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Dimensions In Time
The Fourth Doctor transmits a distress call, as the Rani kidnaps the First and Second Doctors. Ensnared in a time loop, the Seventh Doctor and Ace find themselves in Albert Square, Walford. As they bounce back and forth between 1973, 1993 and 2013, the Doctor's regeneration and the identity of his companion become unstuck in time. The Rani is assembling a vast intergalactic menagerie in order to harness the power of a time tunnel and control galactic evolution. The final ingredient needed is a human -- and one of the Doctor's companions will be her victim.
By September 1989, it was clear that Doctor Who was about to endure its second hiatus in four years. Unlike the one-year production delay imposed in 1985, however, it was apparent that the programme's twenty-seventh season was a long way off -- if, in fact, it ever materialised. All of the plans for 1990 were abandoned; these included the departure of Ace midway through the year, the introduction of a new companion in the form of cat burglar Raine Cunningham, and possibly the Doctor's regeneration... although producer John Nathan-Turner had harbored hopes of persuading Sylvester McCoy to remain for a fifth season. Officially, Nathan-Turner stayed on as Doctor Who's producer until August 31st, 1990, when he left the BBC to form his own independent company, Teynham Productions.
In fact, Teynham was part of a trend towards independent production companies doing business in the United Kingdom. Increasingly, the BBC wanted these firms to create programming which it could acquire, in a significant departure from its traditional in-house model. More and more, it appeared likely that this was where the future of Doctor Who lay. Amongst the companies who approached the BBC were Limehouse Productions, GAIA Productions, Saffron Productions (headed by former script editor Victor Pemberton), Coast to Coast (the company which had held the Doctor Who movie rights since July 1987), and a group spearheaded by former script editor Gerry Davis and Dalek creator Terry Nation. Although Nathan-Turner had long wanted to leave Doctor Who, Teynham also made inquiries, since it would help put the company on the map. Another production company said to be involved was Cinema Verity, run by Doctor Who's original producer, Verity Lambert. (Cinema Verity denied this at the time, but would later publicly declare their interest in Doctor Who in early 1993.)
But perhaps the most unexpected overture received by the BBC had come in the form of a phone call on July 12th, 1989 from Philip David Segal, who was then working as a director of television development at Columbia Pictures in Hollywood. Segal had been born in England, and although he had immigrated to the United States as a teenager, he still retained fond memories of Doctor Who. Segal wanted to forge a production partnership between Columbia and the BBC, and had tentative interest in Doctor Who from the American network ABC. Columbia tendered a formal offer on October 18th, by which time the FOX network was also a possible destination for the show. On October 27th, the BBC indicated that they did not want to hurry into an agreement, and would not make any decision about Doctor Who until at least 1990. Furthermore, it appeared that the BBC was not interested in relinquishing full creative control to Columbia, as Segal had envisioned.
However, on November 29th, Segal -- who had recently been promoted to Manager of Drama Development at Columbia -- was contacted by Felice Arden, a producer working on the Doctor Who feature film for Coast to Coast. Although Segal was underwhelmed by the Coast to Coast screenplay, they began discussing a deal whereby the motion picture would serve as a television pilot in North America (but remain a theatrical venture in the rest of the world), leading into a new ongoing series. Columbia President Scott Sieglar was interested in this proposal but, by now, the network attached was CBS and they were less optimistic about this plan. In response, in January 1990 the BBC asked Verity Lambert to act as the BBC's representative in discussions with Segal. Shortly thereafter, Segal left Columbia to become Director of Current Programming at ABC. Without his involvement, the Doctor Who deal with Columbia was effectively dead.
Throughout 1990, the BBC tried to keep Doctor Who fans placated with vague assurances that progress was being made on bringing the programme back to television. Frustration peaked with a planned Day of Protest on November 30th, when fans were encouraged to jam the BBC phone lines with calls demanding the show's return. However, it was becoming clear that the only source of new Doctor Who for the foreseeable future would be in print: the comic strip in Doctor Who Magazine had been running since 1979, while Virgin Publishing's line of original novels -- known as Doctor Who: The New Adventures -- were so successful when they debuted in 1991 that their frequency increased from bimonthly to monthly in 1992. Some quasi-Doctor Who videos also began to reach the market under the aegis of companies such as BBV, while the Coast to Coast film struggled to find funding and an acceptable script.
By the end of 1991, additional interest in producing televised Doctor Who had come from Naked Eye Productions, Dark Light, and former producer Derrick Sherwin. There had apparently also been discussions regarding an animated series. Then, in January 1992, Philip Segal renewed contact with the BBC. He had now left ABC to join Steven Spielberg's production company, Amblin Entertainment; although Spielberg himself was not involved, his name value provided additional impetus for the negotiations. In June, Segal met with Max Headroom producer Peter Wagg, who was eager to be involved in making new Doctor Who. Nonetheless, the BBC still remained reluctant to put the programme back into production, and the negotiations dragged on over the following months.
In September, BBC Head of Serials Peter Cregeen decided against authorising a special to celebrate Doctor Who's thirtieth anniversary in November 1993. Instead, commercial arm BBC Enterprises decided to fill the void with a direct-to-video celebratory adventure. Producers David Jackson and Penny Mills commissioned Adrian Rigelsford and Joanna McCaul to prepare a script; Rigelsford had co-authored the recent non-fiction book Doctor Who: The Monsters. Graeme Harper -- who had directed The Caves Of Androzani and Revelation Of The Daleks in the mid-Eighties -- signed on to direct the special, which became known as “Lost In The Dark Dimension” and then simply “The Dark Dimension”. The forthcoming release was announced on June 10th, 1993, by which time Rigelsford was the sole writer.
With the special attracting unanticipated levels of interest, BBC Drama belatedly agreed to become involved, and Cregeen (who had now stepped down as Head of Serials) replaced Jackson as Mills' fellow producer. It was now planned to broadcast “The Dark Dimension” on BBC1 on November 28th. Almost immediately, however, the special began to run into problems. It was hoped that all five living Doctors would participate in the special, but there was not enough money to have all of them play a significant role. As such, Rigelsford had chosen to spotlight Tom Baker's Fourth Doctor -- on the grounds that his was the most popular incarnation -- with a secondary role for Sylvester McCoy. This drew objections from Jon Pertwee, Peter Davison and Colin Baker, who felt that they were being relegated to cameo appearances. Furthermore, Philip Segal had expressed concerns that “The Dark Dimension” might be unflatteringly conflated with the Amblin co-production, which was now hoped to take the form of an initial twenty-two-episode season. Although filming on “The Dark Dimension” was due to begin on August 24th, the BBC announced on July 9th that the project had been cancelled.
Up to this point, John Nathan-Turner had continued to maintain an association with Doctor Who, particularly with his involvement in the range of VHS releases from BBC Video. In late 1992, Nathan-Turner had proposed a thirtieth-anniversary special to the BBC, only to have this project rejected. This was one of several reasons that he declined an offer to participate in “The Dark Dimension” as a consultant. (He also felt that the budget was inadequate, and was wary of being perceived as accepting a demotion.) It also made Nathan-Turner reticent when he was then approached about an entirely separate plan to celebrate Doctor Who's thirtieth anniversary.
Since 1980, the BBC had been running an annual charity appeal called Children In Need. In 1983, the twentieth-anniversary special, The Five Doctors, had aired as part of the telethon. For the 1993 edition, one of the organisers was Nick Handel of BBC Features, who was also a friend of Nathan-Turner's. Aware that the broadcast of Children In Need would occur close to Doctor Who's thirtieth birthday, he suggested to Nathan-Turner in May that a five-minute sketch might be created to herald the milestone. It would also be an ideal vehicle for a special gimmick being employed for Children In Need. Known as the Pulfrich Effect, it would allow viewers wearing special glasses to watch a programme in 3-D, but would not corrupt the 2-D image for the rest of the audience.
Although Nathan-Turner's immediate reaction was to refuse Handel's offer, his agent soon persuaded him that this would be his opportunity to bid farewell to Doctor Who on his own terms. Complicating matters was Handel's desire for Nathan-Turner to not only produce the special, but write it too. Although he had lately been giving lectures on screenwriting, Nathan-Turner had only limited experience in this capacity himself. Instead, he turned to one particularly enthusiastic student called David Roden Mansell, whose professional name was David Roden. Aware that Roden had been an avid Doctor Who viewer in his youth, Nathan-Turner decided to invite him aboard the project.
Roden quickly produced a storyline entitled “Destination: Holocaust”, involving the Seventh Doctor, Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart and the Cybermen, but Nathan-Turner immediately dismissed it as being too expensive. In addition, he and Handel had now decided to try to involve all of the surviving Doctors, rather than just Sylvester McCoy. It was also now understood that the Pulfrich Effect would require the camera to be moving almost constantly, which had not been accounted for in “Destination: Holocaust”.
Moreover, in response to Handel's desire that the sketch include some element which would really attract publicity, Nathan-Turner had suggested setting the special in Albert Square, the centrepiece of the BBC's successful soap opera EastEnders. Handel was amenable to this idea, and while the EastEnders production team was more cautious, they agreed to participate. With the original five-minute project now bursting at the seams, it was decided that it should be expanded to two episodes, with the second installment incorporated into Noel's House Party with Noel Edmonds, which would be broadcast the night after the main Children In Need programme. To give the sketch even more room, it was then agreed that episode one would be extended to seven minutes.
Nathan-Turner and Roden's script soon became known as “The Dimensions Of Time” (an adaptation of the producer's original suggestion, “3-Dimensions Of Time”). It was hoped that the chief villain might be the Master, but when Anthony Ainley proved unavailable to reprise the role, Nathan-Turner instead decided to approach Kate O'Mara to play the Rani. The character had last appeared in McCoy's debut story, Time And The Rani, in 1987. Her assistant, Cyrian, was named for renowned Shakespearean actor Sir Ian McKellen, an acquaintance of Roden's whom he hoped might be convinced to participate.
Unfortunately, the EastEnders crossover then threw up a major hurdle. The soap opera's production team had made allowances for just one day of recording on “The Dimensions Of Time” at their BBC Elstree facilities. However, the time-consuming choreography required to accommodate the Pulfrich Effect meant that it would be impossible to complete twelve minutes of material in such a short timeframe. Nathan-Turner decided to start fresh without the crossover, and in July, Roden developed a new storyline called “The Endgame”, which pitted the Doctors against the Celestial Toymaker in an amusement park. Handel, however, was eager to retain the EastEnders crossover, and it was finally agreed that a second day at BBC Elstree could be set aside for “The Dimensions Of Time”.
Originally, “The Dimensions Of Time” was to begin with a pre-credits sequence in which Cyrian hunts a Cyberman for the Rani's menagerie; this would have led into a later scene in which Cyrian betrays the Rani to the Cybermen. The monsters encountered in Albert Square were all revealed to be holograms of the creatures trapped in the menagerie, and the Fourth Doctor was amongst those who appeared in Walford. In addition, Nathan-Turner ensured that a scene was written to pair the Sixth Doctor with the Brigadier, since Colin Baker was the only series star who had not appeared on screen with Nicholas Courtney.
One concern for the producer was to find a way to represent all seven Doctors in “The Dimensions Of Time”, even though both William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton -- who played the First and Second Doctors -- were deceased. As such, it was decided that they would already be trapped by the Rani, and appear as disembodied heads. Because of the 3-D nature of the broadcast, old stills of the actors could not be used for this purpose; instead, Nathan-Turner made arrangements with model makers Sue Moore and Steven Mansfield to construct busts of the two actors. This was also seen as a safeguard against the possibility of any of the other Doctors proving unable or unwilling to appear, as they could then be incorporated in the same manner.
In mid-August, it was decided that the end of the first episode should present viewers with a choice of how the story might be resolved, with a phone-in vote then raising more money for Children In Need. Originally, there would be three options: the Brigadier saved the day, all of the Doctors joined forces, or the Doctor forged a telepathic link with the Rani. Soon, this was simplified to a choice between two EastEnders regulars -- Christine Hewitt and “Big” Ron, played by Elizabeth Power and Ron Tarr, respectively -- who would save the Doctor from the Rani. When Nathan-Turner learned that Power was being written out of EastEnders, the female option became Mandy Salter, as portrayed by Nicola Stapleton.
By now, Tom Baker had indicated that he was unhappy with his intended role in the special, so Nathan-Turner found a compromise wherein the ensnared Fourth Doctor would broadcast an appeal for help. The setting of the start and end scenes was also changed to Greenwich, since McCoy had other commitments on the planned recording dates at BBC Elstree, but could make himself available the following day. And while Jon Pertwee and Colin Baker had committed to the project, Peter Davison was tied up in reshoots on the movie Black Beauty, which might prevent him from taking part.
Although Roden had hoped to direct “The Dimensions Of Time” himself, the assignment went to Stuart McDonald, who was also handling the same duties on the main Children In Need programme. McDonald would go on to direct a variety of non-fiction programming, such as Pointless and The Apprentice. The first day of recording was September 21st, at Fountain TV Studios in New Malden, Surrey. The main concern was the material in the Rani's TARDIS; with Sir Ian McKellen having declined to play Cyrian, the role had instead gone to Sam West. Since the old TARDIS console room set had been accidentally junked following the completion of The Greatest Show In The Galaxy in 1988, it was originally thought that special effects could key the Rani and Cyrian into a miniature replica. However, the Pulfrich Effect precluded this, so a new set constructed for the Panopticon '93 convention by Andrew Beech of Dominitemporal Services was used instead, along with the TARDIS console (which had not been destroyed). Tom Baker's monologue was also shot at Fountain, with the actor thoroughly rewriting his material. He also wanted to turn around at the end of the scene to reveal a bullet hole through the Doctor's cheek, but Nathan-Turner was able to convince him to settle for a bruise in the shape of a question mark.
The bulk of “The Dimensions Of Time” was then recorded on September 22nd and 23rd, on the EastEnders backlot at BBC Elstree in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire. Although Davison had managed to ensure his availability, the inclusion of the Doctor's various companions was a source of uncertainty. Amongst those who had hoped to participate but were ultimately unable to appear were Katy Manning (Jo Grant), Mary Tamm (the first Romana) and Janet Fielding (Tegan Jovanka). Almost at the last minute, Frazer Hines (Jamie McCrimmon) also had to back out due to a change in the shooting schedule for his soap opera Emmerdale; fortunately, Nathan-Turner was able to bring Carole Ann Ford (Susan) aboard at short notice. To play the various monsters, Beech assisted in reaching out to various fans who owned their own costumes.
September 24th, the fourth and final day of filming, took the cast and crew to Greenwich in London, beginning with the clipper Cutty Sark which had been built in 1869. Here, Deborah Watling had to wear a cloak to hide the fact that her arm was in a cast as a result of a rollerblading mishap. The material involving the helicopter was then recorded at the Royal Naval College, before the scene with Leela was taped at the National Maritime Museum and Queen's House. Louise Jameson had agreed to reprise the role of Leela on the condition that she would not wear her original, skin-baring outfit. Unfortunately, the best alternative that designer Ken Trew was able to find was an unflattering Hiawatha costume.
Nathan-Turner wanted a new arrangement of the Doctor Who theme music for the special, and approached the Pet Shop Boys at Roden's suggestion. The band was too busy to accept the offer, but did indicate that “The Dimensions Of Time” could use their new single Forever In Love instead; this idea was vetoed by Handel. The band Erasure subsequently agreed to participate, but not until it was too late for them to become involved. Instead, Nathan-Turner accepted the offer of fan Mike Fillis, who had played the Sea Devil at BBC Elstree and had taken the opportunity to give the producer a demo tape that he had created with Adrian Pack under the band name Cybertech. Their fast-paced arrangement was dubbed over an accelerated version of the McCoy-era title sequence, after the idea of adding the TARDIS to the EastEnders titles was deemed too costly. At this point, the special's title was amended slightly to Dimensions In Time.
This would be Roden's only contribution to Doctor Who; his subsequent television career saw him act as a director (on Doctors), script editor (on Casualty and Coronation Street) and producer (on Casualty and Holby City). It also marked Kate O'Mara's final televised appearance as the Rani, although she did voice the character in the audio play The Rani Reaps The Whirlwind, released by BBV in November 2000. She continued to act, favouring the theatre but appearing on television in episodes of Absolutely Fabulous, Bad Girls and Benidorm, amongst others. O'Mara was slated to return to the evil Time Lady in The Rani Elite for Big Finish Productions, but developed ovarian cancer and passed away on March 30th, 2014. With her blessing, Big Finish cast Siobhan Redmond as a new incarnation of the Rani, and The Rani Elite was released in December 2014.
The return of Doctor Who to BBC television for its thirtieth anniversary earned the programme its first Radio Times cover in ten years. It also drew tremendous ratings, with Children In Need's audience spiking by four million viewers for episode one. The telephone vote alone raised over £100,000, as Mandy (22,484 votes) bested “Big” Ron (17,044 votes). Even though Dimensions In Time was just a romp for charity, it hinted at the enormous affection that the British public still held for Doctor Who. And, by now, it appeared that the BBC was finally ready to embrace that enduring popularity: after weeks of press rumours, the BBC had finally announced on October 28th that they were negotiating with Amblin Entertainment to bring Doctor Who back to television...
|Updated 14th August 2015|
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