DVD Review: Downtime

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Unofficial Doctor Who spin-off materialises on DVD

In the early 1990s Doctor Who was a battle weary Time Lord consigned to repeats on UK Gold. A combination of enemies more fiendish than the Master and Daleks had vanquished the errant science fiction hero; falling viewing figures and an indifferent BBC. Languishing in the time vortex of viewers’ memories the intergalactic vagabond would be revived for one night in a misguided TV movie starring Paul McGann and then placed back into the cryogenic freeze of development hell until Russell T Davies’ successful reinvention.

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During those long dark days when enthusiasts clamoured for fresh adventures featuring their favourite foes a group of fans turned media professionals decided to take matters into their own hands and produce an independent and unofficial straight-to-video drama. Prohibited from including the Doctor or TARDIS the producers secured rights to include cherished characters and attempted to make Doctor Who without the lead character.

Produced on a budget smaller than the notoriously low funds available for late 1980s Doctor Who, Downtime was initially released on VHS at a time when fans were enjoying the more lavishly financed visual spectacles being offered by X-Files and Babylon 5.

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A sequel to a pair of 1960s adventures, The Abominable Snowman, Web of Fear, Downtime sees Brigadier Lethbridge Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) investigate a university which is offering personalised syllabuses without tuition. Run along the lines of a religious cult, New World University harnesses then cutting edge IT to enslave students and prepare a gateway for an evil force to enter this world.

The voice of her long dead father draws Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling) to a Tibetan monastery. Will the message from a man who died on an alien world bring salvation or unleash the ultimate foe?

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A forgotten slice of Doctor Who history making its debut on DVD. Downtime‘s cast features several Who stalwarts; John Leeson (voice of K-9), Jack Watling (Professor Travers), Geoffrey Beavers (Tom Baker era incarnation of the Master).

An ambitious but muddled script aims high and crashes spectacularly. Littered with plot holes, inconsistent characterisation, and absurd dialogue the screenplay exemplifies the very worst of fan productions. Foolish attempts to reference Bergman’s Seventh Seal resemble Scottish Widows commercials.

A kitsch classic? The Who-niverse’s equivalent of Plan 9 from Outer Space? Dated visuals and uneven performances from the supporting cast mean Downtime is unlikely to find favour among fans of 21st century Doctor Who.

Downtime is available to order from Amazon

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