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Timeslip (1970-71)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Timeslip (1970-71)
ATV for ITV, tx. 28/9/1970 - 26/3/1971
26 x 25 min episodes, colour/black and white
CreatorRuth Boswell
ProducerJohn Cooper
ScriptsBruce Stewart, Victor Pemberton
Directors John Cooper, Dave Foster, Ron Francis, Peter Jefferies

Cast: Spencer Banks (Simon Randall); Cheryl Burfield (Liz Skinner); Denis Quilley (Commander Charles Traynor); Iris Russell (Jean Skinner); Derek Benfield (Frank Skinner); Mary Preston (Beth Skinner); David Graham (Controller 2957); John Barron (Morgan C. Devereaux); Iain Fairbairn (Dr Frazer/Alpha 4); Teri Scoble (Miss Stebbins/Alpha 16)

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Scientifically prescient inter-linked time travel adventures.

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In general terms an ITV rival to Doctor Who (BBC, 1963-89: 2005- ), Timeslip may have borrowed that series' immensely useful 'magic cabinet' concept of time travel providing a handy bus between anthology adventures but it also added genuine attempts to explore time travel's effects and theories. Magpie science correspondent Peter Fairley even fronted episodes with earnest and supposedly plausible facts (even though 'time bubbles' sounds ridiculous in retrospect).

The 26-week series, of four-interlinked serials set in different time periods, began promisingly enough with 'The Wrong End of Time', a trip to 1940 and the onset of WWII. Two teenagers, swotty speccy boffin Simon and headstrong if sometimes hysterical Liz, found an invisible portal to other times at the gates of a seemingly abandoned Naval base and this 'Time Barrier' returned the pair to the days when the base was operational and under attack from Nazis seeking scientific research secrets. Enlivening the escape-capture goings on, Liz met her own father as a young Naval rating.

For the second serial, 'The Time of the Ice Box', Liz and Simon visited an Antarctic research base in 1990, 20 years hence. Amid a toybox of future technologies, the unit is developing a longevity drug and its director, Morgan Devereux, turns out to be a malfunctioning clone. The third serial, 'The Year of the Burn Up', foresaw global warming in an alternate 1990, where weather control attempts have gone disastrously wrong and turned southern England into tropical jungle. Having met a coldly scientific version of herself in the Icebox future 'projection', Liz now encountered an 'Earth mother' rendering, while Simon had become 'Controller 2957', one of 1990's technocratic ruling elite.

Scientific progress is seen as bad and depersonalising, creating "a future in which technology comes first and people last". Devereux's deranged quest for immortality and unethical research into cloning and longevity drugs in the 1960s (the location for the concluding serial 'The Day of the Clone') threatens to set a course to the two awful 1990 futures witnessed by the time travellers. Examining advanced technologies such as cloning (far-fetched in 1970), the serial also asked questions of research ethics and fatalism - could Liz and Simon plot a better future for both mankind and themselves?

A lot is talked about 'story arcs' and ongoing narratives in modern TV but here was a children's series making a decent fist of such approaches 40 years ago.

Alistair McGown

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Video Clips
1. Devereaux's secret (2:39)
2. The fatal error (3:00)
Complete episode (24:42)
Children's Fantasy and SF