Doctor Who – Downtime

Nicholas Courtney in 2008
Nicholas Courtney in 2008

“Downtime” is a 1995 direct-to-video film linked to the “Doctor Who” saga.

When her father’s will is delivered to her, Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling) gets convinced she can find him again in Det-Sen Monastery in Tibet. However, she only finds the Great Intelligence there and she loses consciousness. When she awakens, she finds that an explosion has destroyed the monastery. Back in London, she’s contacted by Professor Edward Travers (Jack Watling), who offers her a purpose in developing the New World University.

After 15 years of work, New World University seems to have achieved its goals but Victoria Waterfield needs another item and she hires Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen – photo ©Danacea) to find it. Meanwhile, Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) wakes up from a strange three-day sleep and the situation becomes even stranger when he’s contacted by Daniel Hinton (Mark Trotman), a former student of the school where he taught, who tells a strange story. The key may be in the hands of his daughter Kate (Beverley Cressman).

After the cancellation of the classic “Doctor Who” series, the then-growing market of productions for the direct-to-video market began to offer films directly or indirectly connected to the saga. In the case of “Downtime”, the link is direct with explicit references to classic serials. Typically, people connected to the saga were also involved in these productions and that’s also true in this case.

“Downtime” is a low-budget production and it shows but fans of the classic “Doctor Who” series are used to limited special effects and the use of just a few sets. The strength of classic serials has always been based on stories and characters. In this case, the story is built including some characters from the series but not the Doctor because the production didn’t have a license to use him.

The plot is developed starting from elements related to some serials of the classic series, in particular, “The Abominable Snowmen” and “The Web of Fear“, of which it reprises the Great Intelligence as an enemy. However, the short length of what is supposed to be a feature film limits the possibilities for development. The desire to involve several characters from the saga leads to a story that starts from the points of view of different protagonists who gradually converge. The problem is that this causes the story to proceed in a way that is sometimes rushed.

One of the elements that made “Downtime” famous is the creation of the character of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, the daughter of Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart. She’s introduced with a cliché as the two of them haven’t spoken in years. Kate knows nothing of what her father’s real activities were but she ends up getting involved.

Elisabeth Sladen in 2003
Elisabeth Sladen in 2003

Honestly, I understand the criticism about this film, which was produced to please fans of the classic “Doctor Who” series. Limits of budget and time to shoot it create problems for a story that would have needed to be refined to fully work. The nostalgia effect of the presence of characters from the saga in a film released a few years after the cancellation of the classic series and the creation of Kate Lethbridge-Stewart, also taken up in the new series, still makes it significant.

Recently, the rights holders have somehow relaunched it on YouTube and created a Facebook page to promote it. Despite its limitations, it can be interesting and also a pleasure to watch for fans.

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