The year was 1993, and the Doctor was dead.
Well, at least his career as TV's favorite time traveling space hobo was dead. Yes, despite BBC's assurance that the beloved series was merely "on hiatus", all the signs pointed to Doctor Who being cancelled. After decades of alien-fighting, running down corridors, and dubious fashion decisions, the only way fans would be able to experience new Doctor stories were through audio serials and books. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for four years, the Doctor passed out of all relevance.
But every once in awhile, the fans would catch wind of a possible continuation or special or what have you. At one point, a video release centered around the Fourth Doctor was given serious consideration, but fell through. As the 30th anniversary approached, a draft made the rounds at the Beeb in which the Seventh Doctor reunites with the Brigadier to do epic, explode-y battle with the Cybermen, but for reasons unknown then, that was dropped. The "Dimensions in Time" special that sprung up in its place, however, looked even more awesome.
All five of the living Doctors, working side by side to kick ass and take names! Even Tom Baker, who only appeared in the last Doctor team-up story, "The Five Doctors", in the form of stock footage from an unfinished serial and a wax dummy in the promotional photos.
This is how Christopher Eccleston should be included in The Day of the Doctor.
And the past iterations of the Doctor aren't the only ones returning for the fun; several of his beloved companions would also make appearances, along with a Who's who of classic Doctor Who monsters. After all this time, it appears Doctor Who was finally coming back, and even if it wasn't for long, at least it would have been a glorious final outing for the character and his universe.
Plus, it was the centerpiece of that year's Children in Need program, so not only was the Doctor coming back, he was doing it to aid children!
And then the skimpy 15 minute special aired and it was the worst thing ever
Yes, worst than that.
Okay, maybe not that bad.
So yeah, it's disappointing and badly produced, but what makes it truly stand out is the bizarre creative decisions they decided to go with . Instead of just having the Doctors just meet up with each other and defeat some monsters or whatever, they have this weird plot device where the Rani (the only Time Lord villain they could manage to get a hold of) is screwing with time, causing the Doctor to switch between his various regenerations. Sort of interesting idea in theory (and maybe one I could see Moffat having some fun with, if he ever felt like just going stupid for a second), but weirdly executed here, and a definite disappointment in a special where the main draw is all the Doctors getting together.
Not only that, but BBC mandated that the episode have something to do with Eastenders, the channel's most popular show at the time (hence the axing of that Cybermen story). That would be funky-in-a-bad-way enough, but it's handled as clumsily as it could possibly be. The plot will just derail for a moment to focus on a bunch of random people nobody who isn't a British person in 1993 cares about.
Also, BBC couldn't work out a deal with Terry Nation, the creator of and owner of the rights to the Daleks, so the Nazi pepper pots of doom, arguably the most iconic and popular thing associated with Doctor Who, doesn't make an appearance. Poo.
It's one of those things that approaches a level too nonsensical to describe in well formed sentences, so here it is, in all its 3D "glory".
Wasn't that insane!?
Anyway, random thoughts on this matter:
- The little segway into the special featuring Jon Pertwee is pretty cool, but only because Pertwee himself is awesome. He could be done up like a scarecrow and he'd still be the coolest mother in the room.
- Anybody else shit themselves in fear when Patrick Troughton's decapitated head floated past the screen? What, was stock footage or still images on a monitor too not-creepy enough for you people? You have to subject us to this Uncanny Valley horror in conjunction with the loss of brain cells we shall certainly receive?
- So then the theme song plays and it sounds like electronic ass. And no, speeding up the Seventh Doctor's opening does not make it suck any less. Quite the contrary.
- Good news, guys, the Fourth Doctor, arguably the most popular Doctor ever, is in the special! Unfortunately, he spends the whole special stuck in what appears to be Max Headroom's colon. Unsure how much of this was Tom Baker just being like "whatever" and how much of it was the producers just being buttheads. Favorite moment is 3:20, when you can see it dawn on Baker how utterly asinine this whole affair is as his soul enters the fetal position.
- The fact that every wall-circle in the Rani's TARDIS contains a living creature is even funnier. I like the Time Lord's expression, he's all like "I may not like this, but I accept that this is the way things are."
- "It clashes!" was actually kind of funny. You win this round, Nathan-Turner.
- You know, if you're going to keep cutting to those Eastenders cast, could you at least give them something interesting to do other than say stuff like "We need to make some money"? I have no idea what goes down in early 90's Eastenders, but I'm guessing that isn't exactly riveting within that show's context either.
- Gotta love that time travel effect utilized here. The whole "looks like an unintentional video glitch" thing really adds to the production.
- I get why the Doctor is switching regenerations, but how is Ace changing into all the other companions?
- Sarah Jane is always awesome to see again, though I'm not sure why she looks like she just ate a fire flower.
- The Doctor doesn't so much solve a mystery or try and figure out what's going on so much as he just wanders around and recites variation of the same info over and over and over again. Adventure ho.
- Dat camerawork, am I right?! 360 degrees, bitch!
- The scene where the monsters attack the Doctor is just the silliest darn thing. A number of them somehow look even worst than when they were on the show, most of them appearing in windows and behind little walls like a bunch of muppets. And you gotta love that Time Lord standing there feeling inadequate next to all those monsters. "No, seriously guys, he'll look intimidating! See, I gave him a gun!"
- Worst cliffhanger? Worst cliffhanger. I voted for Big Ron on name alone.
- "I took back what I said about a genius operator being behind these time jumps!"
- Wait, how does that ensuing confrontation work? The Rani has them cornered, and then the Doctor starts having a migraine, and then the Rani starts walking away, but when the Third Doctor appears, it's like he just pulled off this mind-blowing trick that changed the tide of the battle despite doing absolutely nothing. And then Liz just walks right up to the Rani, and they have a non-struggle, and then an Eastenders chick sort of touches her arm and she "lets Liz go", despite never appearing to have her. Thankfully, Captain Yates is there to save us from this confusing scene.
- It's always nice to see the Brigadier, and it's cool having him meet the Sixth Doctor, which he never did in the series.
- Did...did the Rani just sit in that pub and wait for Romana to walk past the door? And that old guy is totally cool with witnessing a possible assault and not doing anything.
- So the Rani is attempting to build a time tunnel out of Leela clones so she can cross over from the East to the West, which will give her the power to control evolution.
- Once again the day is saved, thanks to a bunch of cables, random terminals, and the Doctors chanting random gibberish about believing in Santa Claus or something! SO SATISFYING!
So yeah, that's "Dimensions in Time" for you. And you people thought Moffat sucks? These guys were perfectly happy with this being the only intended Doctor Who television story for years. What a time to be alive, is all I'm sayin'.
Now let's bleach this awfulness with a much better Doctor Who Children in Need special.