A lovely – and very unexpected – surprise was discovering that a large number of classic children’s TV shows had recently been added to BritBox, which for a lot of Generation X will have come as a welcome trip down Memory Lane during a really difficult time. Who wouldn’t want to have a chance to revisit a much happier, more innocent period, free from all the current stresses of everyday life?
From Captain Scarlet And The Mysterons, Stingray, Joe 90 and Thunderbirds, to Press Gang, Children’s Ward, Woof! and The Worst Witch, BritBox has made available a selection of episodes from different programmes from the ‘60s to the ‘90s. One show turned up which was perhaps a much less obvious choice, but is definitely just as welcome: Timeslip, the sci-fi drama from 1970/71, which only ran for a single series, but is fondly remembered by those who had watched it.
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BritBox has put the first story online, ‘The Wrong End Of Time’, which introduces us to two teenagers, Simon Randall (Spencer Banks) and Liz Skinner (Cheryl Burfield), who find an invisible time barrier which leads the pair backwards and forwards in time, including alternative futures, where they end up meeting different adult versions of themselves. The series was most children’s introduction to such concepts as climate change and cloning, and it was even introduced by ITN’s science correspondent, Peter Fairley.
On November 29th 2019, Big Finish Productions released an online trailer, announcing that Timeslip would be the latest addition to their continually growing range of audio dramas based on cult TV hits of yesteryear. Having tackled another ITV kids’ show previously, The Tomorrow People, Big Finish really are the best people to revive Timeslip on audio for a modern audience, and it seems such a natural fit for them, given the sheer breadth of material in all of their ranges so far.
With some properties – like Adam Adamant Lives!, Space: 1999, The Prisoner and The Avengers – there’s been little option but to recast and/or reboot, due in no small part to some of the original cast members from some of the shows no longer being with us, and in other cases it’s likely been more for creative reasons. For other programmes – such as Blake’s 7, Star Cops, Torchwood and Doctor Who – Big Finish has been able to reunite as many of the actors from TV as possible, and either create new adventures set during the small screen runs, or else official continuations.
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In taking on Timeslip, Big Finish has managed to bring back both Banks and Burfield in their original roles of Simon and Liz, and picked up their story five decades later, with both characters thinking that their days of passing through the time barrier had long since passed. However, Simon and Liz have sadly undergone something of an estrangement, and aren’t on speaking terms anymore as ‘The Age Of The Death Lottery’ opens. While none of the dystopian futures they’d glimpsed have come to pass, it seems that there’s another one potentially just as awful on the horizon.
Simon is working for the Ministry of Forward Development, and is trying to apply knowledge of the possible timelines in order to avert the catastrophic futures which could still yet occur. Meanwhile, Liz has become a lecturer, and one of her colleagues – Charlotte Trent (Sarah Sutton), a life sciences & biology lecturer who’s an expert on global overpopulation – is looking to find an opening to lend her expertise to the Ministry of Forward Development, as part of a conference to discuss the looming world population crisis.
Simon hears a report of two people who just appeared out of thin air in Crystal Palace Park; believing the time barrier may have reopened, he contacts Liz to let her know about his suspicions. Charlotte tags along with Liz to Whitehall, where she’s meeting Simon, and uses the opportunity to worm her way into the Ministry of Forward Development‘s offices. Liz and Simon discover Neil Riley (Orlando Gibbs) and Jade Okafor (Amanda Shodeko), two friends from 1982 who’ve ended up passing through the time barrier, ending up in 2020.
After learning that a third person – Sam (Matthew Jacobs-Morgan) – had entered the barrier with Neil and Jade, but become separated from them, Simon and Liz offer to help find him, then get all three of them back home. However, the time barrier instead takes them to the future, landing them in 2042, where they find a police state, which was set up following an ecological catastrophe which left the world population without enough food.
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In order to ensure humanity’s survival, radical measures had to be taken, based on the work that the Ministry of Forward Development was about to embark upon in the present day. An organised population cull has been set up, known as the ‘Death Lottery’, where each citizen gets assigned a number, and public draws are carried out to determine who is killed next. It soon becomes clear that Simon and Liz’s actions in 2020 have inadvertently helped to set in motion the events which have led to this outcome…
Timeslip was always seen as a far more contemplative and intellectual series than its nearest contemporary equivalent, Doctor Who, as it focused more on important social issues and science than bug-eyed monsters and gimmickry. It also dealt with time travel in a different way than Doctor Who, as Timeslip looked at alternative timelines, allowing them to explore possible futures, in order to get the audience at home thinking about what could perhaps happen if things didn’t change in the present day.
Big Finish’s Timeslip has carried on that tradition, and in some ways feels closer to Sliders than Doctor Who. As it was also far less focused on action set pieces and special effects than Who, being much more about concepts, the series therefore seems much more at home on audio. It’s a lovely bit of continuity for Big Finish to use the original ominous-sounding theme tune, as well as recreating the sound of the time barrier (if they can make the Weeping Angels from Doctor Who work on audio, then an invisible barrier is a doddle).
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Banks and Burfield still work beautifully together after all this time, and it’s fascinating to hear them as adults in a mentoring role to the youngsters who find themselves in the place which Simon and Liz once occupied. Sutton is an experienced hand when it comes to the Big Finish audios, having reprised her role as Nyssa in Doctor Who for over two decades; it’s nice to hear her being given the chance to flex her acting chops in this new part. The newcomers of Gibbs and Shodeko don’t make a huge impact, but it may help if their characters are more at the forefront of things in the next adventure.
If you aren’t familiar with the series, then you might want to get yourself over to BritBox and watch the first story of the TV series, as well as checking out the promo video Big Finish put together to advertise the audios; a recording of the recent livestream premiere of episode 1 is also currently available on YouTube (if you’re quick, as it won’t be online forever), so that you can get a true taste of what the audio version is like, and it’s definitely worthwhile listening to it, as it’s such a great hook to get you wanting to hear the rest of the story.
It’s certainly a promising start to Big Finish’s newest audio adaptation, and definitely bodes well for the next tale: roll on, ‘The War That Never Was’.