Doctor Who - Revisiting DOWNTIME

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Wil takes some downtime...


After the cancellation of Doctor Who back in 1989 many fans, naturally, craved more some any Who. With the BBC reluctant to give them their desire, and with technology becoming increasingly cheaper, a small group of uber fans did something about it themselves.

Doctor Who fan fiction had existed for years, and the people who would go on to create Big Finish were already recording their own audio adventures on cassette, albeit with an unofficial alternate Doctor (or two). Then there were people like Bill Baggs, who grabbed himself a video camera and armed with a budget of 26p filmed The Stranger series with Colin Baker - it was Doctor Who (kinda) in all but name.

Bill Baggs and his BBV range of releases became more and more adventurous, and included the multi-Doctor staring Airzone Solution, released in 1993 to capitalise on the 30th Anniversary. I'll still dip into his stories from time to time and commend everything that whole crew put out during those barren years. However, none of them come quite as close to the 1995 production from Reeltime Pictures - Downtime.

Reeltime Pictures first effort at a Doctor Who spin-off came in 1987 with Wartime. It was a small-scale piece built around Sergeant Benton of UNIT. How did they manage to slip under the radar of the BBC? By using incidental characters and monsters licensed directly from the writers who created them, that's how. This meant that they found a loophole against BBC copyright infringement.

Downtime is one heck of a loophole.


Downtime saw Nicholas Courtney, Deborah Watling, Jack Watling and Elisabeth Sladen reprising their roles as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Victoria Waterfield, Professor Edward Travers and Sarah Jane Smith, respectively. Featuring the Yeti, it also acts as something of a sequel to the Second Doctor serials The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear. Amongst the cast you'll also find John Leeson (one time voice of K-9), and Geoffrey 'crispy Master' Beevers.

New-Who viewers - think Kate Lethbridge-Stewart was created just for you? Think again. Downtime sees the very first appearance of the character, although here played by Beverley Cressman instead of Jemma Redgrave. In the story we first meet her as the estranged daughter of retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and single mother of the young Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart. Kudos to Steven Moffat for making her canon in 2012's The Power of Three.


Story-wise - Downtime sees the Yeti once again filling the streets of London. Naturally U.N.I.T. is called in to thwart The Great Intelligence spreading its web across the planet. It really is ingredients right out of Doctor Who! Missing, of course, is the Doctor himself, meaning the Earthlings are on their own to save the world. Also unlike the show is the somewhat serious theme of the troubled relationship between the Brigadier and his daughter. The fact that this video explores the repercussions of the Brigadier's years of secrecy working as head of U.N.I.T. is welcome and intriguing and is dealt with in a very mature and sensitive manner. The resolve to the personal situation works well too, and adds more to Kate's modern-day appearances in the main series.

Written by Ghost Light writer Marc Platt (who, amongst his many credits, also wrote one of the finest Big Finish stories you're ever likely to treat your ears too - the excellent Spare Parts. Go, buy, listen... you're welcome.), Downtime clearly has aspirations of grandeur but wisely knows it is a low budget independent affair, which means that unlike, say, The Airzone Solution, it pulls off its execution rather more successfully.


All in all, Downtime is a very well produced and directed video that really did help to satisfy the hunger for more some any Doctor Who that many of us were feeling during the wilderness years. Downtime does all the featured characters justice, and has the feel of classic Who to it. 1996 would see Virgin publish the novelistaion amongst its Missing Adventures range (again written by Platt), and for me that's exactly what Downtime is - a missing adventure that the good people at Reeltime gave us when we really really needed it.

UPDATE
Downtime will be available to purchase on DVD for the first time from November 16th 2015. Find out more and order Downtime here


Geek. Lover. Fighter. Dwarf. Follow Wil on Twitter

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