DOOMWATCH

Weird Sci­ence

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Reviews -

re­leased 4 April 1970- 1972 | 15 | DVD

Cre­ators Kit Pedler, Gerry Davis

Cast John Paul, Si­mon Oates, Robert

Pow­ell, John Nolan

De­vised by the duo who cre­ated Doc­tor Who’s Cy­ber­men, Doomwatch is justly renowned for be­ing ahead of its time. Trans­mut­ing sto­ries ripped from the pages of New Sci­en­tist into thriller plots, it fol­lows a small govern­ment team who in­ves­ti­gate po­ten­tially harm­ful sci­en­tific re­search, tack­ling is­sues which in many cases are still top­i­cal 45 years later. This long- over­due box set fea­tures all 24 sur­viv­ing episodes ( 14 have been lost).

It’s a se­ries that of­ten only skirts the edges of sci­ence fic­tion – a shame, as the most ef­fec­tive episodes are the more out­landish. Take sea­son one’s “To­mor­row, The Rat”, in which ro­dents with aug­mented in­tel­li­gence be­come hu­man- hunt­ing killers; though se­quences where the cast strug­gle with stuffed rats stitched to their trousers give you the gig­gles, it still in­duces a shiver. Also ex­cel­lent: the likes of “In­va­sion”, in which a germ warfare agent causes the evac­u­a­tion of a vil­lage, and “The Plas­tic Eaters”, in which a virus de­signed to de­stroy waste gets loose on a plane.

Other episodes feel rather mun­dane. In one the stakes are a school­boy be­ing ex­pelled. In an­other, it takes Doomwatch 40 min­utes to twig that an as­tro­naut is a para­noiac. This is fairly typ­i­cal; though it doesn’t quite go full Columbo, the cause of the lat­est disas­ter is of­ten ap­par­ent within five min­utes, leav­ing the viewer twid­dling their thumbs while the team catch up. Dis­ap­point­ing in a dif­fer­ent way is the no­to­ri­ous, never- trans­mit­ted “Sex & Vi­o­lence”, in which they mys­ti­fy­ingly be­come in­volved with the is­sue of moral pol­lu­tion. Com­ing across like a late- night de­bate show, it’s fish- in- a- bar­rel stuff – all the con­ser­va­tive fig­ures are foam- mouthed big­ots, par­tic­u­larly a cen­so­ri­ous char­ac­ter played by June “Dot Cot­ton” Brown, who’s clearly a twofin­gered salute to clean- up cam­paigner Mary White­house.

A cou­ple of great char­ac­ters keep you watch­ing: Dr Quist ( John Paul), brusque, straight- talk­ing scourge of com­pla­cent politi­cians, a ter­rier in a bull­dog’s body; and ex- spy John Ridge ( Si­mon Oates), a ladies’ man with a wardrobe as gasp- in­duc­ing as his chat- up pat­ter. It’s just a shame that among all the male egos lock­ing antlers, women are poorly served, gen­er­ally there as the sec­re­tary or the wife. It’s one re­spect in which the se­ries wasn’t so for­ward­look­ing. Even when a fe­male sci­en­tist is even­tu­ally in­tro­duced, the char­ac­ter’s big episode hinges on her de­scend­ing into hys­te­ria. Oh dear.

Ex­tras Hop­ing for dig­i­tal restora­tions and spe­cially- shot bonuses? Tough. The only ex­tra is a doc from 2006 BBC Four se­ries The Cult Of… ( 29 min­utes) – it’s de­cent, mind, fea­tur­ing plenty of amus­ingly frank in­ter­views with cast and crew. Dropouts and other arte­facts are no­tice­able on the episodes them­selves, and a few suf­fer par­tic­u­larly badly – many were “re­verse con­verted” from over­seas copies re­turned to the Beeb. Still, this is a very niche re­lease; we’re prob­a­bly lucky to have it at all. Ian Ber­ri­man

Si­mon Oates ( Ridge) wore a dog col­lar round his neck in one episode, af­ter a di­rec­tor bet him £ 50 that he wouldn’t.

“Don’t worry, the cheese and pineap­ple hedge­hog is on its way.”

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