08/09/2015

Doomwatch The Movie (1972)


It was almost compulsory in the Seventies that a successful TV series had to be made into a film however ill-fitting that medium might be so you have such delights as On The Buses making it to the big screen. Doomwatch at least has more potential to make a transition but the trouble is that the series was very talky indeed. In order to spice up a movie the makers of this 1972 version turn it into a quasi-horror film; in the US it was titled `Island of the Ghouls`. Reasonably atmospheric direction toys knowingly with horror motifs on remote island Balfe where Doomwatch send Dr Shaw, a hitherto unseen operative, to take a few samples. Before long he finds himself mistrusted, followed, attacked by dogs and generally made to feel unwelcome. They don’t like strangers round these parts you see.



The first half is more successful even if you can almost guess what will happen as each scene is introduced. There are a couple of genuine shocks with the decision to show only fleeting moments of those villagers seemingly turning into monsters certainly adding to the tension. In the lead role Ian Bannen is comparatively restrained for now and Judy Geeson turns up as a glamorous school teacher who might or might not help. But she will help of course.
The story was penned by Doomwatch creators Kit Pedlar and Gerry Davis but you suspect Clive Exton, credited with the final script, adds much of the melodrama. It is slow to start but once you notice that all the villagers seem to be sporting funny eyebrows, matters become more interesting. Is it in fact comedy month on Balfe? Or do they have some sort of illness perhaps brought on by the giant fish they eat? The plot by numbers is brisk enough and there’s plenty of furtive shadows, rustled curtains and closing of windows. One of the unfortunate side effects of the affliction with which they’re stricken is that the villagers are prone to outbursts of violence and over acting! The vicar is a particular highlight.
What you may ask of Quist and co? Well they are in it, inhabiting a super-sized headquarters and expanded army of white coated scientists, one of whom has to take Quist’s coat and hat as he marches into work. Obviously the funding for the organisation has gone up since the series. The regulars are mainly confined to the now enormous lab (well where else would Colin be?) and Ridge is rather restrained throughout. 

He always took his goldfish on missions 

Much of the legwork is left to Ian Bannen whose restraint abandons him in the second half when Shaw seems to be acting far more erratically than most of the village. It is the later stages too that are full of technical talk which of course wipes away all the mystery. It’s an experimental pituitary chemical mixed with radiation dumped in the sea. Of course it is, it could hardly be a crashed alien could it? Still there’s a surprise appearance from George Sanders in his usual character as a smooth talking Admiral and a final confrontation with the infected villagers that almost breaks into a big chase but then sort of stops. Plus the film has the least impressive closing line I think I’ve ever heard.
The biggest issue for those familiar with the TV show- and it’s hard to see anyone else being interested even in 1972- is that the script is simply a one level mystery. There is none of the overarching look at world issues, current affairs or trends that make the tv show incisive and somewhat future proof. Visually apart from the larger locations and smoother camera work there’s really nothing that couldn’t have been done on the TV show and not enough budget to really create something world threatening so you wonder what the point of making a film was. 
"So, which blend of coffee is the best then?"

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