Timeslip is a British children's science fiction television series made by ATV for the ITV network and broadcast between 1970 and 1971. The series centres around two children, Simon Randall (Spencer Banks) and Liz Skinner (Cheryl Burfield) who discover the existence of a strange anomaly, known as the “Time Barrier” that enables then to travel in time to different historical periods in alternate pasts and futures. The two children have contrasting personalities; whereas Simon is studious, Liz is something of a tomboy and this often leads to conflict between the two. However, as the series progresses their antagonism matures into a deep bond of friendship.
The main theme of the series is concerned with the way mankind uses – and abuses – science and technology. It explores how the pursuit of scientific knowledge and advancement can lead to the depersonalisation of individuals and the abandonment of moral principles. A secondary theme – explored in the instances where Liz and Simon encounter potential future versions of themselves – concerns the extent to which an individual can change according to the situations encountered in his or her life.
What is a Time Bubble? You can't see it, of course, but it might help you visualise it to think of a balloon... Supposing some little patch of information – some little patch of history – gets slowed down, and instead of flashing backwards and forwards it floats, gently, as if in a bubble... Supposing you could get into that bubble – that bubble of history – and travel with it. Then you could move forwards and backwards in time at will...|30px|30px|Introduction by Peter Fairley|Timeslip: “The Time of the Ice Box”, episode 1
In the first serial, “The Wrong End of Time”, Simon, whose mother has died recently, has been taken on holiday by the Skinner family – father Frank (Derek Benfield), mother Jean (Iris Russell) and daughter Liz – to the village of St Oswald. Frank had served at the, now abandoned, naval research base in St Oswald during World War II where he had suffered a mental breakdown. This has left him with no recollection of what happened during his time there. Also staying at St Oswald is man called Traynor (Denis Quilley) who reveals that he was Skinner's commanding officer at the base during the war. Traynor had ordered Skinner to destroy the apparatus the scientists at the base were working on and he is eager to learn from Skinner if he succeeded in the task. This is because a German expeditionary team attacked and took over the base for a short time in 1943. The German commander, Gottfried (Sandor Elès), is now a prominent scientist on the other side of the Iron Curtain and Traynor is concerned that if the research work done at the base had fallen into his hands, it could be used against the West. While out playing near the ruins of the naval base, Liz and Simon encounter the Time Barrier for the first time. They are transported back to 1943, to the very day the Germans took over the base. There they encounter both Traynor, who is commander of the base, and Liz's father, a young naval recruit (played by John Alkin). A link is maintained to the present via Liz's mother who is able to communicate telepathically with her daughter. When the Germans arrive, Liz and Simon are initially captured but then escape and succeed in helping young Frank Skinner carry out Traynor's orders to destroy the secret apparatus – a prototype laser weapon – before the Germans can seize it. They escape back through the Time Barrier but, instead of returning to St Oswald in their time of 1970, they find themselves in an icy wilderness.
In the second serial, “The Time of the Ice Box”, this icy wilderness is revealed to be Antarctica in the year 1990. Liz and Simon are rescued from the ice and brought to a research base – the International Institute for Biological Research, nicknamed the “Ice Box” - headed by Morgan C. Devereaux (John Barron). In the present, Traynor amazed to learn of Devereaux's presence in the future; he had been a student of Devereaux's and believed he had died in 1969. Meanwhile, Liz is stunned when she encounters first her mother and then her future self – a cold, emotionless, scientist going by the name Beth (Mary Preston) – working in the “Ice Box”. The staff of the “Ice Box” are conducting controlled experiments on human volunteers, including tests of longevity drug called HA47. A catalogue of failures has been plaguing the research effort but Devereaux refuses to entertain the possibility that the base computer is making errors. The failures get worse and Devereaux's behaviour becomes more and more erratic. Liz and Simon learn that Devereaux is a clone of the original Devereaux, the first in the world. Investigating further, Liz and Simon discover that the purpose of the computer is to create a new clone of Devereaux. This is so that the formula for the longevity drug, which is known only to Devereaux and not written down, can be preserved and kept secret. The “Ice Box” researchers confront Devereaux, attempting to convince him that the computer is malfunctioning. Devereaux is unable to accept his failing and, suffering a mental breakdown, escapes out into the Antarctic ice. As the computer fails, the base begins to freeze over. The staff, including Jean and Beth, each take a dose of an anti-freeze formula in the hope of surviving the cold until rescue arrives. Liz and Simon depart; as they approach the Time Barrier, they discover the frozen body of Devereaux.
In “The Year of the Burn Up”, the Time Barrier returns Simon and Liz to 1970. Traynor warns them not to use the Time Barrier again. Determined to prevent the future of the “Ice Box” that they have witnessed and curious as to what Traynor is afraid they might discover, they disobey him and once more enter the Time Barrier. Once again, they end up in 1990 but in an alternate future to that of the “Ice Box”. In this future England is covered in tropical rainforest. Once again, Liz encounters her future self, Beth (once more played by Mary Preston). This time, however, she is a hippy Earth mother type who has rebelled against the technocracy that rules this future world and lives in a primitive village with similar misfits. Simon also encounters his future self – a technocrat known as Controller 2957 (David Graham), charged with implementing the Master Plan intended to reshape the Earth to the benefit of mankind. The Master Plan had originally been devised in 1970 by Traynor. However 2957 has since usurped him and now Traynor, who is still alive in 1990, is determined to wreak his revenge. Traynor sabotages the computer managing the Master Plan. His interference ruins the Earth's climate, causing global temperatures to soar and leading to an environmental collapse of devastating proportions. Beth aids Liz and Simon in returning through the Time Barrier before heading for the safety of some caves with the misfits and 2957, who has seen the error of his ways, where there is water and they might stand a chance of survival.
The final serial, “The Day of the Clone”, ties together many of the elements of the previous serials. Believing that Beth needs her help, Liz attempts to return to 1990 via the Time Barrier but is kidnapped by Traynor. Simon goes looking for Liz and tracks her to R1, a secret research establishment under Traynor's command. The children learn that R1 was established by Morgan C. Devereaux to research into the longevity drug – HA57 – that the children previously encountered in the “Ice Box”. They break out of R1 and, with Traynor in pursuit, they make their escape through the Time Barrier. The Time Barrier transports them to the year 1965. Realising that Devereaux would have been alive in this time, they return to R1. There the children learn that R1 is not only researching longevity but also cloning. Devereaux believes that for the cloning and longevity process to be a success subjects must also undergo psychological reconditioning but Traynor, who is working at R1 as the Government's representative, disagrees believing that Devereaux is turning the volunteer subjects into brainwashed puppets. When Traynor threatens to shut down R1, Devereaux has him detained and replaced by a clone. Simon realises that it is Devereaux who is the source of the dystopian futures they have witnessed and that that the Traynor they know has been a clone all along. The Time Barrier created a clone projection of Devereaux in the Ice Box in the hope that the children could return a working formula for the longevity drug HA57 to the Traynor clone in 1970. The Traynor clone is also a projection of the Time Barrier, charged with implementing Devereaux's vision of the future: the catastrophic Master Plan that will lead to the “Burn Up”. Returning to 1970, Liz and Simon discover the real Traynor, locked up in a secret room in R1 since 1965. The children and the real Traynor confront the clone Traynor at the Time Barrier at St Oswald. Traynor tells the clone that he doesn't exist, that he is a projection. As the clone nears the Barrier, an invisible force grabs him and he disappears into the Time Barrier. Liz and Simon return to their families leaving the real Traynor alone...
The plot of the first serial, “The Wrong End of Time”, was inspired by a – possibly apocryphal – story of a German Expeditionary Force supposed to have landed in Britain in 1940, during World War II. The later stories were inspired by ecological concerns that were beginning to make headlines at the time – this has led to Jeff Arnold in the telefantasy journal Timescreen to draw parallels between Timeslip and the similarly inspired adult drama series Doomwatch (1970-72). This view was echoed by an article in TV Zone magazine which noted that Timeslip “was probably the general public's first introduction to what are now everyday scientific concepts, such as cloning and climate change”.
Although Boswell originally conceived Timeslip as a single-story six-part serial, the concept was soon expanded into a much longer series of twenty-six episodes. New Zealander Bruce Stewart, who had adapted various science fiction short stories for the anthology series Out of this World (1962) and Out of the Unknown (1965-71), was tasked with developing Boswell's outline into scripts. Eighteen of the scripts were written by Stewart before pressure of other work meant that Stewart had to move on and the final serial, “The Day of the Clone”, was written by Victor Pemberton. Pemberton is also credited with the script of the final episode of “The Year of the Burn Up” which acts as a bridge into “The Day of the Clone”. Pemberton had previously served as script editor of Doctor Who and had penned the serial “Fury from the Deep”.
Timeslip was recorded mainly in the studio. The most notable location used was that of the Ministry Field where Liz and Simon discover the Time Barrier – this was in fact the Burnt Farm Army Camp near Goff's Oak, Hertfordshire. The effect of the children passing through the Time Barrier was achieved by way of a simple split screen effect. A sequel series was mooted but was not made as John Cooper felt that the idea had run its natural course. Additionally, the series went well over budget and the potential for sales of the series was lost because some episodes were made in black and white.
Victor Pemberton acquired the rights to Timeslip in the early 1990s, intending to produce either a re-make or sequel series. Nothing came of this attempt, however.
Cheryl Burfield, who played Liz Skinner, had begun her career as a child model. For her audition as Liz, she dressed in trousers and sported a pigtail to emphasise the tomboy nature of the character – an image that stuck for the duration of the series. The character of Liz was originally written as a thirteen year old; however, when the eighteen year old Burfield was cast, Liz's age was upped to fifteen.
Timeslip was the first major television role for Spencer Banks who played Simon Randall. Unlike his co-star, no change was needed to the age of his character; even though he was fifteen at the time, he was able to pass as younger. Regarding the age difference between the two, Banks recalled that on their first meeting Cheryl Burfield remarked that she looked “positively matronly beside him”. However, over the course of production, Banks grew and matured and his voice broke. Banks went to star in the children's series Tightrope (1972) (made by the same team behind Timeslip) and The Georgian House (1976). He also starred in the highly acclaimed TV drama Penda's Fen (1974) by David Rudkin.
Ruth Boswell went on to adapt Catherine Storr's novel Marianne Dreams as the children's television serial Escape Into Night (1972) and produced the first season of The Tomorrow People (1973-79; 1992-95).
Timeslip has generally remained well regarded in the years since first broadcast. A retrospective of the series in Dreamwatch magazine in 1996 concluded that Timeslip was “a series that demanded much of the viewer over 26 weeks and rewarded those who persevered”. In 1999, when science fiction magazine SFX asked an expert panel from the SF field, including Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, to compile a list of the top 50 SF shows of all time, Timeslip came thirtieth on the list. Later, in 2005, SFX went on to poll its readers for their list of the top 50 British telefantasy shows and Timeslip was voted into twenty-eighth position on the list, the magazine describing it as “surprisingly intelligent and thoughtful SF with some ambitious ideas” and a series that “dared to be more adventurous with its science fiction than most so-called grown-up SF shows”.
A novelisation of the first two serials - “The Wrong End of Time” and “The Time of the Ice Box” - was written by James Boswell and published by Pan Books to coincide with the broadcast of the series in 1970.
Timeslip was released on VHS videotape by ITC Home Entertainment in 1992. Each serial was issued as a double-pack videocassette. The complete series – including the surviving colour episode – was released in a four disc region 2 DVD boxset by Carlton in 2004. A region 1 DVD – which includes a documentary, Beyond the Barrier – was issued in 2005 by A&E Home Video.
|1||“The Wrong End of Time”||6||Bruce Stewart||John Cooper||28 September 1970 – 2 November 1970|
|2||“The Time of the Ice Box”||6||Bruce Stewart||Peter Jefferies||9 November 1970 – 14 December 1970|
|3||“The Year of the Burn Up”||8||Bruce Stewart (episodes 1-7); Victor Pemberton (episode 8)||Ron Francis||21 December 1970 – 8 February 1971|
|4||“The Day of the Clone”||6||Victor Pemberton||David Foster (episodes 1-4); Ron Francis (episodes 5-6)||15 February 1971 – 22 March 1971|