Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks

"CRUSH THE LESSER RACES! CONQUER THE GALAXY! UNIMAGINABLE POWER! UNLIMITED RICE PUDDING!!!"

Doctor Who celebrated its 25th birthday in 1988 and to mark the occasion we were treated to... what, not 'Remembrance of the Daleks'? The f**k?

I really shouldn't be that shocked. After all, this was an era notorious for making one immensely dumb decision after another. Of course it would produce the perfect anniversary story and then not air it during the actual anniversary. And 'Remembrance of the Daleks' really is the perfect anniversary story. Not only does it take us back to when and where it all started, Coal Hill School and the junk yard at Trotter's Lane in 1963, it also features the show's most iconic monsters, the Daleks, in what is unquestionably their strongest outing since 'Genesis of the Daleks'.

Part of what makes 'Remembrance' such a good Dalek story is that it is an actual story about the Daleks, not a Davros story featuring the Daleks. Their ranting creator is kept off screen for the majority of the story, only putting in a brief appearance in the final episode where he knocks out his tired old megalomaniac routine. Without Dave Ross to hog the limelight, the Daleks get to remind everyone why they are the show's most memorable villains while also taking the time out to exterminate their most infamous weakness; stairs. Yes, these new and improved Daleks can fly. Not that high. And only very slowly. But still, after becoming the punchline of a bad joke since the glory days of Dalekmania, the Daleks finally feel like a credible threat again.


It's rather fitting that the Daleks, who were created by Terry Nation as a metaphor for Nazism, team up with an actual group of Nazis in this story. The irony that they are working with a group of aliens to rid Britain of all these "outsiders" is completely lost on them. In a nice twist, dashing Mike Smith, who is bland and handsome enough to have his own Saturday morning adventure serial, turns out to be a racist too, as does his seemingly nice old lady of a mother. A reminder that evil comes in all shapes and sizes.

There's a strong Third Doctor vibe to this story as the Doctor teams up with some thoroughly British military types to battle alien invaders. They actually function like a pseudo UNIT, which I imagine was a deliberate choice on the writer's part. Group Captain Gilmore is the Brigadier, Professor Jensen is the Doctor, Allison is Jo, and Mike is, well, Mike. All they are missing is a Benton. Sadly, they are no substitute for the real thing. Gilmore never gets to be anything more than your average military stiff. Jensen and Allison have little to do besides ask questions and stand around while the Doctor explains things.

'Remembrance' marks the beginning of a major shift in how the Seventh Doctor was written. Script editor Andrew Cartmel felt that too much had been revealed about the Doctor's past and set out to rectify this. His (master)plan was to slowly reveal that the Doctor was not just some random Time Lord. I'm of two minds about this. I've never really liked the idea of the Doctor being more than just some mad old Time Lord who ran off to see the universe. I wasn't too keen on all that last of the Time Lord nonsense and the agonising amount of angst that came with it (thank god Moffat put an end to that). Which is why I'm sort of glad that -- due to the series' cancellation -- Cartmel's plan never came to fruition.

What I did like about Cartmel's plan, though, was how it resulted in a new and improved Seventh Doctor. The bumbling clown of the previous season hasn't disappeared completely, but the comedy antic have been toned down as we begin to see Seven as a more manipulative, more devious character, one who plays a long game with the Daleks to trick them into destroying their own planet. This new Seventh Doctor is also a more melancholy one as evidenced by that wonderful little scene in the cafe where the Doctor discusses the ripple effect via tea and sugar with Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. That scene is pure filler, it serves no narrative purpose whatsoever, but it is the right kind of filler that focuses on character and allows us a rare glimpse into the mind of a Time Lord. Plus it has Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.


Notes and Quotes

--Of course Ace would strut into 1960s London with a boombox slung over her shoulder.

--Michael Sheard makes his sixth, and final, appearance on the series as the headmaster of Coal Hill School, a role not too dissimilar to his most iconic role as Mr Bronson on Grange Hill.

--The headmaster thinks that the Doctor is applying for the job of school caretaker, a job he would get in 2014. Boy, they really made him wait to hear back from them.

--When the BBC head of drama saw the scene where Ace spots the "No Coloureds" sign they felt that Ace should have torn it down. Script editor Andrew Cartmel agreed it was a missed opportunity.

--In one very meta moment Ace switches on BBC1 which is about to show a very familiar sounding sci-fi series.

--Foreman is misspelled as 'Forman'.

--Despite the 1960s setting, there's a lot of very 1980s buildings in the background of a couple of scenes.

The Doctor: "You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies."

The Doctor: "Do you remember the Zygon gambit with the Loch Ness Monster? Or the Yeti in the Underground?"
Ace: "The what?"
The Doctor: "Your species has an amazing capacity for self-deception."

Ace: "They're retreating, all of them. Wimps!!!"

Doctor: “No, it’s called that because Time Lords have an infinite capacity for pretension.”
Ace: “I noticed that.”

The Doctor: "Every great decision creates ripples, like a huge boulder dropped in a lake. The ripples merge, rebound off the banks in unforeseeable ways. The heavier the decision, the larger the waves, the more uncertain the consequences."
John: "Life’s like that. Best thing is just to get on with it."

Three and a half out of four UNLIMITED RICE PUDDINGS!!!!!
--
Mark Greig has too much heaven on his mind More Mark Greig

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Seventh Doctor and Ace have another adventure with Gilmore, Jensen and Alison in the audio drama The Assassination Games. The Counter-Measures team have their own spin-off, where they’ve recently battled the Great Intelligence and the Yeti.

I highly recommend the novelisation, which was reissued in 2013. It expands on a lot of the story.