After jumping back in time some thirty years, to WW2, in The Wrong End of Time, Liz and Simon now find themselves transported twenty years into their future. The year is 1990 and the pair materialise outside the Antarctica research base nicknamed the Ice Box.
The Ice Box (or more correctly, the International Institute for Biological Research), is headed by the distincy odd Morgan C. Devereaux (John Barron), and they are conducting experiments on selected human volunteers. HA57, Deveraux’s own creation, is a longevity drug that vastly increases the average person’s lifespan. Liz and Simon, mistaken for volunteers, are enrolled in the programme, but are less than enthused to hear about the Ice Box’s other plans for them – they intend to fit Liz with an artificial arm and Simon with an artificial leg!
There’s more shocks in store for Liz, when she realises that her mother is a member of the research team. But worse is to come – Beth (Mary Preston), another member of the Ice Box team, is a future version of Liz. This is something Liz finds difficult to contemplate, how can she possibly turn into the cold, unfriendly Beth?
Liz sums this up quite succinctly. “How did I ever grow up to be like you? You’re hard. You’re mean. You’re a rotten old cow. You’re an old ratbag. And what’s more, you’re not even pretty”.
Elsewhere on the base, we have the jolly-hockey-sticks Doctor Edith Joynton (played by Peggy Thorpe-Bates, best known for Rumpole of the Bailey) as well as the logical Doctor Bukov (John Barcoft). And last, is Larry (Robert Oates) who has clearly been written as the everyman character and certainly seems the most straightforward of them all. He harbours something of a passion for Beth, so it’s maybe not surprising that he is drawn towards Liz, though given that Liz is only supposed to be fifteen, at times their relationship does seem to be a little inappropriate. This is picked up by Simon, who views Liz’s flirting with disfavour.
It’s sometimes said that nothing dates quite so quickly as our visions of the future, and certainly the 1990 seen here bears little resemblance to the real 1990. It’s maybe understandable that thoughts of the future and silver suits went together, but this does leave the scientists looking a little odd. Episode Six (the only episode of Timeslip to exist in colour) allows us to see them in all their technicolour glory.
If The Wrong End of Time slightly deflated the tension with Traynor’s insistence that Liz and Simon could come to no harm in the past since they existed in the present (an interesting paradox, which doesn’t make much sense) then the constant availability of the Time Barrier in this story also damages any sense of jeopardy. At least in The Wrong End Of Time it vanished for a while – here Liz and Simon can nip back home any time they feel like it, and indeed they do so at the end of the first episode.
But whilst some of the acting is a little stilted and Liz can still be rather annoying, The Time of the Ice Box is an entertaining story. Partly for the relationship between Liz and Beth, but also for the extraordinary performance by John Barron.
Barron gives a display of bad acting that only a very good actor could manage. From his variable accent (normally Mid-Atlantic, but it does wander a little) to his bizarre gestures which occur more often as Devereaux starts to lose his grip, it’s certainly a performance you can’t take your eyes off and it’s a definite highlight of the six episodes.
The ending is a little bleak. The computer (which was Devereaux’s pride and joy) has failed and the base begins to freeze. The personnel all take an anti-freeze formula, in the hope that this will allow them to survive until they are rescued. There’s no such joy for Devereaux though, who is found outside by Liz and Simon, frozen solid (although the production obviously couldn’t afford snow, or even electronic snow, so you have to use your imagination).
Liz and Simon escape through the Time Barrier, but where will they end up next?