Doomwatch (1970-1972) | The prophetic British sci-fi series gets a UK DVD release
In the early 1970s, the BBC1 sci-fi drama series Doomwatch made for compulsive viewing with its persuasive and frighteningly prescient storylines about science and technology gone awry. The series followed a group of dedicated scientists at the semi-secret The Department of Measurement of Scientific Work and their efforts to keep check on unprincipled scientific research which was creating hyper intelligent rats, plastic eating bacteria and genetic mutations, while also facing off volatile corporations, smug civil servants and government bureaucrats.
Heading up Doomwatch was the abrasive but dedicated Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr Spencer Quist (John Paul), and he was supported by former intelligence agent and ladies man Dr John Ridge (Simon Oates); young researcher Toby Wren (Robert Powell), who meets tragic end in the season one finale; computer specialist Colin Bradley (Joby Blanshard); and secretary Pat Hunnisett (Wendy Hall).
Doomwatch was the brainchild of Doctor Who screenwriters Kid Pedler and Gerry Davis, who tapped directly into the era’s zeitgeist by taking real scientific concepts to their terrifying extreme – which led Pedler to describe the show as ‘sci-fact’. This made for great drama, but also provoked headlines and debates on issues including growth hormones, subliminal advertising, sonic booms and dangers of lead petrol. Questions were even raised in Parliament when the fourth episode about killer rats was aired.
The show was certainly controversial, and not just for environmental reasons. Being a product of its times, it had an unenlightened portrayal of women – something that the producers attempted to redress by introducing female scientists like Barbara Mason (Vivien Sherrard) later in the run. Also dating the show are the 1970s stylings and location shots (which makes all of the UK look grey and grubby), and you’ll get a laugh from the scenes in which the actors flub their lines and bump into furniture (the show was shot as live). But these slight annoyances shouldn’t spoil your enjoyment of this prophetic, dark-edged and hugely influential sci-fi series. The BBC certainly don’t make them like this anymore.
Never before available on DVD, all of Doomwatch’s existing episodes (the show met with the same fate as many other BBC shows that got wiped or destroyed after their initial transmission) have now been released from Simply Media in one box set which includes the unseen episode, Sex and Violence (deemed too much for British audiences of the day owing to the use of stock footage of a public execution) and the BBC documentary The Cult of Doomwatch.
The episodes presented here include eight from the first series (unfortunately Robert Powell’s dramatic exit from the show in the episode Survival Code is one those missing, believed wiped), all 13 episodes from series two, and three episodes from the final series (which many believe was not as good owing to the departure of Pedler and Davis at the end of the second series).
Doomwatch is out on DVD from Simply Media
• For more about the series, check out this fantastic fansite: Doomwatch Blogger
Posted on April 7, 2016, in British Film, Cult classic, Cult TV News, Must See, Sci-Fi and tagged 1970s British sci-fi, BBC TV, Doomwatch, Gerry Davis, Kid Pedler, Must-See, Sci-Fi, Seimply Media. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.