THE SUNDAY TELEGRAPH 21st March 1971
When is Doomwatch (BBC1) supposed to be taking place? According to the first series it can't have been much earlier because in the original episode supersonic transports were in airline service. Since then they seem to have been slyly winching the whole thing back to the present day. One recent episode about life in tower block flats could have come out of anything from 'Softly, Softly,' downwards.
I used to wonder why I was so irritated by this series, and now begin to see why. It was ridiculously over praised when it first appeared. Because of the real concern which has sprung up lately about the rape of our natural resources, people went out of their way to discover salutary warnings in these crude fables. It was even suggested that life should emulate art and we ought to set up a real Doomwatch organisation to monitor the excess of science and industry.
What no one seemed to notice was that the methods employed by Doomwatch were often reminiscent of secret police forces. What no one seemed to care about was that its exploits were muddled or rigged or both. It's really too easy to depict the tower block situation as some sort of conspiracy between a profit hungry contractor and inhuman local authority. The rotten things would never have been considered if they hadn't been urged for years and years by the progressive architects and social engineers whose successors now decry them.
Last week's episode set up an even more arbitrary villain; logic. It supposed a rum public school whose pupils were taught – or programmed as someone said – with the aid of elaborate machines. Applying the skills so acquired to a spot of fund raising for the old place they stole a secret formula from a pharmaceutical plant and ransomed it back for £25,000. The wholesome moral ODF he tale was that by producing children with over-developed logical faculties but no extra moral restraints we'd end up with a dangerous elite. The only snag is that nowhere that I could see was logic involed, and certainly not in the classroom problem that the boys were shown tackling. Behind the gadgetry of computer and closed circuit TV, there was – nothing.
This is what really dismays. There's a place on television for imaginative fiction, for plays that make use of the shiny new apparatus of the world, for the concrete expression of new ideas, and visions and forebodings. Indeed, you could say there is a crying need for such things. Alas, it seems to be the one department of TV that deserves all those generalisations about triviality.
Original article by Philip Purser. With thanks to Andrew Wilson and Michael Seely