Thursday, 31 March 2016

Doomwatch (1970 - 1972)

Coming across like a more adult, more eco-angry version of Jon Pertwee-era DR WHO, all the remaining episode of this early 1970s BBC TV series are coming to DVD courtesy of Simply Media.
I say all the remaining episodes because out of the original 38 that were made, 14 got deleted. But the remaining 24 are here, spread out over seven discs. For those of you who need to know which, we get eight episodes from Series 1, 13 from Series 2, and only 3 from the final third series. Apparently this is where the series went downhill anyway, so perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise.

Don't worry - this is in colour on the DVD
To those unfamiliar with the programme, DOOMWATCH details the activities of a government department set up to deal with potential ecological disasters around the globe. As is typical for a British conception of such an idea, the department is understaffed, underfunded, and subject to constant attempts to shut it down from a government that might actually be responsible for many of the things the Doomwatch team are investigating. 

Episode one sees new recruit Toby Wren (Robert Powell) joining the already established team of serious Nobel Prize-winning  scientist Dr Spencer Quist (John Paul), lothario lounge lizard scientist John Ridge (Simon Oates), and bloke in a lab coat scientist who plays second fiddle to the main team Colin Bradley (Joby Blanshard).

The first episode is called The Plastic Eaters, which introduces the novel concept of a virus that can eat plastic by showing us its effects on an aeroplane which crashes. It’s all a dastardly hush-hush government project (of course). The effects are of the cheap-but-oddly-disturbing variety as the plane literally melts around its passengers’ ears in a grim and sludgy way rather than the CGI that would be used now and which I would argue would still remain less effective.

Then it’s straight onto episode four and one of the best remembered episodes - ‘Tomorrow, the Rat’. Sexy scientist (it’s the 1970s, remember?) Mary Bryant (Penelope Lee) has been breeding intelligent flesh-eating rats (did James Herbert see this?) which escape from her laboratory (of course) and get to threaten a baby in a pushchair before the credits have even rolled. Sadly, the best known clip is the one that has been played on moronic television comedy shows where obviously fake rats have been glued onto Robert Powell’s trousers, but stay tuned for the ending of this one, which is utterly grim.
        Extras are limited to a recent half-hour BBC documentary The Cult of Doomwatch. I’m not going to reveal the plots of any more episodes as hopefully that should have given you an idea if DOOMWATCH is for you. As I’ve said above, if you like Jon Pertwee DR WHO, THE STONE TAPE, or any other of the BBC’s early 1970s SF and Horror shows this is going to be the release of the year for you. It’s everything that was good about early 1970s British SF TV - entertaining, creative, and designed to rattle a few cages. Excellent stuff. 

The BBC's DOOMWATCH is out on a seven disc DVD set from Simply Media on 4th April 2016

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