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Downtime: The Yetis are back!

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1995-06 SFX p40.jpg

  • Publication: SFX
  • Date: June 1995
  • Author:
  • Page: 40
  • Language: English


Brigadier Alastair Gordon Lethbridge Stewart just doesn't know when to quit. Nothing can stop him. Not retiring from UNIT. Not even the fact that Doctor Who has been taken off the air. Nope, he's still having to thwart alien invasions at every opportunity... And this time it's the Yetis that are causing him problems.

But he's not alone. Ex-Who companions Sarah Jane Smith and Victoria Waterfield also star in "Downtime," a 60-minute production from Reeltime, the film-making wing of the Doctor Who Appreciation Society. And all the characters are played by the original actors, no less.

"This isn't a cheap, amateurish thing," promises producer Keith Barnfather. "We've got one of the directors from the actual series - Chris Morris - to direct it. And it's been written by Marc Platt, who wrote 'Ghost Light,' the last ever Doctor Who to be filmed. The costumes and special effects have all been supplied by the BBC as well."

Well, most of them, that is. The main villains-the popular Yetis - have actually been given a major overhaul, especially redesigned and scaled down for the '90s. Scaled down? Yes, you heard right. These slim-line snowmen owe their new look partly to the inevitable lack of money, but mainly to the constraints imposed on the production team by one of the locations - a precariously tiny narrowboat. The original, seven-foot tall Yetis simply wouldn't have fitted on board.

Making the creatures look threatening, though, has always been a problem. When they first appeared on Doctor Who in 1967 in their full un-gory glory, kids weren't scared by the huggable hairballs - in fact, they fell in love with them. For a second appearance in 1968, the costumes were toughened up, but it was moody lighting and clever camerawork that made the real difference that sent kids scurrying back behind the sofa. It's a trick the "Downtime" team also need to pull off, particularly with their diminutive abominations.

"Don't worry," reassures Barnfather. "We're shooting them from low angles to make them look more threatening."

Locations for the ten-day shoot, which took place in March, included assorted London backstreets in the St Paul's area, and the concrete jungle of the University of East Anglia, where a "spectacular" explosive battle with the Yetis takes place.

"The BBC does want to bring back Doctor Who," confirms Andrew Beech of the DWAS. "But it seems to think that it'll need the kind of effects you get in The Next Generation. We don't agree with that. So part of the reason for this film is to prove to the BBC that good Doctor Who can be done on a budget."

For '60s Who companion Deborah Watling, who played the second Doctor's sidekick Victoria, little has changed in 30 years. "It's like déjà vu," she says. "We're still filming down backstreets in the freezing cold."

So is she regretting it? "Oh no, it's great to be back. And flattering." Flattering indeed - the whole production was held up for a year just to make sure that Debbie could take part. The archetypal screaming companion, Debbie last appeared in the show in 1968 when her amplified shrieks destroyed the dreaded seaweed monsters. Are her lungs still up to the task?

"Luckily I spend most of this story under the influence of a Great Intelligence, so there isn't any screaming. I turn out to be a good girl in the end though," she shivers.

"It's okay for Debbie," laughs actor Nicholas Courtney, who's been playing the Brigadier for over quarter of a century now. "She's got a bomber jacket under that cloak!" And then he's off, retreating to the marginally less chilly interior of a nearby Land Rover a Land Rover which appears to have got stuck in a Yeti, induced traffic jam.

There's a brief panic. The Yeti's disappeared - swiped by a tabloid newspaper photographer. Minute later, it's discovered wobbling across a zebra crossing. in front of St Paul's Cathedral, with a small child in to It's a great photo opportunity. The man from The Express gets his pictures, the "Downtown" team get some extra publicity and the camera-hogging monster gets back to his own shoot.

"Downtime" will hopefully be released in the Autumn, the intention being to premiere it at one of the larger Doctor Who conventions. After that, the Society intends to start selling it through mail order, although negotiations are underway with BBC Enterprises for a more high-profile release.

"BBC Video desperately wants new Doctor Who material to put out," says Andrew Beech. It's a deal h desperately hopes will come off because, as he explains, "Sales by mail order alone will only cover two thirds of the production costs."

Luckily, the video should get a bit of extra publicity when Virgin Books publishes a "Downtime" novel next January as part of its Doctor Who: The Missing Adventures series. Also written by Marc Platt, the novel will be expanded to include not one, but two Doctors. So why aren't they in the actual video?

"Doctor Who is copyright to the BBC," explains Beech. "But secondary characters aren't. So as long as we don't claim this is Doctor Who, we're okay."

Limited signed copies of the "Downtime" novel can b ordered, for £19.99, from John Fitton Books, 1 Orchard Way, Hensell, Goole, North Humberside DN14 ORT.


Having finished filming on "Downtime," an out-of-work Yeti auditions for a part in The Muppets Take Broadway.

Debbie Watling cuddles up to a Yeti for warmth.

The Brigadier - a man who could tell agent Mulder a thing or two about alien encounters.

"Give me anger, dear. Give me malice. But most of give me I-am-not-freezing-my-tits-off-honest."

Norwich University - it's a bit weird-looking and it's cheap to film. Bugs will be using it next...

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  • APA 6th ed.: (June 1995). Downtime: The Yetis are back!. SFX p. 40.
  • MLA 7th ed.: "Downtime: The Yetis are back!." SFX [add city] June 1995, 40. Print.
  • Chicago 15th ed.: "Downtime: The Yetis are back!." SFX, edition, sec., June 1995
  • Turabian: "Downtime: The Yetis are back!." SFX, June 1995, section, 40 edition.
  • Wikipedia (this article): <ref>{{cite news| title=Downtime: The Yetis are back! | url=! | work=SFX | pages=40 | date=June 1995 | via=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=19 April 2024 }}</ref>
  • Wikipedia (this page): <ref>{{cite web | title=Downtime: The Yetis are back! | url=! | work=Doctor Who Cuttings Archive | accessdate=19 April 2024}}</ref>