14 Mar 2004Remembrance of the Daleks, by Kathryn Young
04 Sep 2004Remembrance of the Daleks, by Paul Clarke
04 Sep 2004Remembrance of the Daleks, by Steve Oliver
02 Mar 2005Remembrance of the Daleks, by John Anderson
15 Nov 2005Remembrance of the Daleks, by Shane Anderson
15 Nov 2005Remembrance of the Daleks, by Adam Riggio
15 Nov 2005Remembrance of the Daleks, by Ed Martin
28 Jul 2013Remembrance of the Daleks at the BFI, by Anthony Weight

Daleks should be seen, but not heard. It’s the voice. It is truly atrocious. I suppose it is ok for the odd ‘exterminate’, but just imagine a half hour lecture on existential philosophy? So we were really lucky with this little sucker (or should that be plunger) because we got to see just the right amount of Daleks in a really interesting story.

This episode was another of those ‘commemorative’ milestone stories that they drag out every so often, sort of like the James Bond film – ‘Die Another Day’ – full of homage to its own history. If you have seen ‘Die Another Day’ you will also know that this concept can go horribly wrong. You can almost see the producers sitting around after a few wines saying to themselves ‘why do we need to waste money on scriptwriters when we can just ignore the plot and pinch the concepts from old material’?

Fortunately they didn’t do that one here. It’s a well written story. The plot for this story is all merely part of Sylvester McCoy’s darker more manipulative Doctor’s master plan for keeping the universe safe from nasty types such as the Daleks. Of course the Doctor’s well laid plans go a bit awry when he realises that there are not one, but two Dalek factions roaming around greater London. How no one noticed a bunch of very peculiar aliens proclaiming universe domination in such a heavily populated city as London I don’t know – and have you ever heard a Dalek whisper?

I hope I am not giving too much away here, but the Doctor does in fact defeat the Daleks. He actually kills one off simply by chatting to it – a more manipulative Doctor with secret powers or a lousy conversationalist? You decide. Some people like it, some don’t, but it does add a little mystery. This story continues the theme that implies there is something to the Doctor that we don’t know. He even tells Davros that he is much more than ‘just another Time Lord’.

The best part of this story is that the Daleks look like they have all been spending far too much time down the pub. Apparently they redesigned the Daleks so they now ran on big balls or some such and they wobble, quite a bit, in fact an awful lot. However you can amuse yourself for hours on end imagining a group of rowdy Daleks wobbling home from the pub on a Friday night singing ‘we are not defeated, only delayed…. One day we will conquer and you will be our slaves’, then perhaps stopping to get a curry. 

On this note, if you can, get the DVD. It has a wonderful commentary from Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred. It is refreshing to know that while you think the actors are emoting their hearts out they are actually trying not to laugh at drunken Daleks and such.

This story is also historic as it is the historic episode where it is revealed that Daleks do not need wheel chair access. They can climb stairs.

Filters: Television Seventh Doctor Series 25

When I reviewed 'Delta and the Bannermen' I suggested that arguably no other story from the McCoy era has divided the opinion fandom as much as that story; nevertheless, in that respect 'Remembrance of the Daleks' comes close to rivaling it, albeit for very different reasons. Regarded by some fans as one of the ten best Doctor Who stories of all time, 'Remembrance of the Daleks' has much to recommend it, but its controversy lies largely in the fact that for the first time it really heralds the beginning of the so-called "Cartmel Masterplan" and that this is obviously reflected in the characterisation of the Doctor.

I'll make it clear from the start that I adore 'Remembrance of the Daleks', for much the same reason that The New Adventures comprise one of my favourite eras of Doctor Who; I love the darker, more manipulative side to the Seventh Doctor that emerges here. And this is where many fans problems with 'Remembrance of the Daleks' lie, as the Doctor becomes a manipulative schemer, acting with foreknowledge of events and with a plan up his sleeve that sees him not blundering blindly into a situation and doing his best to sort it out, but orchestrating events from the start as he leads the Daleks into a trap. This culminates notoriously in the destruction of Skaro, and it is that more than anything else that so many fans take issue with. For over fifteen years now a debate has raged about the morality of the Doctor's actions here, as he manipulates Davros into destroying his home planet with the Hand of Omega. It is an issue more than worthy of debate; questions have been asked about the Doctor's right to effectively commit genocide by destroying the Daleks' power base, and critics have noted that the destruction of an entire world sees not just the destruction of the Daleks, but also that of an entire ecosystem. Writer Ben Aaronovitch has provided further fuel for this debate with his description of rock leopards in the mountains of Skaro in his novelisation of 'Remembrance of the Daleks' and questions have also been asked about whether there are any Thals on the planet at this time.

This issue therefore has at least two levels. On one level, the audience is invited to ask, was the Doctor right to wipe out the Daleks (or at least, Davros' Daleks) and on another, was he right to destroy an entire world? There is, ultimately, no easy answer. Back when I reviewed 'Genesis of the Daleks', a story in which the Doctor balks at committing genocide by wiping out the Daleks, I argued that whereas many so-called Doctor Who monsters are races of people with individual motivations and the possibility of redemption, the Daleks are, literally, Monsters. Back when Terry Nation created them, he used them as metaphors for nuclear Armageddon and later drew obvious parallels between the Daleks and Nazis. During the intervening years, they have remained as potent a force for evil as they were back then to such an extent that I have in the past likened them to Smallpox, a destructive force inimical to human life that many people would have no qualms about eradicating. So personally, I have no moral objection to the Doctor attempting to wipe them out; even more than this, I have stated in the past that I think the Doctor was wrong in 'Genesis of the Daleks'. 

The destruction of Skaro is more complicated. The Imperial Daleks seen here are suggested to be at the height of their powers; they have returned to their ancestral seat, they have an impressive mother ship capable of destroying entire planets, and they seemingly travel through time with ease. This being the case, I find it very hard to believe that Skaro, at the time in which it is destroyed, is still inhabited by Thals. As for the rock leopards, whilst as a fan I find the changes and additions made to Doctor Who television stories when they were novelized interesting, I strongly object to the suggestion that they should be taken into account when considering the relative merits of a television story; these stories were aimed at a wider audience than simply hard core fans, and should stand or fall on their own merits. Thus, there is little to suggest to in 'Remembrance of the Daleks' that Skaro is anything other than the radioactive rubble-strewn wasteland seen in 'Destiny of the Daleks'. The problem is however, that I'm not sure; I'm not absolutely convinced that there is nothing living on Skaro other than the Daleks, or for that matter on the other five planets in the system seen on the star map in the Dalek shuttle. It has also been pointed out that Davros chooses to use the Hand whether the Doctor goads him into it or not; critics have suggested that the Doctor could have warned him of the consequences of doing so instead of just asking him not to use, but this doesn't really make sense, since Davros would probably have still taken the Hand away with him and spent time trying to reprogram it (and possibly succeeding). Again however, the issue is far from clear-cut. And that, ultimately, is what fascinates me about 'Remembrance of the Daleks'. Suddenly, the Doctor has an edge to him, he has become proactive in a far more ruthless and dangerous way than anything we have seen before, even in the first three stories at the dawn of the series. Whatever knowledge he has beforehand, what we see is a Doctor who has considered the odds and has decided that the destruction of an entire solar system is worthwhile if it wipes out or at least severely cripples the Dalek race. Anyone who considers the Doctor a cut and dried Hero is undoubtedly going to have problems with this, just as they would have problems with the Doctor's actions in the New Adventures 'Love and war', 'Blood Heat' and 'Zamper' (to name but three examples), but I find morally dubious "heroes" vastly more interesting than clear cut "good guys". My final word on this issue is that, whatever else you might think about it, the strength of 'Remembrance of the Daleks' is that, fifteen years on it can still provoke fierce debate. 

So what of the rest of 'Remembrance of the Daleks', outside of that controversial sequence towards the end of Episode Four? The story has many good points. For one thing, the immediate effect of the Cartmel Masterplan is evident from the start, as the Doctor spends the story making sure that the correct Dalek faction gets the Hand of Omega and tries to limit the number of people killed in the crossfire. In amongst this, we have intriguing hints that we don't, after all, know everything about the Doctor, as he implies that he may have worked with Omega and Rassilon (incidentally, there is a deleted scene from Episode Four included on the DVD, in which he tells Davros that he is "far more than just another Time Lord"). The Doctor's alien nature is suddenly re-emphasized to powerful effect, and Sylvester McCoy responds with a performance here that is virtually flawless. During the scenes set in the Junkyard in Totter's Lane in Episode One, he makes quite asides such as "humans" and "what a predictable response" and inherent in those lines is something darker than what we are used to, as the Doctor stands in judgement of his favourite species. McCoy packs real emotion into those lines, which considering some of the oft-mentioned limitations of his acting skills is hugely impressive. The strengths of McCoy's acting are emphasized instead, so that we get a Doctor who charms his way into the confidence of Rachael and Allison, gains the trust of Group Captain Gilmore and alternates between deadly serious and clownish buffoonery. There is a magnificent scene in Episode Two as he discusses the nature of consequence with Joseph Marcell's John, and aside from being a beautifully scripted scene that foreshadows the events to come, it shows McCoy at his best; the Doctor seems genuinely exhausted by the stress of what he is doing when he first sits down at the counter and orders tea. 

McCoy's acting only even begins to touch on cringe-worthy during his confrontation with Davros in Episode Four, as he over does the Doctor's "unlimited rice pudding" goading to a level that should make it obvious even to the over-excited and emotional Davros that he is up to something. Terry Molloy's performance here as Davros is also occasionally criticized for being over-the-top, but personally I've never had a problem with Molloy's performance as Davros in any of his four stories to date. Whilst Davros is undoubtedly a genius, he's also undoubtedly insane; it has been pointed out that it is astonishingly stupid of him to use the Hand of Omega so quickly after having obtained it and in a fit of pique, but to me it seems perfectly in character, as he's easily arrogant and volatile enough to believe that he can indeed "handle the technology", and Molloy's ranting and cackling reflects the fact that he's literally almost gibbering with excitement at the prospect of gaining total mastery over time. 

I also, for the most part, like what Aaronovitch does with the Daleks here. It has been pointed out that the Daleks here are at there most clichéd, doing little except spouting "Exterminate!" at every opportunity and this is not entirely untrue, but coupled with that is the fact that Aaronovitch makes them seem truly dangerous again. Not since the Troughton era has a single Dalek presented such a potent threat as the one in Totter's Lane in Episode One, as it holds an entire squadron of soldiers at bay, killing two of them without receiving so much as a scratch in return. It takes the Doctor, armed with Ace's nitro nine, to deal with this lone Dalek where grenades in a confined space fail, and lines such as "that's just the point Group Captain, it isn't even remotely human" reinforce the danger of the Daleks in relatively subtle ways. Andrew Morgan's direction also helps; the Dalek point of view seen twice in Episode One is quiet impressive, but the Episode One cliffhanger as a Dalek glides up some stairs towards the Doctor is worth the license fee alone. Having said which, it is slightly undermined by the fact that a slight blow to the stomach leaves Ace apparently unconscious rather than, say, winded and clutching her stomach. At the end of the day, it is a blatant crowd-pleasing gesture, but I'm not going to lie and pretend that it doesn't make me grin from ear-to-ear every time I watch it. Especially in the company of non-fans. There are other examples of this; the Daleks here were all newly built props, and they look great. Some critics have complained that they wobble too much on location, but I don't especially care. I also love the Dalek battle in Episode Four, especially the Special Weapons Dalek, which is pure gimmickry but which I'm not afraid to admit gives me a cheap fanboy thrill. 

Other aspects of Aaronovitch's scripting of the Daleks are, again, more controversial. The Daleks have been the living embodiment of racism since at least 'The Daleks Invasion of Earth' (and arguably 'The Mutants'), but some fans have complained that the supposed reasons for their civil war (that they are into racial purity and that Davros has been mutating his Daleks further) contradicts 'Revelation of the Daleks', in which the Daleks from Skaro intend to recondition Davros' new breed of Daleks to obey the Supreme Dalek. In fact, the racial purity aspect is only hypothesized by Ace on screen, and is not confirmed by the Doctor or Daleks; nevertheless, it is consistent here with the old comparison that Nation used between the Daleks and Nazis, and as such it makes sense. Ironically, what rankles me far more and which rarely gets mentioned is the battle computer, which the Daleks need because they're dependent on rationality and logic. The Daleks were never portrayed as creatures of logic until 'Destiny of the Daleks', with examples of Daleks losing their temper or panicking scattered throughout the series and just as I hated this development in 'Destiny of the Daleks' I hate it here too. The other problem with the Daleks here is that on at least two occasions their actions don't entirely make sense. At the generally rather impressive Episode Two cliffhanger they spend too long chanting "Exterminate!" at Ace without actually killing her, and at the end of Episode Four the Doctor's ability to talk the Black Dalek to death doesn't make tremendous sense either. I only really understand these scenes with certainty because I've read the novelisation, and that is no more excusable here than it was for the rationale behind the silly Episode One cliffhanger in 'Dragonfire'. Having said that, I do rather like the idea of the Doctor talking a Dalek to death, simply because I find it to be a vaguely amusing conceit.

Inevitably with Season Twenty-Five, we have the problem of Ace. Sophie Aldred's performance is as stilted and self-conscious as usual, and the character continues to fail to work, again failed with such crass dialogue as "You toerag. You lying, stinking scumbag". On the other hand, the character works far better here than in 'Dragonfire', partly because Aaronovitch gives her plenty to do. The scene in which Ace beats up a Dalek with a baseball bat is woeful, but the cliffhanger ending to Episode Two as she is chased through the school is impressive. Then there is Ace's relationship with Mike; her attraction to Mike brings out her best side, as she flirts with him and tries to impress him, which gives way to anger when she discovers that he has betrayed the Doctor by working for Ratcliffe. More important though is what Mike represents. In contrast to the rabidly xenophobic Daleks, Mike's inherent racism is a banal, institutionalized affair, seeming petty even in contrast to that of Nazi-sympathizer Ratcliffe. Mike is, for the most part, likeable, and although it isn't explicitly stated, the impression is given that he has inherited his racism from his mum, who has a sign with "No coloureds" written on it hanging in the window of her bed and breakfast, and also from Ratcliffe, who he obviously admires and respects (incidentally, there is a deleted scene present on the DVD in which he worries that Ace is foreign, an attitude that gains him a look of contempt from Rachel). The importance of this to Ace is that instead of ranting unsubtly against the racism represented by the Daleks, which she thinks are into racial purity, her disgust at the attitudes of Mike and his mother are far more subtly revealed. When she finds the sign in the window of the bed and breakfast, she stares at it in disbelief and goes out for some fresh air; later, when Mike is trying to justify his actions, he gets as far as saying "You have to look after your own" before she tells him to shut up. Thus, we learn a great deal about Ace's character from two simple, underplayed scenes, and for all that she is a dreadful actress, Aldred handles them well. 

'Remembrance of the Daleks' benefits a great deal from decent characters and acting. Pamela Salem's Rachel Jensen is a great character, a frustrated scientist fed tidbits of information by the vastly more knowledgeable Doctor; she constantly tries to tease further bits of information out of him about the alien technology that she witnesses, only to be told that humanity isn't ready for it yet. Group Captain Gilmore is in a similar position, since the Doctor knows what is going on but tells him as little as possible and tries to keep him and his men safely out of the way. Nevertheless, he comes to trust the Doctor, eventually telling him, "only a fool argues with his Doctor" as he realises that he is hopelessly out of his depth. Simon Williams is superb in the part, keeping a stiff upper lip at all times in a role obviously reminiscent of the Brigadier (which the Doctor mistakenly calls him at one point). Then there is George Sewell's Ratcliffe, an unpleasant man who clearly believes that the ends justifies his means and has no qualms about bringing war down on London, and who naturally learns never to trust a Dalek, going the way of most Dalek allies… We also get relatively brief but dependable performances from Doctor Who stalwarts Michael Sheard and Peter Halliday, and an impressively creepy turn from Jasmine Breaks as the girl wired into the Dalek battle computer.

Finally, the production is very impressive. Andrew Morgan does a fine job of directing, and there are numerous nice touches including the ominous pre-credits sequence at the start of Episode One and the Dalek shuttle landing, which is astonishingly well done. As usual with Doctor Who, the extensive location work looks great, despite the occasional glimpse of an anachronistic building, and Martin Collins studio sets blend seamlessly with the location footage to the extent that I must admit it was a long time before I even realised that the school interiors were actually studio sets. And incredibly, astonishing though it may be, Kef McCulloch produces a half-decent incidental score. It is by no means perfect and there are some horrible drum machine fills on scenes that don't need them, but for the most part it more or less works. I should also say that I like the links to the series past, which are unobtrusive but provide some nice touches to mark the twenty-fifth season; the story is of course set in the same area of London and the same year as the very first episode of Doctor Who, with the junkyard at Totter's Lane and Coal Hill School featuring prominently, but there are also other touches such as the book on the French Revolution that Susan borrows in '100,000BC', plus the fact that as Ace is leaving the bed and breakfast, a new science fiction series is about to begin on BBC1. The Discontinuity Guide rather spoils the fun of this last point by explaining in painful detail why it can't actually be Doctor Who, but we all know damn well what the production team intended…

This then, is 'Remembrance of the Daleks', a story that has proved rather controversial over the years but one which I never fail to enjoy. With debates about the morality of the Doctor's actions here continuing to arise periodically the story's prominence is likely to endure; ultimately, for me, the worst thing that can be said about it is that it inspired 'War of the Daleks'. 

Filters: Television Seventh Doctor Series 25

Season twenty five is considered by most fans to be a huge leap forward in terms of quality over the seventh Doctors debut season. Indeed, it is hard to imagine most fans finding a season that isn’t a considerable leap forward in quality over season twenty four. I’ve often found myself defending season twenty four against some of its harsher detractors, but even I have to admit McCoy’s debut season was deeply damaging to the shows reputation, with many people thinking of all late eightiesDoctor Who as a ‘silly pantomime’ as a direct result of some of season twenty fours sillier moments. Many people still believe season twenty five and to a lesser extent twenty six could be accurately described in such a derogatory way. However, I think that this does everyone involved in the production of the Doctors last two seasons a great disservice, especially those who worked on ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’. 

In the lead up to ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ airing my dad would try and get me all worked up over the reappearance of the Daleks. I had no idea what they were, and as a five year old I would call them ‘Garlic’s’! I was eagerly awaiting Doctor Who to make its return. To my young eyes Doctor Who during this period was the greatest thing ever. ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ had a lot to do with this. Years later I would only remember a few strong images of Doctor Who, and most of these were of ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’. 

Anyway, enough of the history lesson, it is now time for me to explain, after repeated viewings on video and now DVD, why I love this story so much. I mentioned before that a couple of years after the show got axed and before I started buying the VHS tapes only a few images of Doctor Who remained with me. The main image that stuck with me was of the Daleks themselves. It is easy to look at them with older eyes and laugh at their pepper pot design, but to a young child these monsters must look so different to anything else, their shape and form lodges itself inside your subconscious. That is what makes them so effective. Yes, they speak in an extremely memorable fashion and “exterminate” everything that moves, but it is the look of them that makes them what they are. And so I come to my first giant tick in favour of ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’, the Daleks themselves. These chaps can now levitate, enabling them to travel up stairs! No one trying to take the piss out of the Doctors deadliest enemies can now say to get away from them all you need to do is “go up some stairs”. Actually, this wasn’t the first time a hovering Dalek was seen. In season twenty two’s ‘Revelation of the Daleks’ Davros – not technically a Dalek, but you know what I mean - could levitate, but here you knew what kind of a reaction from the viewing public the production team were after. The Daleks also fire extremely effective ‘laser bolts’ (for want of a better expression), and the effect of which is shown in episode one when the army squad is fighting the Dalek trapped at Trotters Lane. He is flung backwards with great force when struck in an impressive stunt. This is much more effective than the rubbish weapons the Daleks had during the sixties and seventies. They can also call upon the Special Weapons Dalek in battle. During the battle sequence between the two Dalek factions this thing rolls up into position and blows away the opposition. I quite like the idea of different Daleks designed for different battlefield roles. 

‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ is also memorable for containing some tightly directed action scenes. Two immediately spring to mind, with the first being Ace’s battle with the imperial Dalek squad inside the school. Often in Doctor Who action scenes are handled poorly, but this little sequence is expertly handled and shows that even on a small budget, if you get enough talented people working together behind and in front of the cameras anything is possible. The second action scene that I feel is worthy of special praise is the Dalek battle between the renegades and the imperials that I mentioned above. What makes this look so great is simply the pyrotechnics on display. Effective video effects make the blasts from Dalek weaponry look great and the explosions used here are impressive. It makes other Dalek action scenes from the shows history look pretty unspectacular by comparison. 

Ben Aarnovitch has crafted a story that is both at times quite complex and yet is also easy to simply sit back and enjoy. That this adventure can work on these two levels is a credit to the writer. He seems to have a knack for writing great scenes for the Doctor. The much discussed café scene immediately springs to mind, but the Doctor/Davros confrontation at the end of episode four is also highly effective. More on this later. 

The plot, as I’m sure many of you reading this are aware, is the same one later used in Kevin Clarke’s ‘Silver Nemesis’, but I could hardly criticise this serial in regards to that, simply because ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ came first. Actually, the fact that these two writers used a very similar plotline illustrates what a fine writer Aarnovitch is. Whereas in ‘Silver Nemesis’ Clarke has the Doctor going from one location to another giving the different parts of the Nemesis to different groups in a linear, flat, dull manner, Aarnovitch manages to inject some sense of adventure into what is essentially a standard Doctor Who run around. After bashing ‘Silver Nemesis’, I’ll quickly say that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Just go and read my review of it. 

Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred work well as a pair here, in what is their first story together as Doctor/companion. McCoy, especially, looks a lot more comfortable in the lead role here than at any point during the previous season. ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ is one of the few Doctor Who stories where none of the supporting cast lets the side down. Simon Williams as Group Captain ‘Chunky’ Gilmore is particularly memorable, and brings a real air of authority to the role. Other memorable characters include scientist Rachel Jansen, ably played by Pamela Salem and Ratcliff, who is played by George Sewell.

‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ is perhaps the only story after ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ where Davros is used effectively. When the imperial Dalek is finally revealed to be Davros, it may not be as much of a surprise as intended, but it is certainly a dramatic moment. The confrontation at the end of episode four between the Doctor and Davros is occasionally criticised for the moment when the Doctor, mocking Davros, says “…unimaginable power, unlimited rice pudding!” However, the Doctor was trying to goad Davros into using the Hand of Omega (which of course the Doctor had pre-programmed to strike Skaros’ sun) and so I don’t have a problem with this. In fact this confrontation is well handled by the crew and the actors, and is a fine climax to the story. 

Now, no review of this story would be complete without comment on one of the most fiercely debated moments throughout all of Doctor Who’s long history; the moment the Doctor uses the Omega device to turn Skaros’ sun supernova, thereby destroying Skaro, the Daleks home planet. The main problem I have with this is that the seventh Doctor seems positively ‘anti-violence’ when up close and personal with it, and yet when he is distanced from the consequences of violent actions he has no moral problems destroying entire fleets of ships or entire solar systems, as happened in ‘Silver Nemesis’ and here in ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’, respectively. He is something of a modern politician in that if put into the frontlines would probably desert, and yet has no problem initiating wars, where tens of thousands will die, from a distance. 

‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ is not perfect. I mentioned before how effectively the Daleks are used in this story, however they do have a nasty tendency to wobble. Also worthy of mention is the Keff McCulloch score. Whilst probably his best work on the series can be found in this serial, he still manages to cock things up by using far too many horrible eighties sounding drum fills. 

In closing, ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ is a fine addition to Dalek history, being well written, acted and directed. It is not often that these factors came together as sublimely as they did here during the shows history, especially through the seventh Doctors era. It may have divided fandom, but ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ will always reside in my top ten Doctor Who stories of all time.

Filters: Television Seventh Doctor Series 25

"That would be... another Dalek?" asks Ace.

"Yeeeessss," mutters the Doctor darkly, his eyes darting momentarily deeper into the cellar.

The Dalek in question emerges from silently from the darkness. Spotting the intruders it screams in metallic rage.

"Stop! You are the enemy of the Daleks! You must be exterminated!"

"The stairs!" calls the Doctor, Ace ascending two at a time. The Doctor, in his haste, trips on the first step, which eats up valuable seconds.

At the top, Ace collides with the sinister Headmaster. He brings up his knee, winding her.

The door to the cellar slams shut.

The Doctor bangs on it desperately. "Ace!" he cries.

The Dalek continues its climb up the stairs, a ring of energy propelling it relentlessly upwards.

"You are the Doctor! You are the enemy of the Daleks! You will be exterminated!" it screams.

The Doctor's terrified expression fills the Dalek's crosshairs.

And then the credits roll.

I'm fairly sure that's not exactly as it happens, but it is the way I remember it.

Every fan has a moment in their life where Doctor Who stops being simply a "programme what I watch," to meaning something more. Well this was my moment. Everything that came after: BBC video collections; New Adventures; conventions; fandom can be traced back to a couple of minutes of television footage broadcast way back in October 1988. It's why I'm here, now, writing this review.

I feel intensely fortunate to have jumped aboard the good ship Doctor Who at this point in its history - just when it was about to get good again. At the time of course, I didn't know this, didn't know that my love affair was about to sink just 28 episodes later and didn't know anything about the 24 years of history. Oh, parents and grandparents would talk about Jamie or William Hartnell or hiding behind the sofa but these are things that are irrelevant when you're 8 years old and the Doctor has just blown up a Dalek with Ace's Nitro-9.

There's a reviewer on these pages, Joe Ford, and I must confess to loving his reviews. (If you're reading this Joe - hello.) He seems to retain the same boyish enthusiasm for Doctor Who that I'd like to think I do myself, but for Colin's Doctor. I'd guess this means he's but a slip older than I am 'cos let me tell all those naysayers who tiresomely bang on about Hinchcliffe or Season 5 all the time that when I was 8 and seasons 25 and 26 were on they were just fantastic.

When Ace gets all excited at watching the military fire grenades into the lean-to I was getting all excited too! Then the soldier gets shot through the air with a fizzy green skeleton effect and the Dalek gets blown up. Hell, even the barrels getting knocked over seemed the height of televisual excellence. But if the Dalek getting blown up wasn't enough, over the course of the next three episodes the explosions get bigger and bigger and bigger thanks to super-powered baseball bats, the special weapon Dalek (which was the coolest thing, like... ever) and remote stellar manipulators. (As a bloke, and I think I speak for most of us here, we like to see things get blown up on screen. I'm not sure why but I suspect it's genetic). And most importantly, to my wide-eyed 8 year old self - it all made perfect sense.

Looking back now, it still makes sense to me. I'm still a little vexed by the brouhaha that insists Remembrance, like Ghostlight, is incomprehensible without repeat viewing. If you'll allow me to digress for a moment, I'm sure I'll eventually get around to my point.

There's a story that is probably apocryphal, about a fan telling Cartmel to look at Talons and a couple of other stories that dear Tim Munro from DWB would consider 'real Doctor Who' and having some kind of Damascene conversion. It's always struck me that one of the first things any incoming script editor/producer/production designer would do is look at some past serials from different eras to gauge relative successes and failures; don't forget that there's now a nine month break between seasons so there's even less reason for Cartmel et al not to do this. What in God's name Saward was doing when he was given eighteen months to have a think is anyone's guess? (I apologise if I use any chance I get to bash season 23 but frankly it deserves it. Saward can have no excuses. I'm still gobsmacked that in the DWM interview he wasn't asked what the hell he did in that enforced sabbatical. Inventing the Trial format on the back of a fag packet it seemed!!! D'oh!!!) But anyway, Cartmel wasn't alone in doing some homework; the break has clearly done McCoy the world of good, while Andrew Morgan shoots the Daleks from the same low angles that David Maloney was using 13 years previously.

But to return to the "incomprehensible" stick that's wheeled out like some batty old relative on day release from time to time, I think that Cartmel's real change is in his approach to the narrative. He effectively junks his part one and starts his narratives from part two. So whilst in previous eras we would have seen the Doctor reprogramming the Hand of Omega or carving the chess pieces from bones in Fenric, here we're as much in the dark about the Doctor's motives as the supporting cast. Don't however think that this hasn't been done before; Williams and Read pulled the same stunt in The Invasion of Time, but that of course has Tom Baker in it so it is almost a "classic" by default. By the same token, imagine Talons where the Doctor (pre-serial) witnessed Greel's escape from the 51st Century to the 19th; the plot wouldn't change but for a couple of lines in episode 5 where Tom would reveal that he was trying to hunt Greel down from the very beginning (much like the Doctor's throwaway line to much that effect in Greatest Show). Come on people, I wouldn't have thought that the watching fan-audience needed it spelled out all the time!

I have no problem with a little bit of innovation and in Remembrance it goes a hell of a long way. I'll happily claim that this is the best serial of the 1980s UP TO THIS POINT. It's practically a Tim Burton-esque re-imagining while at the same time reaffirming the Doctor's position as an outsider. To do this it goes back to where it all started - 76 Totter's Lane. Unlike the TARDIS's last appearance there in Attack of the Cybermen, this piece of continuity does not feel gratuitous, in fact it's there because the Totter's Lane site is integral to the plot and so that Cartmel and Aaronovitch can expressly subvert our expectations of it. Same too is Gilmore's presence a nod to UNIT and the Brigadier, but this isn't the cosy Pertwee set up; the seventh Doctor does not need the army in the way that Pertwee did - by virtue of his exile - and in fact resents their presence.

He doesn't try to get to know Gilmore, appease him or even offer him any explanations (in fact, anyone looking for explanations from this Time Lord should join the end of the queue), all he does is remind him how gloriously out of his depth he is. The Doctor should count himself lucky that Professor Jensen concedes that point at the first sign of 'death ray' because Gilmore seems on the verge of having the wee man shot. This is the 'new' seventh Doctor in a nutshell, a much more dangerous and sinister figure - he doesn't sit everyone round a projector in a darkened pub to talk about "HORNS!" and generally exposit the plot because he doesn't need to. He's not trying to win them over; he just wants them out of the way and despite his best efforts the military find themselves relying on the little Time Lord more and more over the course of the serial.

I love this incarnation of the Doctor. I like having this wall built between him and the audience. The lauded café scene is the only moment in the four episodes where the Doctor actually lets his guard down, and as such seems all the more beautiful and intimate for it. And of course this paves the way for the first proactive companion since Romana. Regardless of Sophie Aldred's acting ability, the character of Ace is a breath of fresh air after six years of Adrics, Nyssas, Peris and Mels. Ace's ability to carry a subplot on her own becomes increasingly important over the next two years as focus shifts ever so slightly away from the Doctor. Don't be fooled into thinking that this incarnation of the title character becomes sidelined in his own series however; he snaps the focus back so quick you can almost feel it across your knuckles.

I love Ace. She leaps through windows. She attacks a Dalek with an atomic baseball bat. And did I mention she blows things up?

I love these Daleks. Regardless of the "cobble-wobbling" the Daleks have not looked this good since Death to the Daleks. The twenty-year-old casings that the Beeb had been re-using ad infinitum looked shabby by Destiny; by Revelation they are absolutely atrocious. I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong but I think there's only one of the battered old casings here and it still sticks out like a sore thumb. But I can excuse the one sh*te casing 'cos in exchange we get the Special Weapons Dalek. We can all breathe a sigh of relief that the budget wouldn't stretch to a floating weapons platform really because the Special Weapons Dalek is a joy. Although it begs the question - why don't all of the Daleks look so battle-scarred? For me it makes them far more "solid" and far less like pieces of moulded fibreglass. And it blows things up in a really spectacular fashion. Why aren't all explosions in Doctor Who as good as the one that demolishes the gates to Radcliffe's yard?

If you've got the impression from this overwhelming positivity that this is my favourite Doctor Who serial of all time, you're wrong - it isn't. But it is where my love affair began and as such holds a special place in my heart. Oh, and did I mention the explosions?

Filters: Television Seventh Doctor Series 25

I don't want to be a McCoy basher... I really want to like his version of Doctor Who, and I do on several levels. Though I do find less to like in his three years on the show, his acting included. 

Back in the late eighties and early nineties when all I had were a few Doctor Whos from the eighties that I had taped off PBS (and I was younger and less critical) it was easy to like Sylvester McCoy. I didn't have much to compare him to apart from some Davison stories and most of Colin Baker's run. Fifteen years on, I have just about every episode and have come to the conclusion that yes, the program lost its way in the last four years or so. It went from a dramatic program to some odd mix of lightness/faux-drama and staginess. It certainly amped up the juvenile antics and silliness. I watched Remembrance of the Daleks the other night, and it merely drove this point home. 

The three Dalek stories of the eighties are a variable lot. Resurrection and Revelation are both almost unrelentingly grim, and consequently difficult for me to enjoy. Revelation is the better of the two plot-wise, but is so depressing to watch that I don't want to watch it again (and find the critical acclaim for it baffling). In contrast to those two stories, Remembrance of the Daleks is much lighter and far more enjoyable, but it comes with the curse of the McCoy years: sloppy or hurried editing, characters who have very artificial dialogue and who do inexplicable things, and lots of self-referential scenes or lines. 

The basic plot is sound enough. The Doctor has left a Gallifreyan stellar manipulator on earth in 1963, which the Daleks want. They pursue him there, and attempt to retrieve it. Things get complicated because two factions of Daleks want the weapon. The Doctor runs around trying to keep the humans from dying so he can spring his trap. Simple, right? 

Except that I can't picture Hartnell's Doctor taking the stellar manipulator with him when he went on the run. It makes his (presumably stealthy) theft of his TARDIS and escape from Gallifrey far more problematic. Furthermore, why remove it from the TARDIS and leave it at an undertaker's where it is surely less secure than it would be inside his ship? Why bury it in the graveyard, mock graveside service and all? And if there was a good reason for removing the Hand of Omega from Gallifrey (which can't have been to trap the Daleks, since he hadn't encountered them yet in his first incarnation), why send it back to Gallifrey at the end of the story? And it's nearly impossible to accept the Doctor destroying Skaro and Skaro's solar system considering the animal life or Thals that might have been living there. Hadn't he just been tried for genocide two seasons earlier? These questions undermine the plot. 

As for the Doctor, Sylvester McCoy simply does not have the gravitas or presence to carry off the part. I felt that way when I first heard that he was replacing Colin Baker. I've grown more accepting of his portrayal of the Doctor, but he just is not believable as someone who can project an air of authority and control a situation. His delivery of many lines is cringe worthy if we're expected to take him seriously, apart from times when he's in a quiet contemplative mood. He's very good in those scenes, of which the cafe discussion with Harry is a good example. Most other lines are just ... stagy, for want of a better term, or exaggerated. Consider "Little green blobs in bonded polycarbide armor" which he spits out horribly, or "That ship has weapons that could crack this planet open like an egg", a supposedly doom-laden pronouncement that fails to impress. Contrast that with Pertwee's "Compared to the forces you people have unleashed, an atomic blast would be like a summer breeze" from Inferno, or Troughton's "It will end the colony's problems because it will end the colony!" from Power of the Daleks. I know whom I'd take seriously. It's hard to accept McCoy as this dark, manipulative figure when you actually watch him perform. 

It's not that I dislike McCoy. He seems like a personable fellow. He's just all wrong for the part, and not an actor with great dramatic range. Neither is Sophie Aldred. Contrast them with the supporting actors who play Rachel, or Gilmore, and it becomes obvious that the two leads are the least convincing actors on the show. That being said, I like them both despite my criticisms and so I can watch Remembrance with the same rose-colored glasses I wear while watching any era of Doctor Who, but I find that I perhaps need thicker lenses. 

The Daleks alternate between impressive and sad. The single Dalek looks great while taking on the military in episode one. The Dalek who chases the Doctor up the stairs without shooting him, and then takes thirty seconds to break through the door to the cellar is just silly, and the Imperial Daleks who keep shooting the wall behind the gray Daleks in part four ought to be able to aim better considering that the two groups are about ten feet apart. On the other hand, the Daleks do benefit from the fact that Davros isn't revealed until the end of part four (though it's too bad he had to be brought back at all). And the voices sound great. 

I want to like this. I'm a Doctor Who fan who doesn't enjoy criticizing the show. I find that I do enjoy Remembrance of the Daleks more than either of its two predecessors, and it's not a bad story in it's own right, it's just flawed in a number of ways. It's enjoyable, but far inferior to the vast majority of stories and acting that preceded it, apart from season 24. Good fun if you don't look at it too closely.

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One of the best things about Remembrance of the Daleks is the pacing. Aside from a few breaks for character development and exposition on the background, this story does not stop moving. Now a story that doesn’t stop moving can be a bad thing, because it can result in a story that’s all flash but no substance – all plot but no reason to pay attention to the plot. But there are enough big ideas in Remembrance that it not only occupies the higher brain functions, but also ushers in a whole new conception of Doctor Who at the same time.

This story is most important for introducing a morally ambivalent side of The Doctor, as well as marking the beginning of the Cartmel Masterplan to bring a more ominous depth to The Doctor. This is perhaps a Doctor who has realized his error in not destroying the Daleks in Genesis of the Daleks. Or perhaps he realized what a time paradox that would create, since his own life was so intertwined with the Daleks anyway. And this isn’t just taken as a snap decision. The coffeeshop scene between The Doctor and Geoffrey from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air shows that The Doctor is very conflicted over his decision. He has determined that this is the right way to destroy the Daleks, when they are about to reach the height of their physical power in the universe. But he says, “Every decision creates ripples in time. The larger the decision, the greater the ripples.” He isn’t sure what results the destruction of Skaro is going to have. But no matter how much he doubts, his plan has already been set in motion, and so he has already forced himself merely to guide the action to its proper conclusion.

Ace also fares well in Remembrance of the Daleks. I’ve seen a lot of reviews on Outpost Gallifrey bemoaning her acting abilities, or lack thereof. But while she’s no Meryl Streep, she handles herself well when the material is good. She gets her fair share of action scenes, as does everyone else in this story. But it’s her quieter scenes where she fares best, in particular the scene where she discovers the ‘No Coloureds’ sign on Mrs. Smith’s bed & breakfast. Watch her face, and you can see how she goes from disbelief to disgust as she crosses the room to ask Mrs. Smith about the sign, then leaves before saying a word about it. 

I believe the best Doctor Who, as well as the best fiction in any medium, works best when its stories develop on multiple levels of meaning. Remembrance of the Daleks is one of the best examples of this in 1980s Who. The ‘No Coloureds’ scene is the centrepiece of the story’s treatment of the issue of racism. The emotional effect of that scene carries over into all the other mentions of racist and ethnocentric ideas in the story. Without this scene in mind, Ratcliffe would be little more than a stock neo-Nazi, and the same would go for Mike Smith. The very idea of racism disgusts Ace. What this scene does is show how ordinary people, like Mike’s little-old-lady mom, can develop notions that drive them, like Ratcliffe, to betray humanity. 

Ratcliffe is an idealist who has found, through his alliance with the renegade Daleks, what he thinks is a path to realizing his ideals. Ratcliffe’s and Mike’s shadowy Association is a precursor to the modern European National Front movements. Ratcliffe, really, is just a bitter war veteran who went against the grain of his people at the time. Mike Smith and his mother are just ordinary people who want to protect what they think is important about England. It’s this moral shortcoming that leads them to ally with the renegade Daleks, which of course, leads to their deaths. This other theme of Remembrance of the Daleks is extremely important to the success of the story, because it humanizes characters that could all too easily be stereotyped by a lesser writer.

As a sidenote, listening to the DVD commentary by Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, you learn that these two pivotal scenes were almost cut entirely by the production team, as they felt the scenes detracted from the action. Sylvester and Sophie demanded that they be kept in, and justified it to their bosses as merely giving the audience a breather. Though I haven’t heard John Nathan-Turner’s and director Andrew Morgan’s side of this story, this would indicate a near-total ignorance of the importance of in-depth character and thematic development for a good story. Doctor Who may have been a low budget science-fiction television serial, but that’s no reason to think of it as merely a kid’s adventure show. I see it as just another example of the same attitude that resulted in thousands of hours of classic BBC programming being consigned to the trash bins because they were just some old black and white prints of silly television shows like Quatermass, The Avengers, and Doctor Who.

Getting back to the story proper, I consider this Davros’ best outing since Genesis of the Daleks, since he appears so little. Davros here acts as the perfect counterpart to The Doctor, staying behind the scenes, using his Daleks to manipulate events to his own benefit. In the same way, The Doctor manipulates the Daleks for his own benefit. Some may call their confrontation at the end of the story over the top. But Terry Molloy’s Davros was the ultimate shouting nemesis in Doctor Who. I consider it quite fitting that The Doctor used Davros’ own short temper to destroy his home. I even named my blog ‘Unlimited Rice Pudding,’ I thought that scene was so cool.

Also cool is all the explosions in Remembrance, which just get wonderfully bigger and more spectacular as the story goes on. The Daleks get a pretty good showing here, though they still never matched the sheer menace they embodied in the Hartnell and Troughton days, or that they would embody in the Eccleston days (I mean day). The confrontation between the army and the Dalek at Totter’s Lane in episode one is one of the most gripping Dalek scenes of the decade. The little girl at the heart of the renegade Daleks’ battle computer is suitably weird, though her incidental music can grate on the ears sometimes. Keff McCulloch’s incidental music was far from the best of Doctor Who. Even the Davies series, while generally pretty awesome, has never equalled some of the creepy scores that Dudley Simpson used to write.

I have only two gripes with the way the Daleks are handled in Remembrance. One, of course, is the way The Doctor talks the renegade leader to death at the end. The Doctor and the Dalek come off as simply not saying enough. Having your home planet destroyed would probably make the average Dalek angrier, and few Daleks I’ve seen would self-destruct simply because something didn’t compute. If there was any good way to talk a Dalek to death, Rose Tyler did it in Dalek.

My second gripe is that the series never really explained the Dalek’s transformation from psychopathic killing machines to psychopathic killing machines dependent on logic. I’ve come up with sort of an explanation, but it probably won’t satisfy most of the truly angry among fandom for the logicising of the Daleks. In Evil of the Daleks back in 1967, the Dalek Factor was established as a propensity to obey without question the orders of a superior. I can imagine a state existing among Dalek society when even their leaders asked themselves, “Who should I obey?” And the best answer they could come up with was logic. I think the real world problem might originally have been the the writer of Destiny of the Daleks, where all this logic stuff was first dreged up, thought the Daleks were just robots, so made them logic-dependent for their larger plans. Thankfully, the Daleks have regained some independence of thought under Russell T. Davies’ stweardship. But other than these minor quibbles, this is the best Dalek story of the decade.

To round off, the supporting characters work quite well in the story. Group Captain Gilmore’s group is clearly a UNIT predecessor, and the relationship between Gilmore and his scientific advisers Rachel Jensen and Allison mimics closely the early Brigadier/Doctor relationship from season 7. There’s a grudging respect, but still a considerable difference in methods. Watching the banter between these three, and their growing trust in and reliance upon The Doctor provides some of the funniest moments in the story. It makes them quite well-rounded and interesting characters. I always laugh at Rachel and Allison griping that The Doctor’s idea of needing their help involved lifting a television set down to the school’s cellar so he could hook it up to the Dalek transmat. And as Group Captain Gilmore says, “Only a fool doesn’t listen to his Doctor.” I’d certainly trust these three to defend Britian from alien attack. Granted, this is partially because I live in Canada, which aliens tend to ignore in Doctor Who.

Last note – Mike Smith > Mickey Smith? Could Russell T. Davies be drawing some kind of parallel between the two? Perhaps he’s trying to make some kind of point about the impossibility of The Doctor’s companions forming stationary relationships. Or perhaps it’s just a coincidence. I think it more likely that he’s trying to provoke hardcore fans into making near-groundless connections like these for no real reason. Joke’s on us, then.

Filters: Television Seventh Doctor Series 25

Some people embrace Conventional Fan Wisdom wholesale, and others are fanatically opposed to it. Whichever camp you belong to, there’s always one story that you genuinely and without bias feel is misrepresented, either in a positive or negative way. There are always a couple you secretly like (The Dominators, anyone?) but I’m talking about real fiery vehemence here. My story of this kind is Remembrance Of The Daleks, a dreadful, crudely made noise-fest that stands as Doctor Who’s most overrated story. I’ve been looking forward to reviewing it, as this is my chance to set my opinions out properly.

The odd thing about it though is that it doesn’t begin that badly; in fact it begins with the best pre-titles sequence of them all (and The Unquiet Dead’s was pretty good). It then leads into some reasonable location work that is often praised for its gritty realism – but so what? Doctor Who has always looked great on location. The only example of bad location shooting I can think of off the top of my head is…this story, in fact, when amazingly anachronistic buildings can be seen in some of the shots.

The scenes set in Coal Hill School are an indulgence; it’s not the best example, but continuity is a big problem in this episode, which comes at a time when the programme was improving in that department. Here we have several old locations visited and many old stories referenced, and in many cases these are used to ground plot points like the fact that the Doctor knows his way round the Totter’s Lane junkyard. This is exactly the kind of thing that Attack Of The Cybermen gets criticised for (in terms of tone and production it is Remembrance Of The Daleks’s closest relative), and yet this one gets off scot-free. Ben Aaronovitch takes certain liberties with established rules, a big one being that ghetto blasters playing Guns ‘n’ Roses in 1963 are a Bad Idea. Why would the Doctor even let Ace remove it from the TARDIS in the first place? It performs no plot function; it is merely a bland and watery attempt to sketch in Ace’s characterisation as a ‘rebel girl’.

On the subject of Ace, Sophie Aldred is very poor in her second story. Her performance is wooden and bland (at least she had some energy in Dragonfire), and she and McCoy have no rapport whatsoever (fortunately this would improve over time). In fact, the majority of the actors in this story are poor: McCoy seems uncertain about how to deliver many of his lines, and the guests are almost uniformly dreadful. Simon Williams and Dursley McLinden are two planks in a pod as Gilmore and Mike respectively, Terry Molloy hams it up like a mental patient, and then of course there is Jasmine Breaks. I know she was only a child, but she drags down even further every scene she’s in. Mike’s conversation with Harry the café owner is painful in its tweeness, and when Harry says “I had enough of that during the war” - as if he still relates every event of his ongoing life to it twenty years on – you can almost hear the ‘Crowbar In Period Detail’ box being ticked. The one exception to this is Pamela Salem, who nevertheless has to struggle against some poor lines.

The scene in the playground is nicely atmospheric, but is let down by the interminable Breaks. At this stage though the story is not terrible, merely bland, and if it carried on like this it might just scrape and average. After this we get to Totter’s Yard, for an annoying and destructive piece of continuity. Why should the Dalek be snooping around there? When was the Doctor there? Yes, I know, but I’m talking about the dwindling audience here. It does begin dramatically though, with the unseen enemy (if only it stayed like that) trapped and the soldiers keeping their distance. It is here that the characters start to become annoying: the Doctor’s line of “what a predictable response” is so one-dimensional that I’m in serious danger of a paper-cut from it. All the characters may as well have signs – I’m the anarchist, I’m the pacifist, I’m that rationalist, and so forth – such is the rudimentary nature of their roles. Karen Gledhill as Alison is certainly eye candy but she’s a bit of a waste of space really; she performs the same role as Rachel, as if Salem’s character had just reproduced by splitting down the middle. Really she is just making up the Totty Tally; this story tries and fails to be a blockbuster, which is a bit of a rubbish genre anyway.

The Dalek fires, and completely manages to miss Mike. Get used to this, because there is going to be a lot of it. However, this being a Ben Aaronovitch episode, it does explode some barrels rather impressively; the pyrotechnics are the best thing about this episode. The actual introduction of the Dalek is well directed by Andrew Morgan, but the Dalek itself is dreadful. It looks like it’s made of moulded plastic, it’s head and eye hardly moves, and watching it wobble about on even a flat surface trashes their credibility completely, it having been carefully restored in their previous story. Also of note is the Dalek’s complete inability to hit even stationary targets; this will be taken to truly ridiculous extremes throughout the story. It is a mark of a bad writer that Aaronovitch backs himself into a corner where he has to repeatedly contrive a reason why the Dalek can’t kill anyone.

The potted history of the Daleks in the van is also unnecessary, and McCoy and Aldred have all the charisma of a bowl of semolina. And not even warm semolina, either. When they reach the school though it is good to see a cameo from the ever-popular Michael Sheard. However, the Doctor going on about “great evils” to total strangers is clumsy and irritating.

The interior sets are good, and in fact better than the location scenes, which is extremely unusual. The French Revolution reference back to the opening episode is quite sickeningly smarmy; on it’s own it gets by, but given that another two stories are referenced in that same scene its smugness becomes oppressive. I’m only one episode in and I’m sick of it.

The transmat in the cellar is a great piece of special effects but is misconceived from the start: its only purpose is to set up the Daleks climbing stairs. This is often called a defining moment for the show, but really it’s one of the stories lowest points: for a start it’s a massive in-joke and nothing more, and it would have been better to just leave it at the Dalek climbing stairs later as it chases Ace. Secondly it is so badly written that it epitomises what is wrong with this story. The Dalek chases the Doctor up the stairs, chanting “exterminate” over and over and over again. Outside, Ace has a fight with the headmaster and overpowers him, before opening the door. The Dalek is still just sitting there repeating its catchphrase; it’s only once the Doctor and Ace are long gone that it actually gets round to firing (what was it doing?). It is possibly one of the worst executed scenes ever, and turns the Daleks into total jokes. They are appallingly written, with their dialogue limited to just the basic catchphrases. They say “exterminate” (or a variation) a truly staggering 27 times in this story, more than in the black and white years at all if I’m not mistaken. Seven people in total are actually exterminated; I feel that the instances of the word should tally with the number of exterminations, or else it becomes boring rhetoric from a writer with no better ideas. Here the Daleks have a Rhetoric Rate (if you will) of 74.1% (a percentage derived from comparing the number of times the word is said to the number of exterminations). Going on the strength of the only onscreen extermination, this rises to an unbelievable 98.3%. It is quite ridiculous. I like their new modulated voices, but there is no consistency to them. 

The much-praised café scene is just a jarring attempt to make the Doctor seem mysterious, but it’s so shallow that it just makes the Doctor look very pretentious. It’s as if this script is held together with PVA glue.

The Hand of Omega is another poor effort, retro-active continuity used to justify a badly-defined sci-fi gizmo. The floating casket is superb though, with even an effort made to create a shadow for it (something that lets down almost every other attempt at CSO the show ever did), although it consequently does require a blind vicar. That baseball bat, however, is just lame.

The rebel controller is initially good, but when it is revealed to be the girl it falls to pieces, just like any other scene where Breaks is present. Ratcliffe’s Nazism is more puddle-deep characterisation, a token attempt to provide the character with motivation (hint: just stick with lust for power. Never fails).

Ace finds the “no coloureds” sign – oh wait, the Daleks are racists too! The subtext! The subtlety! The underlying issues are like insect stings in this episode, they’re that annoying. The scene with the television is one of Doctor Who’s worst ever moments, not because it can’t be reconciled with anything else the series ever did, not because it demolishes the fourth wall with a giant metafictional wrecking ball, but because it’s probably the most sickening, smug and thoroughly irritating in-joke the programme ever did – and it had some clangers in its time.

The Dalek chases Ace through the school, of course waiting before she has gone before it actually fires at anything. Its aim is so bad that it looks like it’s just aiming at random objects. The bat attack made me cringe, and the Dalek’s aim is no worse without its eye. The cliffhanger to the second episode builds on the previous episode’s weaknesses: Daleks cluster round Ace and chant “exterminate” all the live-long day. Daleks so predictable and childish generate no tension as it’s blatantly obvious that they are just going to sit there chanting away to themselves until someone comes to the rescue. And lo, this is exactly what happens: the Doctor turns up with a dish with some flashing lights on it (“I rigged up something like it on Spiridon”: another example of a previous episode being used to avoid coming up with new ideas) and knackers the Daleks. It’s just terrible, and what annoys me is that people criticise poor old Destiny Of The Daleks for this kind of thing, even though this is a far worse offender. The claw that throttles the Doctor worked in Paradise Towers (although there’s less gurning here), but that story had a sense of humour. Maybe if this one wasn’t so preoccupied with being gritty it might be able to laugh off its naffness.

The Dalek mothership has a great set for the bridge, but Terry Molloy is absolutely dreadful as Davros / the Emperor, screaming his lines as if his mouth is full (“weport!”).

The Quatermass reference is the second-most smug in-joke of the programme, although the Doctor’s discussion of Gilmore’s nickname is actually a good, genuinely human moment that comes as a relief. The exposition scene here has more join-the-dots characterisation, with the Doctor stopping just short of turning to camera and saying “I’m mysterious, you know”.

Wow – some people actually get exterminated in this episode, which came as a surprise, although of course we don’t get to see it. The Supreme Dalek uses an old casing (I think) and looks good, but the time controller is naff. I’m prepared to forgive this one though as it was state-of-the-art at the time, even if it does show a lack of foresight.

In between Attack Of The Cybermen-style references to past Dalek stories Keff McKulloch cracks out his drum machine; I’d hoped to avoid mentioning him because he actually started off okay in this episode, but when the action scenes step in he degenerates into someone mucking about with a keyboard. His tinny percussions completely undermine the early 1960s period detail.

Mike gives himself away in a lumbering, contrived scene; outside, Daleks fire at soldiers over a dozen times and only hit anywhere near them twice. The shuttle landing, however, is magnificent (even though wires are visible); if only that much attention was paid to the script.

The confrontation between Mike and Ace is abominable as neither of them can act, and the dialogue (“you scumbag! I trusted you!”) is straight out of EastEnders. It is followed by an equally bad confrontation between Renegade and Imperial Daleks, in which neither side can hit large, static targets. It’s so poorly done that I genuinely cannot understand this episode’s popularity – although I like the Special Weapons Dalek. The Doctor states that “the Daleks are such boring conversationalists”; given Aaronovitch’s script that just sounds ironic.

It was pointed out to me once that Ratcliffe’s and Mike’s deaths are inappropriate; they set up a possible racist undertone, but just got zapped without this being developed or resolved in any way, which is absolutely true now that I think about it but since this lurching attempt at a subtext drops dead on the starting line anyway it hardly matters. I have no idea who pointed that out to me, but thank you! In fact, there are so many examples of this sort of thing that I’m getting sick of listing them – but the “blobs” speech sounds like a GCSE student wrote it.

We don’t need Davros, and we certainly don’t need Molloy. At least when he’s unmasked his speech impediment goes, but he really is a prime cut of ham here. In fact he’s beaten only by McCoy, who’s “infinite rice pudding” speech is just about the only part of this story that gets criticised as much as it deserves to be. He namechecks The Power Of The Daleks, and his “have pity” plea is a direct reference to Genesis Of The Daleks.

The Cartmel Masterplan is used as another tool to allow the writer to make up any super weapon he likes and have it do anything he likes without having to explain it, although it is unusual and good to see some 16mm film recording for the model shots. All that’s left now is the Supreme Dalek whirling round and round as it self destructs. Really I’d rather not talk about it.

This episode’s popularity truly staggers me. The Discontinuity Guide says it has “mystery and magic into the series with much intelligence and revisionist continuity”, which it quite simply doesn’t, and The Television Companion quotes one reviewer as saying “they [the Daleks] were evil, cunning, vicious, all by themselves (or so it seemed). Dignity was finally restored.” Was he even watching the same episode? The Daleks just wobble about chanting meaningless catchphrases and missing with their weapons; they’ve never been so pathetic. Even Andrew Cartmel lists this story as his favourite – it must just be me. Despite its pretensions, Remembrance Of The Daleks is a silly kids’ show with nothing to recommend it.

Filters: Television Seventh Doctor Series 25
I love Remembrance of the Daleks. It is a story that runs through my own personal fandom like the name of a town through a stick of seaside rock. It's one of the first stories I have very clear memories of watching on television, at the age of four. A couple of years later, the Target novelisation was, as far as I can recall, the first "proper" book I ever read.

It may well be the Doctor Who story that I have seen more and know better than any other, but that didn't stop me taking the opportunity to see it again when good fortune gave me the chance to attend yesterday's screening at the British Film Institute, the latest in its Doctor Who 50th-anniversary season. And I'm certainly very glad that I did go along.

It's an excellent choice of story to represent the era of the Seventh Doctor, for many reasons. There are the high production values and excellent script, of course, along with the very strong cast. But it's also a story that combines a celebration and exploration of the history and mythology of Doctor Who with an open and accessible plot - you gain something if you have a good knowledge of the series, but you aren't excluded if you don't. And if you're anything like me, then the sense of it being a part of something larger, a teaser of so much more mythology to explore, only makes it all the more appealing.

It had actually been a very long time since I'd last been to any kind of Doctor Who-related event. I was quite heavily involved in the local fan group in the Brighton area when I was a teenager, and attended two one-day mini conventions run by the group. Since I moved away to university just over a decade ago, however, my fandom has tended to be pretty much online-only, becoming involved in debates and discussions on forums, but not actually going along to any kind of events or gatherings.

It was an interesting experience to see fans together en masse for the first time in such a long time. As Ben Aaronovitch noted from the stage in the panel session that followed the screening, "You've changed a lot in the past twenty-five years!" If you were a fan back in the 1990s, as I was, you could certainly see what he meant - many more female and younger fans than would have been the case in decades past, although I suspect that this would probably be no surprise to anybody who, unlike me, has attended an event since the series returned in 2005.

My only experience of any vaguely similar kind of screening to this was when the local arthouse cinema in the city where I live screened the film version of Quatermass and the Pit last year. That had been a slightly disappointing experience, because rather oddly the majority of the audience were clearly not on the side of the film - there had been much mocking laughter at some of the more archaic elements of the production and screenplay.

Pleasingly, there were no such problems here. The large audience - which included ever-present BFI Who attendee comedian Frank Skinner, ex-Adric actor Matthew Waterhouse, and Remembrance OB lighting man Ian Dow - were entirely behind the story, eager and excited to see it, whether for the first or the hundredth occasion. There was even an oddly charming moment when the Special Weapons Dalek earned a little ripple of applause after its first appearance blowing two Renegade Daleks into dust in episode four. Perhaps it was because the Abomination had made the effort to come along in person (in replica form, at least!), and was sitting in the BFI foyer, happily posing for photos . . .

I'd never actually seen an episode of Doctor Who shown on a big screen before, and wasn't sure how well 4:3-framed 625-line video material would hold up under such scrutiny. In fact, it looked very good indeed, perfectly sharp and at such size I found myself noticing little details I hadn't spotted before, such as the graffiti figure on the school gate next to The Girl, as she watches the Doctor and Ace in episode one.

It was curious how, even having seen the story so many times, I found myself getting quite excited as the lights went down and that gloriously menacing and enigmatic pre-titles sequence came up on the big screen, followed - of course - by the famous theme tune, which can still take me back to being a small child in an instant. I know others have their views on the McCoy era theme tune arrangement... and I don't care, frankly. For a generation of children my age, this was our Doctor Who, and the sound of it evokes an excitement and an air of mystery even all these years later.

There was one technical element of the screening that I did find slightly curious, in that it wasn't the broadcast version of the story that was used. This was only really detectable in the first scene in the cafe, where Mike sees Ace for the first time. Usually, this is accompanied on the soundtrack by a clearly very carefully-selected part of the song Do You Want to Know a Secret?, which fits in with the enigma of who Ace is as Mike watches her. Even on the original DVD release, when the rights to The Beatles' version were unavailable, the Billy J Kramer version of the same song was used. Here it was a completely different song, which is a shame - it may seem such a small thing, but that little scene loses something with its absence.

As well as not having been to any kind of Doctor Who event for such a long time, this was also my first visit to the BFI - and I doubt it will be my last. To sound boringly pedestrian, I was pleased (and relieved!) at how well-signposted and easy-to-find the place was, and the whole organisation of the event seemed to be very smooth. The tone of the day was right as well - there was a respect for the series, but not a po-faced reverence of some serious film seminar. It was supposed to be a fun and entertaining event - a celebration, of course - and it certainly managed that.

Epitomising the sense of fun was the introduction of a mystery guest for a short pre-screening interview via a showing of the K-9 and Company titles, which received much laughter and, touchingly, applause for the late Elisabeth Sladen. John Leeson had been unable to attend the Fourth Doctor screening earlier in the year, but he was here as an extra guest on the basis that he provided the voice of the Battle Computer in this story, and it was certainly nice to see him.

There were also interesting little chats with effects designer Mike Tucker and special sound wizard Dick Mills between episodes, but the main focus of discussion was the panel afterwards, with Aaronovitch, Sophie Aldred, and Sylvester McCoy, which was well-handled by the BFI season's co-curator Justin Johnson. All three Who alumni gave the impression of being very proud of their work on the series, but there was also the slightly bittersweet feeling that they had been cut down in their prime - they could have done so much more had they been given the time and the opportunity. Time at least has justified the faith they had in the power of the show, and Remembrance does feel like a pointer to what would come in the future. With its fast pace, strong characterisation, and high-quality effects, it does feel almost like a new-series story before there was ever a new series.

Perhaps my personal highlight of the day, however, came after the main event itself was over. Aaronovitch was in the foyer signing books, and I was able to get him to sign for me the very Target book I read as a six-year-old, some 23 years ago. It's battered and creased and dog-eared, but it's one of the few books I've kept with me wherever I've lived all these years later, and it can't be very often you get to meet and thank the person who wrote such an important book in your life.

After I'd had the book signed and was walking away from the queue, I was stopped by an elderly Indian couple, who were curious as to who everyone was queueing up to see, and what event had just been taking place. I explained that it had been an anniversary screening for a long-running series called Doctor Who, and that the man at the table signing books was one of the writers of the series.

"Ah, Doctor Who!" the gentleman of the couple replied eagerly, recognition flashing across his face. "Yes, that has been going for a very long time... I remember it when I visited this country in 1967..."

Doctor Who means so many different things to so many different people, whether it's a fleeting experience of it on a visit to a foreign country, or something you have loved all your life, which has become a part of who you are. I am not in the least surprised that the BFI screenings have proved to be so popular this year, as on the basis of the Remembrance screening they recognise and celebrate the fact that Doctor Who is, as Andrew Cartmel once noted, "for everyone." Fan cliques or eager children, all were represented, and I think all came away having very much enjoyed their afternoon.

If you get the chance to attend any of the remaining screenings, I urge you to take it. It's a fine way to join in with the anniversary celebrations, and especially enjoyable if they happen to be showing one of your very favourite stories.
Paul Hayes
LinkCredit: Special Events, Seventh Doctor, BFI 
Filters: Screening Seventh Doctor