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.”