Published on June 1st, 2014 | by Christian Cawley

Confused By Dimensions In Time? So Were The Cast…

Oh dear, Dimensions in Time. Despite viewing figures of 13.8 million viewers for the first part and 13.6 million (during Children in Need) for the second back in 1993 (part two screened as part of Noel’s House Party, at the time a massive Saturday evening show), it really is an old mess, guilty of various crimes against scriptwriting, direction, acting and CGI.

Never mind throwing the “it was for charity!” line – if you’re trying to entertain people into raising money, you produce something that is worth watching, not an adventure that is likely to embarrass the living hell out of anyone watching. Still, the premise is interesting, best summarised by the Fourth Doctor:

Mayday! Mayday! This is an urgent message for all the Doctors. It’s vitally important that you listen carefully to me for once. Our whole existence is being threatened by a renegade Time Lord known only as the Rani! She hates me. She even hates children! Two of my earlier selves have already been snared in her vicious trap. The grumpy one and the flautist, do you remember? She wants to put us out of action, lock us away in a dreary backwater of London’s East End, trapped in a time-loop in perpetuity. Her evil is all around us! I can hear the heart beat of a killer. She’s out there somewhere. We must be on our guard and we must stop her before she destroys all of my other selves! Oh… Good luck, my dears!

Back in 1993 I wasn’t really a Doctor Who fan. I had – apparently – been a fan until the show stopped, but as I said to Bob Fischer late last year in The TARDIS on Teesside, I didn’t realise that other people weren’t fans. It would be another 8 months until fandom struck me, so I can recall the embarrassment of watching Dimensions in Time – a Children in Need special – with particular honesty, my fanboy hat at the time sitting on a collection of Guitarist and Guitar World magazines and posters of rock stars wielding Gibson Les Pauls decorating my living space.

The video that has recently been spotted on YouTube shows just how baffled the cast were by the story, filmed at Greenwich and the BBC’s EastEnders set at Elstree. Including out-takes, behind the scenes, and alternate takes, much of the footage is extremely rare with clips mostly taken from VHS copies of the original rushes tapes.

In its defence, Dimension in Time was written by John Nathan-Turner and David Roden as a kind of last-minute chance to do something in Doctor Who‘s 30th anniversary year after the intriguing Lost in the Dark Dimension was cancelled following budgetary madness. We get to see Jon Pertwee as the Doctor again… we see Tom Baker too, as well as Peter Davison and Colin Baker looking as close to the Doctor as they ever could do in a returning appearance. Sylvester McCoy was at the time the current incarnation, and all were matched with various mix and match companions for reasons that remain muddy but probably have something to do with availability. And, of course, we get to see the wonderful Kate O’Mara in her final appearance as the Rani.

So it’s not completely bad.

To see how the confusion above made it into a barely cohesive whole, click play below…

The presence of the EastEnders cast probably seemed a great idea at the time, and you can see why. Riding on some household names without the trouble of putting up a new set, the crossover is certainly not part of EastEnders’ continuity, but should it be considered part of Doctor Who‘s? The general rule is that whatever happens on TV is official canon, while everything else is left to the fans to decide. This makes the barmy nonsense canon (should you be inclined to fit your favourite show into some prescriptive hole of boredom) while the observation of the Seventh Doctor in David A. McIntee’s First Frontier that “I once had [a nightmare] where all my old foes chased me round a soap opera” is not.

Funny old world, isn’t it?

In truth, the continuity issues for both shows caused longer term issues. For instance, we know that EastEnders is a TV show in the Doctor Who universe, following the appearance of the spectral Den Watts on TV in Army of Ghosts, while EastEnders character Pauline Fowler died in 2006, yet is depicted as being alive in Dimension‘s 2013 segments.

The poor relation of all of Doctor Who‘s anniversary specials, Dimensions in Time is unlikely to ever receive a DVD release, or indeed a repeat broadcast. Thanks to YouTube, we can still – ah – “enjoy” it.

(With thanks to Joe)


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About the Author


A long-term Doctor Who fan, Christian grew up watching the show and has early memories of the Graham Williams era. His favourite stories are Inferno, The Seeds of Doom and Human Nature (although The Empty Child, Blink and Utopia all come close). When he’s not bossing around the news team, Christian is a freelance writer specialising in mobile technology and domestic computing, and enjoys classic rock, cooking and spending time in the countryside with his wife and young children. You can find him on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.

19 Responses to Confused By Dimensions In Time? So Were The Cast…

  1. avatar rickjlundeen says:

    Poor Peter Davison—that line he’s forced to deliver to the camera–that really tells the tale. Even if it was a soap opera that I was acquainted with….what a ridiculous idea. I watched this thing once years ago and although it’s all horrible, half of it was wasted on me because over here we don’t have East Enders, so I recognized none of those characters.

  2. avatar Rick says:

    While I loathe getting involved in continuity debates, I don’t think this kind of thing “has” to be canon, just because it’s on TV. After all, The Curse Of Fatal Death was on TV, it was written by Steven Moffatt, but it is not Canon. Now, The cast of DIT match the “real” TV series, and the cast of COFD don’t, but I don’t it matters given watch actually happens in DIT.

    • avatar Rick says:

      Oops, What happens, not watch happens.

  3. avatar lozzer says:

    Remember watching this with my 3D glasses I got in the Radio Times – it was utter garbage at the time and still is, but regardless, I was pleased to see some of the old guys getting the recognition they deserved. Not canon in my opinion.

  4. avatar rickjlundeen says:

    I think common sense has to rule here. COTFD was a comedic sketch and love letter to the show. DIT was the unfortunate equivalent of a big budget, low quality fan production gone horribly wrong. For charity. It may as well also been a comedic sketch and embarrassing attempt at a love letter to the show. Neither is canon but for different reasons. One, we’d all just like to forget about.

  5. avatar Mark P says:

    Dare I say that DIT is perhaps the DW equivilent of The Star Wars Holiday Special shown on tv in 1978? It’s onscreen so should technically be considered canon by the canon rules and part of the greater continuity but isn’t totally accepted in it’s entirety and is despised by some fans..

    ‘Wookiepedia’ says “The Star Wars Holiday Special is technically in the Star Wars canon, which means that the events depicted are part of the greater continuity that includes the other films, novels, comic books, video games, etc. Generally, it falls in the C-Canon in the overall Star Wars continuity. According to Leland Chee, the keeper of The Holocron, an internal Star Wars continuity database at Lucasfilm (which contains at least 28 individual entries relating to elements of the holiday special), most elements from the holiday special are definitely considered canon; however, there are specific rules as to what is what. First off, any element from the holiday special that is referenced in another work is considered C-Canon (such as Life Day, Chewbacca’s family, etc.). Any element from the holiday special that is not referenced in other works is considered S-Canon, which means that it is canon, and that it “happened,” but its canonicity is not set in stone. The only element from the holiday special where the canonicity was disputed was reused footage of Chief Bast, a character who was killed during the destruction of the Death Star from the first film. Despite being portrayed by the same actor, he is intended to be a different character.”

  6. avatar Francis Cave says:

    I think the main problem that fans have with DIT is not that its a silly throwaway 15 or so minutes of fluff for charity but that it wasn’t Lost in the Dark Dimension and felt like the BBC just throwing crumbs at us in the 30th anniversary year.

    The fact is if you don’t like it, just don’t watch it.

    The chances of it coming out officially in any form are negligible so its not like it is sticking out like a sore thumb on anyone’s DVD shelf (well except on Ian Levine’s in its extended two hour version!).

    • avatar TonyS says:

      Am I in a minority of fans who are not too disappointed not to have Lost In The Dark Dimension?

      Severel past Doctors are reported to have been unhappy with the size of their roles. There are suggestions that it is was self-indulgent and fannish.

      Dimensions in Time at least gives all the living Doctors an equal slice of the cake.

      • avatar Rick says:

        If we had Lost In The Dark Dimension, we’d never have had the TV movie, which means no 8th Doctor big finish audio dramas, So it all worked out for the best in my opinion

  7. avatar Mugen Pharoah says:

    Of course in the Whoniverse Eastenders could be a soap in the vein of TOWIE and its Godawful brethren.

    All Eastenders continuity conflicts resolved!

    The meeting of Six with the Brig has to be cherished though…..even though DIT makes zero sense at all….I think I always imagined as it some form of psychic or even hallucinogenic attack on the Doctor. Possibly on the Fourth trapped in his trippy bubble.

  8. avatar John Miller says:

    Confused by Dimensions in Time? Not at all. There’s nothing confusing about it. There is however something disappointing about it. I know that it can’t be released “for profit”, but it would have been a very nice extra on(hypothetically) the Survival DVD. Certainly better than the usual 2Entertain “documentaries” which are only worthwhile for playing “Spot The Lie”.

    Is it canon(ical)? Yes. It aired on regular BBC television and is listed in the BBC’s own “Classic Series Episode Guide”(or whatever they’re calling it now). Of course, It’s rubbish. But removing episodes from the canon because they’re poor would leave large holes in certain Doctor’s television eras. And it aired during another show? So did The Five Doctors, as well as those various Tennant/Smith shorts that nobody has any problem taking as “canon” There are also Doctor Who Magazine and BBC Books stories that tie directly into Dimensions in Time. So yes, it’s rubbish, but it’s not confusing, and it’s definitely canonical..

    • avatar Rick says:

      What about A fix with Sontarans? That aired on regular BBC television, So we have to accept that the Sixth Doctor fought off the Sontarans with the help of Jimmy Servile? No, because it’s a sketch, as is DIT, the short films played at the Doctor Who proms and the kids educational TV program made with the 7th Doctor and Ace in the early 90′s. As for the books, well, lets say they’re canon for the sake of argument, but other books have referenced DIT as being a dream. Hell, even JNT said it wasn’t canon, and wrote it.

      • avatar Rick says:


      • avatar John Miller says:

        Dimensions in Time was listed as Doctor Who story, with Doctor Who credits. And I suggest you check out:
        Look between Destiny of the Daleks and The Dominators.

        A Fix with Sontarans was Jimmy Fiddler saying “Now then now then, this boy wants to have an adventure with Doctor Who. Then Gareth gets to talk to Colin and Janet in the TARDIS, then Savile walks in”. It’s a bit of Jim’ll Fix It, and is about as canon as someone going on a Doctor Who ride. Totally unlike Dimensions in Time.

        And in fact, it’s just the Virgin Novel First Frontier that says Dimensions in Time is a dream. But then the TV Movie, BBC Books, Big Finish Audios, DWM Comics and IDW Comics all happily contradict First Frontier, and by extension Happy Endings and Housewarming. And all of thsoe, and the AudioGo audios contradict one or both of those.

        So, if you’re choosing, you can either take First Frontier OR you can take the TV series, Big Finish Audios, AudioGo audios, BBC Books, DWm Comics and IDW Comics.

        • avatar Mark P says:

          The Fix It was a sketch the same as the TARDIS sketch on John Barrowman’s Tonight’s the Night tv show. Although it was written by RTD it’s not treated as canon and RTD wrote it so that David Tennant was himself at the end and not The Doctor so it couldn’t be treated as such.

          “A short Doctor Who sketch aired as part of the 23 May 2009 episode. It featured John Barrowman reprising his role as Jack Harkness, David Tennant as himself, and competition winner

          Tim Ingham as alien Sao Til. In the short, set on the TARDIS, Barrowman and Ingham alternate between playing their characters and playing themselves as actors on the TARDIS set.

          The short was the penultimate piece of Doctor Who written by Russell T Davies (Davies would later write an episode of The Sarah Jane Adventures) and the first time the TARDIS interior was broadcast in HD.”

          • avatar John Miller says:

            Indeed. But I was talking about things like the Born Again/Pudsey Cutaway/whatever short and Time-Crash, which both aired as parts of other shows. Just like Dimensions in Time and The Five Doctors. And a big Hello to whoever downvoted me for pointing out that Dimensions in Time slots into the canon much much easier than First Frontier does.

        • avatar Rick says:

          There is a narrative in AFWS before savile appears, where the boy helps the Doctor defeat the Sontarans, The Doctor even explains the face that he’s regenerated to Tegan. Does that make it canon? No, it’s not, just like DIT.
          You can’t say DIT is canon, just because some of the BBC books tie into it. The books also say that the Doctor mother was a human woman called Penelope Gate, which the TV series has since contradicted ( Along with numerous other things). So saying it has to be because of the books make absolutely no sense.
          Why are the modern shorts in canon? It’s very simple. The makers intended them to be, so they wrote them as such. The makers of DIT, on the other hand, did not, which is why, it’s not.
          As for the website guide, why should I take a web designer’s word,(made at the time when the BBC had zero interest in the series) over the then producers?
          So if you’re choosing, you can’t have the TV series, and The BBC books, in the same canon. Or IDW comics, or the DWM comic strips.

          • avatar John Miller says:

            I think you miss the point. Dimensions in Time(as well as Tennant’s first appearance, TimeCrash and The Five Doctors) were all Doctor Who adventures that just happened to air as part of Charity programmes. A Fix With Sontarans was Colin Baker appearing in character on another show, with Savile then making this clear. Thus it’s no more canonical than Pertwee showing up to a convention in character And what do you mean that DiT wasn’t made to tie into canon?!.

            Now, my “books” point was because some people like to believe that DiT exists in isolation. But stories in both the DWM Comics range and the BBC Books Range tie directly into DiT So it doesn’t exist in isolation.

            In any case the whole “canon” thing is silly, but it was showing how if you want to claim that DiT is NOT “Canon” then by extension you must remove various other things, and that in fact DiT has an infinitely superior claim to being canonical than First frontier does.

            As far as “the tv series”, the Doctor’s mother has never been revealed, so you’re wrong there, but in any case the New Series frequently contradicts the Classic Series, so what are you feelings about canon where THAT is concerned?

  9. avatar Ranger says:

    No, it is not canon.

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