THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

The Abominable Snowmen
The Web of Fear
Fury from the Deep
Remembrance of the Daleks
Downtime (video production)
Virgin Publishing
Downtime

Author Marc Platt Cover taken from the excellent Doctor Who books home page
ISBN# 0 426 20462 X
Published 1996
Continuity After Mawdryn Undead

Synopsis: The Great Intelligence returns to try and invade Earth.


Reviews

A Review by Sean Gaffney 18/8/99

n.b. I have not seen the Downtime video yet, so this is strictly by the book.

This is another in a long string of MAs to start out very slowly and pick up about halfway through the book. I had a lot of trouble with the beginning of this book, mainly because Marc had the Brigadier as the protagonist, but he wasn't at the beginning of the story. So we had Victoria, who was too confused by the Intelligence/her own grief to be as effective as she should be.

Despite that, the characters worked very well. The Brig was excellent, and his emotions as he reunites with his estranged daughter are very well done. She is well written, though a bit wishy-washy. Sarah, freed from the role of companion, is just what fans wanted: a hard-nosed, efficient journalist, with no trace of the screaming, "Oh, Doctor" companion we saw. And the other one-shots were also well carried off, even Bambera (who I gather was not in the video).

Plot - Ehhh...well, this is essentially System Shock with the Great Intelligence thrown in. I don't know which originated first, but SS came first as an MA, so this is the book that suffers. Plus, there is use of Cyberspace, so Dreamwatch will hate it.

Writing style - As I said, slow going at first, but once the Brig becomes the focus, it really picks up. Also, this book feels like a UNIT story. The plot and writing, for once, are economical when they need to be, and evocative when they can. No overstressed prose and extra adjectives here!

Climax - Well...lots of dead Chillys, but that's okay, 'cause they were layabouts. That's the only bit I had trouble with. The meeting of Brig and grandson was excellent.

Other - Code NN and QQ indeed. Plus we had Chap with fur - fire when ready, and I'd rather have a pint. But hey, steal from the best. :-)

By the way, did I mention that there's no Doctor? Oh, the second appears in flashbacks, and the third pops up at the end to chat with Victoria, but other than that...and he wasn't really needed, either.

8/10.


A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 28/8/00

It`s difficult to class this as a Missing Adventure, because it is based on a Doctor Who spin-off. Still here goes...

PLOT: Too simplistic for a novel really. It had to be relatively accessible to a viewing audience, but readers might be expecting more. Basically the Great Intelligence plans to invade Earth via computers at New World University. Readers will note photos from the video actually appear in the book; page fillers I wonder?

THE DOCTOR: Seemingly to justify this as a Doctor Who MA, he appears twice in cameo roles.

VICTORIA: Older, still seeking her father and trying to cope with her grief. We do get something of her background since she left the TARDIS, although questions such what she was doing after visiting the Det-Sen Monastery and prior to funding New World remain unanswered.

THE BRIGADIER: The expansion of his personal life and his meeting both his daughter Kate and grandson Gordon are carefully handled. Again questions such as him seeing Victoria in his dreams for no reason are left open.

SARAH JANE: At last a proper investigative journalist and hard faced with it. Shame she doesn`t get to do a great deal.

OTHERS: Well K-9 features briefly, as does Travers if it is him. Kate features too late in the story to have any lasting impact, especially as it centres on The Brigadier and Victoria. Daniel Hinton, Anthony, Harrods, Cavendish - they all seem to be struggling for equal space.

OVERALL: Too many loose ends,although the characters that are used properly (the regulars) are used well. In short too many characters, not enough plot. 6/10.


A Review by Finn Clark 22/4/02

I never saw the video drama upon which this novel (isation?) was based. My memories of this from 1996 were: (a) a dislocated sense of unWhoishness due to the absence of a Doctor figure, and (b) depression about poor Victoria Waterfield.

This time around I was prepared for them both. The biggest surprise for me was how unlike a Marc Platt book it felt. From my recent reading I'd assumed Marc's work would be convoluted, literary and probably a bit weak in the storyline department. Not here. This is a novelisation, admittedly longer than Marc's Target ones but still at root a video drama. To be honest, I'm not sure the higher word count serves it well. His Battlefield and Ghost Light adaptations fairly cracked along, while losing a hundred pages from this might have made it leaner and more exciting. The underlying story isn't any more complicated than those two TV adventures.

It's trad. Bad guys do bad things and our heroes stop them. It's as simple as that, or at least it would be if it wasn't for the lack of Doctor. There isn't even a Doctor-substitute. Former companions proliferate, but the limelight is being spread too widely for anyone to get very much of it. Sarah Jane investigates, but she's largely a peripheral figure. Victoria's the bad guy! The Brigadier comes nearest to being a traditional hero, but much of his subplot involves family issues and his estranged daughter rather than fighting baddies.

Hero doesn't confront villain until late in the day. I was prepared for this on my second reading and could immerse myself in Downtime's slightly sidestepped world, but back in 1996 it was offputting.

It's also odd seeing our old friends twenty-odd years down the line. On a related topic I really appreciated the photo section in the middle and kept flicking back to it, not only to see the Brigadier's daughter Kate but to remind myself about how these familiar faces looked these days. Sarah Jane has changed the least, both physically and in personality, but K9 is an ever-present reminder that even for her this is a post-Doctor life.

We learn yet more about the Brigadier's family, but it's well done - one of the book's two emotional cores. The Lethbridge-Stewart generations are eked out a little further and we reflect on how desperately random and shambolic the poor man's families turned out. This subplot is very nice... but couldn't the cover artist have used more flattering photo-reference? Nick Courtney looks like a walrus!

Then there's poor, poor Victoria. The Intelligence nearly drives her insane. She'll probably die an old maid. (It's never stated outright that she's still a virgin, but that was the intention of both Debbie Watling and Marc Platt and Downtime shows us a parent-fixated old biddy who seems to be actively avoiding both old and new relationships.) I felt desperately sorry for her, and it seems clear to me that the Doctor did too. Yup, it's another unhappy ex-companion. Sigh.

Admittedly she probably wouldn't describe her life as tragic. She ends the book a wealthy lass and throughout shows Debbie's tendency to giggle. Mind you, one weird thing was bringing together thoughts of Debbie's father (Jack Watling, aka. Professor Travers) and Victoria's father (the late Waterfield). They're even both called Edward! Even Victoria gets confused at one point.

Between this and Lungbarrow, you'll see Chris Cwej, Romana, Leela, New Ace, the Brigadier, Sarah Jane Smith, Victoria Waterfield and all three K9s, not to mention quick appearances for Susan and Jamie. Bloody 'ell. But I suppose it's excusable, in that Lungbarrow concluded an era while Downtime is vainly trying to pump up its Whoishness with as many old faces as possible.

There's some imaginative Yeti reinvention, with some terrifying new sphere abilities. Their webs are spooky too. Overall this should have been a straightforward, entertaining read (apart from unfortunate lapses into politics), but an odd twilight air hangs over the story. Its main characters are long past their prime and in thrall to their past lives. The future is presented as something to be feared, in the sinister shape of the Chillies and the new university. And most obviously, Downtime is basically a fan video starring old characters from a long-dead TV series.

Peculiarly unsettling.


A Good Book That Could Have Been Better by Matthew Kresal 4/3/11

Downtime is perhaps best described as being an expanded novelization of the 1995 Doctor Who spin-off video that featured characters from the series including Victoria Waterfield, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Sarah Jane Smith, Professor Edward Travers and the Yeti but not the Doctor due to rights issues. The novelization is of course an expansion of the original script for the video (as the original video was only about an hour in length). The result is that, despite fine characterizations and concepts, the novel version is rather slow-moving and seemingly full of padding.

The novel does have fine characterizations of the series' previously existing characters. There really isn't a single central character and instead moves between Victoria Waterfield, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Sarah Jane Smith. Victoria perhaps gets the majority of narrative dedicated to her, especially with the forty page first chapter and her subsequent running of the New World University. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart is on the verge of retiring from his post-UNIT work as a teacher and is with some reluctance dragged into the stories events from a former student now at the University and his daughter Kate. Sarah Jane, still a journalist, finds herself being asked to investigate old UNIT colleagues by the University and senses something is up. All the characters remain true to their TV incarnations (perhaps not surprising as they were played in the video version by the original actors) and it's nice to see what life holds beyond the TARDIS. The result is familiar characters given new angles.

There's also a wide cast of supporting characters as well. These include Professor Edward Travers, a character from the two Great Intelligence/Yeti stories of the 1960's, and a few appearances from K9 as well. The original characters of the story include Lethbridge-Stewart's former student Daniel Hinton who now a student at New World University, the Brigadier's estranged daughter Kate who, along with her young son, seems besieged by the University's students, UNIT Captain Cavendish who is not quite what he seems and the homeless Harrods who hangs around near the University. Many of the characters work very well though Harrods comes across as little more than cardboard. Together, they make a good group of supporting characters.

As mentioned above, this is really an expanded novelization of the video story. As a result, there is much added to bring the story up to the appropriate page count. A prime example being the forty page first chapter that, while expanding the video's opening sequence to give some needed back story, is certainly far too long and doesn't really seem focused for the most part. In fact, much of the first half of the novel is very slow-moving and as a result the book takes a while to get moving. It also doesn't help that the basic story itself has sizable plot holes (how does Lethbridge-Stewart dream of an older Victoria while not knowing who she is?). The story also lacks the claustrophobic atmosphere of the first two Great Intelligence/Yeti stories as well and trades for an expansive story that is at times an uneasy cross between Doctor Who's usual alien invasion plot and the surreal as things like the astral plane come heavily into play. These hold back what could have possibly been a better story.

The expansion does have its moments though. These include nice character moments such as a moment in chapter twenty-seven when Lethbridge-Stewart realizes he has left his gun and instead is carrying a photo of his grandson in his pocket. What it really does is expand the Who elements within the story. K9 gets to appear along side Sarah Jane which leads to a nice in-joke when she visits the University and hears its radio station's DJ (played in the video by K9's voice John Leeson). There's also appearances from UNIT as well including the Brigadier's replacement Crichton (seen in The Five Doctors) and its future commander Bambera (from the final UNIT TV story of the original series Battlefield) who's still a captain here. There's also the prolouge which looks at the aftermath of The Web Of Fear on both Victoria and Lethbridge-Stewart (and in the case of the latter leads to both the forming of UNIT and the issues with family seen later in the novel). Last but not least, the Doctor himself gets to appear. Not as a major character mind you but in two cameos that bookend the novel (the second Doctor in the beginning, the third at the end) and the last one is really rather touching. For moments here and there, the expansion works wonders and almost makes up for the padding it mostly is.

Downtime is a strange beast in book form. While it does have fine characterizations of characters from the show, good supporting characters and some bits of added details, the fact that the story has to be significantly expanded out to take an hour-long video to novel length hurts it as it becomes both padded and slow-moving at times. Downtime then is a good book but one that perhaps could have been better.