DVD review – Wartime Chronicles (2017)

[This two-disc boxset was released by Koch Media in March 2017.]

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Wartime (1987) is notable as the first professionally-released Doctor Who spin-off produced independently of the BBC, made possible by a contractual loophole through which the ownership of key characters remained with their original creators – in this case, producer Derrick Sherwin, who introduced the quasi-military U.N.I.T. and the redoubtable Sgt John Benton. Unfortunately, that, and the precedent it set for those film-makers who stepped forward when the Beeb cancelled the show two years later, is really all which is worthy of note.

John Levene, who had played Benton from 1968-75, returned to the role for this solo adventure directed by Reeltime Pictures’ Keith Barnfather from a script written by Andy Lane (later to write novels for Virgin’s ‘New Adventures’ line and scripts for Big Finish’s audio series) and hen-girlfriend Helen Stirling. Despite the clear intention of all concerned to add some emotional depth to one of the show’s more popular supporting characters, it’s a pretty lightweight and occasionally incoherent affair, a 33-minute yarn which sees Benton guarding a nuclear shipment whilst fighting off phantoms from a troubled childhood.

Of far greater interest to fans of classic Who will be the extras, not least a 1986 convention panel featuring Jon Pertwee, the third Doctor (1970-74) and my personal favourite, plus Levene, Richard Franklin (“Capt Mike Yates”, 1971-74) and stuntman Terry Walsh. Levene also appears briefly in a documentary partially shot at a Chicago Who convention held in November 2001 (the 38th anniversary of the show’s debut), with lengthier contributions from Franklin and Nicholas Courtney (“Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart”, 1968-2008), and UK interviews with Sherwin and fellow producer Terrance Dicks. Wartime itself has a new introduction from Barnfather and actress Katy Manning (“Jo Grant”, 1971-73) and is followed by a documentary outlining the film’s genesis and the spin-offs which followed in its wake.