During the 16-year wait for Doctor Who to come back, fan-filmmakers tried to keep its legacy intact, from Shakedown to Mindgame. With Downtime, the story is that former companion Victoria Waterfield and friend Professor Travers get corrupted by their old adversary, the Great Intelligence. From there, it creates an organisation as a front for their operations known as New World in which it offers spiritual guidance to distraught youth. Soon, the Intelligence uses its army of robotic Yetis and brainwashed minions to hunt down the retired Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and collect from him one of their old devices in the guise of a Tibetan chess piece. Along the way, he gains help from both Sarah Jane Smith and Daniel Hinton, who is a renegade student from New World.
Before the Intelligence got revitalised in 2012’s The Snowmen, this was meant to be the final chapter in the trilogy that began with both The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear, only this time there is no Doctor to come in and save the day. Despite its limited budget, does it live up to the legacy of those two classic stories? No, not really. Well, sort of. It’s somewhat of a mixed bag overall; it has great writing credits with Marc Platt and a mostly solid cast, yet it feels more like an average or competent story, despite its big ideas. The whole concept of the Great Intelligence hiding in technology, harvesting human minds is a good and intriguing one, yet it’s never realised in a unique and exciting way. Plus, it was done slightly more effectively in 2013’s The Bells of Saint John.
The way in which Victoria Waterfield was so easily seduced and corrupted by the Intelligence is a bold and brave move, yet it’s kind of out of character. She has encountered the Intelligence twice before and knows their methods, so surely she wouldn’t have given in so easily to them and surely she would’ve known she would have become expendable by the end. Plus, it was established in her last story, Fury from the Deep, that she was adopted in the 20th century, but we get nothing relating to that. Despite that, Deborah Watling is still as good as she was during her time with both Patrick Troughton and Frazer Hines, and she does her best to make the character still interesting despite the way she’s portrayed. Also, Professor Travers’ story finishes in an unceremonious way and is kind of disrespectful of the character.
Despite those problems, there are plenty of positives. The late Nicholas Courtney is still fantastically charming as ever as the Brig, bringing that right balance of warmth, humour and courage, just like how we remembered him being. This story also sees the introduction of his daughter, Kate Lethridge-Stewart, who would go on to become a big part in the show’s modern incarnation, and Beverley Cressman is quite good in the part, even though Jemma Redgrave would later smash it.
Also, it is good seeing Elisabeth Sladen running about as Sarah Jane Smith, but her part is really nothing more than a glorified cameo as all she does is act as a spy at the beginning and show up at the end for the final set piece, which is a shame considering her extraordinary legacy. And watch out for K9 himself, John Leeson, in a somewhat throwaway role. Most of the video effects are well realised for its time, from the astral plane dreamscapes and the pyramid-topped university building of New World, to the web stretching over the sky and the transformation of people into Yeti.
In the end, Downtime is a slightly expensive fan-film that is made by for fans, and whilst its intentions are honourable, its result is divisive. Despite the plot being somewhat convoluted and the poor development of both Victoria and Travers’ characters, it is a perfectly decent adventure that sees the Brigadier doing what he’s good at and it’s fun to see him interact with his daughter, who would carry on her father’s legacy. Very flawed fun, but fun nonetheless.
DOWNTIME / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: CHRISTOPHER BARRY / SCREENPLAY: MARC PLATT / STARRING: NICHOLAS COURTNEY, ELISABETH SLADEN, DEBORAH WATLING, BEVERLEY CRESSMAN, JACK WATLING / RELEASE DATE: NOVEMBER 16TH