Children of Bond - Biggles: Adventures in Time
film saw the last screen performance of Peter Cushing? That would be
Biggles: Adventures in Time, a 1986 action film (loosely) based on the
series of novels by W.E Johns and directed by John (Twins of Evil, The
Legend of Hell House) Hough. Johns (who was a pilot himself) created
the character James 'Biggles' Bigglesworth for a long running series of
adventure novels (the first was published in 1932).
the start of the books, Biggles is a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps
(RFC) during the First World War but most of the stories eventually
took place after the war and had Biggles flying more modern aircraft.
Biggles has been described as a sort of British version of Flash Gordon
or Dan Dare before Dan Dare. Dan Dare was often described as "Biggles
in Space" when he first appeared in Eagle comic at the start of the
It was hoped that Biggles:
Adventures in Time would be the start of a James Bond type series and
although it didn't succeed in this aim (the box-office was fairly
dismal but the film apparently did quite well on home video) it retains
a certain dated likeability with the eighties trappings and nostalgic
special effects. The story here is rather eccentric given the literary
source and was presumably cobbled together with an eye on the American
market and the knowledge that a film called Back to the Future had
recently made an awful lot of money. Biggles: Adventures in Time is
watchable nonsense though with a decent cast and a theme tune that will
rattle around in your head for several days afterwards.
plot has American yuppie Jim Ferguson (Alex Hyde-White) - a catering
business executive in New York - inexplicably falling through a hole in
time where he is suddenly transported to the Western Front in France
during World War I. While he's there, he helps to save the life of a
dashing British fighter pilot ace named James "Biggles" Bigglesworth
(Neil Dickson). Ferguson is soon zapped back to present day 1986 where
a mysterious elderly man called William Raymond (Peter Cushing) seeks
Raymond says that
Ferguson and Biggles are "time twins" who are linked together for some
reason or other. "The hole opens when one of you is in mortal danger,"
he explains. Raymond is a former officer in the Royal Flying Corps who
served with Biggles and now, as you do, lives in Tower Bridge. As if
the time travel thing wasn't bad enough, Raymond explains to Ferguson
that the Germans in Biggles' time are working on a secret Bond villain
style super weapon which could alter the course of the war, history and
never read a Biggles book in my life but I suspect any Biggles fan
would be appalled at the treatment of the character here. He receives
less screen time than Alex Hyde-White's contemporary Jim Ferguson and
is thrown into a science fiction plot that is as concerned with Quantum
Leap style time travel shenanigans and electricity lightning bolt
Terminator special effects as it is with Sopwith Camel duel capers and
World War I. Those of us who know absolutely nothing about the Biggles
books though can park our brains at the door and enjoy Biggles:
Adventures in Time as a slightly bizarre guilty pleasure from the
The variable special
effects are not without charm and there is an irritatingly catchy and
enjoyably cheesy/naff synthesiser theme song called "Do you want to be
a hero?" which blares away over the action. The direction by John Hough
is decent enough and watching this film you can sort of see why Hough
came very close to directing a Bond film in the early eighties.
Biggles: Adventures in Time had a budget of $7 million whereas Bond
films in the early to mid eighties cost about $30 million to make.
Hough was basically trying to make a Bond/Indiana Jones type film here
with special effects and flying sequences but on only a quarter of the
budget of things like For Your Eyes Only. If you'd given John Hough $30
million to make a Bond film in the early eighties I'm sure he would
have turned in something competent and watchable.
Adventures in Time is at its most Bondian when we have a helicopter
flying around Tower Bridge. It somewhat evokes For Your Eyes Only's PTS
but also anticipates future Bond films with London landmarks, like the
Millennium Dome in The World Is Not Enough. Biggles: Adventures in Time
has some sci-fi elements and period sequences but there are definitely
some scenes where they seek to channel the Bond films. The eclectic
nature of these influences all jumbled together gives the film a slight
sense of incoherence that - strangely - actually works to its advantage.
best thing about Biggles: Adventures in Time is Peter Cushing in his
last role. Cushing is very expositional here and tries to make some
sense of the ridiculous plot. Cushing's character explains to Jim (and
the viewer!) what is going on and also helps us to learn more about
Biggles and the top secret mission that pits him against a nefarious
scheme by the Germans to create a super weapon. Whenever Cushing
appears we get mysterious music and odd framing angles just to ram home
the point that he's rather, er, mysterious. Cushing's character would
have to be very old to have been Biggles' superior officer in 1917 but
I suppose you don't look for complete logic in a film like this.
Adventures in Time clearly did not have the most lavish budget ever and
some of the special effects are average but the aerial flying sequences
are nicely staged with mounted cameras providing lots of point of view
shots. These sequences with Biggles in his natural habitat are not bad
at all and the film is fast paced enough to stave off any boredom. You
can though see some modern telegraph pylons in the background on one or
two occasions in the World War I portions.
film strives to be a sort of Indiana Jones meets James Bond meets The
Blue Max meets Back to the Future and is quite good fun at times
although a part of you does always wonder why they didn't just make a
Biggles film with Biggles in World War I as the star of his own film.
Although the eighties electronic rock music seems out of place
sometimes it is at least something different from a generic music
score. The flying capers spark the film into life and Neil Dickson is
actually very good as Biggles.
delivers an enthusiastic performance and does all that "chocks away old
chap" stuff relatively well even if some of the dialogue is not
brilliant. There are a few half decent lines here and there. "Quick!
Untie us before they realise you're not a god - you're just an
American!" Dickson has a James Bondish air about him and quite good
chemistry with Alex Hyde-White's Jim. Hyde-White is ok although his
character is the one that could easily have been written out of the
film. Biggles: Adventures in Time is not an especially good film but it
is a weirdly likeable film. It's hard to dislike a film that has Peter
Cushing in the cast and such a silly mélange of elements.
you feel there may have been a missed opportunity to make a much better
and somewhat more faithful Biggles film, the pure daftness of Biggles:
Adventures in Time is mildly endearing. When Biggles is flying a
helicopter around Tower Bridge in contemporary (1980s) London with "Do
you want to be a hero?" booming away you become modestly seduced by the
pure silliness of it all. I don't think we really missed out on an
awful lot by not getting a slew of Biggles sequels but this bizarre
film is worth experiencing at least once.