The Happiness PatrolBookmark and Share

Sunday, 30 September 2007 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

There are some Doctor Who stories that are good. There are some Doctor Who stories that are great. And there are some Doctor Who stories that are sheer works of art. 

"The Happiness Patrol", in my books, falls under that "sheer work of art" category. 

It is, without a doubt, the "King" of all the "oddball stories". Because of this, there is an entire side of fandomn that maligns it to no end. They get upset by the fact that the show is making its sets and costumes intentionally cheesy. Or that certain premises are silly on purpose. As opposed to most of the stories of the last twenty four years where all kinds of silly things happened both visually and in the script but we, as fans, were expected to take them seriously!

I suppose if the three episodes were nothing but sheer "campiness" than I would have to agree with the side of fandomn that maligns it. But there's lots of serious content thrown in too. And a wackload of allegory regarding Margeret Thatcher and gay rights and suchlike that re-assures me, as a fan, that this isn't just Doctor Who "taking the piss out of itself". This is Doctor Who trying, once more, to keep iteslf fresh by exploring new ways to tell a story. I know some fans will never be able to appreciate what the show was trying to do in the eighties. It seems to me that said fans really just wanted bog-standard Tom Baker stories to be told over and over week after week. But I, for one, am glad that 'ole JNT commissioned stories like this and will always applaud him for his boldness as he tried to not just keep the series alive but also give it artisitic merit. And Happiness Patrol is a gem in his "producerial crown" when it comes to artistic integrity. 

We begin the story (after an introduction to the characters that comprise the title, of course) with just the vaguest of continuity references. The Doctor and Ace arrive in the TARDIS whilst discussing dinosaurs. This dialogue seems intentional in a few ways. Firstly, it's the 25th anniversary so maybe they're trying to give, at least, a vague reference to the show's past before things get underway. But it also seems to me that it's perhaps thrown in for a deeper statement. This is going to be an extremely wierd and somewhat unique Doctor Who story and perhaps the continuity is added to tell us, the viewer, that this is still Doctor Who. That, as bizarre as the story might be, it ties in with all that we've seen before. It's still all about the Doctor and his companion(s) getting into trouble. 

One of the very nice "edges" to this story is that our latest TARDIS crew is getting into this trouble intentionally. Once more, the Seventh Doctor's "cosmic chess player" image is being developped as he goes to Terra Alpha on purpose. This isn't a dictator regime that he's stumbled into by accident as he has so often in the past. This time, he's arrived to very specifically clean up the social mess the planet has turned into. And the way it keeps getting emphasised that he intends to do it all "tonight" just makes the story all the more stylish. And this latest incarnation of the Doctor all the more powerful. Even a bit scary. Especially after what we've seen him do to the Daleks only a story beforehand! 

The villains of Doctor Who, I've often felt, are as important as the the hero. That if they're not handled properly by the production team, then the Doctor really can't "shine" against them as he locks horns with them. Our villains in Happiness Patrol are some of the best the show has ever come up with. We have, of course, as a principal villain, the very Thatcheresque Helen A. Not so much an evil woman as she is twisted. And because of this, there's a bit of pathos going on in her. As she weeps in that gorgeous final shot of her we not only delight in her "just desserts" but we also feel a bit bad for her. Because, in the end, she was a rotten woman, yes. But it's as plain as the nose on your face that she was rotten because she was as nutty as squirrel crap. And rather than make us detached from her insanity - we're able to actually feel a bit sorry for her instead. Some very sensitive portrayal going on here in our main villain.

As a sidenote, I am always impressed by how well the McCoy era delivered its "villainesses". It showed a very upward trend in the way the series was trying to portray females. Not only did we now have a very capable female companion, but we also had a whole set of female characters that could be as deadly as the many male villains that have populated the "Whoniverse". And Helen A is easilly one of the best of all the villainesses. Morgaine would give her a nice "run for her money" next season, but Helen A still holds a nice place in my memory as the best Who villainess of both the McCoy era and the series, in general.

With all that said, the Kandyman still steals the show here. He just completely drips with stylishness and coolness. The fact that he looks so ridiculous and is built on an equally ridiculous premise just makes him all the cooler. His sadism and petulance are so well-crafted that every minute that he's on screen is just a thorough delight to watch. Even more impressive that he's used as economically as he is. He could've easilly had a half-dozen more scenes and no one, I think, would've complained. But, in the end, he's a secondary villain and is therefore kept under the appropriate reigns. This fight is really about the Doctor and Helen A and the Kandyman is just a pawn in the game. But what a fun pawn he is! I still cannot surpress my cackle every time I watch him flip a coin to decide whether he should kill the Doctor or Ace first. Particularly as he delivers his "That would be telling" line! 

But the best aspect of this whole story is the Doctor himself. McCoy has mastered the role by this point. Providing a perfect balance between quirky mannerisms and raw power. He's taken those qualities that Troughton and Tom Baker distilled into the character of the Doctor "playing the fool" until the most crucial moment of the story and brought them to their ultimate fruition. Particularly in this tale. This little man with his silly outfit and brolly topples a regime in the course of one night. This is what Doctor Who is all about. The idea that no matter how weak and ineffectual something might seem, it can make as big a difference in the greater scheme of things as the people who seem like the real "power players". And no one embodies that sentiment better than McCoy's portrayal of the Doctor. He is as worthy of the role as any other actor before or after him. And it almost pains me sometimes how underappreciated he can be just because the show was in such a turbulent time.

Although every scene in this story looks absolutely gorgeous (and I mean that, as much some folks love to slag off on Chris Clough's directorial skills), there are two scenes that stand out even more prominently. The first being the "snipers in the balcony" scene where McCoy disarms his opponents with words rather than force. And the second being the final confrontation with the Doctor and Helen A. In this final confrontation, the real point of the story gets stated once and for all. That life is about balance. That, inevitably, the good must come with the bad and that neither can exist without the other. "Two sides, one coin" is delivered so well that it gives just the slightest of chills. And the fact that it's accompanied with a neat little sleight of hand truly makes this a "Seventh Doctor moment". A unique way for McCoy to put his signature on the role.

Yes, the last scene of the story is almost a bit superfluous but it is a nice little afterthought. I can remember reading that Clough wanted to end the story with Helen A crying over Fifi's corpse and that JNT requested a final scene be added. And considering we get just a bit more great dialogue like "There can be no other colours without the blues", I think it was worth throwing that in. And as the TARDIS gets its last little brush from its new paint job and the Doctor pronounces "Happiness will prevail", I find myself completely in awe of the fact that the show could deliver two amazingly good stories in a row. 

This is Who at its best. As strong as anything you can dig up from the series' so-called "golden era". And though Happiness Patrol gets overshadowed by the incredibly awesome "Remembrance of the Daleks", what we've really been given is two classic tales back-to-back. And, in the case of Happiness Patrol, it didn't have to bring back an old monster to help with its impact. It did it all completely on its own merits. 

How sad that some people miss the whole point of this story because they can't get over the campiness....





Silver NemesisBookmark and Share

Wednesday, 13 December 2006 - Reviewed by Robert Tymec

As usual, the reviews I read in here really surprise me sometimes. After having heard so much fan-bashing of this particular yarn, I'm amazed so many of you actually stood up for it here. 

I try to be of two legitimate minds regarding Silver Nemesis. I try to see the flaws so many critics have pointed out regarding this story and, at the same time, see all the fun and enjoyment there is out of just sitting back and enjoying the adventure. I fail miserably at the "seeing the flaws" aspect of the equation and just enjoy this story for what it is. An action tale that actually plays out pretty good. 

Yes, the weather is inaccurate for November. Yes, the humour is a bit hackneyed in places. Yes, it tries too hard to just play up being a "25th anniversary tale" (the whole "25th anniversary schtick" never sat well with me - I really preferred it when the show just celebrates the decades and that's it). I can see all that. I can even see the Cyberman not being able to hit the side of a barn in that one scene where Ace runs off. 

But still, overall, I really think this is a pretty good story. A bit weak by the standards of most the McCoy stories, but still pretty damned good overall. 

Obviously, the action sequences are some of the best parts. With the "Mexican stand-off" with Ace and the three Cybermen at the end being truly magnificent stuff that really re-inforces Ace as one of the great sci-fi heroines of the ages. In the old, sexist world of Who, this would have been either the Doctor or a male companion handling this. So great that it's a teenaged girl instead! 

The "deeper mysteries" that the story dwells upon are another excellent strongpoint to this story. The hints made about the Doctor's origins in "Remembrance" are so bloody subtle that you really almost don't catch them. It was nice for the mystery of the Doctor to get played up as much as it does in this story. Although I just stated a paragraph or two back that I wasn't a big fan of the whole "25th anniversary motif" that they were going for in this season, I do like that part of this plan was to re-invent the Doctor's past again and change him back into a bit of an enigma. And the emphasis on this in Nemisis is strong. It is still a bit of a crying shame that the "Cartmel Masterplan" could not be completed onscreen. "Lungbarrow" was an okay read but I would have liked to have seen at as a T.V. episode.

Next, we have the "players in the game" for the Silver Nemesis. The Nazis are a tad wooden (but then, Nazis would be, wouldn't they?) but I really enjoyed Peinforte and even the extremely gold-vulnerable Cybermen. The way the Doctor plays them off each other and manipulates them to his ultimate goals (he knew that Peinforte absorbing herself into the Nemesis would get the Validium to destroy the fleet even though the Cybermen cancelled his orders - did you catch that?) shows off, again, just how truly deadly he is as the "cosmic chess player". And shows it off in a different way than he did in Remembrance. By the way, in my book, there are enough differences in these two tales to say they're not entirely the same even though some of you love to harp on this idea. To me, the reason why there are so many similiarities between the two is because the Doctor wanted to set some things up that would "take a good chunk" out of his two worst enemies. And he knew that to entice them with some highly powerful Gallifreyan artefacts would be the best way to do it. And I can't believe how many of you love to bitch about these two stories resembling each other. Re-watch Season eight and see how each story is just the Master tampering with something he can't truly control, almost getting destroyed by it at the end and the Doctor steps in and saves the day on the spin of a coin! This was five stories in a row, more or less, plotted exactly the same. Why do I never hearing bitching about this?! 

Anyway, I digress. There are many truly wonderful moments in this story where I find myself in "geek paradise". The Cybermen hearing jazz on the transmitter, Ace and the Doctor stopping to enjoy the jazz themselves', the glorious moment where the Doctor "plays chess" with the Cybermen and activates Nemisis with the bow and then charges off. Those are just to name a few. But, what stops this story from being a true classic like Remembrance is that it also "clangs" quite badly in places too. The Nazis not bothering to see if the bow is still in the box being one of the worst ones. A bit reminiscent of Guy Crawford and the eyepatch in "Android Invasion"! 

Overall, I consider this a story with some very "classic moments" in it that don't quite come together properly enough to give it the rank of a "classic story". But, by no means do I consider it "shite" like some of the others on this page have!





Remembrance of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Shane Anderson

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.





Remembrance of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Adam Riggio

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.





Remembrance of the DaleksBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Ed Martin

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.





Silver NemesisBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 15 November 2005 - Reviewed by Jo Anderson

Ah, for a return to the heady days of 1993...

It was a simpler time, pre-Sky (well, for me at least), pre-disposable income (again, this may not apply to everyone), I was only 13 and guess what? One of my friends received Silver Nemesis for his birthday (I'd received The Keeper of Traken) and he was popping round to put it on. Fantastic, eh?

Not feverish with excitement yet? No? Well let me tell you that it's "extended!" Can you not feel your palms sweating in anticipation?

Oh well, bully to you!

It's easy to forget over a decade later just how exciting it was when new videos were released - this was generally the first time I'd seen the serials in question. No Sky, remember? But what was doubly exciting about Silver Nemesis that it was one of only the 8 serials I'd seen on their original transmission. Happy times and places.

As a result I always think of the extended edition as the proper one - this being the one to which I have been most exposed, and the one on which I shall cast my critical eye in this review. My memories of the original, and of which bits are the added bits are less than accurate, but of the original I will say this - if Remembrance laid the foundations of my fandom then Nemesis filled them with cement.

Now, let me say that Silver Nemesis is sh*te - completely and utterly. It's always best to get that ambiguity out of the way first of all. It does however, have a few redeeming features that I'll mention first so that I can get to the criticism.

There's the Cybermen themselves - all spruced up for the anniversary year. I don't think they've ever looked more solid than this - gone are the jumpsuits and moon-boots and not a piece of vacuum attachment in sight. The ability to see the actors jaw moving is a lovely touch and I defy anyone not to feel a thrill as they exit the Cybership at the end of part one when their shiny new masks reflect the murky green light. Like the Daleks two serials previous, the design teams have made subtle innovations to the design and I think they deserve to be applauded. These were the kind of adaptations that used to go on every time the Cybermen appeared in the Sixties but ground to a halt in Earthshock. Plus ca change?

Lady Peinfort - she's hilarious beyond measure. I sometimes wonder whether it's intentional or not, but there's no denying that it's laugh-out-loud funny. It's always great when guest cast members seem to be really enjoying themselves and we should be grateful that this is an all location serial because the scenery of Television Centre would not have survived this performance. "Twas a slow poison..."

"Who did this to you?" "Social workers." Well I laughed.

Sylvester and Sophie put in another good shift, and I'm particularly fond of the "Am I beautiful?" exchange between Ace and Nemesis. And just how glorious is it to see Sophie and Sylv lying in the grass enjoying some jazz? The rapport between them is lovely - and so far removed from the Saward era bickering that I'm retrospectively sympathetic to Peter Davison for getting lumbered with the man. Never mind.

But that's it, really, isn't it?

From 75 minutes of television these are the only things for which I can find praise - and even then some of you will think I'm being generous. (Although, not as generous as some of the other reviews here.)

Again we have a serial suffering from the fact that the summer of '88 was rather glorious, all told, yet we're being asked again to believe that this is November. I defy anyone to sit on plastic garden furniture in short sleeves in the open air in November and not turn an unhealthy shade of blue. You see, BBC, there's a reason why music festivals are held in the summer months in the UK and it's not because the heating bills are cheaper... but I digress. At least the brief scene set in South America looks nice.

I remember listening to Anton Diffring saying in an interview that he only came over because it meant he could watch Wimbledon at the same time - and you know what, I absolutely believe him. He certainly didn't come over to do any acting. His is the most arse-clenchingly poor performance on display here - say what you like about Delores Gray or those skinheads, their characters are undeveloped comic support, not one of the major antagonists. He's bored; he's clearly got no idea what's going on (although he's hardly alone on this point); he delivers lines like he's reading from a cue card just out of shot with a leadenness that would set off airport alarms. Which begs the question - just HOW was he allowed into the country?

For Doctor Who to work there must be a clear and present threat to the protagonists to drive the drama. Without that threat you end up with a rather empty fantasy with a few jokes thrown in. In fact, you get season 17. And of course you get Silver Nemesis. The ineffective Nazis, coupled with the Cybermen on display here - beautifully designed though they are - who react to gold like it's "anti-plastic" (my first new series reference and oh it felt good) leave the Doctor with little or no threat at all. The Doctor does his best to talk them up and the gun-fight makes them look good but once 17th Century time-travellers start taking them out with arrows then you're on a hiding to nothing. And I swear Sylvester tickles a Cyber-tummy when he's in the ditch by the Nemesis comet.

If the Doctor and Ace had drowned at the beginning of the serial when they fall acrobatically into that river, the combined ineptitude of the other three interested parties would've still seen them all fail. The flaws in the plot are endless and in the hands of the ever-unreliable Chris Clough with his point/shoot mantra it's dull, too. And considering Inferno can take you all the way to part five before your bum starts to twitch then this is surely unforgivable.

"Who did this to you?" "Social workers." While I was laughing two million viewers switched over to watch the end of Corrie.

I consider this to be the nadir of the McCoy era - and I think this is in part due to the fact that my expectations were being raised by the steady upward curve that I felt began with Paradise Towers the previous season. However, with seasons reduced to only fourteen episodes and with a nine-month gestation period between seasons Doctor Who couldn't excuse/afford to be transmitting such substandard fare. This would however prove to be the last time the series seriously misfired, Cartmel by now had a good grip on just how far the budget would stretch and this time it is the script's horrendous lack of ambition that lets him down rather than that of his design teams.

Back in '93 it was great, but even those warm feelings of nostalgia cannot disguise what a shoddy mess this really is.








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