Wet Beds and Floaty Heads: Dimensions in Time in Perspective
Multi-Doctor stories don’t always work. Guest contributor Harry Beckett takes a trip back to 1993 to brave the charity special.
Charity specials in Doctor Who have been spasmodic affairs throughout its airtime, meeting a lukewarm reception from fans. Some believe that their lighthearted and undemanding nature means we shouldn’t take them seriously whilst others contest that all specials should be thought of as official episodes. Dimensions in Time is the most execrated out of all the ‘minisodes’ the show has delivered. It just doesn’t sit well with fans, myself included. Now you must be asking, why is he writing about something he doesn’t like? My answer is simple: I don’t have to.
So I’m going to explore the multitudinous elements of 1993’s Dimensions in Time as hard as that thought is to stomach.
“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 heartbeat 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!”
Dimensions in Time showcased a wealth of gruesome monsters from all eras of Doctor Who but possibly the scariest sight was in the opening scene. The disembodied and eerily spectral heads of former Doctors William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton spin around the Rani’s TARDIS as she and her companion Cyrian look on. The children of the UK must have been horrified at the sight of the powerless and creepy-looking two Doctors. Patrick Troughton had only left us six years previously and already the BBC was pulling a stunt like that. There are plenty of ways to deal with the passing of actors who should feature in a story. Put their faces in a screen on the wall or even recast them but just not show the men’s severed heads. How many children do we think wet their beds that night?
“Time is literally of the essence. The Doctor’s remaining incarnations are teetering on the edge of a precipice.”
Kate O’Mara could have saved Dimensions in Time and she very nearly did until she started running around EastEnders’ Queen Victoria pub, dragging companions into it. O’Mara agreed to participate because John Nathan-Turner needed a returning villain and he chose the Rani because she was popular and people wanted to see her back (a bit like me today). With O’Mara back in the leather heels they managed to rope in Sam West as her brand new “who on Earth is he” companion Cyrian (West is now a prominent stage actor that’s possibly more famous than everyone else in this codswallop) and so the stage was set for a tremendous showdown. And what a tremendous showdown it was. Or maybe that should be what tremendous showdowns it was.
“We seem to have slipped a groove in time.”
Everything in Dimensions in Time (minus the floaty heads) was going swimmingly until the first change occurred. The Seventh Doctor and Ace had materialized by the Cutty Sark and it seemed fairly reasonable for viewers. Would they bump into any of the other Doctors? Another companion perhaps. Instead the writers decided it’d make so much more sense if they had Ace magically teleport in a flurry of bad CGI. She ends up paired with the Sixth Doctor who seems to recognize her even though Sophie Aldred entered the programme a good season after Colin Baker left. Nonetheless everyone pretends it’s perfectly normal and Ace starts trying on clothes in a market stall because that’s really what you’d do if your best friend just transformed into some madman in a rainbow coat.
“Change. You, me, everything.”
By now viewers were scratching their heads in bemusement but John Nathan-Turner and David Roden – who were both clearly inhaling Akhaten God knows what at the time of writing – didn’t care and decided to match up the Third Doctor and Mel. Jon Pertwee delivers the above quote in a very blasé tone, possibly because he’s regretting taking part in this charity gobbledygook or he’s getting very into character, knowing the Third Doctor would not stand for this nonsense. Then he says something that strikes a chord with me: “it’s as though someone is rooting through my personal time stream.” The Great Intelligence anyone?
“Blundering fools; they’re getting too near the truth. Release the specimens.”
I consider the Rani to an absolutely wonderful Doctor Who villain because her motivation is purely for scientific results. We always knew her TARDIS would be one big laboratory but none of us thought that she’d have almost every creature shown in the programme kept under lock and key. A Cyberman, an Ogron, a Sandminer robot, a Sea Devil, a Vervoid and even a Time Lord all made appearances as they lumbered awkwardly around the streets of London. For some bizarre reason only the Doctors and his companions can actually see the newcomers as everyone else just walks past them. Although the whole situation gave room for a wonderful exchange between the Fifth Doctor, Peri and Nyssa:
Nyssa: Feeding time at the zoo?
The Doctor: And the companions went in two by two.
Peri: This isn’t Noah’s ark, Doctor.
The Doctor: Maybe it is.
“You can’t escape, Doctor. Say “goodbye”, Doctors. You’re all going on a long journey. A very long journey.”
The cliffhanger at the end of episode one was risible but so was the whole of Dimensions in Time. The Rani and her bizarre ‘army’ advance on the Fifth Doctor, Nyssa and Peri as she waves her cheap-looking gun around, threatening to kill all the Doctors. Goodness knows how she thought she could achieve that by just exterminating the Fifth Doctor. The crafty Doctor then uses his powers of massage and as he soothes his temples and transforms into the Third Doctor whilst Peri and Nyssa change into Liz Shaw. Liz, a polymath of science, a woman that always used her brain, then proceeds to run about a mile at the Rani and disarms her with the power of flailing arms. It’s possibly the most laughable scene in the history of Doctor Who (not counting the awful lullaby in Fear Her) and the intervention of some gobby woman off EastEnders doesn’t help things.
“I’m finding it difficult to keep up with all of you these days, Doctor.”
Bessie swiftly draws up and the Third Doctor clambers in, an unrecognizable Mike Yates at the wheel. Mike fires at the Rani and she drops her gun before fleeing into the Queen Victoria pub, presumably for a pint of beer to drown her sorrows in. Bessie takes them to a helicopter and the Doctor and the Brigadier are reunited once more before the Third Doctor changes back into the Sixth Doctor.
“I’m trying to override the Rani’s computer and harness the power of the time tunnel to pull her TARDIS in and not me.”
The resolution goes as follows: a possibly tipsy Rani drags Romana II into the Queen Victoria bar and the Time Lady takes her into her TARDIS. Romana transforms into Leela and then a rather sorry-looking Louise Jameson babbles on about how the Rani cloned her and how Romana II and Leela are the same person. The Seventh Doctor resolves to solve everything by flicking a few switches and spouting technobabble. Surprisingly it works and the Rani’s TARDIS is sucked into a swirly vortex along with every ounce of respect I had for John Nathan-Turner.
Dimensions in Time is appalling, it’s an abysmal piece of tosh that should never have been commissioned but it’s still thoroughly entertaining. Each of the actors portraying the Doctor, particularly Jon Pertwee and Sylvester McCoy do their best at trying to make sense of what’s going on to the audience. The companions that come thick and fast are all amusing to watch and it’s quite an interesting experiment, showing us what it’d be like if the BBC were to inveigle former actors into this year’s fiftieth anniversary episode. Tom Baker is consigned to a strange cameo set against a green screen and spends half his time wincing in pain. It shows you that although many fans want all eleven Doctors to return (three have tragically left us but many want them to be either recast or inserted via archive footage like in The Name of the Doctor) it may not work. Therefore I’m rather glad Steven Moffat just has one Doctor and one companion returning in November because any more and the fiftieth anniversary might go a bit Dimensions in Time and there’d be merry hell on Earth if that happened.
If you’ve never seen it, witness the horror for yourself in the video below…