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Downtime

Doctor Who: The Virgin Missing Adventures #18
Matthew Mitchell

Every so often, our friend the Doctor leaves behind him a very special group of people: those who have broken the bounds of ordinary reality by traveling with him through time and space, who have witnessed events beyond the scope of normal human experience, and then are returned to their relatively sedate lives even as the ageless wandering goes bounding off to new adventures. For these people, "real life" must take on an entirely new perspective.

"Downtime," a novel based on Marc Platt's own teleplay released by Bill Baggs' video company, is a rare look at some of the Doctor's companions after leaving the TARDIS and returning to Earth. The story itself is a sort of sequel to the two Yeti/Great Intelligence stories, "The Abominable Snowmen" and " The Web of Fear." The main character is Victoria Waterfield, companion to the Second Doctor, who left him to stay with the Harris family in the late 1960s, over a hundred years from her original Victorian era.

Victoria, now living on her own, has become somewhat obsessed with retracing some of the steps she took while in the company of the Doctor. After a solicitor reveals her father's will, she dreams that he is still alive and living in the Det-sen monastary. Traveling all the way to Tibet, she finds the monastary destroyed.

Meanwhile, Sarah Jane Smith, intrepid freelance journalist and former companion to the Third and Fourth Doctors, has stumbled across who she believes is Edward Travers -- the man who discovered the Yeti long ago in Tibet. Not extraordinary in itself, except Travers is supposed to be dead...

Jump forward several years to the "present," as Sarah is commissioned by the just-opened New World University to find information on a mysterious evacuation of London some twenty-five years before. The person commissioning this study is also on the list of people supposedly involved: Victoria Waterfield, chancellor of New World University. Another name on the list is an old friend of Sarah's: Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, retired.

For the past two decades, the Brig has been teaching at Brendon College, voluntarily putting all thought of his former life behind him. However, a call from his rarely-seen daughter brings him back into action. She is being harassed by students of NWU, who keep asking "Where is the Locus?" It is enough to draw him into the center of the situation, one that has roots in that long-ago evacuation where he first encountered something beyond human understanding...

I have not seen the video version of "Downtime" in its entirety; I am certain, however, that it could not match the scope of this novel, which includes scenes that would be impossible to film at this time (such as the wonderful discussion that a young Lethbridge-Stewart, fresh from the Yeti invasion, has with a certain former Group Captain Gilmore [ref. "Remembrance of the Daleks"]). Platt fleshes out his original script with Victoria's back story of leaving the Harrises to strike out on her own, trying to find her mother's grave after more than a century, and drowning in a world far beyond the one she left. It's very easy to feel sympathy for her, even if she is at the center of evil machinations; after having been kidnapped by Daleks, zapped by bug-eyed monsters, having attacks of the screaming mimis seemingly everyday, having to put up with an obnoxious highlander, and being dumped by a space vagrant a century out of time, who can blame her for being taken over by the Great Intelligence?

The Brigadier seems a little unfocused; beyond his concern for his daughter and grandson, he seems to have no clear idea what to do. Having found the local section of UNIT having been suborned, he decides to invade New World University by himself, knowing that he probably doesn't stand a chance in hell of surviving. While we have always known the Brigadier to be brave, I've always thought he was wilier than that. However, he does get help from UNIT, in the form of Brigadier Charles Crichton (seen in "The Five Doctors") and Captain Winifred Bambera ("Battlefield").

Sarah is almost superfluous; if it wasn't for her UNIT connections, almost any Earth-bound companion (not that there is a lot of them, true) could have sufficed. K9 makes a couple of over-the-phone appearances, luckily sparing us any canine robotic heroics that would have sunk "Downtime" in the realm of pure camp. As it is, it's still a pretty good story.