Slipping Back to a More Innocent Time
ONENEO | Buffalo, NY | 10/13/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"As a big fan of modern science fiction (Battlestar Galactica, Stargate Atlantis and so on), I feel it only fair that I occasionally take a moment (or 11 hours as the case may be) to pay some respect to the earlier examples of science fiction television. After all, to fully appreciate where we are in a given genre, it oft requires an understanding of where we've come from. That and while perusing the A&E scifi catalog in eager anticipation of their November box set release of Farscape, I came upon this one DVD collection I had never heard of before and hence had to purchase immediately.
Enter Timeslip The Complete Series, a show that appeared on British airwaves back in 1970. This science fiction serial, as the title may suggest, dealt with the concept of time travel only unlike HG Wells' earlier vision of the notion (or Back to the Future's later telling), there is no physical machine that can be operated to travel through temporal space/time. Rather certain individuals, or so the story goes, are capable of sensing then traveling through temporal vortexes (or "time bubbles"). Think invisible barriers that emit a strange sound only audible to children.
Once through the barrier, the traveler has in essence entered a realm left behind due to a unique energy signature. So even though time passes as you might expect, the uniqueness of any given moment can leave a perfect imprint in the fabric of existence that can be revisited. This isn't limited to the past either as apparently the future has left behind its own patterns that can be visited by occupants of the present. Confused yet? Don't be- the bottom line is that a pair of fifteen-year-old British kids can slip through the time bubble at will to visit either the past and future.
The set, as is typical of A&E's DVD collections, is nothing short of spectacular and comes as four DVDs each within its own thin pack all housed in a cardboard outer slipcase. Runtime of the full 26-episode series comes in at a whopping ten hours, fifty minutes and the fourth disc contains a nice host of extras. Among these is a documentary piece entitled "Beyond the Barrier", intro clips from the original program, cast and production biographies, and an interactive map.
The show, while not rated, is pretty safe to say open to general audiences due to the tight restrictions of broadcast television in the early 1970s both here in the States and abroad. There's a bit of violence throughout (in one section the kids visit WWII) but absolutely no gore or offensive language.
The show technically consists of 26 episodes but the formatting is such that even the most intelligent science fiction fans among us may come out a bit confused. For starters there are actually only 4 ongoing story threads here: The Wrong End of Time, The Time of the Ice Box, The Year of the Burn Up, and The Day of the Clone. Each of these stories consists of 6 parts (what we would call "episodes") except for Year of the Burn Up, which contains 8.
Easy enough so far except that because whoever authored these discs decided to steer clear of words like "episodes" and "chapters" you'll find yourself drowning in a river of "parts". Each episode is called a part, each chapter a part, and then each act is broken down into two more parts to signify the first (before the commercial break) and the second and final one. I don't know about you but to me that's a lot of parts! The good news is that if you have the time to devote, each disc contains essentially one story thread and there is a "Play All" option that let's the viewer sit back and forget about making sense of the parts routine altogether.
Audiovisual quality is exactly what you might expect when someone decides to transfer black and white film into digital medium. It's much clearer and crisper than fans watching it on a B&W television back in 1970 could ever have imagined possible but it still reveals the limitations of the technology at the time. Though digitally remastered, the DVDs show the dust patterns of the film stock during the transfer and the audio has an unmistakable start & stop quality about it that harkens to the days where voice work was done entirely on tapes. The black and white aspect takes a little adjustment to get used to but doesn't detract from being able to enjoy the material nearly as much as I anticipated. Strangely enough there is a single color episode included which actually has the opposite effect of what I expected. Color film simply reveals too much detail of the campy outfits, horribly unrealistic sets, and acting slip ups. This may be the only time in recorded history that I'll go as far as to say being in black and white actually improves the material.
Speaking of the material, let's talk about the show itself in terms of writing and plot development. On the one side of the coin, it's better than I would have thought. In case you aren't fluent on your 1970's sci fi, let's just say that it wasn't the world's finest era for the genre. I half expected corny rubber masks, tin foil monsters, and miniatures that are to space craft what a Hot Wheels play set is to a real metropolis. Fortunately, none of this is this case with Timeslip. Thanks to the fact that the writing is solid and the stories play from a human element, special effects are a very small aspect to the overall prose. I can almost liken it to watching early Alfred Hitchcock works whereas his ability to tell a solid tale more than makes up for the limitations of the technology of the period (one might go as far as to say that the abundance of visual effects at a filmmaker's disposal these days has severely compromised the art of story telling, but that's a debate for a different day).
For the most part Timeslip makes a conscious effort to combine decent science with the fiction, which is a definite plus. If you really want to nitpick, it is possible to find a few flaws in the reasoning such as the following: It is explained time and time again that because the time bubble is simply an energy-imprint, the kids in question can visit different eras without the risk of being hurt or dying because they aren't actually "in" the past or future but rather merely in a holographic reconstruction due to the energy left behind. Absolutely brilliant in my opinion as a means of overcoming the usual time travel paradoxes (and a theory which could explain a lot about what we perceive as ghosts)... Trouble is the kids shouldn't be able to interact with the individuals in the past or future either then. The explanation that time can be replayed like a movie should force the time travelers to witness events just like as if they were in fact looking at a movie. Unfortunately that's not the case here probably because how entertaining would a story with lead characters just watching the action really be?
Another little peccadillo comes in the form of the space/ time continuum as there is apparently very little regard given to the laws of traversing physical distance when crossing the barrier. The first story handles this dilemma best by having the children step through to the exact same location, just thirty years earlier. Rather than a rundown military outpost as it was in the year 1970, the children step through to an active base amidst a German invasion during World War II.
After the first episode, the children begin a series of warps into the future where not only are they stepping through time, but great geographic distance as well (Antarctica, Liverpool etc.)
Little scientific glitches aside (I mean after all this was written in an era that precedes the handheld calculator), the show dazzles with concepts and dilemmas that we've actually come to know such as global warming, the trouble of relying upon computers too heavily, and the risks involved in cloning human beings. Considering that the material is just about forty years old, the insight and thought-process that went into the writing is pretty darn remarkable.
Of course on the slip side the acting is pretty rough at times. The two teen actors (Cheryl Burfield and Spencer Banks as Liz Skinner and Simon Randall respectively) do an admirable job, especially in the earlier episodes. As time goes on poor Cheryl must have been told to interject a lot more drama into her performances, as she tends to overact in many of the later episode scenes. Also the show has the odd habit of retaining actor slip-ups and mispronunciations throughout. It's nothing too distracting but certainly noticeable (and has me wondering about the editing process in those days and whether retakes were even feasible as a result).
In all, there is no real danger of abandoning today's science fiction series like Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles or even yesteryear's time shifting programs (like Quantum Leap or Sliders) to devote entirely to Timeslip but that isn't to suggest that it isn't a charming little production from a simpler era. The stories work pretty well (especially the first one) and the science was certainly ahead of its time. The set retails for a staggering $79.99 and some stores are asking that much for it but deals to the tune of $10 and under are out there. For the latter, it's quite a solid deal and recommended to viewers of all ages."
Only one caveat about this set
Matt Sweeney | staten island, ny | 09/15/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I agree with everything that has been said about this show, and only wanted to point out that all but one episode are in black and white. ADDITION TO ORIGINAL REVIEW: Well, I saw the color episode and it's spoiled watching the other B/W episodes. The problem is, when you film in B/W, you know you need to show contrast. In color, you can use a more subtle palette, such as varying shades of blue in the same outfit. When you watch this in B/W, everything is a shade of gray. Very disappointed, wish they were all in B/W so I wouldn't know what I was missing."
I was there for the original series when I was a kid. Great!
Music Lover. | England. | 12/07/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I saw this on tv when I was a kid, (I live in UK) and only ever saw it in black and white owing to the fact we only had a black and white tv at the time. I was interested in seeing the colour episode on the dvd in The Ice Box story. What a shame that all the rest of the colour episodes were of such bad quality that they could not be used, only the one. But at least it is from my favourite story, The Ice Box, though the first one was very good too, when the kids end up back in wartime.
I used to like John Barcroft who played Bukov in The Ice Box. Thought he was quite good looking. Never saw him in anything else, before or since.
Not so keen on the last two stories but the first two are very good indeed, and I was fascinated back then as a child seeing all these mind boggling concepts about time travel that really made me think and fired my imagination about old abandoned airforce or ministry of defence places. Something very creepy about those places especially on a dark night or with a cold moon and that first story in the series where the kids find the hole in time in the gap in the wire fence really held my interest back then.
I've always been fascinated in anything like this since, but sadly have not seen anything quite like it since, so to me, it is unique in that respect.
Wish there were more series like this one."
Starts off Slowly but gets better
Steve | NJ, USA | 07/14/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"I just finished watching the 4 episodes of Timeslip and would rate this series as average. The first episode is only fair and the actors seem to not yet feel comfortable in their roles. Also, the story itself for the first episode is not very good. However, each of the next three episodes gets progressively better in terms of acting and storyline. The series is very low budget for sure and this seems most obvious in the first couple of episodes. For example, in the second episode (Ice Box) the various scientists at a research station eagerly take orders from printed computer commands (very clunky and not believable).
In summary, I would say this is overpriced given the general average quality, but as I say, the last couple of episodes are not bad.