Wartime was the first independently released spin-off from Doctor Who and it kicked off a plethora of fan-made, direct to video productions which helped keep the spirit of the show alive during the years it was not being made by the BBC.
While the character of the Doctor belongs to the BBC, writers in the classic series often retained rights over their own creations, so producers Reeltime Productions were able to approach UNIT’s creator, former script editor producer Derrick Sherwin, and obtain permission to use the character and concepts.
Scripted by Andy Lane and Helen Stirling, 1987’s Wartime runs to some thirty minutes and tells a story about UNIT’s RSM Benton (John Levene) – a stalwart figure of the Pertwee era – who encounters ghosts from his family’s past while on a routine assignment and has to put them to rest in order to get back to his mission.
With Michael Wisher (Davros) playing Benton’s father and a bombastic score from Mark Ayres, who would go on to provide the music for three McCoy stories, Wartime is an intriguing tale which makes the most of its limited budget. Presented here in its remastered 1997 version, the story also boasts a voice only cameo from the legendary Brigadier (Nicholas Courtney).
This release is a two-disc set and as enjoyable as the main feature is, a wealth of supplementary content almost steals the show. As well as a wonderfully rambling introduction from producer/director Keith Barnfather and Pertwee-era companion Katy Manning, the main attraction is footage of a panel from the Doctor Who Appreciation Society’s 1986 PanopitCon event, in which Jon Pertwee, John Levene, Richard Franklin (Captain Mike Yates) and stuntman Terry Walsh took questions from an audience of fans.
Presented unedited, we hear memories of working on ‘The Three Doctors’, the start of Patrick Troughton and Jon Pertwee’s friendly rivalry, Sea Devil anecdotes, behind the scenes practical jokes and some still raw feelings about the death of Roger Delgado.
Also on the disc are comprehensive features surrounding the making of Wartime, and the history of fan made productions in the years before and after it. In addition, an amusing documentary called ‘reUNITed’, fronted by Miles Richardson (in character as Captain Douglas Cavendish from other Reeltime Productions), looks at the history of the Doctor’s alien fighting associates, their camaraderie and their role as occasional comic relief, as well as hearing from script editor Terrance Dicks, Derrick Sherwin and a host of US fans at the 2001 Chicago TARDIS convention.
If we are honest, Wartime Chronicles is probably a bit of a hodgepodge of material and may only appeal to fans really familiar with the UNIT era of the show, but it is great to see it all collected together as a celebration of the production, as well as the team of actors who made up the “UNIT family” – and for us, that PanoptiCon panel in particular is worth the price alone.