Typical. You wait 50 years for a new Timeslip story, and then two come along in close succession.
Following the recent release of Big Finish Productions’ audio revival of the classic 1970s children’s TV series, in ‘The Age Of The Death Lottery’, they certainly didn’t let the momentum drop, and hot on its heels comes a brand new tale, Marc Platt’s ‘The War That Never Was’. Platt’s a veteran writer for Big Finish’s Doctor Who range, and he also scripted one of the very last stories in the TV show’s original run which ended in 1989.
He’s also of an age group who would have actually seen Timeslip when it was first aired by ITV in 1970, so all of this means he’s well placed to tackle all the timey-wimey shenanigans posed by journeying through past and future history. Here, Platt has crafted an adventure which takes listeners into an alternative time phase, where the Second World War didn’t end when it was supposed to, and shows what the consequences were for Great Britain.
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Over the decades, we’ve had various works of fiction which have looked at what would have happened if World War II had ended with a different outcome: from Philip K. Dick’s The Man In The High Castle, to Len Deighton’s SS-GB and Robert Harris’ Fatherland, as well as the alternative history documentary film It Happened Here, and the Noël Coward play Peace In Our Time. There’s certainly not a shortage of takes on what is clearly fertile ground.
These all focus on the possible results of a German victory over the Allied forces, showing what life might have been like under the yoke of a Nazi occupation. It’s one of those inevitable ‘what if?’ scenarios which has been revisited so many times that it now borders on cliché. However, a less-travelled – if at all, in fact – path is speculating on what could have taken place if the conflict had taken a different course, where the Allies still ultimately won, but at a great cost to us.
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Here, Platt has free reign to imagine how things might have turned out in an alt-history where World War II went on an extra year, and it only ended by the Americans dropping a third atom bomb, this time on Berlin. In his timeline, Platt shows us a UK in 1953 where rationing is still in full force, with no signs of it drawing to a close (whereas, in reality, it ended in July 1954), and the country’s struggling to recover from the massive toll of the campaign.
However, there’s a trusty sci-fi twist, as this also happens to be a 1953 where people use mobile phones, a good 30 or so years before they were first invented. It’s an unfamiliar world in which Simon Randall (Spencer Banks), Liz Skinner (Cheryl Burfield) and Jade Okafor (Amanda Shodeko) find themselves, and have to try and navigate, in order to look for Charlotte Trent (Sarah Sutton) and Neil Riley (Orlando Gibbs), from whom they became separated at the climax of ‘The Age Of The Death Lottery’.
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What none of the trio had expected to find in their search for Charlotte and Neil was a United Kingdom which was now part of the United States, with the country being so broken and destitute, the only way to ensure its post-war survival was to become the 49th (at that point in time) state. In addition, the US has not only discovered the Time Barrier, but also harnessed it, and intends to use it to import goods and products to 1953 from all across history – a literal ‘trade barrier’.
Whether intentional or not, Platt’s script manages to draw parallels with our present situation, where our prospective trade links post-Brexit with the United States may mean our sphere of influence as a nation is diminished, and they hold us over a barrel to get what’s in their best interests. The TV iteration of Timeslip managed to hold a mirror up to what was going on in the world at the time, and give a cautionary look at what might happen, so it’s good to see Big Finish carrying on that tradition.
It’s reassuring to see that the thread laid down in the first story – with Jade and Neil’s friend Sam Bembé (Matthew Jacobs-Morgan), who was lost after also passing through the time barrier – has been picked up, and linked both of the tales together. Although Neil does get an unexpected part to play in proceedings, it’s just a shame neither he nor Jade make more of an impression; like the recent series of Doctor Who, there are too many characters to try and work into servicing the plot, and it does tell at points.
However, it’s a largely successful endeavour overall, and bodes well for the future of Timeslip on audio; that is, if there is a future, as it’d be especially cruel to leave things where they are, with this fledgling series having already gathered so much momentum and shown such promise. Fingers crossed there’ll be enough demand for Simon, Liz and the others to carry on traversing the Barrier for some time to come.
Timeslip: The War That Never Was is out now from Big Finish.