Monday 15 March 2010

Remembrance of the Daleks

First, let me clear up a stupid mistake by fans. In this story, the Doctor does NOT change history by destroying Skaro in 1963. It is quite clear on screen that the Hand of Omega travels forward in time before destroying Skaro. The fact that fans get confused about this shows how little attention they actually pay to the stories.

Have we cleared that up?

In my opinion this is the best ever Doctor Who story. Sure, there is stiff competition, but obviously the greatest Doctor Who story is going to feature the Daleks. And this story is quite clearly the best ever Dalek story. There are so many brilliant elements to this story- the dialogue, the nostalgia aspect, cool action, production values as well as splendid performances from the regulars and guests.

One advantage this story has over other Dalek stories is the speed at which the Daleks appear and get into the action. Other Dalek stories have this pointless suspense before the appearance of the first Dalek. If the word 'Daleks' is in the title, you expect to see a Dalek, so why leave it until the cliffhanger to bring a Dalek in?

One annoying about the four Dalek stories previous to Remembrance is that they all focus on Davros rather than the Daleks. True, this story features Davros, but he only has a few minutes of screen time and so the attention is on his creations.

Remembrance also passes the key test for a Dalek story in that the Dalek come across as pretty sinister, abusing children and killing their human accomplices. One very legitimate complaint about the story is the ease and frequency with which the Daleks are destroyed. This is a fault, but it is fun to see them getting blown up.

The production values for this story are superb. The gulf between the pantomime set of Paradise Towers (not that Paradise Towers is a bad story) and the explosions, landing space shuttle and heavy-weapons Daleks of this story is colossal.

Remembrance is essentially a nostalgia trip. It goes back to where Doctor Who began in 1963 and celebrates that era. It makes a delightful reference to the Quatermass show, which in some ways was a kind of proto-Doctor Who. Delta and the Bannermen was also a nostalgia trip. However, that story had a totally different feel. Delta was a 'Darling Buds of MaY' feelgood story. The fifties setting lacked depth. In contrast, Remembrance presents the dark side of Sixties Britain with the racist landlady, the paranoid Mike and the Mosleyite Ratcliffe. This theme is effectively linked in with the Dalek's obsession with purity.

The story has light moments, but it definitely has a serious flavour. Not only do we have the racial theme, but the story ends with a funeral and the Doctor giving Ace and equivocal answer as to the moral worth of the adventure's outcome. The Doctor's relationship with the military is marked by seriousness. Their is nothing of the chuminess which developed between the Third Doctor and UNIT. The Seventh Doctor regards Gilmore and the RAF personnel with contempt; his only concern is to keep them from getting killed by Daleks.

Nevertheless, while the military are not presented in an altogether positive light, the story still plays on the fan's sense of nostalgia, bringing back memories of the old Doctor-UNIT team. Simon Williams puts in an admirable performance as Group Captain Gilmore.

It is often said that at this point, the pantomime ended and we saw a new, more serious and darker Seventh Doctor. Of course, those say this are sometimes quick to point out that the early campy feel of the first few McCoy stories continued after Remembrance with The Happiness Patrol. As I noted above, there is a degree of similarity between Delta and the Bannermen and this story. We also see hints of a deep and mysterious Doctor in both Paradise Towers and Delta.

Remembrance hints at the idea that the Doctor is 'more than a Time Lord.' This strategy was popularly known as the 'Cartmel Masterplan.' I think this was a really good idea. Thankfully, the hints are not significant enough to cause any continuity problems.

Sylvester McCoy gives an outstanding performance. Some say he cannot do anger, but do we want him to rage? Is that doctorish behaviour? He shows complete utter exasperation at the predictability of Davros' ambitions in their confrontation. Sylvester had a superb rapport with Sophie and the two work really together.

It is in this story that Ace is seen for the first time as the Doctor's regular companion. I find it hard to say what I like about Ace. Sophie Aldred's performance was never brilliant. She never quite convinced as a teenage character. However, for some reason she is one of my favorite companions. Most likely it is her relationship with the Doctor. He manipulates her and patronizes her, yet there is still a strong bond of affection between them. I think it is a far more platonic relationship than the Third Doctor/ Jo relationship. There was always a rancid sense that Pertwee was a sad old man fancying a girl young enough to be his granddaughter. There is not a hint of that in the Ace/ Seventh Doctor relationship. Ace is like a wayward child who has found solace in the company of a blacksheep uncle.

Ace's disgust at the racist sign is well played. Her interaction with the Sixties world is developed effectively in the dialogue.

The Seventh Doctor and Ace go back to London in 1963, where Doctor Who began and battle the Daleks.

The real star of the guest cast is Pamela Salem as Rachel. Doctor Who is full of bland scientist types, but this is a minor character who is truly memorable. Somehow we feel that we have known her for more than just this one story. She has some superb dialogue, as well as a nice outfit (that tweed suit and heels). Rachel comes across as an older blend of Barbara Wright and Liz Shaw in the role of the Third Doctor. I have always thought Liz Shaw was a rather boring character. Had Liz Shaw's role been played by an older (and more talented actress than Caroline John) actor like Pamela Salem, her character would perhaps have been just a little more interesting. It would have been so awesome if Rachel had become a companion on board the TARDIS, but of we only ever have young companions. Rachel also has more sense than Tegan and Peri in removing her high heels before climbing into the Dalek spacecraft. The sight of her looking a little awkward in her stocking feet in the spacecraft is a nice one.

Some people think the many continuity references in this story are gratuitous, but as a fan I appreciate them and they do not detract from the story.

Few fans will agree with me, but Remembrance of the Daleks is the best Doctor Who story ever.

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