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DVD Release Of Unofficial Doctor Who Spin-Off Downtime Disputed By Haisman Estate

A couple of days ago, we ran an article detailing the November DVD release of unofficial Doctor Who 90's spin-off Downtime featuring Elizabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith and Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. It was produced by Reeltime Pictures in 1995, without the involvement of the BBC.

However, since the announcement of the 16th November DVD release, a dispute has been raised by the Estate of Mervyn Haisman, one of the writers on Doctor Who serials The Abominable Snowmen and The Web of Fear. Haisman and Henry Lincoln, who created the characters of Lethbridge-Stewart, Professor Travers, the Great Intelligence and the Yeti, originally authorised the video production of Downtime in the 90s but no consent was sought by Reeltime Pictures to release it on DVD. (One Media ip now have acquired the rights to Downtime)

We got in contact with Hannah Haisman-Hatt, the great-granddaughter of Mervyn Haisman, who now manages his Estate. Hannah told us that she emailed Keith Barnfather of Reeltime when she heard a rumour that Downtime may be released.

In his reply from 21st July 2015, she was assured that she would be contacted if this should happen. "We have no plans to produce any more dramas featuring these characters … but if we ever did, I would have contacted you to clear rights before even considering it."

Hannah told The Digital Fix she was not contacted. "I am disgusted with his attitude, I know that I am not the only contributor that has not been informed, even though they have released contradictory statements. I won't stand for such a cavalier abuse of people's rights and copyright.

"All I asked was for a Cease & Desist whilst the matter was sorted as at this time, I was not in possession of the contract after months of waiting. On receiving & reading the contract, I feel it is my right & duty as literary executor to question it. The original contract was probably written under PACT, a film agreement now little used as it shows its age by not covering digital exploitation or modern merchandising methods. I have read that this may end up being downloadable (one media state digital & disc) so a renegotiation would cover this.

"As for the time limits, an option period was not mentioned, but under the guidelines of the WGGB (Writers Guild of Great Britain - of which my Grandfather was a founding member) typically runs between 12 & 18 months but is often renewable for a similar term that was set on the original contract. This contract is 20 years old.

Hannah then went on to add.

"I have tried to renegotiate, an option I was more than happy with, but the attitude of this man has made it impossible. I'm now in a position where he refuses contact unless through a solicitor. I feel sorry for the fans to be honest. I am grateful that the majority are standing by the Haisman estate, but I will not & will never compromise my Grandfathers legacy."

Here is Hannah's original statement, released when she discovered that pre-orders were being taken for Downtime.

It has been brought to my attention that Reeltime Pictures and One Media are releasing Downtime, the Doctor Who spin-off film made in 1995, on DVD. This is being done so without my consent or permission. As Executor of the Haisman Literary Estate, and thus copyright holder of Lethbridge-Stewart, Professor Travers, the Great Intelligence and the Yeti I should have been approached over this.

Attempts to negotiate have fallen on deaf ears, and my rightful claim has been refuted the producers. I have now been forced to take legal action to protect the copyright of my grandfather, Mervyn Haisman, after their refusal to renegotiate an agreement made twenty years ago for a film made for straight-to-video release only


You can also find our original news article about the release of Downtime on DVD here.

More news on this as we have it, though we urge fans to consider waiting to buy the DVD until this dispute is resolved.

Doctor Who

The long-running BBC TV science fiction series that started in 1963 and recently celebrated its 50th Anniversary. 2017 saw Peter Capaldi regenerate into the show's first female Doctor played by Jodie Whittaker. The Thirteenth Doctor's first season debuts in 2018, with Chris Chibnall replacing Steven Moffat as the current showrunner.

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