Downtime: The Lost Worlds of Doctor Who

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.

 

Available as a large paperback or ebook from Obverse Books. Visit their website

 

Downtime out now, Wyrd Sisters soon

When I started off directing Wyrd Sisters I’d hope to keep a production diary up on this blog. Predictably this ambition was quickly eaten up by the time and energy involved in actually realising the play. So you’ll have to look forward to a retrospective article instead. However I can report that we are at an exciting phase where the books are down, the movements are being fine tuned and the set is almost in place bar the painting, thanks to the marvellous efforts of Jeff Lunt and his team.. Not to mention a whole wardrobe of costumes which have largely been designed and made from scratch by Francis Clemmitt and her team. I’ve also been out banging the drum and trying to get people interested in coming. Marketing a play is a job in itself. We’re having some publicity photos taken tomorrow which hopefully will excite the local media. I went on Bolton FM radio a couple of weeks ago and I’ll be popping up again on their frequency on Monday during the drivetime show in the evening. I’ve also made a short video promo for promoting the show on social media.

It’s going to be a show that’s different from pretty much anything Bolton Little Theatre have put on in a while. The cast are getting better with each rehearsal and its great to work with them. Best of all is Terry Pratchett and Stephen Brigg’s script, which is funny and wise. You can find out more and book tickets at http://www.boltonlittletheatre.co.uk/terry-pratchetts-wyrd-sisters/

That’s Terry Pratchett’s Wyrd Sisters 7.30pm 6 – 11 March 2017, Bolton Little Theatre!

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I’ve also learnt that Obverse Books have just published Downtime – The Lost Years of Doctor Who. I am amongst the forty people interviewed by author Dylan Rees about the remarkable collection of independent productions, both video and audio, that appeared in the Nineties and early Noughties attempting to fill the Doctor Who shaped hole which the BBC had created.

Of course my part relates to my work with Bill Baggs and BBV. I haven’t had a chance to read the book yet but as someone who was very involved in that particular pond, not just as a writer but as a fan, I’m look forward to reading it. Within its 400 pages Dylan Rees promises many facts and stories that have never been printed before. The book is available for £9.99 as an e-book and £19.99 as a large format paperback. You can learn more by visiting http://obversebooks.co.uk/product/downtime/

Thanks for reading. Hope to be in touch again soon.

April 2016 news round-up

It’s time for another quick collection of announcements about what my friends and I have been up to creatively and in some cases professionally too.

Last year I did an email interview about my times with BBV and writing three Doctor Who spin-offs, for a chap called Dylan Rees. Dylan is writing a book about the vibrant audio and video spin-off market which arose from the final years of the show’s original run and filled in the so-called “wilderness years” between the original and the revived versions of Doctor Who. It will be published later this year by Obverse Books. I’m looking forward to it, not just as a contributor but as a fan of that era. The cover has been already been released:

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Notice Sylvester as The Foot Doctor on the cover too! You can pre-order it from Obverse Books now. I’ll review once it is out.

My ever busy mate Rik Hoskin has had several projects out recently, including the first of a new range e-books based on 90’s cult TV show Hercules – The Legendary Journeys. I enjoyed Storming Paradise enormously. It captures the feel of the show very well. You can try a sample and order it from Amazon. He’s also written a second motion comic episode of Wolfblood, the hit BBC children’s series about werewolves. You can watch a trailer of it here at the BBC website.

Finally I recently made a new trailer for the next Bolton Little Theatre production. Taking Sides by Ronald Harwood is an excellent drama based on real events surrounding a US army investigation into suspected Nazi party members, following Germany’s surrender in WWII. Was famous conductor Wilhelm Furtwangler just a patriot on the losing side of the war, or an active member of the Nazi party? Colonel Arnold, traumatised by witnessing the aftermath of Auschwitz, is determined to find some culprits. For this trailer I decided to create a movie style one which sold the story, rather than a behind the scenes talking head piece. The results I think are pretty successful and I intend to make all subsequent BLT trailers story based too.