‘Dimensions in Time’ is an obscure Doctor Who story from 1993, which just happens to be one of the highest-rated of all time. And it will probably never be released.
Doctor Who‘s 30th anniversary was quite a chaotic event – or at least, the build-up to it was. The series found itself in the midst of a mini rights war, with various parties fighting for a slice of the Time Lord pie. Producer Philip Segal was trying to secure the rights to produce an American-led Doctor Who series with Amblin, while BBC Enterprise was scrambling to produce a straight-to-video film called ‘The Dark Dimension,’ which would reunite many of the past Doctors.
And with little certainty as to whether any of these projects would come to fruition, the BBC devised a special charity episode which ultimately became ‘Dimensions in Time.’ Transmitted across Doctor Who‘s 30th anniversary in November 1993, this two-part adventure is one of the ultimate rarities, not having been (officially) seen since its original transmission.
Having been produced as part of the Children in Need charity initiative – which hosts an annual TV marathon – ‘Dimensions in Time’ was made as a largely voluntary venture, meaning that it couldn’t be used for generating profit. This rules out the possibility of the story ever being made available on DVD and Blu-ray, and it certainly never manifested during the VHS era. As such, the only people who have seen ‘Dimensions in Time’ are those who caught the story during its original broadcast, or watched a domestic recording on cassette or YouTube.
Thus, you had to be watching ‘Children in Need’ or ‘Noel’s House Party’ to catch the epic union of the Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Doctors as they locked horns with the Rani – in Albert Square.
But what is Albert Square? UK viewers will be familiar with this London locale, as it serves as the backdrop for the popular soap opera Eastenders. And intriguingly, this was used as the location for much of ‘Dimensions in Time,’ even utilising some of the actors (and their characters) for the story. The effectiveness of this cross-over is subjective, of course, and does bring the adventure’s canonicity into question. Certainly, the scene with the Rani standing at the entrance to the Queen Vic as she threatens to wipe every Doctor from existence is one that few people will forget in a hurry.
The return of her character, however, was a real fan-pleaser, with the actor Kate O’Mara giving her all in the unashamedly camp script. Sadly, ‘Dimensions in Time’ would turn out to be her last on-screen appearance as the Rani, making this story’s absence from home media even sadder.
Another notable moment is the return of Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor, who hadn’t been seen since the final part of ‘The Trial of a Time Lord’ in 1986. Due to being fired from the role shortly after transmission, Colin Baker wasn’t on set for the character’s regeneration into his seventh body, so his appearance in ‘Dimensions in Time’ is a significant moment – not least as it marks the first (and only) time his incarnation met the Brigadier on TV.
Moreover, this story’s combination of Doctors and companions is similarly unique. Never before had Jon Pertwee, Tom Baker, Peter Davison, Colin Baker and Sylvester McCoy acted in the same Doctor Who adventure, with many of them being paired with companions that their incarnations had never encountered. The Sixth Doctor, for example, meets the Seventh Doctor’s companion Ace in Albert Square, whilst the Seventh encounters the Fourth Doctor’s companion Leela.
And what of the Fourth Doctor? Sadly, his appearance in ‘Dimensions in Time’ is constrained to the time vortex, so Tom Baker never gets to meet his fellow actors nor experience the delights of Albert Square. Also noticeable by their absence are the First and Second Doctors, who are represented as maquettes in the Rani’s TARDIS as both William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton had passed away by 1993.
‘Dimensions in Time’ also took a choose-your-own-adventure approach to storytelling, meaning that viewers were given the opportunity to select how part one’s cliffhanger would be resolved: Should it be Eastenders‘ Mandy Salter who comes to the Doctor’s rescue, or “Big Ron”? The outcome was decided by a phone-in, which raised an impressive £101,000 for Children in Need. And the winner was Mandy with 56% of the vote – but of course an alternative version was already filmed and ready to go if the vote went the other way.
Another interesting feature of ‘Dimensions in Time’ is the fact that it is one of the few Doctor Who adventures to have been shot in 3D, meaning that it could be enjoyed in all its screen-breaking glory by viewers with 3D glasses. So far, the only other 3D story in the series’ history is the 50th anniversary special ‘The Day of the Doctor,’ which was also given a worldwide, cinematic simulcast.
But how was ‘Dimensions in Time’ received by contemporary Doctor Who fans? Certainly, the feelings surrounding this adventure have been mixed over the years, and it was undoubtedly smaller in scale than the proposed ‘Dark Dimension’ movie. It was, however, accompanied by a feature-length documentary titled ’30 Years in the TARDIS’ which aired on BBC One, and received an extended release on VHS.
But ‘Dimensions in Time’ has the surprising accolade of being one of the highest-rated Doctor Who stories of all time, with its first part pulling in an impressive 13.8 million viewers, and its second 13.6 million viewers.
It is, however, very unlikely that this story will ever receive a home media release. So at the time of writing the only way to enjoy ‘Dimensions in Time’ is through the time capsule that is YouTube (although you might have to dispense with the 3D glasses…)
How do you feel about ‘Dimensions in Time’? Do you consider it to be part of the Doctor Who canon? And would you like it to be released on DVD or Blu-ray? Let me know in the comments below.
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