The one we'd all like to forget.
As 1993 approached— and with it, the 30th anniversary of Doctor Who— the small but relentlessly devoted fanbase slowly worked themselves into a frenzy. The BBC started re-airing certain episodes of the old series (no new ones, though, unless one includes the radio story The Paradise of Death, as it had been can— er, "put on extended hiatus" four years earlier). Books came out to discuss Doctor Who and a fantastic Darker and Edgier movie-length special was announced that would involve all the still-living Doctors and a plot by a villain (that would've been played by Rik Mayall!) to throw the universe out of whack — resulting in a "Dark Dimension" where the Fourth Doctor somehow never regenerated into the Fifth at the end of "Logopolis".
This is not that story. This is what happened instead.
This special, aired in two less-than-10-minute parts as part of Children in Need, begins with the Rani bragging about doing awesome things with time and having already captured the first two Doctors; they've been infected with Floating Head Syndrome and said crappy head models are in 3D, modelled with 1993's finest-quality yet also most terrifying computer graphics (anyone hoping for Peter Gabriel to show up and start singing "Steam" will be sadly disappointed) and wax sculpting. After an inexplicably sped-up version of the intro set to a version of the title theme fit for a rave, the Fourth Doctor, now inexplicably short-haired, pudgy, and old (Tom Baker was 59, but that said he already looked 80), decides to send out an SOS to his other selves while trapped in a Windows 95 screensaver, begging for them to listen to him "for once" and warning about the Rani by pointing out that she... hates children. Yeah, it's going to be that kind of story. The Seventh Doctor and Ace, apparently fresh from the Cheetah Planet, land in the middle of the EastEnders soap opera— literally— and mill about.
Thanks to the Rani's machinations, the Doctor starts shuffling through his Third, Fifth, and Sixth incarnations, with Ace continually being replaced by a random companion: Sarah Jane, Susan Foreman, Peri and Nyssa, Mel, Liz, Victoria, Romana II, and so on. The Rani gloats to the Doctors as she summons up old enemies. Time in the EastEnders set shuffles around between 1993, 1973 and 2013 (modern viewers may now proceed to laugh at the lack of smartphones and Twitter). Things pick up the pace, the audience gets really confused, and then the Rani captures Leela while she's in the form of Romana II. This somehow screws up the Rani's machine by having two Gallifreyan Time Brains in her computer, with the Seventh Doctor commenting that it'll explode. Fair enough. UNIT shows up as well in the middle of all that, including the Brigadier in a helicopter, finally meeting Six. Sort of. In the end, the Seventh Doctor and Ace return to their TARDIS and ride off.
And the Rani is still not very good at her job.
This was supposed to be a little longer, but the second part was actually shown as part of variety show Noel's House Party, and presenter Noel Edmonds insisted it be edited down for timing reasons, which served only to make the story even more incomprehensible.
This was Jon Pertwee's last appearance as the Doctor in an official setting before his death three years later, RIP. His final performance as the Doctor in a filmed Doctor Who story, sets, location shoots and all, was technically in 1995, for the fan production Devious. As a point of trivia, this is also Tom Baker's first reprisal of his role (barring his in-character narration of the unearthed "Shada" in the 1992 VHS reconstruction) since departing the series in '81, and he wouldn't be back again until Big Finish Doctor Who. Nicholas Courtney finally got to be featured alongside Sixth Doctor Colin Baker — meaning that he's the only actor to be featured alongside the first eight Doctors! (He also played Bret Vyon opposite William Hartnell and played the Brigadier opposite Paul McGann for Big Finish Doctor Who a few years after this. Alas, health problems meant a planned appearance opposite David Tennant in The Sarah Jane Adventures never happened.)
Sadly, Kate O'Mara also made her last on-screen performance as the Rani in this story in her lifetime, continuing the role in audio stories until her eventual death, never reprising the role in the revival-era series and having her character willed to a new actor and regenerating. Oddly enough, in this last outing, she has picked up a passenger, Cyrian (who even got his own origin story in that years' Doctor Who Annual. His name is a pun, by the way - he was supposed to be played by Sir Ian McKellen. And you thought this episode couldn't get any weirder!) That explains why her TARDIS appears to be reduced to a villainous knock-off of the Doctor's rather than the unique design it used to have (besides budgetary constraints/desktop changes).
This special has been considered non-canon by official sources because of its comparatively nonsensical premise to the rest of the series proper, not to mention the depiction of EastEnders in 2013 subsequently being contradicted by what happened in the real 2013 (a sigh of relief for some fans who take continuity seriously). The Doctor Who New Adventures novel First Frontier drops a mention of this special as a nightmare the Seventh Doctor once had, which is probably the best definition of this episode.
And finally, it's the one and only onscreen writing credit for the series' longtime producer John Nathan-Turner,note and aside from co-ordinating some video releases and a talking-head appearance on early DVDs, his last work for the series.
- All Just a Dream: This episode is sometimes said to be a dream in order to make it Canon Discontinuity:
- First Frontier has The Doctor mentioning a dream where his foes chase him around a soap opera set.
- The special's page on the official BBC site for Who Classic, the entire thing's just a Rani-induced hallucination of the Seventh Doctor.
- All Your Powers Combined: The Seventh Doctor ultimately frees his other selves from the Rani's grasp using the power of editing.
- Badass in Distress: Both William Hartnell and Patrick Troughton had passed on by this point, resulting in their Doctors getting sidelined.
- Blasting It Out of Their Hands: Mike Yates does this to the Rani's gun when he arrives in Bessie to rescue the Doctor.
- The Bus Came Back: Briefly for many of the Doctor's past companions, including Susan, Victoria, Liz Shaw, Mike Yates, The Brigadier, Sarah Jane Smith, Leela, K9, Romana II, Nyssa, Peri, and Ace. Can also apply to the past Doctors who make a return appearance, including the Third, Fourth, Fifth and Sixth.
- Canon Discontinuity:
- Leela's bootless, Colin's abandoned his silly eighties perm with a tamer hairdo, outdone by the fact Tom Baker's hair curls are long lost relics, along with many other costume snafus.
- Later authors have declared this one of the Doctor's many nightmares— along with a similarly-regarded story and the TV Comic stories for the First Doctor. Note that EastEnders is considered a TV show in the Whoniverse. The most direct mentioning of the All Just a Dream notion comes courtesy of the novel First Frontier:The Doctor: I once had [a nightmare] where all my old foes chased me round a soap opera.
- EastEnders also tosses it out of continuity, as characters who actually have long since died after this special aired are seen in the "future" presented by the Rani. Also, as with Doctor Who, the science-fiction programme is just that in the universe of EastEnders. Which makes this just one hell of a mess for everyone involved.
- According to the special's page on the official BBC site for Who Classic, the entire thing's just a Rani-induced hallucination of the Seventh Doctor.
- Child Hater: The Fourth Doctor feels the need to emphasize the fact that the Rani despises children, just to set in stone that no, this isn't going to be the Darker and Edgier 30th anniversary special some people were looking forward to, and is in fact the exact opposite.
- Clone Army: The Rani's menagerie. The Fifth Doctor gets cornered in Greenwich by a parade of classic series monsters, including the infamous Vervoid, the dragon, and a Time Lord pointing a pistol(!).
- Excuse Plot: Even for a charity special, the plot doesn't make a lick of sense. Pairing the Doctors off with the wrong companions was another strange choice:note Three is paired with Mel, while Six ends up with Susan, leaving her little to do but whimper "Barbara!" and "Grandfather!" At least Five gets it right (Nyssa's age and appearance here can even be explained by the Big Finish audios).
- Fanservice: Of the non-sexual kind. Why else would numerous Doctors and companions be brought together?
- Fatal Flaw: Blame overconfidence, obsession, or anything else really, but The Rani makes the same mistakes here that she did back in her previous appearance.
- Forcefully involving the Doctor when she didn't really need him to be present.
- Not noticing exactly who was present for her plan (here, that the Doctor's companion who she was recording was not human).
- Including a Time Lord's brain in her almost complete collection, which destabilizes the whole thing (here, the problem is that she got a second Time Lord instead of a human).
- Intercontinuity Crossover: Between Doctor Who and EastEnders.
- In the Style of: The Pet Shop Boys-styled version of the show's main theme. John Nathan-Turner asked the band to do a rearrangement of the theme, but they were too busy, so this was the next best thing.
- Lighter and Softer: By far the most extreme example in Doctor Who; the whole thing reads more as an off-brand Doctor Who children's book.
- Locking MacGyver in the Store Cupboard: A fully-stocked laboratory miraculously appears when the Doctor realizes he has to rig up a device. Presumably it was the Rani's — but she set it up outside her TARDIS and in broad daylight...?
- Milking the Giant Cow: Sylvester McCoy really sells his dialogue here, bless him.Seventh Doctor: "She's attempting to transfer a massive time tunnel... [flails arm wildly] ...to the Greenwich Meridian!"
- Mook Maker: Leela/Romana explains that the Rani's TARDIS is producing the menagerie.
- Newspaper Dating: Right after the TARDIS lands, the Seventh Doctor checks a newspaper in a rubbish bin to see what year they've landed in.
- Orbital Shot: A lot of the shots are done in one take to show off the 3D, but unfortunately can be distorting for viewers to understand; let alone the ridiculous plot.
- Reunion Show: The series had been off the air for nearly four years by this point, and despite the BBC repeatedly insisting that it was a hiatus, everyone knew that it was pretty much cancelled. Thus, bringing back many of the show's stars (and the Rani) lends "Dimensions in Time" this status.
- Take Our Word for It: The Rani's TARDIS has trapped the Doctor in London's East End via a time tunnel that is about to re-materialize in Greenwich. Really! Little effort is made to make the plinth look like a TARDIS; the shot opens with Leela standing around rather cluelessly in front of it.
- Three-Dimensional Episode: Uses the Pulfrich effect, allowing it to be seen in stereoscopic 3D by wearing a darkened lens over the right eye, as illustrated by the utterly horrific severed heads of the First and Second Doctors flinging themselves at the screen.
- 20 Minutes into the Future: One of the time periods the world of EastEnders shifts between is 2013. This being a special from a time before smartphones and mainstream presence of the then-niche internet were ever really a thing, the depiction of the early 2010's here suffers from inevitable and obvious inaccuracies.
- Two Decades Behind: Perhaps the biggest WTF moment to be had in "Dimensions in Time": Leela leaping out of the Rani's TARDIS barefoot and wearing full hippie regalia. "Behind the times" was already her gimmick in a sense, but here it treads a bit too mildly with it.
- Unusually Uninteresting Sight: Ace takes the replacement of her Doctor with a man in a multicoloured coat in stride. Ditto for the other companions materializing out of nowhere, apart from Susan Foreman; she's distressed by the absence of "her" Doctor.