Pickled in time like gherkins in a jar.
It wasn’t an auspicious start, possibly the worst opening line of anything, well… ever. The choice of villain was also a slight disappointment for the 30th Anniversary. The Rani always was a kind of a third tier enemy whose main selling point was “she’s like the Master, but female”. But Kate O’Mara of course could be relied upon to sell the lines for all they were worth, even if they weren’t worth much more than a jar of gherkins.
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 our other selves. Oh … Good luck, my dears.
Welcome back Tom Baker! As a fan it was great to see him, in his first return to televised Doctor Who (and predating the audios by many years). By our very nature we are completists. He was missing from the Five Doctors section of our compartmentalized fan experience of Who history, but not this time. Looking back, he might as well not be here though. He refused to appear with the other Doctors and he’s really just playing Tom Baker.
The Doctor’s remaining incarnations are teetering on the edge of a precipice.
Two of them have already fallen over the edge of that precipice before the action starts. No recasting of a Doctor this time round. Or rather, One and Two did get recast… by model heads. It’s as if they had decided to have the waxwork Tom Baker really appear in The Five Doctors.
Oi! Is anybody there?
Look who’s back! The annoying ones. At least, that’s what has happened to Seven+Ace since the end of the Classic series. Their audios are bordering on torture. We are in a specific and actually remarkably rare mode of Doctor Who: the Doctor battling the aliens with London landmarks as the backdrop. The camera circles around wildly, trying to make use of the 3D technology. This was big news at the time. I remember Tomorrow’s World devoting a programme to it. The problem with this 90s version of 3D is that it is only effective when (a) you have motion, and (b) one thing passes in front of another to provide perspective. This means that the method of filming the actors is decidedly odd. The scene doesn’t cut from one actor to the other. Instead we have one continuous camera shot for each scene, the camera always moving, while the actors are upstaged by plant pots. It’s a dizzying experience, but at the time I loved it. Perhaps I was just the right age to be impressed by it. You needed 3D glasses, which were available in the shops with money going to charity. I still have mine. I would describe the design of them as “zany”.
We seem to have slipped a groove in time. Where have all these people come from? And where are we?
With a flash of light, we have our first wrong pairing of a Doctor and a companion: Ace plus Six. There had to be some of this, in order to fit in the orphaned companions, what with Tom grumping off in his own studio and Hartnell and Troughton sadly no longer with us and being played by Disembodied Head #1 and Disembodied Head #2. Slightly bizarrely, the next mismatch is Mel plus Three, despite both of these having correct pairings available. Why not make Mel the one who helps Seven at the end instead of Leela, and pair Leela with one of the others? There is admittedly a lot of fun to be had with the mashups.
I see flares are back in fashion.
Yeah, everything from the last century seems to be having a comeback.
She’s not wrong there. Doctor Who always was good at predicting the future. I mean, just look what’s happening this year in Australia with that Salamander chap.
Madam, what year is this?
The sight of the Third Doctor being all aristocratic and bullying to an Eastender is a sight to behold. This brings me to the one aspect of Dimensions in Time that makes me sick. I don’t mind the nonsensical plot or the atrocious dialogue, but why oh why did Doctor Who ever have to come within a mile of that hideous soap opera? People bandy around terms like “two British institutions”. Rubbish. One British institution and one piece of 80s trash television that refuses to die.
I am the Doctor.
No you’re not! You’re nothing like my grandfather.
On a superficial level, the idea here is that Susan is puzzled by the change of appearance of her grandfather. Of course, that’s nonsensical. She’s a Time Lady herself, but more importantly she has already met Two, Three and Five in The Five Doctors. But she absolutely refuses to accept Six, calling for Ian and Barbara, denying the possibility that this man in a clown suit could possibly be her grandfather. Maybe she has a point.
I thought you’d be involved somewhere along the line.
With Three plus Sarah we get our first original companion/Doctor pairing since Seven and Ace, moving towards the cliffhanger. She continues her regression back towards generic companion that started in The Five Doctors, now a far cry from the leading lady she was in her own pilot episode (K9 and Company), and will eventually be again. She has even regressed right back into her Andy Pandy costume. But this is the last gasp of the John Nathan-Turner era, where characters wear costumes, not clothes. It doesn’t happen to everyone, but look what happens with Leela. Louise Jameson refused to wear her original costume, so she gets another costume, as if she has just stopped by a fancy dress shop.
Blundering fools, they’re getting too near the truth. Release the specimens.
And we arrive at the really fun bit for a fan: playing spot the monster! It’s a bizarre selection, basically anything fan collectors could bring along. Who would have thought we would be seeing such delights as an Argolin, a Mogarian, a Tractator and even Fifi again? Conspicuous by their absence are the Daleks. You can see one in a publicity photo if you go looking, posing with the Fifth Doctor, and a scene with a Dalek was actually filmed, until the Terry Nation estate decided to take their ball and go home. Charity, meh.
And the companions went in two by two.
An interesting one, this. We get another correct pairing of Doctor and companion for the big cliffhanger, but there are two of them, and this is in fact a companion mashup: Peri plus Nyssa. Thankfully they get to just wear their normal clothes. In fact, this is the only lineup that looks in any way like they could be characters in a television series people might actually want to watch.
Say “goodbye”, Doctors. You’re all going on a long journey. A very long journey.
… a journey to Noel’s House Party, for the conclusion. I used to love that show. Good old Noel Edmonds, his slime tank, and Mr Blobby. OK, I suppose our tastes improve with age, now I come to think about it. Noel Edmonds presumably didn’t want to lose too big a chunk of his show, demanding the episode got cut for time. It was quite an event to see one of the Doctors turn up on his show, though. It was phenomenally popular at the time. The viewing figures tell the tale: the first part achieved 13.8 million viewers and the second part 13.6 million. Noel Edmonds really was as popular as the big charity television event of the year. We had to vote between the two episodes to decide which Eastenders character gets to save the Doctor. My vote was: who cares. Like the bit of the episode Edmonds wanted cut, and the Dalek scene, the Big Ron alternative take will likely never be seen by anyone, ever.
No Liz, you mustn’t.
Leave this to me. I’ll take my chances.
Action woman Liz, running across the street to attack the Rani. Isn’t this just the most joyfully bonkers thing ever. It’s a step up from being a phantom, as well. The Rani was predictably not the first choice of villain for Dimensions in Time. Accounts differ as to whether Anthony Ainley was asked or not. Who knows, perhaps there was some kind of mis-communication, but it seems hard to imagine a scenario where the Master was not the desired first choice of villain here. The second choice, believe it or not, was the Celestial Toymaker. How many of the viewers would have remembered him? It would surely have been a very different kind of story as well. Anyway, Michael Gough said no, but it’s interesting that JNT had such a bee in his bonnet about the Toymaker. Perhaps those missed opportunities from the lost Colin Baker series were haunting him.
We’ll speak soon, old chap. To all of you, I hope.
Jon Pertwee got a pretty good deal, and quite rightly so as the most “senior” of the Doctors, although it could be seen as something of a snub to McCoy, who was still the “current” Doctor. Pertwee was the guest on Noel’s House Party, and he gets scenes with as many of his former companions as could make it: Liz, Mike, Sarah and the Brig, plus Mel and Victoria for bonus points. Then we get another missing puzzle piece from the Doctor Who jigsaw: Six plus Brig. The lack of Six plus Peri is a shame though. Why double up on companions with Five, when it could have been done with Six (Peri plus Brig), which would have made a little more sense in terms of the companion switching plot?
I was looking for the Doctor, if it’s really any of your business.
Why no Doctor with Romana? Has anyone ever seemed so out of place as the Honourable Sarah Ward, daughter of the 7th Viscount Bangor, hiding in a garage in Eastenders? She is of course completely magnificent, a class above everything that surrounds her. Seeing Romana again was the standout moment of the special for me.
Who was that terrible woman?
Poor Deborah Watling. Like Carole Ann Ford she is the lone representative of her Doctor’s era. Couldn’t they have given her a bit more to do than just that one line? What a shame.
Except… what form were you in when she cloned you? Now think, it’s very important.
So says Leela, as the last remnants of logic evaporate. As a final treat K9 turns up, and then we’re back where we started, with Seven and Ace. Dimensions in Time was, in the end, just a bit of fun in a good cause. For Doctor Who fans it offered the chance to see some familiar faces once again, and that was a nice thing, but it was difficult not to feel a little deflated. Doctor Who had been canned four years ago, and it felt like one of those moments during the Wilderness Years that were golden opportunities. There weren’t many of them, but at the time, when Doctor Who was stuck in limbo, it did seem like this could have kickstarted something if it had been good enough. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one with delusions that 20 minutes of brilliant Doctor Who, rapturously received by the viewing public, might have been enough to make somebody take notice and make a new series. Instead we got Dimensions in Time. Like the subsequent failure of the Movie in the USA, and then The Curse of Fatal Death regenerating the Doctor almost to oblivion, these fleeting moments of excitement seemed like successive nails in the coffin to a fan of Doctor Who.
But we don’t need to worry about that any more. We can just enjoy this for what it is: a weird and wonderful footnote in the history of Doctor Who, and a chance to see some old friends on television in a Doctor Who episode for the very last time. So farewell Jon Pertwee, Kate O’Mara, Caroline John and Deborah Watling.
What we didn’t realise was that we didn’t need to worry at the time anyway. Of course Doctor Who wasn’t gone forever. How could it be?
I, I mean we, are difficult to get rid of.
The view from across the pond:
“Surely you can’t be serious?”
“I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”
Right… Dimensions in Time. Where do I start?
For one, I had actively avoided this special for years knowing what it was. One might say, its reputation preceded it. Sort of like crossing railroad tracks; you hear the alarm and you get off the tracks; same thing here… Dimensions in Time had that sort of reputation which caused me to run away. So I watched it for the first time yesterday, not 24 hours ago from the time of my writing this. It opens with a poor graphic of… I think it’s a space ship flying near a black hole, but both the ship and the black hole appear to be moving rapidly through space… Then the First and Second Doctors heads appear on screen, rendered in some horrible form of 3D computer model. To quote Ace, it’s well weird! And then we see the Rani and she opens the story with… I can barely type out the words…
“Pickled in time! Like Gherkins in a jar!”
So let’s forget the “plot” if that’s even what you’d call it, and instead talk about the reason this was made. It’s another Children in Need special, so you know what, who cares about how bad it was. It was intended as a fun romp to earn money for children. Good enough for me. And supposedly it raised over £100,000. Not to mention it was created to celebrate 30 years of Doctor Who, even though the show was now off the air, presumably forever.
The “plot” brings together past Doctors with a mismatch of companions due to the Rani’s interference with time, though I can’t say I really understood what she was up to. The one return appearance that made my son laugh was when Leela showed up. Before we could see her face, I blurted out a confused “Pocahontas?” Don’t laugh – watch it! Why Leela was wearing Pocahontas’ outfit is still utterly confusing me, but such is life. And Leela wasn’t the only former companion to appear in this special. In some combination or other many old companions were back with Doctors 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7. Susan returns, taking a walk with the Sixth Doctor. The Brigadier finally meets the Sixth Doctor also. Ace is with her natural partner, the Seventh Doctor, but so too is K-9. Romana II is hiding in a garage. (You know, the regal Romana II… hiding… in a garage…!) Sarah Jane Smith is back wearing her Andy Pandy outfit when she sees the Third Doctor walking the streets; so she runs up to him and starts chatting totally uncaring that it’s this version of the Doctor! Nyssa is back, along with Peri and Mel. Mike Yates comes in driving Bessie and shooting guns out of evil doers hands. Liz Shaw is back for a scuffle with the Rani. Even Victoria comes back.
Oh, but wait, there’s more! This 15 minute special was determined to shove as much into the mix as was Gallifreyanly possible. There’s such an over-abundance of monsters to steal the Rani’s thunder, it’s no wonder she’s annoyed. There’s a Sea Devil, an Ogron, Tractator, Tetraps, the Dragon from Dragonfire, an Argolin, Cybermen, Fifi, Kiv, one of Mawdryn’s kin, a Mogarian, a Plasmaton, a Vervoid, Vanir (you know, from Terminus?) and even some random Time Lord. In fact, a Time Lord and a Cybermen are kept in the walls of the Rani’s TARDIS behind one of the round things… Oddly, what isn’t in this episode is a Dalek! Color me amazed. The fact that the Rani is the big baddie of the story is laughable with such a veritable cornucopia to choose from. I hate being rude but Kate O’Mara always looks like she was annoyed by a smell; her expressions here seem less villainous and more upset about something horrible, as if she’s thinking “Who stepped in it!?” I can’t find her a credible enemy most of the time, but in this ludicrous special, even less so. And considering the choices…
I’m no fan of Eastenders, so the connections to that show are utterly lost on me, but this special was notable for bringing both icons of British television together. Ignoring the connections there, this is a Doctor Who outing where we just get a couple seconds of having everyone on screen together. Well, Tom Baker is playing some kind of announcer asking his other selves to save the day, wishing them “good luck, my dears”. But in the lore of Doctor Who, this could only work as a dream sequence. I typically hate that solution, but it’s the only way to make this work. If the Doctor ever says he had a dream about it, I would accept that easily enough. It would explain the mix and match of all the companions and the sheer amount of monsters that make an appearance. Otherwise, I kept thinking, “surely they could not have been serious…” ML
Read next in the Junkyard… Doctor Who: The Movie