Dimensions in Time

Technically, the 1992 VHS version of Shada should come next, but I’ve already watched that, knowing that the animated version is coming up shortly. So instead, today’s treat is a rewatch of what would have been the first Doctor Who I ever saw. I was seven, and distinctly remember sitting down with those 3D glasses from the Radio Times. The version I watched today thankfully included the Noel’s House Party links, in which Jon Pertwee accurately predicts the success of Deal Or No Deal.

We all know that this is awful, but it was slightly more coherent than I remembered (not from when I was 7 – I last watched it at a gathering for the 50th in 2013). The Rani’s plan is not dissimilar to Borusa’s in The Five Doctors, and it seemed like the special was an attempt to do similar things to that story, but in ten minutes, which would have been a tall order even without the added element of the EastEnders crossover. The problem of certain Doctors being unavailable/dead is not handled nearly as well. I could see what they were going for with trapping the first two Doctors in time, but representing Hartnell and Troughton as floating, lifeless, disembodied heads was ill-advised.

Meanwhile Tom Baker phones it in, with his eyes never breaking contact with the page of script that’s clearly just out of shot, and the worst title sequence in the show’s history is sped up and accompanied by a “updated” (read: “shit”) theme tune remix. But once it gets going, it’s actually rather lovely to see just so many familiar faces taking part. It seems harsh to criticise the endeavour when all these people gave up their time for free, purely to celebrate Doctor Who whilst raising money for charity.

However, it’s obviously not very good. It’s impossible to disguise the fact that the story is cobbled together based on who and what was available, and almost every actor is playing a generic catch-all character, with no time to display any of their own traits. They whizz by so fast it’s hard to clock them all on first viewing, although obviously the fact that they’ve all aged by up to 30 years is a hindrance to instant recognition. It’s the same problem with the menagerie of random monsters that turn up halfway through – it was just a bunch of moving costumes, and none of them got a chance to do… anything, really.

I’m not particularly familiar with EastEnders, so I can’t judge how successful it would have been for fans of the soap, but Mike Reid chewing the scenery was a highlight. Obviously there are troubling continuity questions surrounding the likes of Mel and Leela turning up in Albert Square when they look so similar to people who’d live there in the future. And wasn’t Pauline Fowler dead by 2013? I think Kathy Beale was too, but she got better…

Inevitably, the flimsy conceit completely fell apart by the end. The Rani is suddenly back in her TARDIS after she was defeated by Mandy bumping into her (should’ve been Big Ron), and an attempt to clear up the nature of the time-slips ends up making the story much more confusing. When Leela tells The Doctor that she was in the form of Romana, that implies that all of this is happening to the Seventh Doctor and Ace, but that they’re reverting to previous incarnations at times. Aside from the fact that that doesn’t really make sense for the companion, what about when there’s more than one companion on screen? Or when Romana is on her own, hiding in the Mitchells’ lock-up? They even had K-9 turn up out of nowhere seconds after the explanation!

If this was an attempt at a full-on revival of Doctor Who for the 30th anniversary, then it was a fucking disgrace. But it wasn’t – it was a daft little comedy sketch for charity, and seeing such a huge number of characters from throughout the show’s long history all at once is obviously a joy. It’s just indicative of the show’s standing at the time – in an ideal world, a big anniversary would be marked by a blockbuster episode of a current series, but that simply wasn’t the case for the 30th or 40th. Sadly, Dimensions in Time suffers simply because it’s an emblem of the darkest time in the show’s history.


Time and the Rani

It’s a whole new era, once again, but this time it’s the last fully fresh start of the classic run. With the shorter seasons, I’ll most likely reach the end of phase one before Christmas. But between now and then, I’ve got a whole Doctor’s worth of previously unexplored territory ahead of me, and as I’ve barely seen a scrap of McCoy before now, I can mostly approach it with an open mind.

The first impression is that he’s already a big improvement on Colin, certainly in terms of charisma and likeability. Absolutely loved the wardrobe sequence, and the spoon-playing. I find him intriguingly alien, in a Tom Baker kind of way, and he seems to settle in almost immediately. I’m not too sure about the mixed-up maxims, though. They might have been OK if it was only once or twice across the serial, but it was once or twice per scene, and they seemed to get more frequent as it went on. Hopefully it’s not going to be a feature throughout, and as symptoms of post-regeneration trauma go, at least it’s preferable to strangling your companion.

The regeneration itself was of course pitiful, but that was unavoidable in the circumstances. The extraordinarily primitive CGI effects were poor too; you can see why they wanted to try the exciting new thing, and how it would have seemed impressive at the time, but it’s a shame that this happened at a time when the model sequences were better than they’d even been. However, it was moderately exciting that it all happened in a pre-credits sequence, simply because it was unexpected.

And at least it delayed the debut of the new titles, which are not good. There are friends of mine that will defend it to the death, along with the horrible new logo, but they’re a couple of years older than me, and so they have childhood memories of it. Some elements of it do vaguely remind me of CBBC programmes from my own childhood, such as the way the episode title and writing credits are presented, which elicits a warm feeling somewhere in my subconscious. But on the whole it looks shonky. It’s ambitious, but the execution doesn’t quite get there.

Similarly, I can see where they’re going with the music, but I just don’t like it. Totally on board with trying to incorporate the middle eight into the opening, but it doesn’t quite fit in practice. It’s an improvement on the flimsy interpretation from Trial, which is so weak that I’ve already forgotten it, but it’s too busy, and the core elements aren’t prominent enough, which is a criticism I also level at the current theme.

The music was poor throughout the serial, which isn’t surprising as it was done by the same guy who arranged the theme tune. Those dramatic stings were just layered on higgledy-piggedy, and it was a distraction. A shame, because the other production values were pretty good, especially the designs of the two alien races. I mean, neither of them had anything special whatsoever in the writing or acting (other than the return of the Cumbermum), but they looked nice.

And that was the problem with the story in general, it was a bit nothingy. The premise of Earth’s greatest geniuses being kidnapped and hooked up to a giant brain should be more entertaining than this. It seems like they thought the return of The Rani would be enough, but she’s not all that; both of her appearances have spent too much time telling us how brilliant she is, and not enough time actually showing us her brilliance in practice.

I did enjoy the switcheroo between The Rani and Mel, and Kate O’Mara does a pretty good Bonnie Langford impression. But the thing is we don’t even know Mel all that well yet, what with never having actually been introduced properly, so it’s hard to evaluate just what kind of job she did with it. We don’t really know Mel, The Rani or The Doctor, and history shows that it’s preferable to have familiar, relateable elements in a regeneration story.

One thing I do know about Mel is that fucking hell she screams a lot. It’s annoying – most of the time she’s a strong, determined and capable young woman, but then she remembers she’s also a delicate little girly and loses her shit. It’s like the 60s all over again, and I’m already looking forward to her replacement.

Overall, this one’s not quite bad enough to warrant its usual position in polls, but towards the end, when all the Rani/Mel stuff was out the way, it did commit the rare and fatal sin of boring me at times. Doctor Who is almost never boring. Nevertheless, an encouraging start for McCoy, and I’ve heard good things about the new script editor and his masterplan, so I’m primed for one last hurrah before the axe falls.


The Mark of the Rani

Like so many stories of this era, the ideas are right, but the execution is pitifully wrong. The opening scenes brilliantly set up an enjoyable, nostalgic setting, thanks to the brilliant, authentic location. Then the guest cast started to speak, and it was all ay up lad, I’ll just sup this gravy then we can get down t’pit and I’ll stand at the bottom of our stairs and eat a barmcake, our mam. I expected this kind of nonsense in the 60s, when people with regional accents were banned from television, but this is a post-Auf Wiedersehen Pet world.

I was looking forward, in a perverse way, to finally meeting the Rani, even though I knew she was a symptom of the show’s decline. My only previous experience of her was Dimensions In Time, so I was expecting a grotesque, shrieking pair of shoulder pads, but I was almost disappointed to find she’s quite normal and understated here. It’s actually a decent performance from Kate O’Mara, at odds with the Dynasty archetype you expect.

The concept of an amoral Time Lord scientist is a decent one, although I felt the episode spent more time telling us how brilliant The Rani is than actually showing us. It also felt a bit cheap to say “oh yeah, there’s this other renegade Time Lord that The Doctor knows, he’s just never mentioned her before”. Most of her tricks were largely the same as The Master’s, but done through chemistry rather than mind control.

Yes, he’s back, and still alive, with barely so much as an acknowledgement that he was burnt to a crisp the last time we saw him. And one of the first things he does is to kill a dog. Great. His presence seemed like another barrier to The Rani becoming a new iconic villain, although I did like the relationship between them early on. The bickering, the posturing, her pointing out all the ridiculous things about him – it was like a multi-Doctor episode.

But by Part Two, it became clear that neither of them are as clever as they think they are, and the plot kind of fizzled away before it really got going. The conclusion was just three incompetent Time Lords taking it in turns to fuck everything up, before the Doctor wins by accident. And again, as with Attack of the Cybermen, they decided to show us how the plot would be resolved in advance, by having The Doctor tinker with The Rani’s TARDIS while there’s still half an episode to go. I know that Chekhov’s gun type scenarios happen all the time in Who, but this isn’t just showing us the means by which the Doctor will win – they’re showing the action actually taking place, and the rest of the episode is just spent waiting for the effects of this action to render everything else irrelevant.

But hey, The Rani’s TARDIS looked lovely, by the way. There were enough decent bits of this episode to make it not-terrible, but too many annoying things to make it actually good. You can’t have The Doctor suddenly remember he hates guns, and then have him hold The Master and The Rani hostage using the TCE. Some of his dialogue regarding The Rani seemed to have a slightly anti-scientific streak to it, which was extremely out-of-character, and indeed at odds with his fanboy adoration of George Stevenson. Or is it just chemists he suddenly hates?

There was also a huge dose of silliness running through, not least towards the end of Part One where it all turned into Last of the Summer Wine. Then there was the boy who was turned into a tree, wrapping his branch around Peri. And the tiny dinosaur embryos coming to life because The Rani’s TARDIS was going too fast. Still, all of these things made me laugh, and while it’s a shame that the laughs I get from Doctor Who are no longer intentional, at least I’m still getting them.