In the early 1970s, the BBC1 sci-fi drama series Doomwatch made for compulsive viewing with its frightening persuasive storylines about science and technology gone awry.
The series followed a group of dedicated scientists at the semi-secret The Department of Measurement of Scientific Work and their efforts to keep check on unprincipled scientific research which was creating hyper intelligent rats, plastic eating bacteria and genetic mutations, while also facing off volatile corporations, smug civil servants and government bureaucrats.
Heading up Doomwatch was the abrasive but dedicated Nobel Prize winning physicist Dr Spencer Quist (John Paul), and he was supported by former intelligence agent and ladies man Dr John Ridge (Simon Oates) and young researcher Toby Wren (Robert Powell, making his TV debut).
Doomwatch was the brainchild of Doctor Who screenwriters Kid Pedler and Gerry Davis, who tapped directly into the era’s zeitgeist by taking real scientific concepts to their terrifying extreme – which led Pedler to describe the show as ‘sci-fact’. This made for great drama, but also provoked headlines and debates on issues including growth hormones, subliminal advertising, sonic booms and dangers of lead petrol. Questions were even raised in Parliament when the fourth episode about killer rats was aired.
Never before available on DVD, all of Doomwatch’s existing episodes have now been released from Simply Media in one box set which includes the unseen episode, Sex and Violence and the BBC3 documentary The Cult of Doomwatch. The episodes include eight from the first series (unfortunately Robert Powell’s dramatic exit from the show is one of those missing, believed wiped), all 13 episodes from series two, and three episodes from the final series.