The last of this trio of weird tales, A Hitch in Time from 1978, earns obvious instant interest from fans of retro cult TV for featuring Patrick Troughton as the inventor of a time travel machine, almost ten years after he’d regularly journeyed through both time and space on television between the years 1966 and 1969, appearing as the second Doctor in Doctor Who, his casting here being an obvious reference to that fact which more clued up younger fans would have been at least dimly aware of. Produced by the small independent company Eyeliner Film Limited, who excelled in the production of many a strange, oddball venture for the CFF, with films such as The Sky Bike, Blinker’s Spy-Spotter and The Boy with Two Heads, A Hitch in Time is also notable for being one of the final screenplays of versatile former Ealing Studios scribe T.E.B. Clarke, the man responsible for any number of timeless British classics like Passport to Pimlico , The Lavender Hill Mob  and The Titfield Thunderbolt , between 1943 and 1957. Meanwhile, director Jan Darnley-Smith was a mainstay of the CFF, helming the classic Go Kart Go in 1964 and plenty of other entries in the Foundation’s large catalogue, mainly those produced by George H. Brown Productions. Although made for screenings at Saturday picture shows, the film is steeped in late-seventies Children’s TV tropes, from its quirky synth based score by Harry Robertson to its usurpation of core elements from not only the ever-popular Doctor Who (from which, of course, it takes its time travelling premise), but also the Doctor’s 1970s ITV rival The Tomorrow People, whose influence shows up in the manner in which Professor Adam Wagstaff’s OSKA machine (Oscillating Shortwave Kinetic Amplifier) has the capacity to talk -- just like the organic computer TIM in the ITV series -- and in the use of recall belts which teleport the wearer out of their current location when a central button in the buckle is pressed, transporting them through the limbo of a space-like vortex while they wait for Wagstaff to fix the malfunctioning machine.
Everyone here looks as though they’re having tremendous fun, with Troughton relishing his extravagant facial hair and the eccentric unpredictability of his dotty inventor character, and Jeff Rawle providing an entertainingly exaggerated performance of boo-hiss pantomime villainy in whatever time period he crops up in. The interior castle sets are pretty crude and flimsy and the budget for the computer OSKA looks far less impressive than that which was available during most eras of classic Doctor Who, but with a relentless pace and changeable settings (even if these are sometimes only suggested with a change of costume) everything comes off looking unusually convincing, and there’s a good old fashioned traditional CFF ending on offer as well, in which the bullying present day schoolteacher version of Sniffy gets swapped for his baggy shorts-wearing former child self, and ends up being humiliatingly admonished by the school Head he’s been trying to ingratiate himself with all the way through the film, while at the same time being attacked by a bus-full of Fiona’s Lacrosse playing teammates when they storm the castle chambers during a climax that plays like a variation on the St Trinian’s series. Even so, the whole spectacle still ends with the entire cast standing around the shamed Sniffy, laughing as he gets his comeuppance in proper comic-strip style.
All three films on this dual-layer disc have been digitally re-mastered to the highest quality possible after being transferred from materials held in the BFI National Archive. The Monster of Highgate Ponds was derived from the original 35mm fine grain duplicating positive and appears in its correct 1.37:1 aspect ratio. The Boy Who Turned Yellow was transferred in HD from a mix of interpositive and the original negative, and appears in the original 1.66:1 ratio; while A Hitch in Time comes from the original interpositive.
Accompanying the disc is an entertaining booklet of writings which include Vic Pratt’s scene-setting introduction; a review of The Monster of Highgate Ponds by curator at the National Archive Jez Stewart; and a short piece by Vivien Halas, daughter of writer Joy Batchelor, who recalls watching Alberto Cavacanti on set during the making of the film, when she herself was just a little girl. Even more detailed reminisces, this time encompassing a twenty-year friendship with Michael Powell in the latter years of his life, form the basis of Lem Kitaj’s piece on The Boy Who Turned Yellow. Under the name Lem Dobbs, Kitaj is better known today for his screenwriting stints for the films Kafka, Haywire, and Dark City but once upon a time he was science nerd Munro, seen here as the school chum sidekick of yellow hero John Saunders, whose small role in the film was the precursor to his family getting to know Powell quite intimately, enabling Kitaj to furnish the reader with a selection of fascinating anecdotes about various failed attempts to re-launch the veteran director's career. There is also an extract included from Michael Powell's memoir Million Dollar Brain in which Powell writes about his and Pressburger's involvement with the CFF. Finally Vic Pratt provides a nostalgic review of A Hitch in Time.
The Monster of Highgate Ponds (1961)/The Boy Who Turned Yellow (1972)/A Hitch in Time (1978)/Releasing Company: BFI/Genre: Children's Fiction/Format: DVD/Region: ALL/ Directed by Alberto Cavalcanti//Michael Powell/Jan Darnley-Smith/Cast: Michael Wade/Mark Digham/Michael McVey/Patrick Troughton