Friday, October 25, 2013

Doctor Who: Dimensions In Time - TVReview

Article author: Alwyn Ash

"Mayday, mayday. This is an urgent message for all the Doctors. It's vitally important that you listen to me for once. Our whole existence is being threatened by a renegade Time Lord known only as the Rani..."

I have never understood the dislike for Doctor Who's 1993 two-part charity event "Dimensions In Time", designed as a nod and a celebration of the show's 30th anniversary. According to statements that have been made since, "Dimensions" was to be a rather different affair, with intelligible plot and solid dialogue. However, due to time restraints, cost issues, and other requirements, Doctor Who marked an important occasion with a host of faces old and new, and monsters galore. The Daleks were perhaps absent, due to legal reasons, but this was something quite special - utilizing a 3D method called the "Pulfrich effect" (accompanied by the viewer wearing special spectacles with one darkened lens and one transparent one) to give an extra dimension to the Doctor's adventure. It was not, as some see it, a "final insult" - perhaps proceeds raised going to charity is irrelevant?

I can fully appreciate the fans' longing for something quite special, in line with previous celebrations "The Three Doctors" (1973) and "The Five Doctors" (1983), and I for one wished a grander affair had been approved. But let us not forget that, sadly, the show itself had been cancelled in 1989, and there was not a single sign that Doctor Who would ever return as a drama series every again. Even the originally planned 30th Anniversary feature-length drama "Lost in the Dark Dimension" failed to materialise, which would have starred Tom Baker reprising his role as the Fourth Doctor and joined by companions and fellow Doctors - as various actors and production crew have stated in interviews following the cancellation of "Dark Dimension", the presence of Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy would have been little more than cameos, which was not only a disappoint to the actors but would not have become the true equal gathering of the show's stars that fans would have surely wished for at that time...

Had "Dark Dimension" been both produced and a huge success, perhaps the BBC would have given the green light for a new season, but that is now uncertain. And so, with nothing else on the agenda other than a documentary entitled "Thirty Years in the TARDIS", it was decided to go ahead with "Dimensions In Time". One of the ideas settled upon during the genesis of this "Children In Need" reunion was that Doctor Who must intergrate with another popular BBC drama show at that time, "Eastenders", a soap opera following the residents of Albert Square in London. Not such a strange notion when you take into consideration that this was to be a fundraiser for children, and not a canon-based chapter in a long-running television series...

This is perhaps where I feel slightly amused. It is hard to believe that some members of Doctor Who's fanbase have tried to place or explain "Dimensions In Time" into the canon, as if just accepting that it was nothing more than a charity event is too difficult an idea for them to comprehend. It was a sketch, nothing more. And if it is true that "Dimensions" raised over £101,000 for Children in Need, perhaps just a thank you to everyone who took part is required, instead of criticism? 3-D week, which televised a number of special BBC shows using the Pulfrich 3D technique, included "Dimensions" as part of its one-off programming.

The story. Well, the "plot" focuses on renegade Time Lady the Rani (Kate O'Mara) attempting to trap all of the Doctor's incarnations in a time loop. The First and Second Doctors have already been snared, and the Fourth Doctor (played by Tom Baker) sends out a distress message to his remaining other selves; one can only watch and admire the man who had portrayed the role of the Doctor the longest. Following this scene we meet the Seventh Doctor (McCoy) and companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) who arrive in London, 1973, after the TARDIS is drawn off course - McCoy was, at the time of filming "Dimensions", the current Doctor, having starred in the show's last classic canon serial "Survival" in 1989. Using the method of time jumps, we are introduced to other Doctors and companions as the Time Lord attempts to understand the reason for this phenomenon.

Seeing familiar faces again such as the wonderful Nicola Bryant, Sarah Sutton, and Carole Ann Ford (playing companions Peri Brown, Nyssa and Susan Foreman respectively) is always a delight, and the all-too short scene between Colin Baker and Nicholas Courtney is a reminder of just how good the Sixth Doctor and his old friend Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart would have been together in a televised story had Baker remained for further seasons. Talking of a union between these two fabulous actors, it is always a blessing to hear them perform in Big Finish's audio drama "The Spectre of Lanyon Moor", released in 2000, featuring a Cornish landscape and a haunted moor...

I do find it quite a shame that "Dimensions In Time" may never be available, even as a DVD extra. Due to both cast and crew giving their services free of charge, conditions were laid down unequivocal by Equity, the actors' union, which stipulated that "Dimensions" would be transmitted the once only and should never be "exploited commercially in any way". Though I am sure there are some who would not care if this light-hearted sketch was ever seen again, it does make a nice example of what can be achieved when people are brought together to help those who are less fortunate. Television presenter Noel Edmonds (whose popular UK show "Noel's House party" aired both parts of the Doctor Who charity special) could not have worded it better when, referring to a phone-in to decide the outcome of a moment in the sketch, said, "When you make your call you will be invited to make a pledge for Children In Need. So you'll not just be helping the Doctors, but you'll actually be helping children everywhere..."

Ironically, during the special two-parter, we see Jon Pertwee and Elisabeth Sladen visit Albert Square in 2013 - it seems they are with us in spirit for the 50th Anniversary! And a final word from McCoy, who says at the end, "Certainly I, I mean 'we', are difficult to get rid of." Never a truer word said.

Purchase More Than 30 Years In The TARDIS from the Store:
(Included in The Legacy Collection)
DVD - Feature running time: 200 minutes (Includes "Shada")