Wednesday 7 November 2012

Interregnum 1: Adventures & Dimensions

In many ways the early 1990s was a great time to be a science fiction fan@ Star Trek: The Next Generation ruled supreme in the USA and eventually, three years after it started, came to the BBC. TNG begat a number of sequels (DS9, Voyager, Enterprise) but it's also the catalyst for the televised science fiction boom: Babylon 5, Stargate, X-Files, Sliders, Space: Above and Beyond..... during the 90s everyone got in the act. Really the only thing missing was Doctor Who.

Not that the early 1990s wasn't a good time to be a Doctor Who fan! The videos swung into a regular pattern of two every other month and were *finally* in episodic format and moved away from the Pertwee/Baker stories they concentrated on. Target continued to novelise books and when they ran out of TV stories they, under new owner Virgin Books, followed the successful Star Trek book line from Pocket Books (and reprinted by Titan in the UK) and started producing original fiction for the Seventh Doctor continuing the series in New Adventures from June 1991 and later with the Virgin Missing Adventures from 1994. The New Adventures started out in trusted and well known hands with John Peel, lauded for his recent adaptations of Hartnell Dalek stories, writing the opening book. The second was written by Terrance Dicks and you can't get a book more authentically Doctor Who than writing "by Terrance Dicks" on the cover. Incidentally his book, Exodus, is probably the closest to the TV version and the easiest to turn into a television production. Former Target editor Nigel Robinson produced the third book, Ghost Light script writer Marc Platt the fifth and script editor Andrew Cartmel the sixth with Ben Aaronovitch contributing later. But new names started creeping in as well, and they're names you might recognise too: Paul Cornell wrote the fourth book, Revelation, and became the first person to be repeat commissioned on the range. Mark Gatiss wrote the eighth book, Nightshade, with references back to the Quatermass series. Gareth Roberts writes the 11th book, The Highest Science, and later found his niche on the Missing Adventures line writing season 17 Tom Baker stories. Gary Russell & Matt Jones both provide later books as does one Russell T Davies already gathering a following for his cult children's series Dark Season (1991) and Century Falls (1993). All these names will reappear later..... And while we're on the subject of Children's television it's worth mentioning that on ITV a series called Press Gang was airing, also gathering decent reviews, by a young writer called Steven Moffat....

By that point we'd had a repeat season which started in January 1992 featuring The Time Meddler, The Mind Robber & The Sea Devils. In February of that year Tomb of the Cybermen was found in Hong Kong and returned to the archives while towards the end The Restoration Team showed off the first of many pieces of technological insanity to marry colour from an off air US NTSC video to sharp b&w film picture to produce a colour version of the Daemons which was repeated followed by Genesis of the Daleks, Caves of Androzani, Revelation of the Daleks & Battlefield, concluding in May 1993.

Rumours were then flying around about a planned 30th Anniversary special: It would reunite all the surviving Doctors in a script written by Adrian Rigelsford, a fan turned writer who at the time was producing reference works which are now viewed as somewhat dodgy due to the providence of interview material used, and under the trusted eye of director Graeme Harper. However this project was cancelled on orders from on high (for reasons which wouldn't become clear until much later). It's a shame because they were planning to film at Royal Holloway College, University of London while I was there doing my degree.

What we got instead was a documentary, Thirty Years in The Tardis, aired on 23rd November that year covering the show's history directed by fan Kevin Davies. Davis had worked on the animation sequences in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, produced the game graphics end title sequence for Terrahawks and produced the much lauded Don't Panic documentary on Hitch Hikers. Here he married interviews with specially shot footage recreating key scenes from the show's history. An extended version would be released in 1994 on video as Doctor Who - 30 Years in the Tardis which is due to get a DVD release shortly alongside Shada and many assorted oddments that couldn't be included on previous DVDs.

But what you won't see on Video or DVD is Dimensions in Time, a two part special made for Children in need uniting the casts of Doctor Who and EastEnders. Returning from Doctor Who are Jon Pertwee as the Third Doctor, Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor, Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor, Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor & Sylvester McCoy as the Seventh Doctor with (deep breath) Sophie Aldred as Ace, Carole Ann Ford as Susan Foreman, Deborah Watling as Victoria Waterfield, Nicholas Courtney as Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Richard Franklin as Mike Yates, Caroline John as Liz Shaw, Elisabeth Sladen as Sarah Jane Smith, Louise Jameson as Leela, John Leeson as K-9, Lalla Ward as Romana, Sarah Sutton as Nyssa, Nicola Bryant as Peri Brown, Bonnie Langford as Mel Bush and Kate O'Mara as Rani. For all bar McCoy, Courtney, Sladen & Leeson it would be their last appearance as these characters.

The show was filmed using a new 3d process relying on motion that would be invisible for those watching without glasses but give added effects for those who had them hence some of the odder effects like the heads of the first two Doctors flying round the room.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately depending on your point of view: I take the latter) the contracts for the actors for this show stipulated that this was a production for charity and as such was not for commercial release so it has never been released on Video and will never be released on DVD. Even more fortunately my video copy has gone missing! Sadly YouTube came to my rescue. I watch this so you don't have to....

..... and that was excruciatingly bad. Blipvert scenes cut together so rapidly you haven't a hope of telling what was going on if the plot made any sense whatsoever. Dire.

And what's worse is that the vote, for which Eastenders character would help the Doctor, went the wrong way. It obviously should have been Big Ron, instead of Mandy, because the actor that played him had been an extra in Destiny of the Daleks. One of the other then current members of the Eastenders Cast with Who form, Mike Reid (The War Machines) gets a brief moment on screen and the experience obviously didn't put Louise Jameson off the soap because she joined the cast a few years later.

To think we got this (mercifully) brief rubbish instead of a new feature length Doctor Who episode!

And then the rumours about an American TV Series remake/pilot movie started rumbling loaded and louder.....

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