Nicolas Courtney, Deborah Watling, Jack Watling, Elizabeth Sladen. Written by Marc Platt. Directed by Christopher Barry.
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 19/9/98
Boasting more Doctor Who characters than any other spin-off, Downtime promises a lot and manages to deliver with surprising results. Managing to look convincingly younger, the story opens with Deborah Watling as Victoria searching for her father, summoned in her dreams to the Det-Sen Monastery. Fifteen years later and a more cynical, harder Victoria has set up the New World University for disaffected students, who spend all day listening to Tibetan chants.
Unfortunately Deborah Watling fails to really convince as the tougher Victoria; her performance lacks the weight it requires. Nicholas Courtney reprises the role of the Brigadier as if he`d never left it, carrying with him much character development. Through various dream sequences, meeting his daughter and grandson, and finally confronting the Yeti and Great Intelligence, his performance is never less than sterling. Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane, sporting a sports car(as in Robot) and the same taste in clothes as in The Five Doctors, is authentically recreated and portrayed, but lacks any character development.
So to the Yeti, bearing an almost identical look to their counterparts from sixties Doctor Who... they actually don`t seem as imposing in colour as they did in black and white, only really impressing in their initial battle sequence. What does let the production down slightly is the use of "techno-jargon", making it a little difficult to understand at times (but as Doctor Who frequently did this, it is in keeping with the show). Also the question of how Victoria funded New World is left unresolved, but the good points outweigh the bad.
Complemented by Marc Platt`s script, Christopher Barry`s excellent location work and all round direction and Mark Ayre`s haunting music, Downtime is highly recommended, not least due to the fact that it is very nearly "real" Doctor Who.
A Review by Daniel Spelner 28/11/01
Reeltime Pictures biggest Doctor Who spin-off boasts the return of the Yeti in what is the last in the Great Intelligence trilogy. Marc Platt's storyline regurgitates wearisome, predictable plotting that Dr Who is littered with; his efforts to modernize it amount to incorporating the WorldWide Web as just the latest means through which aliens intend to invade the Earth. He also creates many preposterous characters that do best to strip the story of credibility, which sinks lower still with some hopeless, hokey performances. Though they could legitimately complain about their equally trite dialogue...
What makes this drama worthwhile are the two main stars and the highly creditable direction. Nicholas Courtney is first-class as the steadfast Brigadier whose calming presence provides viewers with an assurance that coherence hasn't been abandoned totally. Likewise Deborah Watling gives a controlled performance as Victoria, giving her an icy composure that puts her over-the-top co-stars to shame. The production is upheld enormously however by the direction, nicely shot throughout by C. Barry.
An ambitious success by Tim Roll-Pickering 9/2/03
Eight years after the small scale Wartime, Reeltime pictures offers the grand spectacle of Downtime, one of the most ambitious of all Doctor Who spin-offs. Bringing back no less than three former companions as well as an old enemy, its accompanying monster and a guest character the result is a strong example of just how much can be accomplished by a dedicated team. A lot of effort has gone into making Downtime feel like Doctor Who, even down to the design of the video sleeve where the back cover bears a suspicious resemblance to contemporary BBC Video releases. Writer Marc Platt and director Christopher Barry both contribute whilst John Leeson appears in person as a DJ, just adding to Downtime's credentials. But it would be foolish to see the production as a mere rehash tribute to the series as it instead attempts to develop the saga of the Great Intelligence further as well as exploring to a degree what happens to a companion after they leave the Doctor and settle in a time period different from their native one.
By the time Downtime was released it had become almost a cliche to introduce a new relative of the Brigadier after Kadiatu in the New Adventure Transit or Uncle Mario in the Missing Adventure/radio play The Ghosts of N-Space. On this occasion we stick a little closer to home and get to meet his daughter Kate and grandson Gordon. This provides the opportunity to look at how the families of UNIT personnel deal with being kept in the dark by their nearest and dearest, whilst also showing the Brigadier's delight at discovering he is a grandfather. Nicholas Courtney plays the role with ease but still manages to surprise, especially in the dream sequences that are deliberately reminiscent of The Three Doctors even though he does fall victim to another cliche of the Brigadier always believing an unfamiliar sandscape is Cromer! Elisabeth Sladen reprises the role of Sarah Jane Smith but the character has substantially less to do and so serves as little more than a supporting journalist, which is a slight disappointment for fans of the character but it does mean that the wider story doesn't get sidetracked. At the centre of the story is Victoria Waterfield, who has now been working for the Great Intelligence for many years and comes across as an old embittered woman, though Deborah Watling manages to recreate the 'lost girl' in the pre-credits sequence where a younger Victoria visits the Detsen monastery in search of her father. Of the three Courtney steals the show, no doubt used to resurrecting the Brigadier by now. Jack Watling also returns as Professor Travers but has less to do since the character is for the most part a mobile corpse animated by the Great Intelligence.
Marc Platt's script is generally competent with many subtle touches such as the references to 'NN' and 'QQ' (the story codes for The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear respectively). However there are some illogical touches, such as Victoria's belief that her father could be alive in the late twentieth century whilst there is no explanation at all as to how the control spheres have gained the ability to transform humans into Yeti. There's also an obsession with computers and the dangers of the internet being invaded by 'computer flu' that now seem almost quaint barely seven years on. Generally however the script is competent. Christopher Barry gives good direction and there are only a few times where the cheapness of the production is given away - most notably in the quality of the video cameras and their poor ability to cope with bright lights. The University of East Anglia is used as the location, partially disguised by some CGI effects such as the pyramid atop it that doesn't seem at all out of place. Overall this is a very strong effort for an independent video spin-off that holds up extremely well and makes the viewer wonder what could be achieved given the rights to use the Doctor and TARDIS... 9/10
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 14/9/04
When Doctor Who finished in 1989 there were plenty of imaginative fans who decided to produce their own spin on the legend. There is something of a subgenre now that has built up on the back of DW - and it shows no sign of abating, with Benny and BBV taking up the mantle. Downtime is one such piece. It brings together characters from the TV show and puts them in an adventure using aspects of our favourite programme.
And so we have Victoria Waterfield, Sarah-Jane Smith, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart as the main players. We have a direct sequel to Abominable Snowmen and Web of Fear. We have supporting characters doing their turn too - Professor Travers, John Leeson (voice of K9) as the DJ, Geoffrey Beevers as Harrods, the local tramp. The writer is Marc Platt who wrote the brilliant Ghost Light, and went on to write the magnificent Lungbarrow. The Director is Chris Barry, also familiar to DW. The DW connections are everywhere, I can think of only The Five Doctors that contains so many old companions.
One notable absentee of course is the Doctor. But there is no Professor here, nobody that's "something else but quite close to that Doctor bloke". The characters are all bona fide DW personnel - just without the Doctor. It thus reminded me of the companion novels that were published in the 80s. These companions are great characters, and deserve the focus Doctor-less stories give them.
The Doctor may not be here in person, but his presence is everywhere in it. I doubt it would appeal to the non-fan, and 99% of its audience has to be fans of the show - that's how these spin-offs succeed. There are so many references to Doctor Who. Every few minutes some remark is made, it is a continuity-fest, but a good one. It is quite funny how each character is connected, and how each puts in their little say say about the Doctor.
As a sequel to the aforementioned Yeti stories it works pretty well. The Great Intelligence's motives are the same, their methods the same. The story works less well than its predecessors because of the setting above all else. New World HQ is a rather bland affair compared to Tibetan monasteries or the eerie London Underground. As a result of the setting the Yeti don't come across as effectively, but the costumes are pretty good.
On the downside of Downtime the story is quite mixed in its impact. There are some nice little private moments (the Brigadier and his daughter, Victoria stating she is out of her own time). There are some strange dream sequences too, which particularly affect the Brigadier. This combined with the Intelligence threat means things have to be rushed at the end. Everyone standing about in the New World Carpark doesn't strike me as the best finish to a story. The whole New World thing was poorly realized I felt. The human drones in their very silly sweatshirts and caps, Victoria's weak sidekick. Sarah-Jane is woefully underused as well.
On the plus side the Brigadier benefits from more screen time. His family background fits perfectly with his militaristic background, and he really is the star of the piece. Nick Courtney does a fine job, his derring-do spirit is very much intact. The Brigadier is the best thing about Downtime. The Brigadier works very well too with Harrods, a terrific supporting character played by Geoffrey (The Master) Beevers.
Of all the spin-offs that Doctor Who has spawned, this is certainly one of the most professional. The production values are pretty good, and Marc Platt provides a character driven piece that is full of DW references. An interesting venture and well worth a look. 7/10
A Review by Finn Clark 1/4/13
Boring, bad and shoddy, yet it might still be one of the better Doctor Who-related fan video productions. I haven't seen many, but at least I can say it's better than Lance Parkin's Cyberon.
The storyline is... written by Marc Platt. Uh-oh. I love Ghost Light and I like his two Target novelisations, but Lungbarrow has problems and Time's Crucible drove me out of my mind. To put it mildly, Platt isn't a plot-driven writer. Result here: boredom. This story has too many characters struggling to get a share of a storyline that's treading water. There's Victoria Waterfield, Sarah Jane Smith, the Brigadier, Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, UNIT, the Great Intelligence, the Yeti, a DJ played by John Leeson, a homeless ex-soldier played by Geoffrey Beavers and even Professor Edward Travers, played by the original Jack Watling himself. That was kind of awesome, actually. Anyway, there's also James Bree (The War Games, Full Circle, The Trial of a Time Lord) as a Lama. There's even a grandson the Brigadier never knew he had, played by a disturbingly ugly small boy. That poor kid. He didn't just fall out of the ugly tree, but had it turn into a Whomping Willow and give him a beating.
Imagine The Five Doctors or The Stolen Earth, but with less plot. Almost none, actually. This is just as obvious in Platt's novelisation, which incidentally went further than this film in making me desperately sorry for Platt's miserable old maid Victoria. People wander about. The Brigadier is concerned about stuff. Victoria teams up with the Great Intelligence (eh?) to run a university, which means she stays in her office all the time and does nothing. There's a bit of a trad showdown in the last 15-20 minutes as the Great Intelligence starts to take over, but it's still pedestrian.
THINGS THAT COULD HAVE IMPROVED THIS FILM:
There is good stuff, though. Not much, but some.
NICHOLAS COURTNEY. Always solid. He's nowhere near his best, but he's still a sturdy old pro who's never less than watchable and more than capable of carrying a narrative. You're safe when he's on-screen. There's also a mildly interesting bit of fan speculation, where Miles Richardson (son of Ian) wonders why Alistair never rose above the rank of Brigadier and Nick answers with "internal politics". Might that also explain why he resigned so suddenly to be teaching maths in Mawdryn Undead? There's a silly bit where he checks his watch and says "Tuesday", but maybe he has a clever watch?
KATE LETHBRIDGE-STEWART. It's curious to see her here, seventeen years before The Power of Three. She's a very different person, but she also has no idea of what her father did and thinks he was an ordinary soldier. Alistair kept his job secret even from his family. She's close to being the most interesting character here and I'm not surprised that she returned in Daemos Rising. I don't suppose anyone has a copy of that? As for Beverley Cressman, she's not a professional actress but she doesn't disgrace herself or anything. Speaking of which...
DEBORAH WATLING. She's actually okay within her comfort zone. She can do wistful, sweet and nostalgic. She's quite good in the scene where she's told a boy jumped from the roof. Unfortunately, um... well.
LIZ SLADEN. Not unlike Debbie Watling, except much better. She's a more competent actress, her range is broader and she only leaves her comfort zone once. Her storyline here is a lot like School Reunion, incidentally. Sarah investigates a place of learning which has all the latest technology and where the students are suspiciously obedient.
JACK WATLING. I was gobsmacked just to have him here.
THE YETI. They're an odd monster, aren't they? They only really appeared in two stories and much of their iconography is incidental and almost eccentric. Professor Travers, the Brigadier pre-UNIT, bleeping silver balls, cobwebs, Buddhist chanting ("om mane padme hum"), carved figurines, looking like big ginger teddy bears, etc. Marc Platt dutifully refers to it all, whether it belongs in the story or not. I admire that, actually. It creates an odd, slightly feverish atmosphere that gives the film a feeling of rightness, even though the film as a whole is dull wank. There's Victoria, the Brigadier, Travers, UNIT and so on. The finale has a Web of Fear and manages to be kind of spooky, while I think putting the Brigadier in a dreamscape is fitting and clever. The opening scene is even set in Tibet.
UNIT. Where did those soldiers come from, eh? Note also the blue Battlefield berets, rather than their regular army-issue kit from the 1970s or the RTD-era red ones.
JOHN LEESON. I'm a fan of John Leeson's, although he's hardly being stretched here.
I watched this because of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart's recent return in The Power of Three, of course. In summary, kind of painful and you can just imagine how disappointed the fans behind it must have been after getting all these people who'd worked on the TV show. (Christopher Barry had been retired for a decade, by the way.) However, it's quite fun to watch this bizarre cast at work, while furthermore the film does manage a kind of creepiness from time to time. The Yeti are okay when we can't see them square-on. The brainwashed students are rather effective. The Brigadier's troll grandson gave me the willies, although he wasn't supposed to. It reaches a low level of watchability, which isn't the case for all fan video productions.
I wouldn't recommend the novelisation either, by the way.