|With John Levene.|
|Synopsis: During all his years working for the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce, Warrant Officer John Benton never failed in his duty -- but once, long ago, he did. While on a seemingly routine delivery run for the Brigadier, Benton fi nds himself close to his childhood home, where ghosts from his past have never rested easily... Trapped in a nightmare world where past and present are one, will he be lost forever, or can he fight his way back to reality where he is desperately needed?|
A Review by Stuart Gutteridge 6/10/98
Wartime: a UNIT tale about Sergeant Benton as played by John Levene, the first independant Doctor Who spin-off to be released on video was recently reissued ten years after it`s original release. For once, the character is developed a great deal more than it ever was during Benton`s time on the show. Concentrating largely on the background surrounding his brother`s death, Wartime is an intriguing ghost story.
Everything about this is positive from the location filming, through to the incidental music to the supporting cast (including Michael Wisher who plays Benton`s father with chilling ease, adding just the right amount of menace to the part.) John Levene himself is uniformly superb as Benton, although the scenes of him portraying a grieving brother tend to grate a little. At thirty minutes, it is just the right length to hold the viewers attention.
Complimenting the tape is The Making of Wartime featuring interviews with John Levene and behind the scenes footage. Alongside this is a brief overview of Doctor Who spin-offs, with new footage of various fan projects (in the form of Dalek tales using toy Daleks, or simple Doctor Who animation, which in itself is amusing.) It carries on in this way through to the beginning of the "Auton" trilogy.
Never dull, Wartime is essential for fans of the UNIT era.
A Review by Richard Radcliffe 11/10/02
The world of the spin-off Doctor Who product exploded in the 1990s due to the absence of TV material. It's a market that has diminished somewhat in the last couple of years, due to the sheer numbers of DW official products on the market, but still has a place. Done by fans for fans, and often resulting in a product that is as good as, if not better than its original source material. What is never in question is the enthusiasm on the part of the fans.
The start of this spin-off quality market was War-Time, which was actually made in the 1980s, then dusted up for the 90s. The inspiration of Keith Barnfather mostly (with significant input form Nicholas Briggs and Mark Ayres amongst others), it was the result of a group of fans being unhappy with what was on TV during that time - this is the sort of thing they wanted to see apparently.
At 30 minutes it's a very well produced and directed piece of spin-off Doctor Who. It features Sergeant Benton, played by John Levene. He's on his way to a UNIT gathering down south, and passes close to a place he used to play as a child. Discovering Benton is from just outside Bolton is a great revelation. Learning more about this likeable chap, including his family, is also splendid.
The place that he used to play as a child (it's filmed in Rivington Park, near Bolton) provides the lion's share of the action. A marvelous place it is too. The perfect place for two brothers to play hide and seek. Lots of ruins dot the site, and nature has firmly taken over. War-Time was filmed in the middle of summer, and the glory of nature is utilized splendidly. My brother lives near Bolton, and it became a place I really wanted to visit. I now have, and you can see totally why they chose it. It really is a fabulous place. We spent a most pleasant day with my brother and his wife in and around the park. The cross country cycling in the Commonwealth Games was set there in Summer 2002.
But back to the story - Benton is having reminisces about his childhood, about a brother who fell to his death, about a father who had to go off to war. He wanders through the ruins of Rivington, blasts from the past appearing. There's a lesson about guilt in there, there's also a lesson about facing up to our fears. It's an okay script by Andy Lane and friend, which perfectly suits the half hour given to it.
I'm impressed with this production. Full use is made of the brilliant location, it is all imaginatively put together. The acting is pretty good too. John Levene is excellent, as good as ever he was on TV. Michael Wisher is the other notable addition, as Benton's father. The video released in the 90s is accompanied by a very interesting Making Of sequence. These can often be even more interesting than the actual production. As I listened to the key players citing their reasons for being involved, and their experiences making it, their enthusiasm rubs off. That some of these people now have taken things further is excellent. The most interesting interviewee was Nicholas Briggs, who pops up on virtually every spin-off. That he is doing such sterling work on Big Finish nowadays means he must be one of the longest, and most influential players in after TV DW history. It is good that our favourite show is in good hands.
I keep being impressed by the imagination and production values of these DW spin-offs. As the first I expected this to be not as good as the rest - it is in fact better than many of them, both in looks and interest. Another spin-off hit. 7/10
The spin-offs begin by Tim Roll-Pickering 30/1/03
The first ever video spin-off from the series sees Benton coming to terms with his past, his brother's death and his relationship with his father. It is a strange ghost story that is very far removed from the more typical adventures normally seen in Doctor Who. However this solo story allows the viewer to see and understand far more about Benton than was ever shown in the series. We get to find out his first name, see glimpses of his family and childhood and understand what it is that makes him tick. Andy Lane and Helen Stirling's scripts contains some powerful moments such as Benton's confrontation with his father and the story ends with a strong sense that he is all the more complete as a result.
John Levene effortlessly recreates the role of Benton, now getting the chance to explore the character more deeply than he did on television, whilst Michael Wisher gives a brilliant strong performance as Benton's father, adding no end to the strength of the production. Being only half an hour long and shot on a cheap budget there is not a great deal to Wartime but director Keith Barnfather does his best to produce something memorable and worthwhile. This drama was the very first time an independent spin-off video of the series had been done (as the additional bits on the 1997 remastered high street edition point out) and it is to be praised for setting the trail that other productions such as Shakedown, Downtime and Auton have followed. It may not be the meatiest story ever told and seem quite tame in comparison to some of its successors, but Wartime was the first and showed that it could be done. 8/10