Review by David Paul Hellings
“Doomwatch is one of the great, lost TV programmes, a classic slice of science fiction (with the emphasis as much on science as the fiction), a stunningly prescient homegrown programme that followed hot on the heels of Doctor Who. Famed for its look at issues facing us long before anyone else, not least technological developments, the threats they pose and fears over what was happening to the environment, it also set the template for sci-fi TV programmes for years to come – with the series spinning off into the feature film world.
And now, for the first time on Blu-ray and in a newly restored DVD version, the feature length outing for sci-fi thriller Doomwatch arrives on 20 June 2016 courtesy of Screenbound. Doomwatch, directed by Peter Sasdy (Taste the Blood of Dracula, Hands of the Ripper) takes the TV series one step further and, thanks to this pristine restoration looks better than ever.
Following an oil tanker spill near the island of Balfe, Doctor Del Shaw (Ian Bannen – Waking Ned Devine, To Walk With Lions) of Doomwatch, the British government’s environmental monitoring organisation, is sent to investigate its effects on the remote fishing village. But he soon discovers strange happenings abound in the community. The islands men folk are displaying signs of aggression, insolence and unusual facial deformities that appear to be transforming them into near Neanderthals. The villagers are suspicious of the stranger in their midst, but with the help of a local teacher (Judy Geeson – To Sir With Love, The Eagle Has Landed), the doctor soon discovers the cause, but can he find a cure?
The film co stars Percy Herbert ( The Bridge on the River Kwai, The Guns of Navarone), George Sanders ( All About Eve, Rebecca) and Jean Trend ( Z Cars, Dixon of Dock Green)”.
– via Screenbound!
In the late 60’s/early ‘70s, you couldn’t throw a brick without hitting a British TV series that had become a low budget, big screen effort at reaching a cinema audience; be it dire comedy series or dramas, they were simply everywhere and rarely, if ever, did they hit the highs of the quality of the original material from which they derived. The opening of “Doomwatch” (the film) and the worry as you see a brief appearance by the original Doomwatch team before they’re left in London as the more bankable (in terms of box office) Ian Bannen, as a team member we neither know or care about, takes off to investigate the strange happenings on a remote island, creates the impression that the much loved TV team have been shunted aside for this cinema version.
Fortunately the classic Doomwatch team of John Paul, Simon Oates, Jean Trend, and Joby Blanshard do filter back in increasingly throughout the film, returning it more fully to the sense and feel of an actual “Doomwatch” film and not some purely commercialized variant (although Oates returned purely for financial reasons). “Doomwatch” it is, capturing the spirit of the series, its focus on the scientific and the environmental, and the continuing theme of governmental involvement in natural disaster. The use of locations adds to the strength of the piece and this is probably the film that was most likely after the run of the series. Bannen enjoyed his best period as an actor around this time and was a logical choice for Dr. Del Shaw. Sally Geeson, however, is given less to do (a criticism that was often levelled at the series was its representation and use of women), but gives her best in an underwritten role.
“Doomwatch” would also prove to be one of the last two outings for that fine actor George Sanders; appearing ill on screen, but still excellent. The nature of the isolated islanders and their distrust of mainlanders and their modern ways, especially in terms of science and medicine, is nicely played by the supporting cast, highlighting Bannen as the fish out of water trying to convince not only the islanders, but the powers that be, of the true nature of the problem at hand.
Hammer veteran director Peter Sasdy helms capably, helping to create an atmosphere of suspense and creepiness on the island.
This is a strong release with a very nice print and excellent restoration considering its age and the low budget nature of the production. Colours are natural and this should prove extremely pleasing for fans and completists of the series. A highly entertaining film.
This review originally appeared on SFFWorld at: