I’ve always had a soft spot for classic Doctor Who – a show with a lot of ambition and it shows. Funnily enough, I’ve recently disowned the new generation of the show for it’s laughable plots and ropey production decisions. Remembrance of the Daleks shows that the classic series – usually derided – can deliver superior on both counts.
In Remembrance, the Doctor and his new companion Ace return to London in the swinging sixties to find two groups of Daleks battling over his past.
It’s a story filled with gentle nods to the series past, but done so in a subtle way that less ardent-viewers won’t be alienated by. The series had a few seasons before returned to Totters Lane (the scene of the first ever episode) in Attack of the Cybermen but handled the continuity in a considerably less subtle manner. Remembrance of the Daleks handles the Doctor’s past much more gently. The references to the Doctor’s voice changing “several times” or his past appearance as an “old geezer with white hair” pass by without the story pausing to point them out to the viewer or ram the issue home. Indeed, Remembrance of the Daleks does do a good job of retconning the entire premise of the series – the Doctor didn’t simply appear in London in 1963 for fun; instead he was on a mission to hide a Gallifreyan super weapon from falling into enemy hands. The Doctor is clearly not a victim of events; rather, he more satisfyingly is the manipulator of them. It’s this cunning undercurrent that makes the Seventh Doctor an appealing iteration.
Plot-wise there’s a great commentary on racism in the story. The Daleks have long been the series analogue to the Nazis and it’s refreshing to see the show make a point about this in a story set in the 60s when far-right nationalism is becoming prominent. The entire civil war between the Imperial and Renegade Daleks is hinged around racial purity; and even the Renegade Daleks employ a faction of nationalist thugs as their human entourage. It’s great to see the show deal with such issues prominently, but not too simplistically. It’s there for older viewers to appreciate but doesn’t get away from the action and explosions younger fans may enjoy more.
The story is an effective use of the Daleks, with an original twist on their usual goals to take over the galaxy. The reveal of the cornered Renegade Dalek in Part One is done well, even if the title of the story at the beginning betrays the identity of the foe! Seeing how the first Dalek is revealed is a gratifying end to the tension built up early on in the episode.
Generally the cast performs excellently, and the direction of the story is fantastic. Sylvester McCoy’s Doctor is brooding and cunning and his portrayal really sells it; proving that he can do “serious” acting now that the direction the character is taking is set. Remembrance is shot really well, and there’s tons of lavish attention to detail in the filming. Sure, it may be a little ambiguous, bar the vehicles used, that the story actually takes place in 1963 at times but the story moves at such a ferocious pace that there’s little time to dwell – more to enjoy!
In terms of visual effects, classic Who hasn’t looked better. Both sets of Daleks – white Imperials and grey Renegades – look thoroughly refreshed; indeed, the Imperial Daleks are brand new to this story and look utterly amazing. It’s a colour scheme that really gels well on screen. The Dalek Shuttlecraft from later on in the story (referred to by some fans as the Eggbox) is an impressively ambitious practical effect that almost works; clearly the budged had been pushed for this but the show can’t be criticised for trying. For me, Remembrance of the Daleks shows a turning point in the show’s history. By this time the show was considered a joke to many and it’s great to see Remembrance of the Daleks act as an ambassador for a rejuvenated production team.
If there’s one thing for me that stands out on an artistic level it’s that the effects look great, even to this day. The levitating Dalek at the end of Part One memorably puts that joke of Daleks and stairs to rest forever; we get a first glimpse at the now-standard Dalek X-ray extermination effect. It’s difficult to really criticise the production values of Remembrance of the Daleks as they look commendable to this day. The practical effects too, in terms of pyrotechnics, are also memorable in their scale – though setting off lots of high explosives in central London got the production team into a bit of hot water! Regardless, the show looks great.
Less successful is the score to Remembrance of the Daleks by Keff McCulloch, which is very much of it’s time: late 80s drum machines and synthesisers, and is the aspect of the story that ages it the most. Personally, I’ve nothing against Keff’s cheesy, 80s synths but I can appreciate why others may find it hard to swallow. Also, the story is way too short – I could watch a 10-part adventure of this calibre!
I still love Remembrance of the Daleks, even when I’m not loving the show itself. It’s a great, rollicking piece of science-fiction that is unashamedly so. As a way to kick off Doctor Who’s 25th anniversary season, it couldn’t get any better. And for non-fans? It’s great fun regardless!
Buy Remembrance of the Daleks: Special Edition on DVD from Amazon!