Before I get into this review I ought to declare an interest. Many years ago I wrote or post-produced or acted in several of BBV’s productions, so consequently I am amongst the many contributors Dylan Rees has interviewed for this book about the intriguing parallel realities that Doctor Who passed into whilst the BBC was not making it. But I my experiences were just a small part of the story, and it has been fascinating to find out more about the bigger picture. Not to mention discovering certain repeating patterns of behaviour when it came to BBV’s driving force Bill Baggs, such as peculiar film editing choices.
As the author remarks in his Afterword, a book like this is long overdue. For quite a while fans believed that Doctor Who would never return to television. In the Nineties Star Trek may have seemed licensed to print spin-offs forever, but felt that our show was destined to remain unloved by the BBC and the Not-We. So we built our own little universe of Doctorish films and radio plays, and for a while it seemed fresh, vital, the future of the show. Then Doctor Who came back with a roar and the VHS era of The Stranger, PROBE and Mindgame seemed to be swept under fandom’s carpet. So “Downtime” feels very fresh, a decade or more of brand new script origins, behind the scenes information, funny anecdotes and let us the honest – gossip.
Credit to the author for pulling together so many threads into a narrative too. Bill Baggs’ filmmaking career becomes the spine of the book. Ambitious, energetic and with a knack for getting people to follow him and make his projects happen, the book produces a fair picture of the way he ultimately sabotages himself by taking too many shortcuts, and too much advantage of others’ goodwill.
There’s plenty of great material here, such as Nick Briggs recalling John Levine’s determination to take the leading man’s responsibilities seriously and entertaining the crew whether they wanted to be or not. Mark Ayres working with Jon Pertwee on his last dramatic role in The Zero Imperative. Colin Baker’s early role as an unofficial agent and cheerleader for spin-off videos, persuading other name actors to take part. Lots of stories of small groups working long hours in uncomfortable locations, kept going by their love of the show and camaraderie. And always the constant hope that this video will be the one that gets them into the professional TV and Film industry. In fact some of the stories seem to echo the BBC anecdotes of Doctor Who itself. Dylan Rees mixes interviews of the time with brand new interviews. Those of the time are keen to be positive and build up the image of whatever the current project is. The tone of the contributors today is generally fond, if rueful.
My only disappointment is that I had hoped to learn some new facts or other people’s impressions of the productions I was involved with. Sadly, aside from the contemporary reviews which I had not read before, most of the information about the likes of The Pattern and Do You Have a License to Save This Planet? comes from my own interview. So I am my own unreliable narrator it seems.
Also welcome are the reviews of every production, which are fair and well argued. It certainly made me want to go back and watch some of them again. I’ve really enjoyed reading this book and I can fully recommend it to any Doctor Who fan.
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