Downtime

This is a fan-made production whose storyline may be invalidated by later official studio productions.

NeWorld University, a new high-tech campus in central London, has attracted the attention of reporter Sarah Jane Smith. She visits to ask a few pointed questions about the school’s cult-like atmosphere, but is rebuffed by the new headmistress and her persistent assistant. As Sarah leaves, they begin looking into her background, including her association with UNIT. In the meantime, retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, who left UNIT behind years ago and has even recently retired from teaching, experiences unusual visions of a woman in black – a woman Sarah knows as NeWorld’s headmistress. Daniel Hinton, a former pupil of Lethbridge-Stewart’s and now a NeWorld student, escapes from NeWorld with some damaging information, and the headmistress mobilizes an army of students to track him down. Hinton escapes and is protected by a homeless man who also happens to be an ex-Army officer – but Hinton also figures prominently in the Brigadier’s visions. Lethbridge-Stewart is surprised by a phone call from his estranged daughter Kate, who – like many other perfectly normal civilians – are growing increasingly paranoid of the appearance of “chillys” (zombie-like NeWorld students) around the country. Kate also introduces him to a grandson he didn’t know he had. As the evidence of some vast conspiracy continues to build up, the Brigadier and Sarah follow entirely different paths to the same conclusion. The Great Intelligence, the disembodied consciousness that terrorized London with its robotic Yeti in 1968 (and was defeated by the Doctor with Lethbridge-Stewart’s help) is back, and it is once again weaving its web of mind control, this time through the internet. This time the Doctor isn’t around to fight the Great Intelligence and its new servants – Victoria Waterfield, a former companion of the Doctor, and Professor Travers, whose research into yeti sightings led him into the Intelligence’s trap. The Brigadier may be forced to kill old friends to ensure that his grandson’s world has a future.

written by Marc Platt
directed by Christopher Barry
music by Ian Levine, Nigel Stock and Erwin Keiles

Cast: Nicholas Courtney (Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith), Deborah Watling (Victoria Waterfield), Jack Watling (Professor Travers), Beverley Cressman (Kate Lethbridge-Stewart), Mark Trotman (Daniel Hinton), Geoffrey Beevers (Harrods), Peter Silverleaf (Christopher Rice), John Leeson (Anthony), Miles Richardson (Captain Cavendish), James Bree (Lama), Kathy Coulter (Receptionist), Alexander Landen (Gordon Lethbridge-Stewart), Jonathan Clarkson (Chilly #1), Miles Cherry (Chilly #2), Richard Landen (Lead Yeti), David Howe (Yeti), Tony Clark (Yeti), Conrad Turner (Yeti), Stephen Bradshaw (UNIT Soldier), Keith Brooks (UNIT Soldier), Mark Moore (UNIT Soldier), Gabriel Mykaj (UNIT Soldier), John Reddingston (UNIT Soldier)

Review: Delayed in its production and release, Downtime was originally intended for a 1993 debut to coincide with Doctor Who’s 30th anniversary, but when it looked like an official BBC direct-to-video TV movie called The Dark Dimension might actually be produced (with all of the surviving TV Doctors, no less), the fans backing the production of Downtime let the schedule slide. It’s a pity, as the only member of their cast who would’ve had a conflicted schedule was Nicholas Courtney (aka Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart), and in the end, Dark Dimension never got off the ground. Downtime made for a better anniversary reunion anyway, concentrating on the series’ well-loved stable of favorite guest stars rather than the Doctor himself.

In some ways, Downtime is also hopelessly fannish, with insider continuity references galore that no Doctor Who neophyte could ever hope to comprehend. It’s a joy to see the actors return in roles both old and new (look for John “voice of K-9” Leeson in the role of NeWorld’s paranoid campus disc jockey), and if this is the last televised appearance of Nick Courtney in the role of the Brigadier – and I suspect that it may well be – it’s a fine coda for the character and Courtney’s portrayal of him. Here we see the former head of UNIT in retirement, having even left the teaching job that was added to the character’s resumè in the 1980s, but still very sharp and suspicious. It almost makes one wish that perhaps during the Pertwee years, Doctor Who’s producer and script editor could have broken format and given the Brigadier and UNIT a Doctor-less adventure of their own. (It’s since been done in the novels.) Elisabeth Sladen does a fine reprise of Sarah Jane Smith, but somehow it seems a bit manipulative to have Victoria (Deborah Watling) as the villain of the piece, even under mind control. It’s not Watling’s fault, mind you, but this source of tension really only has meaning to longtime Doctor Who fans who know the significance of that character to the series. Deborah’s father Jack Watling reprises his role as Professor Travers from the late 60s Yeti episodes The Abominable Snowmen and Web Of Fear, but that character also suffers from the mind-control ploy.

I’ve already griped about the soundtrack CD before, and while the music works marginally better with a visual context, it still grates on me. On the visual end, the effects are at least up to par with the final season of Doctor Who on BBC-TV, which isn’t bad for a fan-made video released just six years later. The new Yeti costumes are every bit as menacing as the original, and the matte painting effects are exceptional. The visual flair of Downtime really kicks into high gear with the Brigadier’s spooky dream sequences, shot in black & white with layers of dreamy video echo effects. The video was directed by Christopher Barry, a veteran BBC director whose Doctor Who experience stretches all the way back to 1963’s The Daleks.

Yes, it’s got a bit of a low-budget look, but Downtime makes for enjoyable viewing – if you’re already a fan.

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