06 March 2015

BF: Time Tunnel


Time Tunnel really is a tale of two halves. To begin with, I love the initial concept and title (a train passes into a tunnel and when it emerges, its passengers are dead); they feel entirely reminiscent of the Pertwee era. And the same is true of the story's first half, as we open with a cuddly setup that takes you straight back to 1973. Jo's cross with the Doctor for breaking her radio, the Brig's in a huff and there's a mystery to solve: all is right with the world.

And indeed, the story presses on this way for the initial fifteen minutes. It's very definitely written as two episodes, with a cliffhanger almost exactly halfway through. The only thing that's missing is the theme sting. I love the way writer Nigel Fairs perfectly evokes the Letts/Dicks era, but extrapolates it for his own ends. UNIT commandeers a local primary school, for example, and you can imagine Fairs' scenes very well as Benton balances on one of the tiny chairs. A primary school is exactly the kind of limit Doctor Who's budget would've had back in the seventies, and these sequences are written from the perspective of a contemporary viewer, watching with affection as this lovable military bumble around with hoarse voices and brainwaves.

But come the second half, all of that goes out the window in favour of the plot, which is odd given one never really appears. One of the original statements about this series being download-only was that it gave the creators more freedom to tell the story they wanted to, unrestricted by running time. All three stories have been just shy of 35 minutes so far, and it does feel a shame that a time restriction does appear to still be imposed. I know Michael Stevens, producer and script editor of the series, set a 5000-word limit for writers, but Fairs' story really does feel like it could do with just another five or ten minutes.

Having had half of his story dedicated to setting up the premise at an enjoyably leisurely pace, Fairs is forced to cram the meat of the tale into the same length of time. This forces a wholly unsatisfying conclusion. In another direct lift from the TV series, Fairs has the Doctor investigating the tunnel on a last whim, whilst the Brigadier prepares to blow it sky high. But there isn't time for any kind of moral debate, the Brigadier just does what he has to. Jo is left to relate the plot to us in a sixty-second expositionary speech at the end of the story, which leaves the listener feeling a little short-changed.

Moving away from the plot for a minute, this is another well-produced instalment for the Short Trips. It can be difficult to capture an era aurally with such limited time, but the sound designers behind these shorts seem to manage it. Even though the use of music was relatively sparse compared to prior stories, it was still went-conceived and placed when it was included. I'm guessing that Neil Gardner was behind the speakers on this one, but I don't know for certain. The accompanying audio effects always fitted with the story without detracting from it, and enhanced Katy Manning's energetic reading. Speaking of which, I found it slightly odd that she chose to give Benton such a pronounced Dorset accent, but that aside, it's a very nice realisation of Fairs' tale.

All in all, then, a slightly breathless release. Whilst this is by no means poor, it only just manages to punt above average. A cuddly Pertwee story is all well and good if there's a plot to substantiate it, and it's not just an excuse for a nostalgia fest. And unfortunately, that's all Time Tunnel really amounts to. Its biggest curse is the curtailed running time, which I had hoped wouldn't be an issue for the series, but really it spoils the whole thing. The introduction is far too rushed - again. Barely ten seconds have passed before the title and author have been announced and we're into the story proper. I don't understand what the rush is. There shouldn't be a time limit imposed in my opinion - it's not like it conforms to the length of any TV episode anyway! If this has achieved anything though, I'm looking forward to Philip Lawrence's November Short Trip, The Other Woman, also read by Manning.

In a Nutshell: Not a poor serial, but one you'd probably listen to as part of the subscription rather than one to buy individually.


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