Doomwatch

From Academic Kids

Doomwatch was a British science fiction television programme produced by the BBC, which ran on the BBC ONE channel for thirty-seven fifty-minute episodes, plus one unshown, in three seasons transmitted from 1970 to 1972. The programme was set in the then present-day, and dealt with a group of scientists led by Doctor Spencer Quist (played by John Paul), who work for the government in investigating and combating new ecological and technological dangers to mankind. There was also a feature film adaptation produced by Tigon British Film Productions Ltd and released in 1972, and a revival TV movie broadcast on Channel 5 in 1999.

Contents

Background

The programme was created by Gerry Davis and Kit Pedler, who had previously collaborated on scripts for Doctor Who, a programme on which Davis had been the Story Editor and Pedler the unofficial scientific adviser during the 1960s. Their interest in the problems of science changing and endangering human life had led them to create the popular alien race the Cybermen for that programme, and it was similar interests that led them to create Doomwatch, which explored all kinds of new and unusual threats to the human race, many bread out of the fear of real scientific concepts.

Thus there were storylines such as genetic mutation creating a particularly large and vicious race of rats, and a virus that ate away at all types of plastics causing aeroplanes to fall out of the sky. However, after Davis and Pedler left the series at the conclusion of the second season in 1971, it turned into a more conventional thriller drama, which the two creators openly criticised.

The first two seasons both consisted of thirteen episodes, and the third of twelve, of which only eleven were transmitted. The twelfth, Sex and Violence, was not broadcast, apparently because BBC executives objected to its use of film of a real execution during a sequence of stock footage.

The programme was very popular and drew audiences of as high as 12 million at its peak. The start of every season merited a cover feature on the BBC's Radio Times listings magazine, which even today is a prestigious feat for a programme. The show was also sold abroad, gaining some popularity when transmitted in Canada.

As was common at the time, the BBC wiped the Doomwatch mastertapes soon after transmission, regarding them to be of little further use. Although many episodes have been returned from Canada or exist as telerecordings, several are still missing, and will likely remain so. Strangely, however, a copy of the unbroadcast episode survives in the archives, one of only three from the final season to do so. Thanks to the Canadian returns season two is complete, but season one is missing five of its installments. Some of the existing episodes have had a limited release on VHS and DVD in the UK, and all - including Sex and Violence - were repeated on the satellite channel UK Gold during the 1990s.

Pedler and Davis re-used the plot of the first episode of the series, The Plastic Eaters, for their 1971 novel Mutant 59: The Plastic Eater, although this was not officially a Doomwatch novel and did not contain the characters from the series.

Cast and Crew

The main character throughout the series was Dr Spencer Quist, who had set up The Department of Observation and Measurement of Scientific Work ('Doomwatch') group and led its activities. He was played throughout the BBC run by John Paul, a familiar face from a range of British television series, who later went on to appear in I, Claudius.

The other main regular character throughout the run was Dr John Ridge, played by Simon Oates, although he appeared in only four episodes of the final season. One of the first season's main characters was Tobias 'Toby' Wren, who provided one of Doomwatchís most memorable episodes when he was dramatically killed off in an explosion at the conclusion of the season one finale, Survival Code. Wren was played by Robert Powell, who later found worldwide fame as the title character in the television series Jesus of Nazareth, and starred in films such as the 1978 version of The Thirty-Nine Steps.

Throughout its run, Doomwatch was produced by Terence Dudley, who also contributed several scripts himself. Dudley later went on to produce another well-remembered BBC science-fiction drama Survivors, and in the early 1980s wrote and directed episodes of Doctor Who. Aside from Davis, Pedler and Dudley, several other writers wrote episodes for the programme, including well-known veterans of several other British television science-fiction productions such as Robert Holmes, Dennis Spooner and Louis Marks.

Film and Revival

The Doomwatch feature film was produced by Tigon British Film Productions Ltd under licence from the BBC, and released in 1972. The script was written by Clive Exton from a story by Davis and Pedler. Although the main characters from the series did all appear, played by their original actors, main billing went to Ian Bannen and Judy Geeson as new characters. The film also featured George Sanders.

In 1999, Channel 5 bought the rights to revive Doomwatch from the BBC, and on December 7 that year screened a 100-minute TV movie produced by the independent production company Working Title Television. Subtitled Winter Angel, the TV movie was unusual in that unlike most television revivals of series from previous decades, it was a continuation of the story rather than a re-make.

Written by John Howlett and Ian McDonald, only one of the original characters from the series appears, an aged Dr Spencer Quist, now played by actor Philip Stone as John Paul had died in 1995. Quist is killed off during the course of the TV movie, and the main character was Neil Tannahill, played by Trevor Eve, who at the conclusion of the story sets up a new 'Doomwatch' group to pursue the same aims as that of the original series.

Although Channel 5 had intended the production to act as the pilot for a possible series and it had been generally well received by critics and public, further episodes were not forthcoming. This was generally accepted to be for reasons of cost.

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