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.