Classic Doctor Who reached an abrupt end in 1989. But a brand new story was planned for the 30th anniversary, only to be cancelled at the last minute. Just what happened to 1993’s ‘The Dark Dimension’?
To say that classic Doctor Who was axed in 1989 is not entirely true. Certainly the brakes were applied, but it was always hoped that the show would continue in another form, perhaps as a co-production with another interested party. Indeed, many people were interested in continuing the Doctor’s travels, and at one point the actor David Burton found himself at the helm of the TARDIS – albeit in the form of a red phone box. You can read more about that here.
At the same time, British-American producer Philip Segal was keen to pick up where classic Doctor Who had left off, and in the early 90s he was busy negotiating with the BBC and Amblin Entertainment about the possibility of a new series of adventures to be produced State-side.
But of course, with the 30th anniversary of classic Doctor Who fast approaching, and with VHS sales of old stories performing well in the charts, BBC Worldwide decided to commission a brand new, straight-to-video adventure starring all of the old Doctors. Titled ‘The Dark Dimension’ (and later ‘Lost in the Dark Dimension’) the story was penned by fan scholar Adrian Rigelsford, and would have been directed by Doctor Who stalwart Graeme Harper, who had directed the classic stories ‘The Caves of Androzani’ and ‘Revelation of the Daleks.’
And it was certainly an interesting tale. It would have opened with the death of the Seventh Doctor, who had been murdered by a vicious creature – disguised as a human – called Hawkspur, played by Rik Mayall. He would have decimated planet Earth and wiped out most of the humans, and as if that wasn’t enough, he’d have also tampered with the Doctor’s timeline so that he never regenerated at the end of ‘Logopolis,’ meaning that the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh incarnations never happened.
Obviously, this would have completely rewritten the classic Doctor Who timeline, and ‘The Dark Dimension’ would have seen the alternative Fourth Doctor teaming up with the Brigadier and Ace to defeat Hawkspur.
On the way, the trio would have encountered Daleks, Cybermen, Ice Warriors and Yeti – to name a few – whilst all of the Doctor’s other incarnations would have made fleeting cameos. The Sixth Doctor, for instance, would have been defending the Ice Warriors in a courtroom, whilst the Fifth Doctor would have been caught in the midst of a Cyber war. The Fourth Doctor, meanwhile, would have faced off with a Special Weapons Dalek in a Victorian graveyard.
Hawkspur would have been ultimately defeated in a sword fight with the Fourth Doctor, after which he would have been thrown into the time vortex, thus restoring the aborted timelines.
And whilst erasing the classic Doctor Who timelines may seem like an unlikely premise for an anniversary special, ‘The Dark Dimension’ was at an advanced stage of pre-production before it was cancelled. Many weeks’ worth of test filming was done, including some location shoots, model tests and title sequence mock-ups. In addition, work had already begun on redesigning some of the most beloved classic Doctor Who monsters.
“The Cybermen were not like any we’ve ever seen before,” said Rigelsford, in a blog post by John Preddle. “There was a specific Cyberman who was being made by the people at Henson’s Creature Workshop. The guy who designed it, Nigel Johns, was trained by H.R. Giger [who designed Alien] so you can imagine that this particular Cyberman looked terrifying. It had holes in its knuckles and there was a point where it held up its hand, made a fist, and six-inch blades shot out of its knuckles! It was like Wolverine out of the X-Men comics.”
Alas, it seems the project quickly ran into problems. For one thing, it was proving difficult to secure all of the surviving Doctor Who actors to return for cameo appearances – and indeed, it’s unclear which ones were approached.
“BBC Enterprises never contacted me,” said Peter Davison in an interview with TV Zone, “and they never returned my agent’s calls when this project was floating around. I was then sent a script later on saying, ‘We hope you like the script, we look forward to working with you,’ and still no one had contacted my agent. Presumably they had contacted Tom, but they had certainly not anyone else.”
At the same time, Philip Segal (at Amblin) was concerned that the project would complicate his plans for a new, American-produced series of Doctor Who. “We were very close to closing our deal,” said Segal on the official DVD release of the Doctor Who TV Movie, “and it was Tony Greenwood [from the BBC] who called me up and said, ‘We’d like to do this, do you have a problem with it?’ And I said, ‘Well send me the script and let’s take a look.’ And I read the script and it was awful. It was really embarrassing, and it was silly, and we were going to march out all of the old Doctors, and it just felt wrong.
“It was going to muddy the waters and confuse people, especially as we were so close to delivering our bible and our script. I asked him [Greenwood] if he’d put it on hold, and he did. It upset a lot of people.”
Classic Doctor Who director Graeme Harper confirmed Segal’s account on the same DVD. “I was contracted for the shoot and for the preparation,” he said. “I worked on it for five weeks, and then it folded. I think Amblin Films – Spielberg’s company – were interested in buying the rights, and I think the BBC had to cease and desist or the deal wouldn’t go through. I think that’s what happened.”
In the end, classic Doctor Who celebrated its 30th anniversary with a TV special entitled ’30 Years in the TARDIS,’ along with a two part skit for Children in Need called ‘Dimensions in Time.’ ‘The Dark Dimension,’ however, remains unproduced to this day.
How do you feel about the cancellation of ‘The Dark Dimension’? Would it have been a good way to celebrate classic Doctor Who? Let me know in the comments below.
Fourth Doctor Season 18 scarf – order now from the Lovarzi shop!
Shop on Amazon
- Doctor Who: The Fourteenth Doctor will arrive in 2022
- Doctor Who fandom: Reacting to the show’s biggest changes
- Doctor Who Series 13 will be all one story
- Doctor Who ratings: Taking a look at the worst-rated episodes
- Looking back on Doctor Who’s 50th anniversary