Remembrance of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 2 March 2005 - Reviewed by John Anderson

"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?