stephen learns of the shot-off collar belonging to Rowf and sends someone to the station. Stephen is shocked and decides to have a talk with Dr. Boycott outside as Digby Driver leaves. Driver then posts an article about Westcott's death and how Boycott refused to comment about their missing dogs.
Dr. Boycott tells Stephen about not getting involved with the authorities and discuss their experiments on kittens with tang-worm infections. Dr. Boycott asks Powell about the monkey and he begins to worry about the animal, but Dr. Boycott argues that the monkey has been fed and that it was just a deprivation experiment. Stephen then becomes emotional about why Boycott chose only him and questions the reasons to him. Dr. Boycott tells Powell about the Director and tells him about another dog to use for water immersion experiments to replace Rowf. Stephen thanks him and then leaves. He quits his job and takes the confined monkey with him to look for a new career.
When the two dogs are being chased by the army, Snitter claims to see an island and they swim out to sea to escape the army as they try to shoot them out of the water. Meanwhile, Boycott receives a call from the Under Secretary and is shocked as he overhears that he should suspend his job completely.
In the book's changed 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.
- He only appears in person in the beginning, as his voice is only heard in the background throughout the rest of the film. Like the other humans in the film, he is barely seen and his voice is mostly heard in the background, as the filmmakers wanted to avoid audiences sympathizing with them 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.
- In the film, Boycott hires a bounty hunter named Ackland to hunt down the dogs until he 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 exist 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. He also leaves to do a brain surgery, while his subordinate resuscitates Rowf.
- In the extended cut of the film, Dr. Boycott is at his lab and 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 wasn't forced to suspend his job completely by the Under Secretary after receiving a call from him.
- Dr. Boycott is partially based on Nazi experimenters, as the experiments he conducted on animals symbolize the torturous experimentations conducted at Auschwitz and A.R.S.E. acts like a concentration camp.
- Snitter's surgical scar reminded David Ephraim about the experiments at Auschwitz and Dr. Goodner used to work as a Nazi scientist at Buchenwald.
- His experiment of confining a monkey in the isolation chamber is inspired by the infamous Pit of Despair experiment invented by Harry Harlow.
- In the book, Powell takes the monkey with him before the dogs' encounter with the army. However, in the film, the monkey is still in its confinement while Dr. Boycott is forced to suspend his job. This is likely due to the fact that Stephen Powell is an animal researcher in his own right, rather than being the guilt-ridden assistant like he is in the book.
- 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.
- Snitter's shout to the vulture "I hope you make sure we're properly dead before you start, old rip-beak!" is sampled in the industrial band Skinny Puppy's song/single "Testure". Both the song, whose name combines "test" and "torture", and music video equates medical experimentation on live animals as torture.