When the BBC1 TV series Doomwatch began hitting the headlines in the early 1970s and shows like On the Buses started heading into cinemas, Tigon’s Tony Tenser rushed out this big-screen spin off in the hope it would become the new Quatermass. But this ‘Chilling Story from Today’s headline’ was not the success that Tigon had hoped for, and ended up sitting on the shelf following its disappointing run in UK cinemas.
An ecological nightmare gone berserk!
A year after an oil tanker sinks off the west coast of England, Doomwatch scientist Dr Del Shaw (Ian Bannen) heads to the isolated island of Balfe to investigate the effects on marine life and discovers the local population have also been affected, creating physical abnormalities and turning the men-folk aggressive. Seeking out the aid of local teacher (Judy Geeson), Shaw then finds he has a battle on his hands trying to convince the locals he wants to help the, while also trying to get the Ministry of Defence and a chemical corporation to accept responsibility for the accident.
Director Peter Sasdy (Countess Dracula), cinematographer Ken Talbot (Hands of the Ripper) and production designer Colin Grimes (Nothing But the Night) do what they can with a script by Clive Exton (10 Rillington Place), that was part thriller, part horror, part ecological drama, and was shot on location around Polkerris and Falmouth in Cornwall and at Pinewood in October 1971.
But there isn’t enough depth, action or sense of menace to make it work, which also lessens the impact of Tom Smith’s effective makeup. Even the classic Doctor Who serial The Green Death, which used the mutations vs multinationals premise, is way more effective; and we all know how brilliant The Wicker Man turned out, a film which also followed an official’s investigation of a closed island community.
It was disappointing for fans of the TV show to see regulars John Paul and Simon Oates taking a back seat in the film, and their replacements are not that much cop either. Ian Bannen comes off as overly shouty and unempathic, while Judy Geeson seems like a fish out of water as the mainland school teacher who has no connection with the locals. At least she doesn’t eat their fish!
Future Bond star Geoffrey Keen and veteran actor George Sanders put in safe, but dull cameos, but its Shelagh Fraser who brings some unlikely comic relief as the nosey local who possesses the only phone on the island. And keen-eyed viewers will catch future EastEnders‘ star Pam St Clement playing one of the villagers.
Doomwatch has been digitally restored for a Blu-ray and DVD region free release by Screenbound Pictures, available from 20 June 2016
• Read all about the original Doomwatch TV series UK DVD release HERE
In a future where the West is on the verge of a global war with China, troubled military scientist Vincent (Toby Stephens) is using cutting edge cybernetic technology to repair the bodies and minds of wounded soldiers.
Desperate to perfect his research, he hires Artifical Intelligence expert Ava (Caity Lotz), who only agrees to help after discovering he is secretly trying to heal his disabled daughter. But when she stumbles on the project’s ultimate goal: the creation of cyborg soldiers, Ava is executed on the orders of Vincent’s superior (Denis Lawson).
Using Ava’s scans and likeness, Vincent then creates his Machine, which turns out to be more human than humanoid, causing the scientist to rethink where he’s true loyalties lie….
Writer-director Caradog James makes a tiny budget go a long way in this Welsh-made sci-fi thriller, that’s so deserving of its many festival awards thanks to the excellent performances, effective production design and special effects, and an inventive story that manages to slip in some existential angst while paying homage to its sci-fi past.
Yes, its got bits of Frankenstein, Metropolis and RoboCop in there, but James’s tech-noir thriller also stands on its own as classy, clever sci-fi that also begs some interesting questions: Will machines in the future develop consciousness? Can love be programmed? In many ways, The Machine recalls more cerebral cinematic sci-fi fare like 1984 and Fahrenheit 451, which also favoured social/political commentary over large-scale pyrotechnics.
But The Machine isn’t all talk and no action – just see what happens when Ava goes all Terminatrix on her masters – it’s just that this is the kind of sci-fi that makes you think. Plus, there’s Lotz’ nuanced performance as the humanoid artificial intelligence to savour, and watching her fembot evolve into a thinking, feeling ‘being’ is what grips you throughout…
Cult director Robert Fuest’s dystopian 1973 sci-fi thriller The Final Programme makes its UK DVD debut on 7 October 2013.
THE FUTURE IS CANCELLED
In a futuristic world where war and famine rages, a group of British scientists led by programmer Miss Brunner (Jenny Runacre) plan to create an immortal, self-replicating human being using a super computer. Jerry Cornelius (Jon Finch), a playboy physicist whose late father devised this ‘final programme’, is key to the project’s success. But first he must retrieve the formula from his family’s isolated mansion, which is laden with deadly traps and guarded by his drug-fuelled psycho brother.
This very British black comedy sci-fi thriller from cult director Robert Fuest takes its cues from Michael Moorcock’s seminal 1968 novel of the same name – the first of many to feature hero Jerry Cornelius, a hip futuristic secret agent and adventurer who was like a James Bond-cum-Flash Gordon for the 1970s. The film is definitely stylish, but has its flaws, mainly because the director (who had just completed the two Phibes films starring Vincent Price) puts most of his energies into the film’s elegant production design rather than capturing the essence of Moorcock’s wild vision. The author famously disliked the film and its script, which tries to be satirical, but comes across as having a whiff of jingoism about it – French wine, for instance, is described as ‘Industrial waste from the Beaujolais district of France, fortified with natural saccharin, of course’.
The Final Programme is, however, a decorative delight nevertheless, and if it wasn’t set in the future, it could very well exist in the same stylised art deco world that Price’s vengeful Phibes inhabited, as it shares the same light, camera angles and colour schemes, and even possesses the ingenious doctor’s penchant for devilish devices – including a door lock that’s also a giant chess piece and an alarm that causes epilepsy.
Visuals and retro décor aside, there’s much to savour here – including the Paul Beaver and Bernard Krause score, which is certainly hip, in a druggy London 1970s way, and the wonderfully OTT performances, especially Hugh Griffith as a Hindu scientist dispensing cryptic advice to Finch’s modern dandy Jerry – who encapsulates the glam period with his wild locks, black nail polish and fashionable Ossie Clark threads.
It’s just a pity that cinema audiences never did get to see much more of Finch on screen. The classically trained actor, who also appeared in Polanki’s Macbeth and Hitchcock’s Frenzy, gave up film work after a diabetic attack forced him out of 1979’s Alien, in which he was to play the iconic Kane – a role that ended up going to John Hurt. Finch was just 70 when he was found dead last December in his home in Hastings, while back in March of 2012, the 84-year-old Fuest – who retired in the 1980s to take up his first love, painting – also passed away. But thankfully their memories live on in this bewildering, topsy-turvy slice of 1970s British sci-fi – which is very tasty indeed.
The Network DVD release is presented in a brand new transfer from the original film elements, featuring the full-frame, as-filmed version of the main feature, and including original theatrical trailers, an Italian title sequence, image gallery and promotional PDF materials.
A must see, despite its flaws.