Television Review

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The Independent Culture
SCIENTISTS HAVEN'T, on the whole, done terribly well out film and television: you'd think that for every heroic boffin who's out there discovering a cure for cancer or just plain old pushing back the bounds of human knowledge, there are three more crackpots plotting world domination, or even the apocalypse.

Doomwatch (C5), a one-off sequel to the BBC's pioneering Seventies eco- drama of the same name, revived a miscellany of stereotypes. Trevor Eve played Neil Tannahil, a brilliant but troubled astrophysicist who, on the eve of his departure for a lucrative job in the US, was side-tracked by his equally brilliant but faintly dotty old teacher, Spencer Quist (Philip Stone). Together with the brilliant but emotionally disengaged computer whiz Hugo Cox (Dallas Campbell), they began investigating the activities of their slightly less brilliant colleague Toby Ross (Miles Anderson), who seemed to be up to something with a shady multinational corporation.

This turned out to be the creation of the world's first man-made black hole, as a handy means of disposing of nuclear waste. Unfortunately- as tends to happen with scientists - he did not comprehend the magnitude of the forces with which he was dealing; and it wasn't long before the hole was chewing up everything in sight, emitting all manner of radiation, and generally threatening to destroy the world.

Channel 5 is developing something of a line in scientific paranoia - last month saw The Alchemists, and here the black hole was characterised as: "The philosopher's stone, the ultimate alchemist's dream." There were other familiar tropes: when Eve scoffed, "Whatever it is, it's got nothing to do with black holes," the inevitability of it being precisely to do with the black holes settled over the drama like a fog.

It also had a risible line in scientific jargon, such as "Alpha- gamma, twelve-sixteen", or when Quist explained: "Carbon. One atom of carbon, bombarded and squashed by four or perhaps 24 of the most powerful lasers in the world until it disappears up its own backside. That's enough to make a black hole." "Over-simplification," tutted Eve, and how heartily we all agreed.

Attempts at more earthy imagery also came a cropper - the black hole was, in fairly swift succession, smaller than a man's testicle and a very hungry animal. But Doomwatch was better thought out and, in an odd, hyperbolic way, more plausible than The Alchemists. The nonsense was executed with a good deal of style, so that the cliches felt more like old friends than party bores. And the idea of scientists playing God was dramatised with some flair in the person of Cox - controlling computers with the help of "angels" (computer-generated characters with fluffy wings), he was able to hack into phone lines and surveillance cameras, lending him a patina of omniscience.

As a serious poke at scientific hubris, Doomwatch was unforgivable; but as semi-coherent, real-world sci-fi, it was surprisingly enjoyable. The acting was fine, the special effects decent, and the incidental music - Bach laid on with a trowel - gave it just the right edge of portentousness.

Channel 5 producing enjoyable feature-length dramas? Surely the end of the world is at hand.

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