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Saturday, 19 March 2016

Doomwatch finally comes to DVD

I'm sure that there will be some within the Sci-Fi fraternity who may scoff at this admission, but I suppose it wouldn’t be the first time that I’ve been ridiculed, the list is indeed endless – and probably not without merit. However it must be admitted that prior to the announcement that the series would be finally released on DVD, I had barely any recollection of the original Doomwatch TV series that aired back in the early 1970's. After all, I was but a mere munchkin at the time it must be said and in truth, and I had even managed to miss the rare repeat of the series on territorial TV back in the 1990s. So when I received the email informing me of this ‘highly anticipated’ DVD debut I wasn't immediately drawn to putting together a blog piece on a series that I knew very little about.

However, in my usual methodology of changing my mind with a speed of what some would regard as flippant disregard for rational thinking, I decided to request the review discs and see what the fuss was all about. You see, In truth, it was quite clear, even before I received the review DVD’s, that judging by the excitement that news of the release was starting to create I really didn't want to miss out on the fun.

It seems that the ground breaking classic (I’ll confirm whether that is actually the case in a while) British sci-fi series Doomwatch originally aired on the BBC from 1970 – 1972 and at its peek, attracted in excess of 13.6 million viewers and spawned two film adaptations. Although in huge demand, it has never before been available on DVD, until now... Thanks to the wonderful people at Simply Media Doomwatch Series 1-3 makes its long awaited DVD debut.

The synopsis of the series is as follows:

"Doomwatch is the name given to the team lead by Dr. Spencer Quist (John Paul – A Countess from Hong Kong), alongside Colin Bradley (Joby Blanshard – The Brothers), Toby Wren (Robert Powell – The Detectives), and Dr. Fay Chantry (Jean Trend – Z Cars), The cult series is the brainchild of Kid Pedler and Gerry Davis, the men responsible for Doctor Who’s iconic Cybermen, and follows government agency The 'Department of Measurement of Scientific Work' -  AKA Doomwatch, as they fight to protect mankind from all manner of horrifying technology and experiments gone wrong. Each week they must battle hyper intelligent rats, toxic waste, plastic eating bacteria, mind destroying sound waves and genetic mutations from day to day – all the while confronted with volatile corporations, their own unsupportive government superiors and ever changing dynamics within the team."

But is the series actually worth watching? Well, in a word, most definitely yes (before you start, I know that’s three words).. Set in a time of public fascination with the perils of science and technology, Doomwatch offers a glimpse of real scientific concepts, that are still relevant today and explores the moral dilemmas faced by those left to pick up the pieces when things inevitably go wrong. Over a period of three days I sat and watched each and every episode, and while it's safe to say that not all work as well as others the collection as a whole is distinctly robust in its overall quality. Some of the stand out episodes being;

* 'Tomorrow, the Rat' where some genetically enhanced rats (well why not) have escaped from the lab and are running amok amongst the good people of London.

* 'Re-entry Forbidden' which is a fascinating psychological study into the crumbling mental state of a British Astronaut.

* 'You killed Toby Wren' in which one of the stars of the show is killed off when a bomb diffusing goes drastically wrong.

Yes, it's the 1970's BBC where the production values of the corporation were well known in the 'lacking much credibility' department, and Doomwatch didn't escape this with much of the action being obviously studio based. However this is but a very minor consideration as it is perfectly offset by a combination of great writing, incredibly inventive and daring concepts and acting of the very highest quality. The result is to be served up with stories of intelligence, excitement and no little tension - great stuff!

There are many who regard the 1960's and 70's as a golden age of genre television, and that maybe the case. In truth I tend to think that right now we are experiencing another golden age of television which could more than hold its own against any time period. It must be said that there will be some who find Doomwatch being very much a product of it's time in some ways. For instance the fashions on show (even for someone like myself who get up in this period) induce the odd double-take with the plethora of brightly coloured cravats and neck ties. Not only that but every body smokes with an abandon that would make any cancer researcher weep with frustration. The one thing that really stands out though is the rampant casual, and not so casual sexist behaviour of some of the team towards their email counterparts. This regular condescending sexual banter and the overt physical treatments (regular smacks on the bum) are are interesting example on just how far we have come from that time. Nevertheless, despite this, the series succeeds in telling some damn good science fiction and horror parables. I really can't recommend this series highly enough and it surely needs to be part of any discerning Sci-Fi lovers collection.

The cost saving mantra throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s which regularly saw the BBC wiping the tapes of much of their production must surely rank as one of the highest order crimes in regard to the mistreatment of popular culture. The short sighted need to save money at the expense of saving their creations has meant that many classic productions simply no longer exist, and if they did mange to survive the departmental cull, the ones that did survive are not always great in number. The latter applies here as not all of the episodes made it but the ones that still exist come to DVD as Doomwatch Series 1-3 The Remaining Episodes on 4 April 2016. The available episodes will be released in a stunning seven-disc box set, together with unseen episode ‘Sex and Violence’ and the BBC documentary ‘The Cult of Doomwatch’.

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