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)