Sunday, 29 November 2015

DVD Review: Downtime

Reviewed by Matthew Purchase

The unofficial spin-off Downtime was produced by Keith Barnfather for Reeltime and was released on VHS in 1995. 20 years on it has finally received a DVD release, but does it stand the test of time?

It’s hard to imagine the time when new Doctor Who wasn’t being made, with new material only being released in the form of comic strips and books. Today I count my blessings that we currently have 13 new episodes being made a year, not even mentioning a K9 film and new BBC Three spin-off Class which are currently in pre-production. During this period companies such as Reeltime Pictures and BBV started making their own productions, using elements from the TV series that the BBC did not hold copyright for, and often with an array of cast members associated with the TV show.

With Downtime, the links with the TV series are aplenty. Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Sarah Jane Smith, Victoria Waterfield, Professor Travers, Yeti, and UNIT all feature from the main show and there is even the introduction of the Brigadier’s daughter Kate, who would later be introduced as a recurring character to the revived series. But whilst it is wonderful to see all these old faces again, the sheer number of links to the TV series does over-complicate the plot and it just feels as though they have put in as many of these elements as they can to make up for the lack of the Doctor.

The storyline might not be the best in the world, but it has a perfectly serviceable plot that is certainly better than several stories from the end of the classic run of Doctor Who. Marc Platt does commendably well in incorporating all of these ingredients into a 70-minute story, which is certainly no mean feat. It is reminiscent in some ways of twentieth anniversary special The Five Doctors, a story which included lots of elements from the show's past whilst working them into a functional script, resulting in the narrative lacking in places.

It’s great to see the Yeti on screen again (even if the costumes are vastly inferior to the 60s BBC versions). The plot concerning personal computers (then a relatively newfangled concept) might have seemed a new and exciting idea at the time, but it does feel dated now, along with the garish green pullovers - but then, this was the 90s...

For a direct-to-VHS production, the acting is surprisingly strong. Of course Nicholas Courtney (the Brigadier) and Elisabeth Sladen (Sarah Jane Smith) are the stars of the show, slipping back into their previous roles effortlessly. It is also lovely to see Deborah Watling (Victoria) back on screen with her real-life father Jack Watling (Professor Travers) after an absence of 27 years from the TV series proper. Beverly Cressman’s portrayal of Kate Stewart is quite easily reconciled with Jemma Redgrave’s interpretation (opposite Matt Smith and Peter Capaldi's Doctors), and there is certainly a physical similarity. In this story she doesn’t initially know about her father’s dealings with extra-terrestrial beings, so perhaps it’s this story which leads her towards the path to taking charge of UNIT?

Classic Doctor Who director Christopher Barry - who helmed ten TV stories featuring the first four Doctors - does a wonderful job at shooting this production. His style here amalgamates the essence of classic Doctor Who with what might then have been considered a modern production. Similarly, the music score feels modern for the time, whilst also harking back to previous Doctor Who scores, particularly 1968 Yeti escapade The Web of Fear.

The DVD release of Downtime includes a second disc of bonus content. The first of these features is a look at the making of Downtime, consisting of behind the scenes footage with occasional subtitles providing context to the images. I didn’t realise how many people were involved in this production, and certainly after watching this feature I have more respect for the love and attention that was given to Downtime. Watching it, you wouldn’t think it was a low-budget straight-to-video production. Included in the feature was a nice surprise; an all too brief section of footage featuring Jack Watling rehearsing his lines. I don’t think I have ever seen any interviews with Watling, so it’s wonderful to see a snapshot of this important Doctor Who actor. Whilst it was nice to see how Downtime was made, the feature does go on a bit too long and I started to become slightly bored at seeing every single aspect of the filming. Perhaps this item could have done with being cut down to about 50 minutes to try and keep up the interest; however it is certainly worth a watch.

The second extra looks at Downtime's post-production, which in contrast to the behind the scenes feature is too short, running to around 7 minutes. Featuring the editing, CGI and music scoring, this feature gives a fascinating insight as to how the production was put together. Ian Levine enthusiastically discusses his thought process behind the incidental music, showing the experimentation involved with different instruments in order to get the right sounds. But most interesting of all is seeing how the CGI effects were achieved. We take it for granted now, but the software used at the time reminded me of using Microsoft Paint on top of a video. It is a real insight into how CGI was achieved back then.

All in all, whilst Downtime might not be the best of Doctor Who's independent spin-offs, it is clear that this production was made with love and affection for the television show during a time when Doctor Who was hardly in the public consciousness. I would certainly recommend getting this DVD if you have never seen Downtime before. It might be as close to a brand new classic Doctor Who episode as you can get.

★★★☆☆

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Sadie Miller headlines new Lethbridge-Stewart novels for 2016

Candy Jar Books have revealed the first details of next year's range of Lethbridge-Stewart novels, announcing that the first book of the new year, Moon Blink, will be written by Sadie Miller, the daughter of Doctor Who and The Sarah Jane Adventures actors Elisabeth Sladen and Brian Miller.

In Moon Blink, a new drug is on the streets, and it appears to have come from the moon. Lethbridge-Stewart and Anne Travers are all set to investigate, when Anne receives a very unexpected visitor. Then in The Showstoppers by Jonathan Cooper, a new TV show is about to hit the airwaves, one connected to a notorious Nazi war criminal. The series continues with The Grandfather Infestation by John Peel. Something strange is happening in the North Sea, bringing pirate radio to its knees. The Fifth Operational Corps is called in to investigate...

A further three novels will be released in the autumn of 2016.

Moon Blink is Sadie Miller's début novel. “When I first heard that Sadie was writing a novel, my initial reaction was ‘ahh, a chip off the old block,’” says Gary Russell, former script editor of The Sarah Jane Adventures and long-time family friend of the Millers. “Her delightful mum was one of the most creative, sharp and incisive individuals I ever knew. But then I realised I was doing Sadie a disservice, because from the first day I met her, Sadie Miller has always been her own person, utterly talented and rapaciously gifted which, other than encouragement and support, owes nothing to either of her parents and everything to Sadie's own determination to be brilliant. And with this novel, she's proven that she is.”

Miller enjoyed a career as a child actress through many voice-over parts before making her screen début when she was eight, playing Penny in the BBC film Royal Celebration. She is best-known to Doctor Who fans for her role in both series of Sarah Jane Smith audio dramas produced by Big Finish in 2002 and 2006. She won much critical acclaim for the role of the wheelchair-bound Planet 3 researcher Natalie Redfern, particularly in the story Test of Nerve. However, she turned from acting in 2011. “After University, I went to drama school and was actually in my final term when mum died,” says Sadie. “This obviously impacted how I looked at my future and I decided to switch to writing instead so that I could have a little more control and flexibility to be around for my dad.” She is currently working on an original Young Adult novel, having already contributed to anthologies. In 2014 Miller was a finalist for the Glass Woman prize with Mirandolina.

Miller is the daughter of Elisabeth Sladen, who played Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who and CBBC spin-off The Sarah Jane Adventures. Following Sladen's passing in 2011, Miller distanced herself for some time from Doctor Who fandom. “I needed time to mourn, to be there for my dad,” she explains. “The constant reminders of my mum, obviously very hard to avoid, were just too painful. But now I feel that the time is right to reconnect with Doctor Who, and the fans. My dad did so last year with an appearance in Peter Capaldi’s first episode, and so now it’s my turn. It’s exciting to be writing my first novel, and that it features the Brig adds another layer of importance. He, in the form of Nicholas Courtney, was there when mum debuted as Sarah in 1973, and she was there for his very last on screen appearance as the character in 2008. So in many ways this is important.”

For series editor Andy Frankham-Allen, a collaboration with Sadie Miller has been a long time coming. “I almost worked with Sadie a good ten years ago on the second series of Sarah Jane Smith,” says Andy, “but alas that did not come to be. We’ve kept in touch since, and as soon as I learned she was switching careers I immediately asked if she wanted to write for the Lethbridge-Stewart range, feeling it may be the right time for her to reconnect with Doctor Who fandom. And bless her, she agreed without a second thought!”

For those wishing to pre-order the new books, discounted bundles will be on offer from Candy Jar, with a new subscription deal offering six books for the price of five. More information is available from the Candy Jar Books website.

With thanks to Candy Jar Books
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Friday, 20 November 2015

The Essential Doctor Who Issue 6: Davros and Other Villains

The Essential Doctor Who, Panini’s series of bookazines, continues with a 116-page issue devoted to Davros and Doctor Who’s other notorious villains.


“The last issue dealt with monsters,” says editor Marcus Hearn, “so this time we’re turning our attention to the Doctor’s humanoid adversaries. Davros made a huge impact in the recent story The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar, so he leads the charge!”

Davros and Other Villains includes exclusive interviews with Davros actors Terry Molloy and David Gooderson, Andy Wisher (son of original Davros actor Michael Wisher), Peter Miles (Nyder in Genesis of the Daleks), John Challis (Scorby in The Seeds of Doom), Paul Darrow (Tekker in Timelash) and 1960s companion Anneke Wills.

The bookazine also reveals the story behind the stage play The Trial of Davros and examines the careers of Kevin Stoney (Mavic Chen in The Daleks’ Master Plan and Tobias Vaughn in The Invasion), Michael Gough (the Toymaker in The Celestial Toymaker), Tony Beckley (Harrison Chase in The Seeds of Doom) and Roger Lloyd Pack (John Lumic in Rise of the Cybermen/The Age of Steel).

The centrepiece of this issue is an epic countdown of the 50 most villainous plots in Doctor Who history, from the early black-and-white episodes to the most recent series. What will be number one?

The Essential Doctor Who: Davros and Other Villains is on sale now at WH Smith and all good newsagents, price £9.99.

With thanks to Panini
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Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Peter Capaldi on BBC Radio 1 breakfast

Image: The Radio 1 Breakfast Show with Nick Grimshaw
As the ninth series of Doctor Who continues on BBC One, its star Peter Capaldi featured on BBC Radio 1's Breakfast Show this morning, speaking to host Nick Grimshaw.

Capaldi spoke about co-star Jenna Coleman's imminent departure from Doctor Who, revealed how Maisie Williams is always trying to ruin Game of Thrones for him, and also discussed the controversial sonic sunglasses - and the possible return of the sonic screwdriver...

You can listen back to the interview here (from 02:23:46 in).

With thanks to BBC Radio 1
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Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Jenna Coleman confirmed for Doctor Who Festival UK

BBC Worldwide has announced that Jenna Coleman will be attending this year’s Doctor Who Festival on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 November, ahead of her exit as Clara Oswald later in the current series.

The Doctor Who Festival is also the only official event this year to include appearances from Peter Capaldi, Michelle Gomez (Missy) and Ingrid Oliver (Osgood) as well as executive producer Steven Moffat.

Additionally, it has been confirmed that writer Mark Gatiss will be attending the Festival on all three days, as well as joining the team from Millennium FX each day in its theatre show, revealing to guests how they create and build many of the monsters from Doctor Who. Gatiss and the team will take an in-depth look at the new monsters created for the 2015 series.

Other events over the three days are as follows:

  • The daily "Meet The Cast" panel will see Peter Capaldi, Jenna Coleman, Michelle Gomez and Ingrid Oliver discuss their experiences behind the scenes on the set of Doctor Who
  • The minds behind Doctor Who will be quizzed in the Writers' Panel, where all of the 2015 writers (Steven Moffat, Mark Gatiss, Sarah Dollard, Toby Whithouse, Catherine Tregenna, Peter Harness and Jamie Mathieson) will talk through the development and design of the show’s characters and storylines
  • Special effects supervisor Danny Hargreaves and his team at Real SFX reveal what happens on a typical day’s filming in their live show
  • Fans can enter the Cosplay Showcase and be put to the test in the Fan Challenge
  • Photo opportunities with Jenna Coleman are now on sale. There are also photos with Ingrid Oliver, Michelle Gomez, Mark Gatiss, Danny Hargreaves and Nick Briggs still available for purchase via the website. Photo opportunities with Peter Capaldi are now sold out
  • Visitors will experience what it's really like to be on the Doctor Who set in the Drama School and Production Village, featuring audio story producers Big Finish, Nick Briggs and director Douglas MacKinnon, giving ticket holders the opportunity to learn voice acting from the voice of the Daleks himself and discover how to act with CGI
  • Two of the iconic sets from the 2015 series will be on open display to all ticket holders, and the set of Clara’s Bedroom will be available to ticket holders for photo opportunities

The ticket price includes day entry to the Festival, access to three theatre shows, a lanyard and show planner, and access to all the activities in the Festival Hall.

The Doctor Who Festival will take place at the ExCeL Exhibition Centre in London on Friday 13, Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 November 2015. Tickets and further information are available from doctorwhofestival.com.

The Festival will be heading to Australia a week later, on 21 and 22 November 2015 in Moore Park, Sydney. Peter Capaldi and Steven Moffat will also be attending the Australian event.

With thanks to BBC Worldwide
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Doctor Who Adventures Issue 8

Panini has confirmed the contents of Issue 8 of Doctor Who Adventures, the magazine for younger readers:

TIME AND PR IN SPACE
The Doctor gets a makeover and a new agent in Time and PR in Space, a brand new comic strip story scripted by Kieron Moore, illustrated by Russ Leach and coloured by John Burns.
TOUGH, WILD & UNPREDICTABLE
Then we take a look at some of the women in the Doctor’s life, including Clara Oswald, Ashildr and River Song.

CLARA’S CRAFT STUDIO
Get creative with Clara as you make your very own Davros Secret Storage pot, ideal for keeping all your special knick-knacks safe and sound.

UNIT ALIEN ARCHIVES
Access UNIT’s alien archives to find out all about Colony Sarff.

THE PATERNOSTER GANG INVESTIGATES…
Go back in time to Victorian London and join the Paternoster Gang as Strax, Jenny and Vastra investigate ghostly goings on in Paternoster Row!

Issue 8 comes with free Daleks and Cybermen patrols, so you can finally find out for yourselves who would win as you stage your own battles... All this and much, much more!

On sale 5 November 2015.

With thanks to Panini
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The Pandorica Opens scarf

An officially-licensed scarf featuring the exploding TARDIS, as seen in 2010's The Pandorica Opens, is now available from Lovarzi.

The digitally-printed scarf is based on the painting supposedly by Vincent van Gogh in the Series Five finale, The Pandorica Opens/The Big Bang.

Faced with the prospect of the TARDIS exploding, the Doctor's greatest enemies – including the Daleks, Cybermen, Sontarans, and the Nestene Consciousness – trapped Matt Smith's eleventh incarnation of the Time Lord in the Pandorica. Van Gogh painted the design as a warning to his friend: that the universe had cracked and that they were all in terrible danger.

  • Digitally printed onto 100% pure silk
  • Presented in a special gift box emblazoned with foil-printed Doctor Who and BBC logos
  • Free UK delivery
  • 40 x 190cm

With thanks to Lovarzi
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