Downtime DVD review: 1995 Doctor Who fan film, on DVD for the first time

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Downtime yellow light

Strictly for serious Doctor Who fans who won’t mind the ultra-low-budget ethos, and who’ll love the fan-fiction-y tidbits that are catnip to Whovians.
I’m “biast” (pro): big Doctor Who fan

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

It’s hard to remember now, what with so-called NuWho nearly a decade old, but there was long Doctor Who drought throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s, between the cancellation of the classic show and the reboot in 2005. But there were a few attempts to quench the thirst of parched Whovians with unofficial, quasi-authorized semipro films. One of them, 1995’s Downtime, has just been released on DVD for the first time. The Doctor doesn’t appear here — the producers couldn’t get a license to even mention him — but we do get the return of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart (Nicholas Courtney) and Sarah Jane Smith (Elisabeth Sladen) in a story that is a sort of sequel to the Patrick Troughton-era serials “The Abominable Snowmen” and “The Web of Fear.” Downtime also features the Second Doctor’s companion Victoria Waterfield (Deborah Watling) — now living in late-20th-century London — and anthropologist Professor Edward Travers (Jack Watling, Deborah’s father, though their characters here are unrelated), who appeared in those 1960s episodes. Though director Christopher Barry, a veteran of the classic series, does manage some interesting visuals on a nonexistent budget, this is strictly for serious Doctor Who fans who won’t mind the ultra-cheap, shot-on-90s-video mood while they fill in some blanks between the 1960s appearances of the alien Great Intelligence and its reappearance in the 2013 Matt Smith story “The Bells of Saint John.” Fans of the current incarnation of the show may be most intrigued by the introduction of the Brigadier’s daughter, Kate (here played by Beverley Cressman) — which I guess makes this somewhat canonical — and in particular her conversation with her father about the disruption his military service caused his family. Fan-fiction-y tidbits like that are catnip to Whovians.

The DVD package also includes a making-of feature on a second disc, not made available for review.

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