War Time

War Time

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

Assigned to safely transport a radioactive cargo, UNIT’s Sergeant Benton is plagued by nightmarish memories when he passes a rural site he remembers all too well – his younger brother Chris died there while the two were playing as children. Increasingly bothered by the memory, Benton finds himself literally working through the ghosts of his past, but is unaware when the other UNIT soldier is knocked out. By the time Benton recovers from his trip down memory lane, he’s alone against terrorist agents who are trying to steal the radioactive material for their own sinister ends.

written by Andy Lane & Helen Stirling
directed by Keith Barnfather
music by Mark Ayres

Cast: John Levene (Sergeant Benton), Michael Wisher (Mr. Benton), Mary Greenhalgh (Mrs. Benton), Paul Greenhalgh (Chris), Steven Stanley (Johnny), Peter Noad (Willis), Paul Flanagan (Man), Nicholas Briggs (Soldier)

Timeline: unknown, though it may fall before The Android Invasion, in which Benton has been promoted to Regiment Sergeant Major.

Review: Reissued not too long ago in a new VHS package with supplemental material, War Time is the granddaddy of them all: the first fan-made Doctor Who spinoff video to ascend beyond the realm, or budget, of home movies. As Doctor Who was still in production at the time, producer/director Keith Barnfather made the decision to focus on a fan-favorite secondary character instead. John Levene, who played recurring UNIT troop Benton in the 1960s and 70s, had actually retired from acting when he was approached to do War Time. As it so happens, he was impressed with the script, was eager to work with Michael Wisher, and couldn’t pass up a project that would be focused entirely on him. The rest, as they say, is history.

Though exceedingly short and somewhat simplistic, War Time still manages to parallel the era of Doctor Who during which it was made: the production values are decent, the acting is top-notch, and it’s a bit of a head trip. All in all, actually rather enjoyable, and if you’re not that fascinated by it, fear not – it clocks in at under 40 minutes. Still, when so much of modern-day Doctor Who is now in the fans’ hands – the novels, the audio plays, and an ongoing stream of video spinoffs – it’s hard to overstate the importance of War Time. This production really set the ball rolling in terms of the fans paying for permission to use characters from Doctor Who, and then turning around and making a bit of a profit from the results.

This is a point repeatedly hammered home in the Making Of War Time documentary, which actually far exceeds the running time of the program it documents (a recurring phenomenon with Doctor Who video spinoffs). Many of the show’s participants are interviewed at length, including Barnfather and Levene himself (who now resides in Los Angeles under the name of John Anthony Blake), and there’s also a lengthy before-and-after section discussing the amateur fan films that preceded War Time – and the much glossier efforts that came in its wake. Sometimes it gets a bit too self-back-patting for my taste, but considering that the people involved in the late 80s/early 90s cottage industry of Doctor Who spinoffs were keeping the entire property going at the time of the re-release, I suppose they’ve earned it.

Shakedown: Return of the Sontarans

Shakedown: Return Of The Sontarans

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

The solar racing yacht Tiger Moth, a sleek (but vulnerable) spacecraft, is readying for its berth in a solar sailing competition. But en route to the starting point, the Tiger Moth is attacked by a Sontaran War Wheel and forced to accept a boarding party. The Tiger Moth’s captain, Lisa Deranne, is already unhappy with the delay, but matters become worse when Sontaran shock troops storm her ship, taking her crew and herself prisoner (except for chief engineer Robar, who is working safely below decks during the attack). The Sontaran commander, Steg, is on a mission to find a Rutan spy who escaped from the Sontarans and stowed away aboard a ship from the space station which was also the Tiger Moth’s last port of call. Steg will stop at nothing to find and destroy the Rutan, whose intelligence could turn the tide in the age-old Rutan-Sontaran war. One by one, beginning with Robar, Lisa Deranne’s crew is killed off, and it becomes evident that the Rutan is indeed aboard the Tiger Moth. But which party would make a more deadly ally – the shapeshifting Rutan, or the merciless Sontarans?

written by Terrance Dicks
directed by Kevin Davies
music by Mark Ayres

Cast: Jan Chappell (Captain Lisa Deranne), Brian Croucher (Kurt), Michael Wisher (Robar), Carole Ann Ford (Zorelle), Sophie Aldred (Mari), Rory O’Donnell (Nikos), Toby Aspin (Commander Steg), Tom Finnis (Lieutenant Vorn), Jonathan Saville (First Sontaran Trooper), Keith Dunne (Sontaran Trooper), Derek Handley (Sontaran Trooper), Julian Jones (Sontaran Trooper), Stephen Mansfield (Sontaran Trooper)

Review: Easily my favorite Doctor Who fan video spinoff ever, Shakedown truly captures the elements that made its inspiration great: the budget doesn’t matter. The actors and the dialogue (from a suspenseful and, quite frankly, very funny Terrance Dicks script) will carry the show. Shakedown demonstrates that atmosphere is not a quantifiable commodity that can only be purchased with a seven-digit budget – atmosphere is instead generated by the story and the performances. That said, the production values aren’t too shabby. Some very nice, Red Dwarf-ish model work shows off the delicate, lovely Tiger Moth, and whoever did the lighting deserves a medal, as it often disguises the telltale modern-day signs of the location (the redressed bowels of an actual ocean-faring ship). And finally, Mark Ayres gives the whole show a tremendous boost with what may be his second-best score to date (next only to The Innocent Sleep). Read More

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. Read More

Auton

Auton

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

Dr. Sally Arnold, senior researcher at an under-funded facility contracted to UNIT, experiments with a round plastic artifact from UNIT’s archives. After running out of other ways to get the sphere to respond, Dr. Arnold bombards it with radio signals from deep space, including one pulsating signal to which it violently responds, killing Arnold’s lab assistant and then disappearing. A pair of unusual investigators and a platoon of UNIT troops arrive to take charge, finding only Arnold and the eccentric UNIT archivist alive. The investigators clearly suspect that there’s more going on, but they aren’t revealing much. When it turns out that the archivist lied about more Auton/Nestene-related items held in UNIT’s warehouse, the search for the missing sphere intensifies – but before long, it will have summoned help in the form of deadly Autons, programmed to defend it at all costs.

screenplay by Nicholas Briggs
directed by Nicholas Briggs
music by Alistair Lock

Cast: Bryonie Pritchard (Dr. Sally Arnold), George Telfer (Graham Winslet), Verona Chard (Janice), Reece Shearsmith (Dr. Daniel Matthews), Andrew Fettes (Sergeant Ramsay), Michael Wade (Lockwood), Roy Hughes, Gabriel Mykaj, Mike Parry, David Ringwood, Richard Smith (UNIT Soldiers), John Ainsworth, Gareth Baggs, Blaine Coughlan, David Ringwood (Autons)

Notes: Part of the code on the Auton crates – “RH / AAA” – refers to the late Robert Holmes, the veteran Doctor Who writer and script editor who created the Autons, and the BBC’s internal production code for the Doctor Who story in which they first appeared, Spearhead From Space. That story is also where the Doctor devised the unwieldly contraption that allows Dr. Arnold to battle the Autons.

Review: A cleverly-made “sidebar” to some past Doctor Who episodes, this opening volley in the Auton trilogy manages to attain quite a creepiness factor with an economy of effects and action. Auton also oozes – if you’ll forgive the pun – “pilot,” as its creators clearly had more story in mind than just this single installment. The characters are set up, the relationships (and potential problems thereof) are established, and yet they come together to win the day – or at least win the immediate battle in what promises to be a longer conflict. This is really the closest there’s been to a fan-made UNIT series, so it’s also refreshing to see that organization get an outing that makes it look bigger and a bit more effective than just, as Nicholas Courtney himself once put it, “the Brig’s Army”. Read More

Mindgame

MIndgame

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

A Sontaran, a Draconian, and a female human pilot are kidnapped from their respective sectors of the galaxy and are subjected to the mental and psychological manipulations of another alien creature who is attempting to determine which race’s territory to invade next. However, the three prisoners manage to turn the tables on their captor, trapping him momentarily. But doing what any researcher would do with a tainted experiment, the alien escapes, setting his vessel for self-destruct. Now the Sontaran, the Draconian and the human must work well enough together under the threat of death to find their own escape route.

written by Terrance Dicks
directed by Keith Barnfather
music by Bug Music Productions

Cast: Sophie Aldred (Human), Miles Richardson (Draconian), Toby Aspin (Sontaran), Bryan Robson (The Alien)

Notes: The dialogue for Sophie Aldred’s human character is written not unlike Ace’s dialogue, with one major hint (“Wicked!”) at the very end of the episode; if one interprets this to mean that the character is Ace, it’s possible that this could be the first on-screen portrayal of Ace from the New Adventures era (namely, between leaving the TARDIS in the novel “Love And War” and rejoining later in “Deceit”). However, the sequel production Mindgame Trilogy may invalidate this interpretation, indicating that this is not Ace.

Review: It’s very easy to have high expectations of this Reeltime independent video from 1998. The script, after all, was written by Terrance Dicks, Doctor Who’s script editor for much of the late sixties and early seventies. The alien makeups were some of the more credible and well-crafted work I’ve yet seen in what is, essentially, a fan production. And the cast featured Sophie “Ace” Aldred and Miles Richardson (who has made the odd appearance on such shows as Highlander). How could they go wrong? Read More

Auton 2: Sentinel

Auton

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

Two years after the Auton outbreak at UNIT’s storage facility, a shipment of inert Autons being secretly transported by UNIT is awakened by the close proximity of a Nestene sphere. The reanimated Autons kill their UNIT handlers and walk into the bay on their way to Sentinel Island. UNIT comes to Lockwood and Dr. Arnold again for their expertise in dealing with the Auton threat, but the new UNIT scientific advisor, Natasha Alexander, has grave misgivings about Lockwood – and her latent psi abilities give her an insight into his true nature and his connection to the Autons. As UNIT, with a wary Lockwood and a distrustful Natasha in tow, gets ready to wage war on Sentinel Island, Winslet is also ready with a weapon of his own – he’s preparing to revive an inert, stranded Nestene creature using the psychic energy generated by the faith of his parishioners.

screenplay by Nicholas Briggs
directed by Nicholas Briggs
music by Alistair Lock

Cast: Michael Wade (Lockwood), George Telfer (Graham Winslet), Jo Castleton (Natasha Alexander), Andrew Fettes (Sergeant Ramsay), John Wadmore (Colonel Wilson), Bryonie Pritchard (Dr. Sally Arnold), Warren Howard (Daron), Patricia Merrick (Charlotte), David Rowston (Dave), Nicholas Briggs (Mike), John Hawkins (Hardgraves), John Hansell (Davis), Jayson Bridges, Keith Brooks, Stephen Bradshaw, Vaughan Groves, Mark Moore, Gabriel Mykaj, Richard Smith, Blaine Coughlin (UNIT Soldiers), Steven Friel, Peter Trapani, Pete Cox, Rod Horne, Alexander Wylie, John Walker, Mark Jende, Matthew Bradford, Ian Taylor, Philip Clarke, Randalph Edwards, Loraine Malby, Peter Frankum, Keith Burton, Robert Dunlop, Caroline O’Sullivan, Thomas O’Sullivan, Andrew Hasley (Villagers)

Review: Released in 1998, the second installment in the Auton series seems like it should’ve been a shoo-in for exciting science fiction drama, with its interesting combination of characters having formed a somewhat uneasy team at the end of Auton, and the Auton threat still alive and on the move. The first Auton video felt very much like a series pilot, so surely Auton 2 would take that potential and run with it…right? Read More

Mindgame Trilogy

Mindgame

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

Recently escaped from an experiment in which they were almost manipulated into killing one another, a human officer, a Sontaran warrior and an eloquent Draconian have now gone their separate ways – though not necessarily to happy endings. The human finds herself alone and adrift in a solo spacecraft with no food or water left, and a dwindling supply of oxygen. The Sontaran is transported back into the heart of the battle he once craved, where he finds that his newfound ability to think freely isn’t an asset. And the Draconian is imprisoned, now confined to a cell that he can’t reason his way out of.

Battlefield written by Terrance Dicks
Prisoner 451 written by Miles Richardson
Scout Ship written by Roger Stevens
directed by Keith Barnfather
music by Nicholas Briggs

Cast: Sophie Aldred (Space Pilot 692 7896), Miles Richardson (Commander Of Brigade Merq), John Wadmore (Field Major Sarg)

Notes: Where Mindgame strongly hinted that the human soldier played by Sophie Aldred was Ace (possibly from the New Adventures novels), Mindgame Trilogy complicates that interpretation with the death of Aldred’s character.

Review: An interesting and somewhat surprising 1999 follow-up to the rather well-produced (if chlichèd) fan-made video project Mindgame, Mindgame Trilogy suffers a great deal in comparison because it alternates between being a total bummer (as Sophie Aldred’s doomed space pilot slowly rationalizes her way toward suicide) and rather annoyingly dull (the Draconian’s dilemma, something which could have been much more interesting). Read More

Auton 3

Auton

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

In the immediate aftermath of the Sentinel Island incident, UNIT investigators are concerned by the sudden disappearance (rather than fiery destruction) of the Nestene Consciousness creature. Lockwood warns that he may have inadvertently made their return possible sooner rather than later, thanks to his brief psychic link with Natasha Alexander, the new UNIT scientific advisor. And the Autons do reappear ahead of schedule, but acting strangely. Dr. Arnold is pressed into the dangerous investigation by Palmer, who himself turns out to be another psychic with his own link to Natasha. Increasingly, UNIT is convinced that Lockwood has returned to the Autons and poses a danger to Earth, but only Dr. Arnold and Natasha seem to be prepared to believe that he still remains loyal to humanity.

screenplay by Arthur Wallis (a.k.a. Nicholas Briggs)
additional material by Paul Ebbs
directed by Patricia Merrick and Bill Baggs
music by Alistair Lock

Cast: George Telfer (Graham Winslet), Helen Baggs (Nurse), Andrew Fettes (Sergeant Ramsay), Bryonie Pritchard (Dr. Sally Arnold), Peter Trapani (Dalby), Graeme du Fresne (Palmer), Michael Wade (Lockwood), Jo Castleton (Natasha Alexander), Blaine Coughlan, Alex, Steve Johnson, Peter Trapani (Autons)

Review: As a rule, I try to concentrate on constructive advice when it comes to reviewing fan-made productions, simply because these aren’t shows with a ton of money behind them: they’re labors of love. However, Auton 3, the (thankfully) concluding chapter of the Auton trilogy, is nearly a decade old at the time of this review, so I’m not exactly sure this review will truly have anything new to say that the film’s makers haven’t already heard. Read More

Do You Have A Licence To Save This Planet?

Do You Have A Licence To Save This Planet?

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

Story: A crisis looms in time and/or space, and Rassilon tries to summon the greatest Time Lord in history. But he’s busy, so the universe will have to settle for a “chrono-duke” known as the Foot Doctor, who travels through space and/or time in a vehicle that looks like a washing machine. (Understandably, he gets a lot of dirty socks thrown at him.) He arrives on Earth, which is teeming with an invasion force of Cyberons. And an invasion force of Sontarans. And an invasion force of Autons. And probably worse. But the Foot Doctor has an ace up his sleeve – no, not that ace.

written by Paul Ebbs & Gareth Preston
directed by Bill Baggs
music by Mike Neilson and Steve Johnson

Cast: Sylvester McCoy (The Foot Doctor), Mark Donovan (The Salesman), Nigel Fairs (Geoff / The Licensor), Jo Castleton (Gloria), Nigel Peever (Rassilon), Gareth Preston (Delivery Man / Cyberon), Rupert Booth (Sontaran / Auton), Philip T. Robinson (Auton / Cyberon), Paul Griggs (Auton / Cyberon), Paul Ebbs (Cyberon voice), Steve Johnson (Cyberon voice)

Notes: Despite poking much fun at the unlicensed equivalents of the Doctor and the Cybermen, many of the Doctor Who baddies who appear here are licensed, and their creators are credited: the Sontarans and Autons (both created by Robert Holmes), and the Krynoid (created by Robert Banks Stewart).

Review: It’s funny watching Do You Have A Licence To Save This Planet? in retrospect. The whole message of this half-hour send-up of the Doctor Who format – such as it was in the 1980s – and its many easily-pounced-upon foibles is simple: Doctor Who fans don’t need the BBC anymore. Arguably, they don’t even need to license anything from the BBC anymore to make fan films.

Oh, how times have changed. Read More

Devious (Trailer)

Doctor Who

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

Somewhere between his second and third incarnations, an “intermediate” Doctor is dispatched by the Time Lords to do battle with the Daleks yet again, attempting to foil their most ambitious scheme yet, but the cost in the lives of innocent bystanders is high. Before his mission is even complete, the Time Lords then catch up with the Doctor yet again and complete his sentence, forcing him to regenerate fully into his third persona and sending him into exile on Earth.

written by Ashley Nealfuller & David Clarke
directed by David Clarke
music by Martin Johnson

Cast: Tony Garner (The Doctor), Jon Pertwee (The Doctor), Peter Tuddenham (Voix), Hugh Lloyd (Scribe), David Clarke (Auriga), Anthony Townsend (Callisto), Lynette East (Adreinna), Stephen Cranford (The Covellitor), Ashley Nealfuller (Chancellor Chaldor), Arthur Harrod (Aturo), Heather Cohen (Observer Aquilia), Chris T. Kirk (Observer Vardrah), Ian Edmond (Ralib), Richard Kingshott (Nilan)

Appearing in footage from The War Games: Patrick Troughton (The Doctor)

Notes: Technically, since his scenes were taped after he recorded the BBC radio play The Ghosts Of N-Space, Devious represents Jon Pertwee‘s final performance as the third Doctor before his death in 1996 (Pertwee’s scenes were filmed in April 1995). Other “name” guest stars include the late Peter Tuddenham, famous for voicing most of the sentient computers in the 1970s BBC space opera Blake’s 7. Filming on Devious began before filming began on the 1996 Doctor Who TV movie starring Paul McGann, and work on Devious continues even into the Matt Smith era. A “highlights trailer” was included, with the participation of the filmmakers, on the official BBC DVD of the second Doctor’s final regular story, The War Games (the UK release date for which is used as the premiere date for this trailer). The film’s official web site, including photos of many scenes not included in the War Games DVD trailer, can be found here.

Review: It’s hard to judge Devious on its own merits when all that’s available is a trailer. Devious is a sort of unfinished symphony: an epic work that doesn’t look like it’ll be finished anytime soon. And yet, it’s almost a part of mainstream Doctor Who folklore. It’s been in production for over 15 years, it marks Jon Pertwee’s last appearance as the Doctor, it fills in an intriguing gap in Who mythology, and Pertwee’s filmed scenes provided his surprising posthumous appearance in the 40th anniversary Big Finish audio story Zagreus. Devious is something that everyone’s heard about and, until the extended trailer appeared on The War Games DVD set, no one had seen. Read More