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  Hitch in Time, A Back In The Day
Year: 1978
Director: Jan Darnley-Smith
Stars: Patrick Troughton, Michael McVey, Pheona McLellan, Jeff Rawle, Ronnie Brody, Sorcha Cusack, Jo Maxwell Muller
Genre: Comedy, Science Fiction, HistoricalBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: Two children, Paul (Michael McVey) and Fiona (Pheona McLellan), are late for school when they run past the local castle. Hearing someone calling for help inside, they ignore the "Danger!" sign outside and venture in, to be greeted with the sight of a computer and some kind of saucer-shaped equipment from where the cries are emanating. They lever open the top of it to reveal a middle aged man who clambers out, thanks them and announces himself as Adam Wagstaff (Patrick Troughton) an inventor who has created a time machine. The children are still late, so promise to return in the afternoon, but they haven't reckoned without the vindictiveness of the history teacher, Sniffy (Jeff Rawle)...

A Hitch in Time is one of the later films from the Children's Film Foundation, a British institution which provided hour long films for cinemas to amuse the kids with while their parents were out shopping on a Saturday morning, and later these films would show up on television to fill a gap in the afternoon schedules. As well as providing the occasional emerging talent with opportunities, the C.F.F. would give work to film makers whose better days were behind them: this example was one of the last written by T.E.B. Clarke, the scriptwriter who had penned many of the Ealing classics for the big screen, and it has an undeniable Englishness that those had, even if it lacks a measure of the charm.

It is, however, pretty inventive on a low budget, and the educational, learn-your-history, aspect isn't laid on too thick. Another British institution is, of course, Doctor Who, and during the period this was made Tom Baker was playing the Doctor on television. But about ten years before, Patrick Troughton had taken the role, and here he is playing another time traveller in what must have been a deliberate reference (although, would the kids watching this in 1978 have caught on?). Unlike the T.V. programme, this film sticks to planet Earth, and it's the children who get sent sent back through the years for the most part.

Going back to the castle at lunchtime, after Sniffy has refused to let Paul appear in the school play because of his tardiness, the children see that Wagstaff has added modifications to his contraption, named O.S.K.A. (which stands for Time And Relative... no, maybe not) and it now talks, firing off withering remarks about the competence of the inventor. The children try out the machine, but it malfunctions in a shower of sparks, just like on Star Trek, and they go back to their classes. But what's this? It's the morning again, and the machine works! Using a "recall belt" (i.e. a belt with a doorbell on the buckle) they are transported to the castle to give Wagstaff the good news.

There follows a flurry of eras packed into the next forty minutes as Paul and Fiona are whisked back and forth. They first go back to the time of the coronation of Queen Elizabeth the Second, meeting a younger version of Sniffy, and Paul beats him up with his Bruce Lee-inspired kung fu moves (which looks every bit as ridiculous as it sounds). Then further back, to the Civil War, encountering a traitorous Cavalier Sniffy, and the Stone Age, with a caveman Sniffy (and a bear). Every time they travel, the computer goes "boom" and Wagstaff has to repair it, which can get repetitive, but he gets to use it eventually, dressed as a jester and telling non-P.C. Irish jokes. Despite showing its lack of budget, A Hitch in Time is amusing and ambitious enough and ends, not with Paul being reinstated in the play, but with complete mayhem, just as in a Beano comic strip.

[This film is available on the BFI's Weird Tales DVD compilation along with The Monster of Highgate Ponds and The Boy Who Turned Yellow. Also included is a booklet containing amusing essays on the material.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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