GUEST REVIEW – “The Lost Dimension”: Just another Who story?

by Z. P. Moo

 

For their now-annual summer event, Titan Comics Doctor Who ranges came together in 2017 to create the second-highest-profile multi-Doctor story of the year. The Lost Dimension is an odd beast. On one hand it’s an offshoot of one of the weirder and less coordinated areas of the expanded universe in the oft-overlooked comic medium, and yet it adds vast swathes of new information to the canon (in so far as such a thing as canon exists) and several interesting ideas and touches on a number of unusual concepts that the whole thing simply demands attention.

So for that reason I’ve decided to examine it and pick out some of what it touches on for closer inspection. It’s more than just another Doctor Who story.

Consider this your spoiler warning.

Pinning down what the plot is proves difficult and yet it’s all quite clear and is in fact rather straightforward. Truth is, it’s just a bunch of fan-pleasing setpieces thrown together to make sure multiple Doctors interact while one of them gets into a contrived situation to explain everything. So that seems like a good place to start.

One of the biggest ways this story marks itself out for attention from the fandom comes from the additions it makes to the history of the Doctor’s homeworld. It seems only natural that this should come from the Eleventh Doctor, he after all was the one who overturned the result of the Time War and smashed through the regeneration limit – itself a controversial retcon when it was first introduced, need I remind you.

While the quality of any story on Gallifrey varies, it’s usually the ones that milk its weird otherness for all it’s worth that turn out best. There’s a reason “The Deadly Assassin” is considered a classic while “Arc of Infinity is viewed with less affection. It’s because the latter plays Gallifrey straight while the former knows it’s this unknowable idea first and foremost so the story runs with it – half the story becomes this weird trip, and while those sequences may outstay their welcome they’re still pretty awesome while they last. In the revived series you’ve got the controversial “Hell Bent, and part of the controversy comes from whether it should be a conventional Gallifrey story or the story it actually chooses to be. “Hell Bent chooses instead to treat Gallifrey as an abstract idea, nothing more than a backdrop to another totally different plot, and it succeeds at what it tries to be (whether you like that or not) because that’s exactly how Gallifrey should be presented: an Idea.

 

Point is this – any story that attempts to add to that planet’s history is one that must be taken seriously, so that’s exactly what The Lost Dimension brings to the table. More than that, it actively engages with two massive issues: The creation of the first TARDIS and Rassilon’s mysterious partner known as The Other.

And it directly involves the Matt Smith incarnation of the Doctor with them both.

The story has him end up in ancient Gallifrey by mistake (just go with it) where he ends up recruited by Rassilon to help him gain control of the first TARDIS. Events play out with the Doctor becoming the first person to ever fly in a TARDIS and yet to Rassilon he never reveals his name. He becomes known simply as Other, and for those familiar with the VNAs you’ll realise what kind of statement is being made here.

This is a huge retcon! Marc Platt’s novel “Lungbarrow (add this to the list of stories that succeed by relying on Gallifrey’s weirdness) establishes that Rassilon and Omega were joined by a third figure The Other and that the Doctor is his reincarnation. This is also where we get revelations that Time Lords are sterile and can only reproduce through looms (whatever they are).

And yet here in The Lost Dimension all of that is changed. It slips completely under the radar with little fanfare and yet this is completely rewriting the mythos that had been in place for over two decades. Yet despite this, the previous Titan event Supremacy of the Cybermen goes ahead and has Looms on Gallifrey after “Hell Bent. The makers of these stories don’t want or even allow you to overlook what they’re doing, and that’s only right to me. Take some pride in your work, content creators.

But it’s not just a shifting of the goalposts on the Gallifrey mythos, this story is crammed full with setpieces that feel like they were designed specifically to please fans, both old and new. The tone for that is set right at the beginning when Bill Potts is seen studying in the Terrance Dicks Library. It’s a lovely tribute but also it gets the reader into the mindset for what kind of story this will be: One filled from start to end with references and shoutouts.

So what else? How about that all the Doctors (except the Thirteenth for obvious reasons) are involved directly. Every single one of them has dialogue, and we get new revelations about several of them. We learn that the Ninth Doctor pre-Rose was the one who introduced Vastra & Jenny to each other before facing a Myrka attack with them. We see the Tenth Doctor face the Cybermen in their 1975 incarnation. I’ve already discussed the Eleventh Doctor flying the first TARDIS and becoming The Other. There’s the Twelfth Doctor meeting the Tenth’s daughter Jenny who has herself just ran into the Fifth.

 

You’ll notice there was an overwhelming balance in favour of the revival era Doctors there, but that’s deliberate. These are the Doctors known to the current generation of fans, the Doctor Who stories made after 1996 do exist and they are valid and most of them are pretty good. But that’s not to say the story is without its share of fanservice for old school classic fans though. I mentioned the use of 1990s Gallifrey mythos, 1980s Silurians, and 1970s Cybermen, but the fanservice goes furthest when the Fourth Doctor meets Quarks, Ogrons, and Krotons from an alternate universe.

Yes, that’s a thing that happened in a story released in 2017.

And it ties in nicely with a major turning point in the classic lore: “Genesis of the Daleks has a mixed reception among fans with the received wisdom telling us it’s the greatest thing ever made while the progressive fandom tends to have some major issues with it (as Sam Maleski has discussed in depth before so I’ll let you go read that rather than explore it here).

 

In the Fourth Doctor’s brief segment of The Lost Dimension where he takes centre stage, his complex relationship with the Daleks is brought up. Of course that makes sense, it is to many fans his defining moment. “Genesis of the Daleks is the one story from the original run most people can probably be expected to have seen, so if the Fourth Doctor shows up in a modern era story then you should expect it to be referenced. Between The Lost Dimension and “The Magician’s Apprentice, it’s basically a requirement.

And so when he and Romana encounter some extremely advanced Quarks, Ogrons, and Krotons from another universe it doesn’t take him long to realise that this is only because in this other universe there are no Daleks. Whether this reads as a criticism or reference to Genesis is up to you to decide, but this seems to suggest that if he had gone through with wiping the Daleks out then the Doctor would have left room for these obscure b-movie monsters to take their place. The rise of such a force is inevitable, if it isn’t the Daleks then why wouldn’t it be someone else?

 

This really does feel like something lifted straight out of the Moffat era. The Twelfth Doctor basically says as much in “The Doctor Falls, before standing up and taking on the responsibility to put it right. As Bill Potts said in the first episode to be broadcast after this story concluded, “what if there’s just some bloke?” And that’s also the case here, the Doctor projects himself into all three aliens’ ships and tells them who he is, and suddenly all these forces turn and run away.

This whole segment really does feel like something out of the revival. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen that exact plot device used in “The Pandorica Opens, “A Good Man Goes to War, Hell Bent, “Bad Wolf, and the list really does go on. If these themes are valid for a modern Doctor then shouldn’t they be taken and applied to a classic Doctor? And of course it would be the Fourth; he is after all the face of Classic Who.

But what else does this story say about the role of the classic Doctors within the revived series? The answer is interesting. Aside from the Fourth Doctor’s segment and the inclusion of the Eighth Doctor towards the end, all the other six are used sparingly. And honestly, that makes perfect sense to me based upon how the revived series has incorporated these characters: Their presence is used to justify, critique, or comment on the current Doctor, but that’s it. Anything more would be too fan-ish and take away from the story.

But that’s not to say they’re irrelevant. Quite the opposite in fact! The eight original Doctors are crucial parts of the history and backstory, and within this story that’s the role they fill. We see the Fifth Doctor rescue Jenny so she can go on to meet the Twelfth. We see the Second Doctor try to warn the Eleventh Doctor’s companion. We see the Third crossover with the Tenth as the first sign that something is wrong. We see the Sixth Doctor brokering peace between rival Silurian factions that the Ninth is about to meet. While it would’ve been fun to see the classic Doctors take a bigger role in the story, especially given that it’s told in perhaps the single best-suited medium for this, it doesn’t really matter because their presence casts a large shadow over events that they still feel active in the narrative.

 

It’s interesting to note that of the five Doctors to play a direct and active role in the story the fifth is not a revival Doctor. The War Doctor is relegated to a cameo appearance and it’s the Eighth who steps in. But again that makes sense to both of these characters! It’s the War Doctor that is the one to take command of the other incarnations and lead them into stopping the threat, and it’s the Eighth Doctor that says behind on Earth to defend the humans left behind. This is perfect honestly. It’s the Eighth Doctor as we see his character in “The Night of the Doctor, the only pacifist left in the universe and one who is willing to die for it. Wait, isn’t that a revival era story? So maybe it makes a lot of sense that he’s the one pre-2005 incarnation to be more directly involved in things!

It’s a typical example of when the revived series tries to redefine elements of the classic series to fit better with Who as it exists today. Why not extrapolate the Eighth Doctor of the Time War back into his pre-war history? Why not have the Fourth Doctor scare off the monsters on his reputation alone? It’s no different from revelations in “The Doctor’s Wife of how the First Doctor reacted when he saw the ship for the first time – it’s not like the Hartnell Doctor but it’s exactly like the Smith Doctor!

 

But it’s not just that, it’s also using Big Finish to inform one of them, specifically Doctor number six. Colin Baker was hard done by with his TV era containing some of the worst things ever released under the Doctor Who brand. The Sixth Doctor on television is an abuser with more blood on his hands than all his previous lives combined and yet no guilt for any of it. The Sixth Doctor on audio however is a big cuddly teddy bear. He’s a peacemaker, a mediator, a doctor. And it’s this that we see here, bringing a solution to rival Silurian factions and finding them somewhere safe where they can live in security.

Big Finish have rightly been showered with praise for rehabilitating unlikable characters, with Mel and Adric also receiving this treatment. More recently they’ve turned attention to the revival with the likes of Christina and Jenny getting their own reasonably well-received spinoffs.

It’s surely no coincidence that the latter of these two characters should play a significant role in this story. Jenny meets the Twelfth Doctor before reuniting with the Tenth Doctor and it’s genuinely lovely and heartwarming to see. This subplot forms the emotional backbone of the opening sections and is still there right to the end, and it’s done with a clear message:

This isn’t just another story, this is a significant piece of the series lore that demands you give it attention.

 

And that really sums up The Lost Dimension as a whole. While the story may be a bit rough around the edges and a few moments could perhaps be shortened (Tennant Vs Cybermen drags a bit) or jettisoned completely (I love River Song but she’s got no reason to be in this story), but it’s got a lot of love for series it’s part of and wants to be a crucial part of it.

It’s easy to dismiss this story as a gimmicky offshoot of one of the weirder and less coordinated areas of the modern expanded universe, but look a little deeper and you soon realise that it’s so much more than just that. As the ever growing and never-ending tapestry of conflicting stories and ideas that is Doctor Who continues to build, don’t let an obscure sideshow comic from 2017 be overlooked. The Lost Dimension has so much to offer and it’s something that demands to be given the attention it deserves.

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