Inside The Dark Dimension
By Jon Preddle
The Dark Dimension was to have been a feature-length television drama to celebrate the Thirtieth Anniversary of Doctor Who. The production was cancelled in 1993 but to this day very few details of the story have been made public. The author of the script, Adrian Rigelsford, has written a book called The Making of The Dark Dimension, apparently containing the full script with designs and photographs of the costumes and models, but its publication has been repeatedly delayed. In the absence of this book there are however some clues as to what The Dark Dimension was all about.
Various people involved with the project have revealed snippets of information. Adrian Rigelsford spoke in depth about the special at the Space Mountain convention in October 1993 and despite being bound by BBC contract not to disclose details he was quite forthcoming. Four of the actors concerned have also been outspoken about their involvement.
As far back as September 1992 BBC Enterprises formulated a plan for a special feature-length episode to celebrate Doctor Who's thirtieth anniversary in November 1993.
According to Rigelsford, 'Tom Baker went to the BBC and said "I would like to be Doctor Who again", and that's the reason why it happened.' Apparently Baker even suggested Douglas Adams as the script writer.
Two of BBC Enterprises' senior producers, Penny Mills and David Jackson, persuaded Enterprises' senior manager, Tony Greenwood, to take on the project as a video-only release.
In November 1992, BBC1 Controller Jonathan Powell heard of the project and objected to Enterprises making the production on the grounds that it was a marketing wing of the BBC and not a drama production unit. But Greenwood pressed on, and David Jackson commissioned Adrian Rigelsford to proceed with a script.
Rigelsford, a professional writer who was working at the BBC at the time, was known for his Doctor Who connections through his books The Monsters and Cybermen. 'They called me in and it went on from there. My basic brief was don't do The Five Doctors; do Doctor Who as it hadn't been seen before. And that's a horrific brief that you've got to try to fulfill.'
Rigelsford himself brought director Graeme Harper on board. The popular director of The Caves of Androzani and Revelation of the Daleks jumped at the chance to 'make Doctor Who scary again'. Despite initially having said 'No' to the project, BBC TV reluctantly offered assistance, and Peter Cregeen, Head of Drama at BBC TV, was appointed producer. Penny Mills was given the post of co-producer, representing BBC Enterprises.
In early 1993 sudden upheavals in the BBC hierarchy saw the replacement of Controller Jonathan Powell with Alan Yentob and Mark Shivas, Head of Series and Serials, with Charles Denton. Fortunately both Yentob and Denton gave their blessing to the project. In May Peter Cregeen was also removed from his BBC post but by now Yentob and Denton had reviewed the project and given the go ahead for the special to now be broadcast on BBC1 followed by a video release possibly containing extra footage.
The most important factor was the script, entitled The Dark Dimension and later Lost in the Dark Dimension, Rigelsford's brief was to include the surviving Doctors and the most popular monsters. Another writer, Joanna McCaul, was brought in assist but to what degree is unknown. Rigelsford did not find including the three most popular monsters an easy task: 'Part of the problem with the Daleks was that there's some contractual clause which meant that if any Dalek story is done it's got to have Davros in it, and I had to come up with a way that had the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Ice Warriors without them being the Daleks, the Cybermen and the Ice Warriors!'
A team of top designers were brought in to create the new-look monsters, including people from Jim Henson's Creature Workshop (responsible for the special costumes in films such as The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and The Flintstones).
'The Cybermen were not like any we've ever seen before,' says Rigelsford. '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; Cyberrine!' (This new Cyberman appears on the proposed cover of Boxtree's book).
The Workshop's Chris Fitzgerald was responsible for redesigning the Daleks. The project's special effects technician, Mike Tucker, revealed at a Doctor Who convention in 1994 that there was to have been a scene where the Fourth Doctor was chased through a Victorian churchyard by a new-look Special Weapons Dalek. Rigelsford: 'The Daleks were going to have laser-guns that were going to be done with computer animation so the laser bolts would be in 3-D rather than just going 'Zap!' with a blue line. The bolts were going to be like spears coming out in 3-D.'
Rik Mayall, David Bowie, Brian Blessed or David Warner were tipped to play the villain, who was named Hawkspur. Blessed was an old friend of Rigelsford, having written a book together about Mount Everest. Incidentally, Warner was later Steven Spielberg's choice to play the Doctor in the proposed Amblin series (the actor declined on the basis he didn't want to take on a weekly series).
Once the script was completed both Enterprises and BBC TV submitted budgets, with Enterprises coming in at 750,000 pounds, and BBC TV at 1.2 million pounds. Enterprises won on their cheaper costing but BBC TV was concerned that Enterprises lacked the experience to produce drama and was costing far too low.
By June, Enterprises had set up a production office. More production people were brought on, including Nick Jagels as production associate, Tony Harding (the designer of K9) as visual effects designer and Kevan van Thompson as assistant director. Mark Russell or Alan Hawkshawe were to compose the music.
Rigelsford: 'There were a lot of designs for it; costumes were being made: monsters were built, sets were designed. The signature tune was going back to the original arrangement, circa Jon Pertwee, and the title sequence was done, with the original logo and it was the old howl-around effect in colour and it had the five faces of the Doctors that were in it.' Kevin Davies, who later directed 30 Years in the TARDIS, was assigned to create the new titles. About three weeks worth of test filming was done including model and titles effects, and some location filming was also undertaken. 'We were going to go down to Shepperton film studios,' says Rigelsford, 'and have it shot on film on one of the largest sound-stages on Shepperton.'
Kevin Davies adds: 'The big alien, Death itself, began as this ethereal billowing, glowing, gigantic ghostly thing, which was going to float across the landscape spreading death and destruction beneath it.'
Due to the mature nature of the adventure Rigelsford was keen to get a mid-evening time-slot. 'The slot we had was Saturday 27 November [the same night that Dimensions in Time was eventually aired] and it would have followed Noel's House Party (they were even thinking of calling it Noel's Who Party for that night), and at the end of it Edmonds would have walked towards the camera and said, 'And now He's back' and it would have gone straight into our film,' Rigelsford also revealed that if the ratings were more than five million then a new series would most certainly have been commissioned.
Despite this degree of pre-production, Enterprises had done little with regard to contacting the cast, apparently being under the impression that all the Doctors would sign on as a matter of course. By the beginning of July the five actors playing the Doctors finally received their scripts.
Rigelsford: 'Tom Baker loved it! He said that it would be like reading a Bram Stoker novel. He had the lions' share, and the other Doctors had an even chunk. Colin Baker was with the Ice Warriors, Peter Davison was in the middle of a Cyber-war. I can't say how, but you arrived at the point where they are, and they all came back together at the end. It's a 96 minute film, and Tom had 48 minutes, and each of the other ones had about 12 minutes or something like that, and they all came together in the last quarter of an hour.'
The first news of the project was broadcast amongst fandom around June 1993. Although no official announcements had been made, Adrian Rigelsford and Graeme Harper's names were quoted as being involved. Doctor Who Magazine finally broke the news in July and interviewed both Rigelsford and Harper in issue 202.
Fans were justifiably excited about the prospect of new Doctor Who after three years of false promises from the BBC. However just days after the project's existence was announced, the news came through that it had been cancelled.
On Thursday 10 July Tony Greenwood left England for a conference in Japan. The next day Alan Yentob also went overseas on business. That same day a special board meeting was held at the BBC to discuss the project. The unanimous vote was that the production was nothing more than a hastily cobbled together 'money-spinner' with little or no thought with regard to realistic production schedules and that it was upsetting several people, including the principal actors.
With none of the supporters of the project available to defend the show Enterprises were sent an official memo that afternoon terminating the production. The official explanation was that it was cancelled for 'financial and logistical reasons.'
Greenwood and Yentob did not learn of the cancellation until their return to England several days later, but by then it was too late. On July 14 Greenwood let it be known that the project was not 'dead' and that it could still be remounted as a video release in time for Christmas 1993.
Rigelsford was instructed to rewrite the script using only the Fourth and Seventh Doctors, as it was by now accepted that the others did not want to be involved. Rigelsford elaborates: 'It all depends really who wants to do it. Tom certainly wants to do it, Sylvester wants to do it. I don't know about Colin Baker, and Peter Davison had really made it quite clear these days that he doesn't really want to be associated with Doctor Who that much'. However any subsequent plans to make the special never eventuated and The Dark Dimension was well and truly lost. [Jon adds: In more recent years it has become known that another major factor behind the cancellation of the project was that the BBC was at the time also entering into negotiations with Amblin and Universal about a proposed American series or TV Movie, and it was felt that there would be a conflict or interest, as the more expensive American project would overshadow the smaller BBC release.]
After The Dark Dimension was cancelled four of the actors discussed the script in several magazines, clearly showing their dissatisfaction with the way Enterprises assumed the actors would work for them and the allocation of screentime.
Jon Pertwee: 'A script was sent to me but my agent had not had a chance to negotiate in any way before it was cancelled.' (TV Zone Special). 'It should have been given to a writer that knows something about what we're doing. Someone like Barry Letts.' (Starburst).
Peter Davison: 'The cock-up was entirely [Enterprises'] doing, although it would have been impossible to get all the Doctors to do something in which Tom played a massive part, and everybody else played a cameo role. BBC Enterprises never contacted me, 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. How do you announce something, you take on a director, you have a script, you have the project presumably in some form of set-up, and you haven't asked any of the people who are going to be in it? They're the least enterprising people I know!' (TV Zone Special).
Colin Baker: 'I did have time to read the script but there was no more discussion after that. The next thing I heard, it had been cancelled. I had one discussion on the phone with Graeme Harper in which he tried to put my reservations at ease, because I was slightly concerned that there seemed to be within the script as written, a certain inequity as to the distribution of the work involved. It seemed heavily centred around one Doctor, and the other four were very peripheral. It's not a very sound strategy to present it in - the way it was presented, i.e. that one is much more important than the other four. As someone now seven years out of playing the part, it would have to be a very attractive offer for me to consider going back.' (TV Zone Special). 'My part in the script was a trial scene, and what did I do for all episodes during my last season? A trial scene! In this case it added nothing to the story, it didn't take the part anywhere, and I could have done it in a couple of days maximum out of a five-week shoot. They had thirty years to think about it. It was a missed opportunity.' (Starlog). 'I found my part extremely similar to the one I had done in my last season. They said "Oh, you could change over with Peter's part because he's got scenes with a Cyberman!'" I said. "Well that shows you how the parts had been written specifically for us." It's absurd isn't it? They're interchangeable. I'd said I'd change with Tom! You could change over with Peter's part because he's got scenes with a Cyberman! There's a good part for a villain in it. This Hawkspur part I thought was marvellous. I'd quite fancy [playing] this Hawkspur.' (Starburst).
Sylvester McCoy: 'I think [the role of Hawkspur] was written for Brian Blessed, because the author kept promising him parts. I think he hoped Brian Blessed would become the next Doctor!' (Starburst). 'This was very much a script that looked as if it had been cobbled together from some other project. It was about my Doctor, but it then brings in Tom Baker's Doctor, because I seemingly get killed at the beginning, and things spin out of control. It goes through different regenerations and comes up to Tom's, and he eventually saves the day. I come back to life and go happily on to the next story, so it looked to me as if it might have been a story that was written to insert into one of my seasons. [The other Doctor's] bits looked as if they had been cobbled together and stuck in, because the story could have been told without them, and there very little for them to do. My part was integral but I was still disappointed in a way because I don't think it was even the kind of story fans would want to see for the 30th Anniversary. They want to see all the Doctors together.' (TV Zone Special).
The BBC's press release from 1993 only hints at the premise for the story:
The story apparently starts at the Seventh Doctor's funeral. It was rumoured that plans to have Bernice Summerfield appear at the funeral were vetoed by Virgin, who hold the character's copyright.
Rigelsford is quoted as saying: '[The story] started with Sylvester McCoy being found dead at some point in the future, and a group of warriors travelling into the past to sort out what had actually killed him. They come to a point where Tom Baker's Doctor had never regenerated. He had been kept alive by an alien force. He's a lot older and grumblier. There was going to be a black version of his costume.'
Sophie Aldred and Nicholas Courtney were to have appeared in the production. Ace was a school teacher but known only as Dorothy. She confides in her fellow master, Lethbridge-Stewart, about strange dreams she's been having in which she travels in time and space in a blue box with a man known only as the Doctor. Lethbridge-Stewart takes her to see an old friend of his, the fourth Doctor, who is physically older and living as a hermit. The Doctor realises that someone is manipulating his personal time stream and in this dimension the Doctor survived the fall from the Pharos tower and never regenerated. The manipulator is a villain called Hawkspur, who knows the Doctor from the past.
The Fourth Doctor, Dorothy and the Brigadier visit various points in the Doctor's past and future. The Sixth Doctor appears as a defence witness for the Ice Warriors at a cosmic trial; the Fifth Doctor is caught in the middle of a Cyber-war (in which the famous march down the steps of St Pauls' Cathedral would be reenacted) and we would see a new-look Cyber-Controller. The Third Doctor appears in a dream/vision sequence to warn his future self of the dangers that follow, and the Fourth Doctor is hunted by a Special Weapons Dalek in a Victorian graveyard.
Virgin Publishing had planned to produce two books associated with the production, one of which would have been a novelisation and the other a behind-the-scenes guide. After the cancellation Rigelsford approached Virgin editor Peter Darvill-Evans, hopeful of still getting the novel published but, as Rigelsford recalls, Darvill-Evans said 'there wasn't any point'. Titan Books came in at this stage and said they'd like to do the script book but the BBC put a tight clampdown on any script details being made public, putting an end to these developments. In 1994 Rigelsford got Boxtree Books interested in publishing an unlicenced version of The Making of The Dark Dimension. A preliminary dust-jacket was designed, featuring the 'Wolverine' Cyberman on the cover, and the book was initially scheduled for July 1994, then October, then April 1995, and August 1995, but it failed to materialise.
[Jon adds: Virgin published The Nth Doctor by Jean-Marc Lofficier in 1997, which contained a full synopsis and background notes on the Dark Dimension project.]
This item appeared in TSV 44 (June 1995).