Review for Doomwatch Series 1-3 - The Remaining Episodes
The release of all the surviving episodes of Doomwatch will be cause for great celebration among fans of archival British sci-fi TV. It ran for three seasons in the early 1970’s and remains the stuff oe TV legend today with its horribly prescient storylines and dark, portentous, apocalyptic vibe.
It relied heavily on science-fact too, despite some of its plots being pretty far-fetched and this level of intellectual credence adds to its deserved reputation as being a show for the thinking man.
This seven disc set contains every one of the surviving episodes in their entirety, in varying degrees of visual quality, as well as a very worthwhile feature length feature called ‘The Cult of Doomwatch’.
Doomwatch is the nickname for the Department of Measurement of Scientific Work. Under the leadership of Nobel Prize winning physicist, Dr. Spencer Quist, the Doomwatch team keeps an eye on the environment and supervise government and private sector research in an attempt to prevent pollution and other disasters that might be caused by the misuse of new scientific developments, discoveries and technology.
While confronting dangers ranging from a plastic eating bacteria that could effectively melt a plane, to hyper intelligent species of rats, from mind destroying sound waves to toxic wastes and genetic mutations, the Doomwatch team find themselves under the gun, from unsupportive governmental superiors, and openly hostile corporations, and the powerful influences they could wield.
The organisation, headed by an intensely driven Doctor Spencer Quist (John Paul), who remains haunted by his involvement in creating the atomic bomb also encompasses quite an ensemble supporting cast. This includes the paisley cravat-wearing groover, Doctor John Ridge (Simon Oates) as well as the new boy in his first days on the job (a very young looking Robert Powell in Series 1, replaced by John Nolan for the latter seasons).
The series was created by Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, who had famously worked on Doctor Who and created the Cybermen, and many of that series’ writers (like Dennis Spooner) were drafted for this series too – so it may have some special interest to vintage Doctor Who fans.
Whilst there is some episodic continuity, each one is a self-contained narrative, making the series great to dip in and out of. The sheer breadth of issue content covered by the seriesis breath-taking. My particular favourite involved the use of free samples of chocolate to subliminally influence even non-smokers into buying a particular brand of cigarette. More innocent times perhaps but the manipulation of our behaviours though unscrupulous advertising remains a hot issue today, as does just about every other issue tackled in the series.
It’s a lot of fun – not quite The X-Files (this is more scientifically based than that) but not a million miles from that either, albeit in a typically understated British way.
Filmed for the most part on video-tape (with exteriors shot on 16mm and transferred to tape) which was both expensive and re-usable back in the day, some episodes are lost, presumed wiped – particularly last season where only three episodes survive.
Watching the series across these seven discs, what is perhaps most remarkable is that, despite the ancient computers, prevalent workplace smoking, the paisley ties, shirts and sofas, the issues it focuses on remain relevant for the most part to this day.
It also doesn’t pull any punches. If it wants to be grim, it does it completely without apology. There is even an episode where one of the principle cast is killed but I won’t give it away; when, how or whom.
The set includes a couple of noteworthy extra features. The first is an unaired episode entitled ‘Sex and Vioelnce’ which clearly parodies Mary Whitehouse, her doppelganger , Mrs Catchpole, ably played by a much younger Dot Cotton(June Brown). It’s hard to see why it was pulled though possibly because it was clearly a critique of Christian hypocrisy.
The other feature of note is the featurette ‘The Cult of Doomwatch’, a delightful reflection on the making of the series and its significance, featuring contemporary interviews with surviving cast and crew. Whilst a simple enough format (talking heads and cutaways to episodes for the most part). It’s a delightful watch and one well placed on Disc 7.
All in all, an absolute gem of a series and a fantastic release from Simply Media. Show your support by grabbing a copy to ensure they continue to release such gems in the future.
Complete episode list
Disc One: The Plastic Eaters, Tomorrow The Rat, Project Sahara, Re-Entry Forbidden
Disc Two: The Devil’s Sweets, The Red Sky, Train and De-Train, The Battery People
Disc Three: You Killed Toby Wren, Invasion, The Islanders, No Room For Error
Disc Four: By The Pricking Of My Thumbs, The Iron Doctor, Flight Into Yesterday
Disc Five: The Web of Fear, In the Dark, The Human Time Bomb
Disc Six: The Inquest, The Logicians, Public Enemy
Disc Seven: Waiting For A Knighthood, Hair Trigger, Sex and Violence, The Cult of Doomwatch (featurette)