Doomwatch

Tagged: Film | TV

1. UK tv series (1970-1972). BBC TV. Produced by Terence Dudley. Series devised and partly written by Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler. Directors included Dudley, Jonathan Alwyn, David Proudfoot, Lennie Mayne, Eric Hills, Darrol Blake. Further writers included Dudley, John Gould, Brian Hayles, Don Shaw, Dennis Spooner, Martin Worth. Cast included Joby Blanchard, Wendy Hall, Simon Oates, John Paul, Robert Powell, Jean Trend and Elizabeth Weaver. Three seasons, 57 50-minute episodes. Colour.

In this BBC series, the first which systematically dramatized anthropogenic dangers to Earth's Ecology, the UK government sets up the Department of Measurement of Scientific Work (nicknamed Doomwatch) to monitor developments in science and Technology that may be hazardous to the planet. Headed by caustic Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Spencer Quist (John Paul), a team of scientists – including Colin Bradley (Blanchard), John Ridge (Oates) and Toby Wren (Powell) – aggressively responds to a variety of threats, many of them generated by large corporations hungry for profit; in the second season, two women scientists, Anne Tarrant (Weaver) and Fay Chantry (Trend), were added to the team (see Women in SF). Against industrial and political opposition, the unit investigates a range of developments, from Genetic Engineering to new Drugs on to pesticides (see Pollution) and chemical Weapons; other episodes more traditionally saw Quist and his cohorts combat Mad Scientists, plague viruses and Mutant creatures including rats (see Clichés).

The first two seasons of the series were particularly vivid about the dangers of uncontrolled scientific research, especially when it is undertaken for commercial reasons; what to 1970s critics of the series may have seemed a cynical pandering to anti-establishment Paranoia seems perhaps less exorbitant in the twenty-first century. Pedler in particular, an active scientist and environmental activist, was responsible for some very effective targeting of issues which would only become more serious with time. Pedler and Davis departed before the third season, repudiating what they claimed was Doomwatch's increasing lack of seriousness, but in any case the BBC's will to continue was fading fast. This failure of nerve may have contributed to the implementation here of its habitual wiping of episodes to save money on tapes. The 2016 DVD release of surviving Doomwatch segments – eight of thirteen from season one, all thirteen segments from season two, three of twelve from season three – makes at least partially viewable again a series whose occasional cartoonish excesses, and conspicuously underbudgeted special effects, fail to drown out the seriousness of the message contained. [JC/PN]

2. Film (1972). Tigon. Produced by Tony Tenser. Directed by Peter Sasdy. Written by Clive Exton, based on the BBC TV series. Cast includes Ian Bannen, Judy Geeson, Simon Oates, John Paul and George Sanders. 92 minutes. Colour.

A familiar horror-film plot is given a fashionable rationale, in what is effectively a feature-film episode of the television series. Visitors to a fishing village on a remote offshore island are met with hostility; grossly malformed people are being hidden away. The distortions – in fact, acromegaly – have resulted not from the workings of Hell but from the dumping of pituitary growth hormone (intended as an additive to animal feed) in the sea nearby, although the horror stereotypes suggest the two possible causes are topologically identical. Sasdy directed with style but was handicapped by a banal script. [JB/PN]

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