Doomwatch DVD review: the BBC classic remembered

Revisit the surviving episodes of BBC’s cautionary classic Doomwatch

SIMON OATES as Ridge
JOBY BLANSHARD as Bradley
JOHN PAUL as Dr Quist
ROBERT POWELL
WENDY HALL

You don’t get shows like Doomwatch anymore. Fuelled by Cold War-paranoia, it wears its contemporary influences proudly, although time hasn’t served to make it any less profound.

It sees the ‘Department for the Observation and Measurement of Scientific Work’ (nicknamed ‘Doomwatch’) tackle various scientific mysteries and undergoing odd assignments from week to week. While the brilliant, haunted Dr Spencer Quist (John Paul), new addition Toby Wren (Robert Powell), debonair ladies man John Ridge (Simon Oates) and lab coat-clad boffin Colin Bradley (Joby Blanshard) find their niches immediately, others are less assured: secretary Pat (Wendy Hall) seemingly exists solely to be condescended to.

Indeed, by the second year, the more explicitly sci-fi antics of the first series have been toned down in favour of a more grounded approach, as indicated by the arrival of Barbara Mason (Vivien Sherrard), who has no trouble handling herself. By far the most memorable episode, however, is ‘You Killed Toby Wren’, in which the team react to the death of the eponymous character. From there, things get even darker: ‘Invasion’ sees an entire village forcibly evacuated, and ‘The Islanders’ captures an isolated community struggling to get to grips with mainland life.

Thanks to the BBC’s policy of wiping episodes, just 24 of the original 38 episodes exist. All of Series Two is present, but just two Series Three episodes are present, and the Series One finale depicting Wren’s death is missing (although the climax is repeated in archive-footage form in the Series Two premiere). One nice surprise, however, is the presence of the previously unaired ‘Sex And Violence’, featuring Doomwatch’s take on moral outrage and the Mary Whitehouse brigade – incidentally, one of the main antagonists is a very thinly veiled version of her.

Doomwatch remains an incredible viewing experience. It’s just as relevant and likeable as it was back when it was brand new.