Doomwatch - Review

Posted by Simply HE on

Starring: John Paul, Simon Oates, Robert Powell

We're often warned these days about environmental collapse and the potential dangers of new technology. Scary though these possibilities undoubtedly are, it might be some small consolation to know they are not new fears. Indeed, back in the early 1970s there was sufficient anxiety over these subjects to propel a programme that addressed them right up the ratings.

That programme was Doomwatch. But for all contemporary popularity (not to mention a substantial posthumous reputation), though, it has been difficult to see since its original broadcasts. Now, though, it finally arrives on DVD and we can see exactly why it made such an impact.

The 'Doomwatch' of the title was a nickname, one bestowed on the Department for the Observation and Measurement of Scientific Work, a small government body charged with investigating the environmental and human consequences of new scientific developments and processes. It was headed by Dr. Spencer Quist (John Paul), ably supported by his fashion conscious deputy John Ridge (Simon Oates) and, initially, new boy Toby Wren (a beatific Robert Powell).

Between them, they investigated all sorts of strange, and frequently horrific, happenings: an organism cultivated to 'consume' plastic escapes from laboratory conditions and manifests itself on a transatlantic plane flight; genetically modified rats develop a taste for human flesh.

Like all vintage teevee, allowances must be made for age: there are outlandish fashions (especially neckwear: kipper ties, cravats, even the sort of collar better suited to the family dog than a government-employed scientist) and some eye-watering sexism, something tacitly acknowledged and (partially) ameliorated by the later introduction of some lady doomwatchers.

Beyond all that though, it holds up remarkably well, raising issues that are all too germane today: the fragility of our ecosystems, corporate arrogance and an administration that invariably prioritises the demands of industry over the safety of its electorate.

Alas, not every episode survives but those that do have all been rounded up for this invaluable set, including one episode too controversial for broadcast back then. It is seldom comfortable viewing but, at its best, it remains as provocative, compelling and vital as ever it was.


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