Step back in time. Timeslip – The Wrong End of Time (ATV 1970)

Programme background

Timeslip was a childrens drama serial broadcast on ATV between September 1970 and March 1971.

Comprising 26 episodes of 25 minutes duration, it was split into four serials –

The Wrong End of Time (6 parts)

The Time of the Ice Box (6 parts)

The Year of the Burn Up (8 parts)

The Day of the Clone (6 parts)

Writer Bruce Stewart was approached by ATV who were looking for a series that could rival Doctor Who. Along with series creator Ruth Boswell they devised the series format of a boy and girl who are able to travel through time. Unlike Doctor Who though, they wouldn’t have access to a time machine. Instead, they would ‘timeslip’ into the past and the future via weak points in the fabric of time.

Although the series was fantasy, the programme makers attempted to inject some scientific accuracy. They approached Geoffrey Hoyle (son of the respected astronomer Sir Fred Hoyle) to act as a consultant, although Bruce Stewart is unsure how many, if any, of his suggestions were taken up.

Cast in the two main roles of Liz Skinner and Simon Randall were Cheryl Burfield and Spencer Banks.

Simon and Liz
Simon and Liz

Liz was written as a twelve-year-old, but the eighteen year old Burfield so impressed the producers that they revised the characters age up by three years.

Banks had little acting experience before Timeslip (his only previous television role was in the BBC classic serial Germinal) but he would continue to notch up a steady list of television credits during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

The Wrong End of Time

Liz and Simon, who are holidaying with Liz’s parents in St Oswold find themselves transported back in time some thirty years. To their amazement they are still in St Oswold, but the year is now 1940 and England is at war. Liz’s father was stationed at the local naval-base during the war and there’s no doubt that the young man she meets at the base called Skinner is her father – but at an age before she was born.

Mr Skinner (Derek Benfield)
Mr Skinner (Derek Benfield)

There’s no time to ponder this though as a small group of Germans attack the base – although their objectives are not clear to begin with. Are they after the radar research or is there something even more secret being worked on? And how does Traynor (in 1940 the base commander, in 1970 holidaying in St Oswold) fit in?

Cheryl Burfield
Cheryl Burfield

This is a solid opening story that sets up some of the plot threads that will develop during the remaining serials. Although Liz and Simon aren’t initially the most sympathetic of leading characters (particularly Liz who has a tendency to be annoyingly whiny) they do settle down as the adventure continues.

Traynor (Dennis Quilly) quickly becomes a character of interest. Present during 1940 and 1970, he seems to know much more than he’s letting on – and his plotline will be developed during the series’ run. It’s a shame though that the 1970 Traynor couldn’t have aged more, as the only concession to the passage of thirty years is that his hair is slightly grey.

The Germans are perfectly hissable villains and since the story was made at a time when most middle-aged people would have had direct experience of WW2 their involvement would have probably struck a chord with many on first broadcast. They are somewhat unobservant though, particularly in the scene at the end of episode 3 when Liz, attempting to cross back to 1970, gets her sleeve caught in the fence and struggles to free herself for a considerable time without them noticing!

At the end of episode 6 Liz and Simon pass through the time barrier again, but they don’t return to 1970. Instead they find themselves in an icy wasteland, where they are quickly overcome by the extreme cold ….

 

Timeslip – The Time of the Ice Box

timeslip

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”.

Beth and Liz don't exactly hit it off
Beth and Liz don’t exactly hit it off

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.

I didn't get where I am today without talking in an oddly staccato manner. etc. etc
I didn’t get where I am today without talking in an oddly staccato manner. etc. etc

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?