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Dimensions in Time

An Under-Rated 'Classic'!

By Phillip J Gray

The most recent television Doctor Who offering was the Children in Need two-part serial Dimensions in Time, by John Nathan-Turner and David Rodan screened in Noel's House Party. This has received an enormous amount of criticism from fans in Britain; although aside from personal conversations with Graham Muir, I have heard nothing about it from New Zealand fans. Perhaps this is because copies have not reached here in sufficient numbers. Anyway, I want to point out in my own inimitable style why I found it wonderful.

The rave music at the beginning made me a little panicky at first, but then came the first sequence in the Rani's TARDIS with the ever-gorgeous, glamorous, butch Kate O'Mara and her... assistant. Where did he come from? What is his name? Why do British fans call him 'Cyrian' (the name was not mentioned on screen, unless I missed it?). Can someone get me his phone number? These considerations aside, the opening sequence was resplendent with scientific gobbledegook the general public associate with Doctor Who (more on this later). The unique, marvellous, my-choice-for-God Tom Baker followed, giving a very strange performance even for him. The Alister Pearson-like floating heads of the first and second Doctors were rather tasteless, and although the sobriquets of the 'flautist' and the 'grumpy one' might offend the more precious of fans, they were good snappy ways of reminding the public about the general nature of the first two Doctors. But Tom Baker's final line was bizarre - 'Good luck my dears'? Now I'm not against the use of the word 'dear' - in fact I'm a gratuitous user of the word myself - but this came across as odd but enjoyable in the circumstances.

By this stage I was starting to enjoy myself, feeling like old times again. Next was the emergence of Ace and the Doctor from the TARDIS near the Cutty Sark, with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred capturing their performances again nicely before FLASH! the Colin Baker Doctor appeared in the street market in 1993. This was heartrending. The Sixth Doctor looked so old, though he still retained his marvelously characteristic wit and pomposity that endears the fellow to me so much. Next came the 2013 sequence with Bonnie Langford and Jon Pertwee, the latter now a complete convert to the Roger Moore school of personality acting (see also Seasons Eight to Eleven of Doctor Who). Having always been a BIG, BIG fan of the delightful Bonnie Langford, she was looking as GORGEOUS as ever and oh, her time was far too short. Weep. Another FLASH! and we have Carole Ann Ford, as glamorous as ever (there really must be something in this time travel business), and delivering the same lines she's always given, about her grandfather. Sorry love, he's a spinning head! She even calls out for Ian and Barbara with the exact same nuances in her voice as thirty years ago (I noticed this whilst watching The Dalek Invasion of Earth not long afterwards).

Moving right along, we next come to Lis Sladen as Sarah Jane, looking a bit older than in 1976, 1981 or 1983. I was rather hoping the stuffed owl would be along for the ride too, but alas, this story couldn't be perfect. All the leaping around in time was a bit hard to understand, but I was too fascinated with the Rani's new... associate really to care. Anyway, Peter Davison came next and what a disappointment. Oh, the role was the same and he delivered his usual performance, albeit with a harder edge than in his era. But most of his hair has gone, and he's not half as cute as he was ten years ago. Never mind, we all have our illusions shattered at one point or another. Accompanying him were Nicola Bryant and Sarah Sutton, although they weren't given much to do. It was good of them to come along for the day. Nicola Bryant is remarkably well-preserved - 'nuff said.

Then came the cliffhanger - oh, just like the old days - with some brilliant dialogue which will ensure that this little two-parter is going to be Rocky Horror-like cult material for years to come. So many fans have a terribly embarrassing belief that Doctor Who should be SERIOUS DRAMA. Stand up Ian Levine. I find this idea quite embarrassing and frightening. (Imagine it - 'Season 30 of Doctor Who was announced today. The Kenneth Branagh Doctor will participate in several adventures, first up being Doctor Who and the Cherry Tree. The next four-parter sees the Doctor and his companion Emma visit Emma's Uncle Vanya...' never mind). Kate O'Mara's lines are marvellous and a fantastic way to end the episode: 'Say goodbye, Doctors! You're going on a long journey. A very long journey!!'

Back to Part Two of this delightful little story, with the substitution of Davison and co. for Pertwee and Liz Shaw and the latter's rather silly giving up of herself to the Rani. Where are Liz's accessories (boots, wig, lab coat, etc)?? Some old geezer then drives up in a yellow car and drives Pertwee away, but there must be a mistake here, as this guy surely has never been in Doctor Who. Unless it's Maureen O'Brien? Anyway, then the Colin Baker Doctor finally gets to meet the Brigadier, but one can't hear anything because of the throbbing, pulsing, insistent... helicopter rotor blades. Next we find out that the Rani needs an Earthling (take me! take me! please!) and we jump to the ever-luscious Lalla Ward skulking in a garage (why? or shouldn't we ask why she was crouching behind that car?), being confronted by two heavies and asking them the obligatory 'Doctor Who?' quip before being pulled inside the Queen Vic pub by Kate O'Mara. Some people get all the luck.

FLASH! Back to the ship and the Pertwee Doctor and some middle-aged woman behind him wearing a silly cloak and far too much make-up - oh sorry! Anneke? No, that's right, Deborah Watling. She then delivers her line in a fashion akin to a balsa board model. (Mind you, the actual line, 'Who was that dreadful woman?' seems just a little self-referential for Doctor Who. 'Victoria' is then kidnapped by Pertwee and they enter the TARDIS together, where Pertwee traps the 'dreadful woman' in endless runs of comedy plays like Run for Your Wife where she belongs, not prestigious TV drama like this show. The TARDIS lands and the McCoy Doctor emerges; well, the story had to have its bad moments somewhere.

And up runs Louise Jameson, who must be killing herself with laughter at the Minnehaha-like costume gear she gets to wear (I guess Philip Hinchcliffe or Chris Boucher must have kept the original costume as a 'keepsake'). 'Leela' then proceeds to prance light-footedly around the Doctor and K9, the latter of whom the less said the better, although the line 'Yes, Master' was always rather appealing. Then Leela tells the Doctor that she was Romana before the Rani cloned her, which has some mind-bogglingly kinky possibilities. In wonderful Doctor Who style, three-and-a-half episodes of runaround are followed by two minutes of scientific gobbledegook and an explosion. Really, this should have been Pertwee's moment, but never mind. There is some nonsense about time brains in a computer which makes my heart long for my much-cherished Pip and Jane Baker stories. The Rani and her companion are dispatched, but I hope they'll be back next season. Both of them. Or him, at least. The McCoy Doctor leaves with Ace, uttering the immortal words 'Certainly I, I mean we, are difficult to get rid of.' Brilliant. Fantastic. Overpowers anything by Eric Saward. Or Victor Pemberton. Or anyone. John Nathan-Turner and David Rodan are geniuses.

Actually, I'm waiting anxiously for the BBC video triple tape-pack, complete with specially added previously unseen footage of Michael Craze and William Russell, filmed for their two-handed comedy show made briefly in 1967, 'Boys on Top'. Also, the specially-filmed footage with the return of Matthew Waterhouse and the Xeraphin, and the bonus scenes featuring the Gary Downie/Bonnie Langford tapdancing sequences viciously removed from part one of Terror of the Vervoids by Chris Clough. I can't sleep nights in anticipation.

Incidentally, there were rumours that there were going to be EastEnders cast members in this story, but this was just another of JNT's brilliant publicity master-strokes. What a guy! All in all, Dimensions in Time was the third best McCoy story ever (after Time and the Rani and Tragedy Day), and is a CLASSIC up there with Nightmare of Eden, The Power of Kroll, anything by Antony Root and The Savages (which I watched last night, but under the blankets with my torch in case Ian Levine should come looking for me). Who cares about Amblin? Dimensions in Time was so good I had to go and have a long, long lie down afterwards.

This item appeared in TSV 42 (January 1995).

Index nodes: Dimensions in Time