Director Peter Sasdy deserves his cult reputation; from the Whispering Gallery finale of Hands of the Ripper to the enigmatic hysteria of The Stone Tapes, his best work has an iconic feel. Viewers of the popular BBC science-fiction drama Doomwatch generally felt that this 1972 feature film was a somewhat cruder affair than the series it drew inspiration from, but as it resurfaces on streaming, Sadsy’s film is likely to entice the curious with a little enviromental horror in a Scottish setting.
Moving amongst characters created by Dr Who scribes Kit Pedler and Gerry Davis, Doomwatch sees Dr Shaw (Ian Bannen) tackling chemical dumping on the fictional Scottish island of Balfe, although being a Tigon production, it’s actually Cornwall which doubles as the beauty-spot. There’s not much picturesque about what Shaw finds; growth hormones used on fish are getting into the food chain, and mutations are resulting, making the natives a little more restless than usual.
Does the Admiral (George Sanders) know more than he’s saying? Of course, he does, and Doomwatch is way ahead of its time in suggesting government conspiracies, and expressing anxiety about what we eat and how it might affect us. A co-star role for Judy Geeson, plus small roles for James Cosmo, Bond star Geoffrey Keen and Shelagh Fraser (who played Luke’s aunt five years later in Star Wars) keep things interesting.
The original series is now impossible to locate in any kind of complete form , so this capsule version of Doomwatch is well worth seeking out as a period piece with some unpleasant ideas which still resonate. Scottish people may be revolting, but they’re not mutating as yet; enviromental issues still threaten to turn science fiction into science fact.