Fan Film Reviews – The Dark Dimension (Animated)

Story: Hawkspur (as he will be called), an alien menace in the far future manages to kill the McCoy Doctor, but gets defeated. However, the critter travels back along the Doctor’s timeline into the past. There, it interferes to prevent the fourth Doctor from regenerating, instead, packing him off to a mental institution, safely out of the way. With the fourth Doctor a drugged out has been in a mental institution, Hawkspur then proceeds with its plan for the destruction of the human race.

Meanwhile, the succeeding Doctors are in trouble as their timelines wink out. Sophy Aldred’s character, identified as Dorothy but really Ace, has to figure out what’s going on, The Brigadier gets involved. There’s a lot of jumping in and out of time vortexes, as the Brigadier and Dorothy try to help the fourth Doctor find himself, and travel in and out of time to meet the other Doctors.


Teaser:   BBC Enterprises has the thankless task of selling the BBC’s productions worldwide, selling BBC videos and DVDs, licensing out tosh merchandise, whatever. For BBC Enterprises, Doctor Who is their big cash cow, their gold mine. It’s basically what they’re using to make money hand over fist. But its also cancelled. You can figure, that they’re a bit concerned about that. I mean, hey, huge back catalogue, lots of product. But the world moves on, and sooner or later, without new product, that catalogue is going to start looking tale and old fashioned. But for now, Doctor Who is making them lots of money and they love it.

The clock winds on. 1989 turns to 1990, which turns into 1991. Still nothing on the Doctor Who front, that hiatus just keeps on going. 1992 comes along, and now we are coming up on the thirtieth anniversary. So if for no other reason, excitement starts to mount, there’s a sense of anticipation.

BBC Enterprises, if no one else, sees an opportunity to make some real money. They’re marketing people. This is how it works. You look for occasions, opportunities to cash in, to sell product. Anniversaries are big.

But, it’s also around this time, that Tom Baker starts to feel a little nostalgic. The thing was, he played the Doctor for seven years, and seven years playing a single character… that gets exhausting. There’s a sense of boredom and frustration, there’s a sense of life passing you buy, opportunities coming and going untapped. He’d gotten pretty sick of it. So when he left, he basically wanted out. No coming back for the Five Doctors, no public appearances in the scarves. He wasn’t going to be Adam West, patching up the seams in his old batsuit. No, Baker wanted a clean break from it. To leave it behind.

But now… it’s eleven or twelve years later. He’s feeling a bit nostalgic. He lets it be known to someone, perhaps several someones, that he wouldn’t mind playing the Doctor one more time.

At this point, it’s not exactly clear what happens next or how it comes about.

The key character in this whole drama seems to be the improbably named Adrian Riglesford, who is in various eyes, the hero, the villain, the fool or a minor supporting player in the piece. As to what his exact role is, opinions vary, but I think he was more central than the official histories, what there are, suggest.

Riglesford’s claim to fame is that he wrote the script for Dark Dimensions. He has a smattering of other credits on the internet movie database, nothing to write home about. Mostly, he seems to have been a television and movie writer – doing ghostwriting for Peter Sellers and Brian Blessed, magazine articles, specialty books on Doctor Who, Blake’s 7, etc.. This is a respectable career as media a writer, pays the bills, but it’s also nothing to indicate that this was the guy to write the thirtieth anniversary story.

Did I say respectable career? Maybe not so much. In fact, it turns out that a lot of his media work seems to be sloppy and unsourced, lots of quotes from dead people, lots of errors. Rigelsford’s work was peppered with a lot of unverifiable quotes from ‘final interviews’ with persons since passed on. So he kind of garnered a reputation among the hard core fans as a bit of an idiot, or worse. Here’s a typical gag floating around from the day: Some fan says he was at a seance. Another fan asks, “Was Adrian Rigelsford there conducting interviews for his next book?”

Apparently, he published the last interview with Stanley Kubrick before his death… Except that no record or recording of that interview was found to exist, and it’s now considered to be fraudulent, particularly by Kubrick’s closest associates. There was a lot of this kind of thing.

There was also the matter of theft – apparently, he stole a few photographs from the Daily Mail/Associated Newspapers Archive library and sold them. Fifty six thousand pictures over eight years, to be exact, sold for seventy five thousand pounds. He spent eighteen months in jail over that in 2004. I’m kind of flabbergasted – 56,000 photographs? Even over eight years, how the hell does one manage that? That’s 7000 photographs a year. 600 a month. 20 a day. How the does that happen? Did he show up regularly with a suitcase?

Rigleford,  deservedly, earned the reputation as a fraud artist, a thief, a dubious person all the way around. Which is a shame because it seems unnecessary. He seems to have had a career as a wunderkid. He was knocking out books in his early 20’s. The Dark Dimensions saga takes place when he’s about 23. He was getting professional magazine sales, which is impressive.

I think that in literary terms, Adrian would be what we call an unreliable narrator. But he also seems essential to the story. Anthony Frewin, an associate of Stanley Kubrick, the fellow who blew the lid on his fabricated interview (and my source for the Seance joke), had this to say about him…

“Anyone who has worked in the film industry will instantly recognise the type. They hover around on the margins. The Sammy Glick figure forever on the verge of the Big Break, no more morality than is strictly necessary, constantly hustling, chasing chimeras, talking up deals that evaporate at the 11th hour through no fault of their own. So, in this respect, Rigelsford is part of a great tradition.”

I think that’s probably spot on. I’ve met a few of those myself.

The truth is, that at its basic level, that describes a lot of the film and television industry. It’s almost random. Just atoms in a box, ceaselessly bouncing off each other, ideas, personalities, proposals, notions, every now and then, by sheer fluke, things coalesce and a project gels, and sometimes it breaks apart or disintegrates back to its contituent atoms, but once in a while, when the moon is right, everything lines up all the way to the end and something gets done, and the participants have maybe a better shot at another project. There’s the factory level of course – the money, the television stations and movie companies, the BBC, the established power players… But mostly, its just atoms randomly colliding, searching for the right combinations to amount to something.

What he really was, basically, was a hustler looking to make a connection… which in a sense, describes almost everyone in the business.



Part Three

Part Four

Part Five

Part Six

Wait for it!




    As I’ve alluded to, there’s a second animated version of Dark Dimension out there. This one is created by uber-fan Ian Levine. I don’t know where you can get the full version. But there’s a few minutes up on Levine’s Youtube Trailer.

    Paul Jones once again assays the role of Tom Baker as the Fourth Doctor. The big wrinkle is that Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred actually assay their characters in the story. McCoy has participated in some of Levine’s other fan creations, which is fairly mysterious to me – either Levine is writing big cheques, McCoy is incredibly fond of the gentleman or there is the matter of a certain amount of blackmail. Peter Miles stars as Hawkspur.

    Levine’s animation takes the form of a ‘Reconstruction’ – which is another strange corner of Doctor Who history.

    Let’s just take a moment out to look at the ‘Reconstructions.’

    Okay: Everyone knows that a whole pile of Troughton, Hartnell and Pertwee serials were junked by the BBC. Over the years, episodes and footage was recovered from here and there. But a lot was never recovered. The current tally stands at 96 missing episodes, and eighteen lost serials (give or take).

    They weren’t completely and utterly lost. There were separate audio recordings, and fan audio recordings, and so we have a relatively complete set of the audio portions.

    And then there were telesnaps. Technically, telesnaps were the name for photographs taken by a fellow named John Cura. He’d perfected a means of matching exposure length to the television scanning line, and focal depth to the curvature of the television, so he could take photographs right off the Television. He offered this service to the BBC, and so a lot of the Doctor Who serials from this era commissioned them. Cura would take an average of 60 photographs, for a 25 minute episode, or roughly one every 20 seconds.

    Not technically telesnaps, but now going under the same name – for continuity purposes, television productions retained still photographers while shooting. You had to make sure that peoples hair was right, the clothes were right, the particular make up for a scene was correct and in order, the actors were standing in the right spots or doing the right action. So there was a lot of shooting going on. Then there were publicity stills that you would take for the set.

    Bottom line is that there was a large library of photographs that became accessible to fans. So, some enterprising fans and fan groups began reconstructing the lost serials by merging the photographs with the audio tracks. I guess it was sort of like an audio-comic book-video. Still pictures moving from one to the other in sequence, with helpful captions and intertitles, while the audio played.

    This was picked up by BBCi, the BBC’s internet based arm, back in the 1990’s, which eventually lead them to work with Big Finish for original semi-animated Doctor Who stories – Shada, Realtime, and Death Comes to Time, and eventually, to their Scream of the Shalka serial and a briefly official new ninth Doctor in Richard E. Grant. BBC enterprises itself dabbled in reconstructions, either as a one off project, or to fill in gaps in some of the mostly complete serials, or as extras on the DVD’s.

    However, most of the Reconstructions are fan created, or re-created. The most notable ones are from Loose Cannon.

    They’re a peculiar thing, a strange little lost corner of the Who-niverse. But they’re really the only way to see the lost serials.

    Anyway, this is the approach the Levine has taken. He’s done the Dark Dimension in the physical manner of the Reconstructions. So, it’s mostly a series of photographs, with a lot of pan and scan, close ups, fade ins and outs, and some fairly limited and careful animation done here and there.

    Okay, so the question is…. Is it any good.

    That’s actually a complicated question, for several reasons.

    First, let me say that I admire the particular and peculiar route they’ve taken, in basically, treating the Dark Dimension as simply another ‘lost serial’ and trying to recreate it in the form and format of a unique genre within the the Doctor Who oevre. I appreciate both the practical considerations, and the artistic factors that went into that decision and into the production.

    On the other hand, I haven’t ever watched any of the reconstructions. Apart from abstract knowledge, I have no real insight into or appreciation of the Reconstructions genre. We actually have to learn to understand something, to appreciate something. It’s not necessarily an automatic thing. So without being able to appreciate or watch Reconstructions, could I really give a fair assessment of Ian Levine’s ‘Reconstruction-style’ version of Dark Dimension?

    I don’t know. I think I’d have to go back and do a lot of aesthetic homework.

    Then there’s the obvious fact that it’s hard to find. There’s a two and a half minute clip up on youtube, buried in Ian Levenie’s ‘cavalcade of animations.’ So I’m only working from a very limited sample. It’s hard to review what may be a 90 minute work based on a few short clips. It’s possible that Levine or someone has put the whole thing up, or a larger part of it somewhere accessible. He’s done that for Shada. But I haven’t seen that.

    From the very little I’ve seen, my feeling is that Ian Levine is not a director. That is, there’s an art sometimes to getting a true performance out of actors, rather than just having them speak the lines. An art to getting it to seem like the characters are actually interacting, rather than actors simply reciting. There’s an art to getting the tone right, to having it feel authentic. I’m not sure that Levine gets that. This is a real problem with some of his other animations. It may be an issue here – simple recitation, rather than performances and interaction, two or three minutes isn’t fair to judge.

    Levine is a controversial and perhaps unpopular figure in Doctor Who fandom. For some, that’s very hard to step away from, or separate out. He is, or was, a credible and perhaps even a creative force in the music industry. As to his animations and their quality or qualities…. I’ll reserve judgement.

    Bonus Round – Excerpt from Ian Levine’s version of the Dark Dimension – 22:45 to 27:30

  2. @DenValdron

    I’ve just read this Blog and the History (definitely with a Capital ‘H’) is ASTOUNDING.

    Normally I’d never comment in capitals  but it was. Really. Astounding. The in- fighting, the problems with directors, the issue with Colin Baker and how Tom Baker absolutely didn’t want “in”: he wanted out after 7 years.

    No more TV appearances, no scarf, no interviews, nothing and then, after a few years, becomes nostalgic and says “yep. OK. I like this. Actually I really want to do it. Now.”

    And all the financial finagling. Astounding.

    This is really well written DV: so compelling. I keep assuming that all these “lovely people” who love Who are not in it for the money: they’re not fighting or bitching or terrified about budgets. They just get on perfectly well -like a house on fire! 🙂 Like the family in Betty Buckley’s Eight is Enough. But no.

    Seems this isn’t the case! Of course budgets matter, of course enormous sets are budget limited -but I really had no idea of the extent of the problems in putting all this together.

    And to have it fail -well, not exactly fail but end up an animated piece drawn by people who really love what they do: it may be a bit crap and the lines in the drawings lack sophistication but as you say, one needs to take that into account.

    Honestly, though, how do you know all this stuff? The research you’ve done must have taken ages?

    I was talking to my brother about this (also a Who fan: he’s 67, was in his mid teens when Who began  – instantly hooked) and whilst he writes code and so do his sons, they all love a good book occasionally rather than monitors and so…..would you ever consider publishing these blogs?

    I imagine it would be both rewarding and pretty exciting with the possibility of B&W pictures included from various early incarnations and fan-fic directors/crew/actors who’d get involved with possible interviews.

    The fan fic emerges from its original and so I think people would be pleasantly surprised to see the connections between ‘official’ Who and the entire whoniverse. It’s spectacular. Of course you might have to give up your day job….

    Thank you for a cracking read!

    Jeff Hirschield of Lexx and Zixx said ‘this whole business is built on failure, every now and then, something happens and we’re all astonished.’ “


    Kindest, puro.

  3. Thank you,

    1)  My professional training involves searching out large quantities of information rapidly, synthesizing and evaluating it, and then constructing something persuasive.  So… its fun to do it when you’ve got an interesting subject matter.

    2)  I tend to see really good fan films, or fan fics as being in dialogue with the original or canonical work, exploring the gaps or margins.  In several of my previous reviews, I’ve tried to explore this.  I think it allows us to appreciate and understand what’s going on in fan films better, and perhaps offers some larger insights.

    3)  I’d love to publish a book of these blogs – if for no other reason than to shake the tree and point people at some wonderful and interesting things.  I don’t think that there’s really a market for it though.  And truthfully, I’d rather people watched the things than read these.  If I can offer a few thoughts that might enhance enjoyment, then that’s bonus.   One of the Timebase productions people has apparently been talking about writing a book about their experiences – now that would be something to read.

    4)  After the review, I ended up in correspondence with the fellow who is doing the Dark Dimension.  He had some (to me) fascinating information about his process.  I’ll try ringing him up and seeing if I can add his comments to the thread.

  4. @DenValdron

    Gosh, sorry, I didn’t realise you’d responded. I think that’s wonderful: adding his comments to yours would make for quite the professional thread

    Kindest, puro

  5. An impromptu interview with James Walker, the Executive Producer of the Dark Dimension animation, taken from email correspondence and compiled and reproduced with permission.

    James Walker:  Thank you for your review. :)


    Den Valdron:   Wait a second there, Buckaroo. You don’t get off that easy. I have a few questions:    1) What the hell were you thinking? Where did you get the idea to do something this astonishing? How did you decide to do it? Was it blackmail? Extortion? Did you think it was a good idea? What’s your history that leads you up to this Sisyphean quest?


    James Walker:  Dark Dimension was always a story that fascinated me. I’m probably one of the few fans of Dimensions in Time but I always wondered what it would be like to see the originally planned story. I’d read the script a few times but to actually see and hear it, was something special indeed.

    It would be very true to say that the idea came from Ian Levine himself. I had read that he had created his own version but I also knew that this was unlikely to be released at any point in at least, the near future. So I decided to look into making it myself.

    I’d worked on other smaller projects before, like the “Fade Away” Motion Comic on YouTube but this was something that would require a much bigger cast. Which leads me to…


    Den ValdronDid you realize how much work this was going to be when you started out? If you’d known, would you have signed up anyway?


    James Walker:   No, I didn’t expect it to take this long or this much work but I would still have done it. It’s a huge project but it wasn’t originally planned to be this big. My original plan was to produce it as an audio drama and to remove certain elements, like the extraneous Doctors and to transfer the Seventh Doctor’s story over to the Eighth Doctor.

    The Eighth Doctor has always been a favourite of mine but, in the end, I realized that rather than putting my own spin on it, I’d much rather see what was originally intended by the writer, so we went with a direct translation of the rehearsal script.


    Den ValdronHas it been worth it?


    James Walker:   Yes. Throughout the making of Dark Dimension, I’ve met some lovely people who have kindly participated in it, either by acting, or animating, or sound designing. Some have offered to promote it. It’s also given me confidence in my abilities that weren’t really there before we started.


    Den Valdron:   How did you recruit that astonishingly large cast? Where did they come from? How do you wrangle them? Does everyone record separately, or do you actually get some of them into a room. How do you make the sound so professional?


    James Walker:   Big question. When we first started, I knew a small selection of impersonators who had kindly donated their time in the past to my productions. These included Tegan Harris (Ace) and Jonathon Carley (Third and Fifth Doctor). But the problem I found was more about finding actors to play regular roles of new characters. When your budget is zero, you’ve got to throw yourself on the mercy of whoever would like to take part.

    And I’m amazed that so many solid, dependable actors agreed to take part and donate their time to the production. Our actors come from all over the world and everyone records their dialogue separately.

    Unfortunately, I was unable to recruit enough actresses to take part, which is why our version differs from the script in regards to the Eco-Troops – whom were originally all women.

    The sound, I can’t take credit for. I’ve asked Mr Aidan Clark, our sound designer to answer that. Here is what he had to say…

    “Thankfully we’re living in an era where cheap or even free software can let us do in an hour what would have taken days and thousands of pounds of equipment to achieve 10 or 20 years ago. We’re also in the enviable position of having no real deadlines, which means that we can take as much time fine-tuning the sound as is necessary. Apart from that, I suppose it’s really a question of using your ears as precisely as possible to make sure you’ve got rid of any noticeable flaws that might distract viewers from the story. Of course, we also have over 50 years of inspiration from the brilliant work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and their successors!”


    Den Valdron:   Some of the artwork looks like there might be different styles at work? Are you the artist? Are you the only artist? If there are other artists, who are they and what are their contributions? How does working with multiple artists on a project feel?


    James Walker:  The animation itself comes from one man. Jay Hale. I met Jay a couple of years ago now, when Dark Dimension was still in its infancy. The idea of an audio drama had been tossed out of the window and we’d planned to produce the story as something similar to a reconstruction.

    I think I must have been watching something like Star Trek TAS when I thought; wouldn’t it be cool to have Dark Dimension made as an animation? I looked at various artists work on YouTube and that’s how I found Jay. He’d done some previous work on Doctor Who animations, and it was incredible. Exactly the style I was looking for. Something like a 90s Saturday morning cartoon. I contacted Jay and since then, he’s been churning out scenes for us. He’s done some brilliant stuff and I’m really, really happy to be working with him on this project.


    Den Valdron:   How many people, apart from the voice actors, contribute to it. Is this your Herculean project? Or is there a team?


    James Walker:  Apart from the voice actors, it comes down to myself, on editing, Aidan Clark who handles all our sound design and music, Jay Hale, our animator, and of course, Simon Hodges, who’s put together some marvelous photo artwork for the production.


    Den Valdron:   Any shout outs to people you feel are important to the project or inspirational.


    James Walker:   In terms of inspiration, I’d have to say Big Finish. I’ve heard only a small part of their audio catalogue but they’ve done some damn fine work over the years and I wanted to do something similar myself, albeit in an unofficial capacity. My wife has helped me all the time with this project, picking me up when I’m feeling low. I feel without her, I would have probably given up a long time ago.

    And finally, to everyone who has worked on the project, thank you. A lot of people forget how much goes into a project of this size. Around thirty actors donating their time, along with our wonderful animator and then onto Aidan for some brilliant sound design. I had an idea and all these people breathed life into it. For that, I’ll be eternally grateful.

    Dark Dimension is singularly, the biggest project I have ever attempted. Taking a script and turning it into what will eventually be, a full length animated movie. Made by about 35 people. Why? Because we care about it being made. A lost piece of Doctor Who being created to give a decent visualization about how it would look had it been made.

    I have no regrets about this project, only thanks. It is something I am very proud to have made. And thank you to everyone who has watched it, shared it, blogged it, reviewed it. It’s always nice to know people enjoy something enough to write about it and share it with their friends.


    Den Valdron:   Last words?


    James Walker:    We’re not a big production outfit. We’re three people with a desire to do some good for Doctor Who fans. I cast the story, and edited each of the episodes, but Jay and Aidan are the real strength behind Dark Dimension. Jay has singlehandedly drawn dozens of characters, and brought them to life. It’s not perfect, and some of it is crudely made, but we’re talking one guy, doing his damn best to animate an entire movie on his own. He could spend days perfecting every throwaway, five second character, and he’d hit his old age before we finish the movie. As it is, he’s animated over a hundred scenes across five episodes, and done all of that, in not much over a year. An amazing achievement. It’s not an exaggeration to say that there wouldn’t be a Dark Dimension without him.

    Our composer Aidan, has equally composed the entire score himself, for all five episodes so far. With a cast covering the globe, all using their own recording equipment, the quality of the original recordings is very low. But you’d never know. And that’s because of him. He’s taken a massive selection of different dialogues, and cleaned them up to massive effect. But that’s just the start of it. He’s then created an awesome theme tune (seriously, I love it!), and composed music for an entire movie. By himself. On his own. How? Hell, I don’t know. The man is a machine.

    I’m a guy that wanted to see Dark Dimension made. I assembled a massive cast of actors but beyond editing the final product, my involvement has been minimal. Jay and Aidan are the heart of Dark Dimension. They are the people that made it possible.

    Our animator, Jay, put it best. It reeks of hard work and dedication and love of Doctor Who. And for us, that’s what it comes down to.

  6. @JamesWalker and @purofilion    Sometimes, doing a review, I feel I’m being unkind.  My approach, like Anubis, is to acknowledge and weigh both the good and the bad.  Sometimes in acknowledging what I feel the bad is, it may seem hurtful.  The truth is that fan films, even the best of them, are made on budgets that amount to pocket lint, bottle caps, dead voles and whatever they can scrounge behind a sofa.   It’s made by very few people with a lot of love and sweat equity, and those limitations are often apparent.

    A professional production of the Dark Dimension animated would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, maybe millions.  Technically, it might be more polished, some things might look a lot better.  But I don’t know that it would actually be better, or have that same heart and soul.

    I don’t see how I can not acknowledge the limitations of a work.  Hell, even with Doctor Who, we acknowledged the cardboard sets and the wobbly monsters, even as we loved it.

    On a fan film, there are almost always going to be shortcomings and flaws – the fact that the windows on the Tardis are wrong in Wrath of Eukor, or the fact that Gene Genius struggles to wring a dramatic climax out of solving an anagram or that later it blows an otherwise amazingly well done gunfight with a bit of gun-shaking, or some annoyingly intrusive bird song loop on Fire and Ice.  I think I have to acknowledge this because its there and its hard to miss.

    Certainly its impossible to miss for an audience which has grown used to the polish of multi-million dollar productions.  There’s no way around that.   So I have to acknowledge it and discuss it.

    On the other hand, I try to go out of my way to say ‘there’s a reason for this.’  That limited resources and small crews don’t have the luxury of revisiting every single production decision a hundred times, that there isn’t an army of people looking after every detail.  That really, it comes down to a few people with limited time and money, and no matter how much love and talent there is, sometimes something goes a little awry.  So acknowledge it, understand it, forgive it and move on.

    Is there one bad decision in the pot, along with a hundred good ones.   Acknowledge and then forget the bad.  Focus on the hundred good decisions.

    The Dark Dimension animation?   I love it wholeheartedly.  And more than that, I think it’s an important work, an important piece of Doctor Who history.   So here’s to you, James and Jay And Aidan.    And for that matter, here’s to you Ryan and Barbara and Randy, to Rupert and Paul, and to so many more.


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