First broadcast on ITV from September 1970 to March 1971, ‘Timeslip’ told the story of two teenagers Simon Randall (Spencer Banks) and Liz Skinner (Cheryl Burfield) who find themselves with a unique ability to cross a time barrier located at an abandoned military base in rural England. Consisting of 26 episodes, each of 25 minutes in length, there was only one series ever produced. It is however a testament to the series’ intentions that its value in being appreciated is very high indeed.
‘Timeslip’ was created by Ruth Boswell, who was asked to propose an alternative to ‘Doctor Who’. It must have been known in the industry that ‘Doctor Who’ had undergone a very troubled production in 1969 and was viewed by Boswell as ‘increasingly outlandish’. ATV sensed an opportunity and ‘Timeslip’ was therefore grounded in the present-day and employed Geoffrey Hoyle, son of astronomer Fred Hoyle, to provide scientific background as to how time travel might be possible. This manifests itself in the show as two direct-to-camera monologues delivered by, at the time, ITN’s science correspondent Peter Fairley. He delivered these before the opening episodes of the series’ first two stories ‘The Wrong End Of Time’ and ‘Time of the Ice Box’. The modern-day equivalent is Peter Capaldi’s Doctor explaining the ‘boot-strap’ paradox straight to camera.
Disjointed mini-science lecture aside, what follows in the opening story of ‘Timeslip’ is something quite special. Part ‘Famous Five’ adventure, part ‘New Wave’ cinema, ‘The Wrong End Of Time’ sees Simon and Liz venture back from 1970 to 1940 when the military base they find was operational and the mysterious Commander Traynor (Denis Quilley) was in charge, only to find themselves at the mercy of a Nazi commando squad sent to infiltrate the base.
As exciting as this is, it’s only the beginning of Simon and Liz’s adventures and though the series forms four distinct stories, ‘The Year Of The Burn-Up’ and ‘Day Of The Clone’ being the other two, they are best viewed as one over-arcing 26-part story. I say this because while ‘Doctor Who’ stories were more or less self-contained and despite the 1970 series developing a moral conscience, ‘Timeslip’ presents a more modern approach, favoured by series like ‘Outlander’. This is a 26-part story about scientific advancement, technocratic pride, the pressures of family and what it is to grow-up and become adult.
Simon and Liz end up exploring possible futures, meet themselves and realise that there is more going on in their own time than they actually thought possible. All the while, they are aided and fretted-over by Liz’s parents and receive help from Traynor who, after serving in the military, becomes part of a shadowy government department for scientific advancement. It’s an intriguing ride and though the story sags a little during the third story’s eight parts, it has some excellent cliff-hangers that move the action along well.
The two leads are both excellent, petulant and caring at the right moments, trying to deal with the confusing aspects of their possible futures. Quilley is able to equally play the paternal guardian and menacing threat well and is an excellent foil for the teens. A special acting award must go to John Barron as Devereaux, the head of the Antarctic scientific research base in ‘Time Of The Ice Box’. His delivery is so close to that of CJ, the insane boss of Sunshine Desserts in ‘The Fall And Rise Of Reginald Perrin’ that he played six years later you could be forgiven for wondering which series you were watching.
Although made mainly in colour, with the exception of two episodes, only black and white versions of most of the episode remain. The final episode of ‘Time Of The Ice Box’, though is in colour, feels like a vivid dream sequence in amongst the grim reality of the monotone. The picture quality is variable, but Network has done an excellent job in presenting the series unfussily. The new release comes with a booklet on the show’s production by the esteemed Andrew Pixley. However, since Network didn’t send me that to review, too, I can’t tell you if it’s any good or not (it’s Pixley, though, so it’s bound to be).
The boxset contains a feature-length documentary about the making of the show featuring contributions from Spencer Banks, Cheryl Burfield, Ruth Boswell, Bruce Stewart, Victor Pemberton and other actors, producers and directors. The story that’s told is one of a rapid but happy production. ATV increased the number of episodes from six to twenty-six leaving Boswell and Stewart to have to work quickly and deliver scripts very close to production in order to keep-up. Add in to this, the problems of the Colour Strike and it’s a miracle that ‘Timeslip’ got to the screen. This lengthy documentary is well worth watching describing the pressure, camaraderie and fun that was had in making the show.
If, like me, you’d never seen ‘Timeslip’, this slice of intelligent SF is worth picking-up. While it lacks the fun of ‘Doctor Who’, it certainly has the correct attitude for a compelling children’s serial drama and will keep you watching. At times, the series feels a little cheap and constrained by the same three sets, but that doesn’t matter. It is a great story, worthy of intellectual discussion and ends-up being closer to ‘The Prisoner’ or ‘Lost’ than any Time Lord from Gallifrey.
(region 2: pub: Network. 5 DVDs, 644 minutes 26 * 25 minute episodes. Price: £27.56 (UK). Cat. No: 7954488
cast: Spencer Banks, Cheryl Burfield, Iris Russell, Derek Benfield and Denis Quilley
check out website: http://networkonair.com/