‘I can hear the heartbeat of a killer.’ Possibly the keystone episode of the series: it deconstructs 30 years of backstory, positing the Doctor and companion as eternal strangers, never in one place and time for more than a heartbeat, intersecting with real time and then gone in a flash. The constant changes of actor, the roving camera, the melange of elements suggest the inherent mutability of the show, brilliantly conveyed in Pertwee’s profoundly insightful, even moving interjection, ‘Change. You, me, everything.’
Not really. It’s essentially a bit of charity fluff, albeit a very fun one. It’s immensely quotable (‘Madam, what year is this?’; ‘I wish my Arthur was still alive’; ‘You’re all going on a long journey. A very long journey’) and brings together all the surviving Doctors (plus, rather tastelessly, the decapitated heads of the dead ones) plus six companions. It’s got a funky new Nineties theme tune. It suggests Sarah Jane exists in the EastEnders universe (she knows Sharon). It has one very funny joke (the sixth Doctor complaining Ace’s jacket clashes with his coat), but it’s very much not a comedy sketch.
It’s something more interesting (and bonkers): an attempt to capture the essence of Doctor Who in 13 minutes: running away from monsters; startling juxtapositions (a dragon waving from the window of the Queen Vic); past, present and future settings (and conceivably sideways in time – depending on where the fourth Doctor is supposed to be); a villainous Time Lord renegade, and the Doctor having to piece together what’s going on as everything (including himself) keeps changing. All it’s missing is a Dalek. It even predicts the show’s future: ‘everything from the last century seems to be having a comeback’. It’s pitched at an audience that fondly remember the show and gives them a sugar rush of nostalgia. We could have wished for more for the 30th anniversary (and already had The Paradise of Death), but this is much better than nothing.
Next episode: Dimensions in Time – Part Two