Doctor Who is arguably the most popular British television show of all time. Spanning from it’s creation back in 1963 to present day and consisting of over 800 episode, the series seems to be immortal (much like the Doctor himself) and has spread across countless viewing platforms. But what happens to the Doctor’s companions when they go back to their ordinary lives? It would seemingly be hard settling back into normality after travelling around space and time with an immortal alien smarter than Einstein!
In order to celebrate the upcoming release of Daemos Rising we have compiled a list of the must-see unofficial Doctor Who spin-off titles…
Wartime (1987) This is the first unofficial spin-off from Doctor Who, directed by Keith Barnfather and starring John Levene reprising his role as John Benton, who was first introduced into the Whoniverse way back in 1968 during the time of the 2nd Doctor.
The short film follows Bentonas he is transporting a shipment of radioactive material to UNIT (United Nations Intelligence Taskforce) H.Q. just outside Bolton. But the journey somehow takes Benton into his own past where he confronts the ghosts of his mother, father and younger brother Chris, killed in a fall from a high wall when they were boys and whose death he feels guilty about. Benton must fight his way out of the nightmare world where past and present are one and back to reality where an armed and dangerous criminal is intent on hijacking the shipment.
The 30-minute film was a directorial debut for Barnfather, who would go on to direct four other well loved Doctor Who spin-offs. A notable difference between Wartime and the additional spin-offs that followed is that it was the only production to air while the original Doctor Who series was still being broadcast. It’s an emotional tale and fans of the John Pertwee era of Doctor Who will love this exploration of the veteran characters past.
Downtime (1995) The second TV spin-off shows the return of long-time associate of the mysterious time traveller the Doctor, Brigadier Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart, as he faces the toughest battle of his military career when he is embroiled in a plot unwittingly set in motion by university chancellor Victoria Waterfield, herself a former companion of the Doctor, to take over the Earth by an evil alien entity called the Great Intelligence, aided by its ferocious robot Yeti cohorts. Can the Brigadier defeat this menace to the Earth without the Doctor’s help?
The film was co-directed by Keith Barnfather and Christopher Barry, who directed 43 episodes of the original Doctor Who series from season 1 to 17 (1963-1979). The film also features iconic companions of the Doctor; Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and Sarah Jane Smith (Nicholas Courtney and Elisabeth Sladen respectively) who take centre stage for this instalment. It’s an absolute must see for fans of the classic series.
Mindgame (1997) The third spin-off directed by Keith Barnfather and the first not to feature a character from the series itself. However it does bring back a couple of fan favourite alien species from the Doctor Who Universe. The plot follows a human, a sontaran and a draconian are ‘transmatted’ into an inter-dimensional prison situated on an asteroid. They have been transported there by a wolf-like alien, who has trapped them all in the cell where they must fight each other so he can judge which species his people should join forces with to conquer the galaxy.
This short film was commended for its character driven story, use of special effects and acting from Sophie Aldred (the human) and Miles Richardson (the Draconian). Although die-hard fans of the show might be disappointed not to see any familiar faces they will enjoy how the memorable aliens and expert levels of costume and set design create an authentic Doctor Who experience.
Mindgame Trilogy (1999) This 30-minute film acts as a sequel to MIndgame and continues the stories of the three prisoners from the preceding film. However, in this film the story follows human, the draconian and the Sontaran separately in three different short narratives: Battlefield, Prisoner 451 and Scout Ship.
The first segment (Battlefield) carries on the story of the sontaran, Field-Major Sarg, who is trapped, wounded and alone on a battle-scarred planet, he is forced to accept that he may die. But at least it will be a glorious death – or so he hopes. The second story (Prisoner 451) centre’s around the draconian, who has found himself locked up in prison again. While he sits in his cell, he thinks about his previous experiences and how may be going to face certain death. The third and final instalment of the feature (Scout Ship) focuses on the human who’s dying ship has caused her to become lost in space. She decides to put the only functioning piece of equipment to good use and records her final moments on the ships camera. This second instalment varies a lot to the original – as a good sequel should – and takes a more in depth look at the characters than in its predecessor, creating more of connection between them and the audience and opting for a darker tone. Like the original, the film was praised for its set design and special effects.
Zygon: When Being You Just Isn’t Enough (2008) Out of all the films on this list, none faced a harder production than Zygon. Originally beginning filming back in 2003, it was almost scrapped by its director, Bill Baggs. After several years, script changes and an extra day of shooting, it was eventually amended and released in 2008. The plot follows engineer, Mike Kirkwood, who is frequently troubled by his recurring dreams that he is a shapeshifting Zygon monster. He confides in psychiatrist, Lauren, who tries to help him discover what these dreams mean but it is not too long before she finds herself in serious danger…
Probably the least referential to the source material that steamed it, the only major link between the Doctor Who series and this film are presence of the titular space creature Zygons. That being said it is still an interesting addition to the Whoniverse and has been closer compared the spin-off series Torchwood, due to its more adult and violent content. It is also one of the two Doctor Who spin-offs to receive and 18 certificate rating, the other being Ghosts of Winterborne (although that has since been released as a 12 certificate).
PROBE: The Zero Imperative (1994) The first in the ongoing P.R.O.B.E series which follows the Preternatural Research Bureau, a government organisation which investigates supernatural activities. The film follows former UNIT officer and companion to the third Doctor, Liz Shaw, and her assistant, Bayliss, investigating a series of bizarre murders committed near a soon-to-be-closed psychiatric hospital. When the hospital is unexpectedly reprieved by rich Industrialist, Peter Russell, events seem to move out of Liz’s control. Is the director of the clinic and his predecessor harbouring the killer? What is the centuries-old horror hidden in the grounds? And what exactly is the secret of Room Zero?
This spin-off gives a lot for Doctor Who fans to enjoy; namely the inclusion of previous Doctors John Pertwee (Third Doctor), Colin Baker (Sixth Doctor) and Sylvester McCoy (Seventh Doctor). Not only this but each actor also plays a Doctor at the aforementioned hospital, although you may be disappointed to hear that none of these Doctors are time lords but instead appear as duplicitous medical practitioners!
Shakedown: Return of the Sontarans (1994) In the desolate vacuum of space, the Tiger Moth, a space yacht under the command of no-nonsense Captain Lisa Deranne, is on a cruise taking some rich misfits on a voyage through space. During their travels a shape-changing alien, known as a Rutan, manages to get on board the ship to escape its rival alien pursuers, the Sontarans, who have been at war since the dawn of time. Soon after the Sontarans take control of the ship and begin to look for the creature. The Rutan disguises itself as one of the crew members and begins killing Sontarans and Humans alike. The Sontarans soon decide to destroy all life on the Tiger Moth prompting Captain Deranne to track down the murderous Rutan before her ship and everyone on it is destroyed.
Like many of the films on this list, the thing that closest connects the film to the Doctor Who series are the alien species within in it. Especially the Sontarans, who are somewhat of a fan favourite. Incidentally, this film marks the first time the notorious warring species appeared onscreen together. Although, the copyright to the Sontarans was acquired but not the rights to their appearance, so they were redesigned for this story. That being said it is still a fun addition to the Whoniverse and is a must see for Sontaran fans.
Auton (1997) This next title was created as a sequel to the Season 7 storyline of the third Doctor “Spearhead from Space”, which featured the first appearance of titular Auton species as well as the Nestene Consciousness they expanded from. At a top secret UNIT facility known only as “The Warehouse”, Dr Sally Arnold has been studying a Nestene energy unit with no results. She subjects the artefact to cosmic signals from UNIT’s most powerful deep space scanning satellite, causing a violent energy release that kills her assistant, Janice. In response, a containment team was dispatched to the warehouse, led by a psychic UNIT operative Lockwood, who has the ability to access all information from any computer mainframe in the world with his mind. They soon learn that the Nestene energy unity has taken on a mobile form and they must do whatever they can to stop it.
The film regularly references the original series, especially the story it serves as a sequel for, including using The Doctor’s UHF transmitter used to combat the Autons in the television show. However, due to copyright reasons, the film refers to the device as “Dr. John Smiths UHF transmitter” but we know who they’re talking about. Nicholas Courtney, aka The Brigadier, was also slated to be the central character of the film but had to drop out at the last minute due to health issues and the character of Lockwood was created to replace the Brigadier.
PROBE: The Devil of Winterborne (1995) The second film in the P.R.O.B.E series and features an appearance from the 5th Doctor, Peter Davidson, although he does not reprise his iconic role. Like this films predecessor, It follows Liz Shaw and the Preternatural Research Bureau on another investigation. They are sent to investigate the grisly murder of retired headmaster Mr. Whittaker and his dog. Liz Shaw is disturbed to find evidence of a satanic ritual near the scene of the crime. She soon discovers a web of deceit and corruption that extends back in time, threatening the current occupants of nearby Winterborne School. With P.R.O.B.E. under threat from within and the death toll mounting, Liz finds herself under increasing pressure from all sides to produce results. The Devil of Winterborne is at large and only Liz can stop him…
Fans of the series will be happy to hear that the film was written by Mark Gatiss (League of Gentlemen), who has not only written 8 episodes for Doctor Who (as well as starring in a few) but would go on to co-create the immensely popular television series Sherlock with Steven Moffat (who himself is the current head writer and executive producer for Doctor Who since 2009). Interestingly the film was the first of the Doctor Who franchise to show a same-sex relationship on screen (pre-dating the new series), as a physical relationship between Andrew and Christian is heavily implied.
Daemos Rising (2004) This sequel centres around Kate Lethbridge-Stewart (daughter of the series regular, The Brigadier) as she responds to a message from ex-UNIT operative Douglas Cavendish, who at this point is broken by his experiences in Downtime and has hidden away in the countryside. Arriving at Cavendish’s retreat, she finds herself caught up in ancient rituals and a demonic power her father had once helped to overcome. Summoned from its resting place by a tyranny from the future, a Dæmon is set to return to Earth. Can Kate and the downtrodden Cavendish save the planet from destruction or future domination?
This film is not only a direct sequel to Downtime, but also to the Jon Pertwee Doctor Who story: The Daemons, where the Doctor and the Brigadier had to battle a Daemon and the Master. Whovians have a lot to look out for in this adventure, as the film does well to make many references to the series and earlier spin-off title. Some examples would be the mentioning of the UNIT warehouse depicted in 1997’s Auton, where alien technologies were stored and kept secret. This film was set in late 2003 and was originally aired in March 2004 and fans will happy to hear that the film has been remastered and released on DVD this July for the first time in 16:9 ratio with new extras.
Koch Media Presents Daemos Rising on DVD from 18th July, 2016