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RAYMOND WILLIAMS ON TELEVISION BOOK

Classic Reviews of Doomwatch follow…

I watched during the week were the first episode of Doomwatch and the production of Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken (BBC-2). In Doomwatch I liked the emphasis on social responsibility in science, and that suspicion of secret research which is now becoming habitual. But I remained puzzled that a virus could consume plastics. As for the Ibsen, it is a dramatic epilogue of an almost purely Expressionist kind. Its themes are very powerful but its conceptions of persons are beyond theatre, and consequently very difficult to realise in production. The attempt was serious. Anything much better would be a masterpiece. But this was a case of fidelity: to an old man in a frock coat; to three acts on stage sets, with interval blanks.

19 February 1970



It’s not every day you’ll see a Cambridge don oiling his semi-automatic pistol. Or so the Radio Times cover assured us. Our side and their side, the clever stupidity of espionage, the recurrent thrillers (such as Codename) in the anteroom of the issues. Can we make. an exception for Doomwatch? Not always. There’s been more than a bit of the old mad-scientist routine, and I’ve still had no answer about that first plastic-eating virus. But there is this other structure, which even in Dr Who (much improved by the acting of ]on Pertwee) is becoming commonplace: official conspiracy, by Ministers and corporations. An alien presence, destructive and dangerous, whether in a business suit or in full reptilian scales. More clearly than anywhere else, at least in popular forms, this sense of an apprehended but indefinable threat, of some intricate and persistent conspiracy against life, is being expressed in science fiction.
The spy-cult feeds on it, but has a routine evasion, translating security and threat into national blocs. Science fiction often projects it, into an empty space. And at the edge, undoubtedly, a kind of paranoia is waiting. What does a sane man do, when he senses a conspiracy but has been taught to laugh at conspiracy theories?

Explain, I suppose. Explain and keep on explaining the difficulty. I talked once with Kit Pedler, before and during a Line- Up discussion. I think now I recognise his tone. He was a joint author of last week’s Doomwatch episode, “The Red Sky” (BBC-1). It was convincing, I thought, because it used dramatic concentration—literally, in the tube of a lighthouse—to emphasise what is at the very least a symptom of civilised disorder: uncontrolled and destructive noise. Characteristically, the noise of an experimental rocket plane (to save somebody an hour on an Atlantic journey) was contrasted dramatically with work on nature conservation. There was a wry result: after the destructive noise came the bureaucratic solution—compulsory purchase of the lighthouse and mere suspension of the test-flights. This got remarkably near to the way things happen. But the strain tells. Quist, the sane observer, the far-seeing analyst, was shown as near breakdown before the action even began. The very practice of sanity was shown as being assaulted by unbearable pressures. Even, in a optical effect, Quist and the others saw the flames of hell. It’s very easy to feel this almost hysterical strain: hysterical overemphasis in the face of overemphasis and hysteria. The tired mind almost snaps against organised folly. But something real got through, all the same.

16 April 1970

Raymond Williams wrote a monthly tv review article for The Listener for four years which is where these review extracts originally came from.

With thanks to Michael Seely

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