❉ Reimagining a lost chapter of Doctor Who, this is a slick, accomplished and atmospheric production.
Appropriately enough for a series that knows a few things about parallel worlds and alternative realities, Doctor Who fandom has an enduring fascination with the show’s ‘what-ifs’ and ‘never-weres’, and the franchise’s licensees have obligingly stepped up to fill in some of those gaps for the audience in recent years. It’s why we’ve been able to enjoy full-cast audio dramas of ‘The Lost Stories’ (Big Finish’s recreations of unproduced scripts from the show’s past), more iterations of Douglas Adams’ Shada than you can shake a perigosto stick at, and semi-mythical unrealised projects such as Doctor Who Meets Scratchman and Doctor Who And The Krikkitmen made corporeal in hardback-bound prose form. Away from officially licensed media, popular vloggers Billy Garrat-John and Matthew Toffolo of Review of Death fame bring some closure to one of the show’s most infamous lost chapters, by teaming up with a bunch of resourceful, creative fans from around the world to ‘re-imagine’ The Dark Dimension, an unmade film script commissioned to celebrate the series’ 25th Anniversary in 1993, originally planned to have been directed by Who veteran Graeme Harper and starring all five then-living Doctors (3 to 7).
For anyone unfamiliar with The Dark Dimension, John Snares’ excellent YouTube channel has a great video explaining how it didn’t come to be… See you after the jump.
While the story behind The Dark Dimension has become a much-storied episode of Who lore in the history of the show (Jean-Marc Lofficier dedicated an entire chapter to it in his 1997 reference book The Nth Doctor, subtitled An-indepth study of the films that almost were), the script itself has been more of a mystery until a PDF of a rehearsal script surfaced online. It’s this script that Garratt-John has used as the basis of Pharos Features’ free-to-enjoy, unauthorised full-cast adaptation, due to be released over the course of four weeks from Saturday 23rd January 2021, with a YouTube Premiere every consecutive Saturday, until 13th February 2021.
We Are Cult received a sneak preview of the opening episode ahead of its premiere Saturday evening, and while the original script falls short of lost classic status, the desire to recreate what could have been is an obviously appealing one, and all members of cast and crew – working remotely across six countries! – have put together a slick, accomplished production that has all the hallmarks of atmospheric audio drama; well-judged voice performances from the cast, epic and evocative sound design easily the equal of commercial offerings from the likes of Bafflegab or, yes indeed, Big Finish, and a very polished, professional sounding electronic score recalling at various points the distinctive styles of ‘80s composers Malcolm Clarke, Dominic Glynn and Mark Ayres and, from the modern era, Murray Gold.
Similarly, the structure of the opening episode honours the house style of both Classic and ‘New’ Who. The discovery of the apparently lifeless body of the brolly-bearing Seventh Doctor (the then-current incarnation) makes for a perfect ‘Nu Who’ pre-titles sting.
While the story is ambitious in scope, it’s also small-scale in setting (in this instalment, at least) which makes it a good fit for the audio drama medium. Some of the performers heard on this production will be recognisable names to Doctor Who followers, with Chris Walker-Thomson, best known for his uncanny rendition of Patrick Troughton’s Doctor, playing the story’s adversary, Oliver Hawkspur, in a role that was originally written for, and offered to, the late comic maestro Rik Mayall. Perhaps surprisingly, Thomson doesn’t offer a direct imitation of Mayall’s mannerisms, bringing instead a performance true to the character’s motivations yet captures something of the spirit of what Mayall would likely have brought to the role – a slinky, reptilian charm, a louche manner and arch menace reminiscent of Sir Alan B’Stard MP (I also detected shades of The Demon Headmaster!). Other familiar names from the fan community lurking in the credits include cosplayer, writer, YouTuber & actor Dominic G. Martin, cartoonist and Big Finish writer Sophie Iles, and former DWM Time Teamer Chris Johnson.
Elsewhere, avid cosplayer and all-round good egg of fandom Ellie Collins, makes a good impression as Summerfield, who shares a surname with the New Adventures companion but very little else; Collins, like Billy, hails from Bristol and her gung-ho delivery is sprinkled with involuntary twangs of that distinctive Westcountry burr, which adds a certain parochial charm to the production to these ears! As the unregenerate Fourth Doctor, Matthew Toffolo has big britches to fill, and offers a game imitation of the burgundy-hued, world-weary Season 18 Doctor. Naturally, Toffolo’s youthfulness doesn’t quite allow for a fulsome recreation of the middle-aged Baker’s oaky tones, but you can’t hold that against him!
As an opening episode, The Dark Dimension captures much of what was good and bad about the multi-part format of 20th Century Who, consisting mainly of slow-burn set-up, subtle and sombre for the most part, with more time spent with supporting characters than any protagonist, but the episode moves at a reasonable pace, alternating between settings enough to keep the listener engaged without leaving them lost, assisted by the sound design making each setting distinct and easy to visualise. In the episode’s closing moments, the score evokes a certain early ’80s Who metallic motif that really helps sell the cliffhanger in absence of visuals.
I’m looking forward to following future instalments of this production. Being familiar with the original scripts, as I said before it’s fair to say The Dark Dimension is not exactly a lost classic, but I’m keen to follow this adventure to see how far this re-imagining goes to massage the story into a satisfying shape; the production values are of a sufficiently high standard to make this easy on the ear if, like me, you enjoy audio dramas for their ambience, and the enthusiasm and commitment of this collaborative fan effort is infectious. Apart from anything else, it’s ‘new’ Doctor Who, completely free to enjoy so what have you got to lose, dear listener?
❉ Doctor Who: Dark Dimension – Part One (running time: 23m37s) premiers Saturday, 23 January 2021, 7:00 PM via the Pharos Features YouTube Channel. The episode will then be available to listen to on demand the Monday following its Premiere stream (25th January – 15th February). Starring Matthew Toffolo, Chris Walker-Thomson, Laura Jayne-Hunt and Ellie Collins. Adapted and directed by Billy Garratt-John.
❉ James Gent is the editor of pop culture webzine We Are Cult, and has previously contributed to volumes such such as 1001 TV Shows You Must Watch Before You Die, Blakes Heaven: Maximum Fan Power, You and 42: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Douglas Adams and Scarred For Life Volume Two: Television in the 1980s. He is the co-editor of Me And The Starman (Cult Ink), available to buy from Amazon, RRP £11.99. UK: https://amzn.to/30ZE8KE | US: bit.ly/starmanUSA ISBN: 9798664990546.