Some people embrace Conventional Fan Wisdom wholesale, and others are fanatically opposed to it. Whichever camp you belong to, theres 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 Im 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 Whos most overrated story. Ive 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 doesnt begin that badly; in fact it begins with the best pre-titles sequence of them all (and The Unquiet Deads 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; its 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 Totters 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 Dalekss 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 Aces 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 shes in. Mikes 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 Totters 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 Im 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 Doctors line of what a predictable response is so one-dimensional that Im in serious danger of a paper-cut from it. All the characters may as well have signs Im the anarchist, Im the pacifist, Im that rationalist, and so forth such is the rudimentary nature of their roles. Karen Gledhill as Alison is certainly eye candy but shes a bit of a waste of space really; she performs the same role as Rachel, as if Salems 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 its made of moulded plastic, its 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 Daleks 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 cant 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 its own it gets by, but given that another two stories are referenced in that same scene its smugness becomes oppressive. Im only one episode in and Im 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 its one of the stories lowest points: for a start its 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; its 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 Im 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 its so shallow that it just makes the Doctor look very pretentious. Its 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. Ratcliffes 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, theyre that annoying. The scene with the television is one of Doctor Whos worst ever moments, not because it cant be reconciled with anything else the series ever did, not because it demolishes the fourth wall with a giant metafictional wrecking ball, but because its 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 its just aiming at random objects. The bat attack made me cringe, and the Daleks aim is no worse without its eye. The cliffhanger to the second episode builds on the previous episodes weaknesses: Daleks cluster round Ace and chant exterminate all the live-long day. Daleks so predictable and childish generate no tension as its 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. Its 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 theres less gurning here), but that story had a sense of humour. Maybe if this one wasnt 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 Doctors discussion of Gilmores 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 Im mysterious, you know.
Wow some people actually get exterminated in this episode, which came as a surprise, although of course we dont get to see it. The Supreme Dalek uses an old casing (I think) and looks good, but the time controller is naff. Im 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; Id 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. Its so poorly done that I genuinely cannot understand this episodes popularity although I like the Special Weapons Dalek. The Doctor states that the Daleks are such boring conversationalists; given Aaronovitchs script that just sounds ironic.
It was pointed out to me once that Ratcliffes and Mikes 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 Im getting sick of listing them but the blobs speech sounds like a GCSE student wrote it.
We dont need Davros, and we certainly dont need Molloy. At least when hes unmasked his speech impediment goes, but he really is a prime cut of ham here. In fact hes beaten only by McCoy, whos 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 thats left now is the Supreme Dalek whirling round and round as it self destructs. Really Id rather not talk about it.
This episodes 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 doesnt, 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; theyve 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.