THE DOCTOR WHO RATINGS GUIDE: BY FANS, FOR FANS

Revelation of the Daleks
War of the Daleks
The novelisation
BBC
Remembrance of the Daleks

Episodes 4 Aiming for the Doctor
Story No# 152
Production Code 7H
Season 25
Dates Oct. 8, 1988 -
Oct. 26, 1988

With Sylvester McCoy, Sophie Aldred.
Written by Ben Aaronovitch. Script-edited by Andrew Cartmel.
Directed by Andrew Morgan. Produced by John Nathan-Turner.

Synopsis: Two factions of Daleks battle for the deadly Hand of Omega, a relic the Doctor left behind on Earth after An Unearthly Child.

Back to page one (the first twenty reviews)


Reviews

A Review by Howard Martin 12/1/10

One of the more irritating aspects of the seventh Doctor's character is his penchant for concocting elaborate, complicated plans for accomplishing tasks that could be handled much more simply. Take Remembrance of the Daleks. If the Doctor wants to prevent the Daleks from getting time-travel capabilities, then the most sensible thing to do is pack the Hand of Omega into the TARDIS before the Daleks get to Earth and take it to Gallifrey, the place he's programmed it to go when the smoke from his tortuous plan clears anyway. If he wants to destroy Skaro, he can always just use the Hand of Omega to do this himself. All very neat and efficient - and above all safe. Instead, the Doctor decides to bury the Hand of Omega on Earth in the hopes that the Daleks will find it, snatch it, and immediately use it without first examining it and deprogramming his booby trap. Throughout Remembrance of the Daleks the Doctor's main enemy isn't the title bad guys but Murphy's Law. A second group of Daleks shows up, the military gets involved, Ace almost changes history, etc.

All right, so maybe if I try hard enough I can think up a reason for the Doctor not using the Hand of Omega himself, but saying that his conscience forces him to make Davros do the killing is a bit of a copout. This is the dark and sinister seventh Doctor after all, and none of his predecessors were exactly shy about killing Daleks (and I'm not forgetting about the fourth Doctor in Genesis of the Daleks; that was only because they were baby Daleks and hadn't done anything wrong yet). Maybe having just beaten the genocide rap for wiping out the Vervoids the Doctor wasn't in any hurry to repeat the crime, especially as the sudden appearance of a super weapon they thought they'd lost turning up on their doorstep might make the Time Lords take a gander in his direction. But I'm inclined to think that it just never occurred to Ben Aaronovitch or Andrew Cartmel that there was obviously an easier way for the Doctor to accomplish his goals, or that anybody in the audience would notice this and see it as a flaw in their story. And really, why should they? When it comes to the seventh Doctor's era, fans can be very forgiving. Kudos to Jonathan Norton for listing seven goofs in Remembrance of the Daleks, but I'd like to add two of my own:

8.) After goof #2 in Mr. Norton's list, the Doctor tells Ace that they're going into Coal Hill School to destroy the Imperial Daleks' transmat, but after killing the Dalek guard they walk back out again without doing anything about the transmat.

9.) After the Dalek shuttle lands, the Doctor sternly asks Group Captain Gilmore "Are you willing to cooperate with me now?" This seems a little odd given that Gilmore has ordered an evacuation of the surrounding area at the Doctor's request, acted on his suggestion to use Coal Hill School as a base, and has not been at all obstructive since the opening Dalek fight scene.

So what makes this story so popular? Perhaps it's the production values. A comparison to what Star Trek: The Next Generation was doing at the same time will show that the video effects in Remembrance of the Daleks weren't state of the art even in 1988, but I admit that the Dalek death rays, the effect of the interrupted transmission of a Dalek to Earth, and the outer space graphics are still pretty neat. The Special Weapons Dalek is beautiful to behold. Even the Renegade Daleks' time controller continues to impress me after all these years, though I saw something exactly like it for sale at RadioShack around the time this story first showed its face on my side of the Atlantic.

Perhaps it's the social commentary. Whenever I hear Ace announce that "anyone can tell the Daleks are into racial purity" (on the basis, I can only guess, of their being mean and unhip and not liking cool rebels like her and the Doctor), I can just picture Ben Aaronovitch sneering self-righteously at me that the only reason I don't like his story is because I'm a racist.

Is it the wit and wisdom? I'm as mystified by the popularity of Rachel Jensen's professed desire to retire and raise begonias as I am by the popularity of the first Doctor's assessment of his third and second selves as "a dandy and a clown", and the discussion between the Doctor and Uncle Phil's butler from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air just seems corny, pretentious and boring to me.

Perhaps it's the retooled Daleks. This was the story that was supposed to revitalize them after Eric Saward had allegedly turned them into visually impaired sissies. Confining the evidence for my contention that Saward's Daleks often outperformed their predecessors to the observation that their fight with the animatronic Dracula and Frankenstein robots in The Chase wasn't exactly their finest moment, I'll concede that Ben Aaronovitch's Daleks start out pretty impressive. But after the first Dalek we see manages to take a salvo of grenades that would have killed "anything eve remotely human" the Daleks get progressively weaker, until we actually see the greatest indignity any Dalek has ever been subjected to: losing an eyestalk and one of its balls to a teenaged girl wielding a sparkling baseball bat. I suspect that your attitude to the McCoy era can be gauged by your reaction to this scene. If you're thinking "Wow, Ace rocks!" then you're probably a fan. If like me you're thinking "Davros sure makes crappy Daleks these days" then you're probably not.

Is it the Doctor's dark and sinister skills of manipulation? Hmm. Call me crazy, but I just don't see the seventh Doctor as dark and sinister. Maybe it just comes from having a different definition of the words "dark" and "sinister" from most people, but I don't think a guy who scolds someone for not helping him pull to safety a man who's just tried to lock him in a cellar with a rampaging Dalek, or who expresses disgust at the thought of a child being robbed of her innocence by a Dalek battle computer can be accurately referred to as dark and sinister. Dark and sinister to me is a guy who sticks an innocent man in front of a rampaging Dalek for kicks or who delights in robbing children of their innocence himself. A dark and sinister Doctor wouldn't be tricking Davros into using the Hand of Omega to destroy Skaro; he'd use the hand of Omega himself to set up shop as the Emperor of the Universe.

It doesn't help I suppose that Sylvester McCoy rarely played dark and sinister very well. I don't think Sylvester McCoy was a bad actor, merely a good actor who often chose to act poorly. I base this analysis mostly on what happened in Season 25. The Anniversary year was sandwiched between a season in which McCoy played the Doctor as a spot-on impersonation of unfunny comedian Robin Williams and a season in which he developed a tough-guy squint that made him look severely constipated rather than scary. In Season 25, McCoy has some justifiably celebrated moments, such as his "End my life!" speech from The Happiness Patrol or pretty much all of the first three and a half episodes of The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. But in Remembrance of the Daleks, he's still warming up, and his final confrontation with Davros results in a climax with two actors who can act well but don't want to royally hamming it up as the characters they play loudly trade childish insults.

As for the Doctor's manipulative skills, while he's able to pretty easily tweak his plan to compensate for his initial errors of judgment, I think he gets awfully lucky in this one. How lucky is difficult to say since neither Ben Aaronovitch nor Andrew Cartmel has any intention of telling us (possibly because they don't know themselves) how much the Doctor knew prior to the Daleks coming to Earth. His surprise at seeing two sets of Daleks and his desire to see that the right ones get the Hand of Omega begs the question of how he knows who the right ones are. Does he know that he's got a choice between Davros and the Supreme Dalek, and that Davros is the better candidate because he's more likely to act without thinking? His reaction upon seeing Davros ("I might have known") implies that he didn't know he was involved, but as this is the manipulative seventh Doctor he might be hoaxing us. But even assuming he knew it was Davros getting the Hand of Omega, I still think he took a big risk. It doesn't matter how well the Doctor thinks he knows Davros; he doesn't definitely know Davros will use the Hand of Omega without studying it first until he's actually done so. Suppose Davros had simply told the Doctor to go to hell, blown up the Earth with those weapons the Doctor said could crack us open like an egg, gone off somewhere to study the Hand of Omega inside out, and learned how to use it without tripping the Doctor's trap? The fact that his plan works is less a testament to the seventh Doctor's manipulative skill than it is to an unrealistic run of good luck.

So what's my ultimate verdict? To crib a phrase employed over and over again in The Fifth Doctor Handbook, Remembrance of the Daleks is a triumph of style over substance. But note I use the word "triumph", because the Dalek battles really are something. The show may often stagnate when the death rays aren't flying, but there's enough fighting and exploding to make this one worth watching more than once. It helps that the sheer awfulness of the new Russell-T-Davies-produced series forces me to grade just about every story from the original series on a curve, but even by the standards of old school Who, Remembrance of the Daleks is hardly the worst story ever and isn't even the worst Dalek story. It's not as boring as The Chase or Planet of the Daleks, doesn't feature the amateurish dialogue and pseudoscience of The Dalek Invasion of Earth and, despite the best efforts of Aaronovitch and Cartmel, fails in its quest to be as incoherent as Resurrection of the Daleks. Perhaps I'm letting the special effects sway me, but for the moment at least I honestly think Remembrance of the Daleks merits a 5 out of 10.


A Review by Harry O'Driscoll 15/3/10

Remembrance of the Daleks is a the first bright beam of sunshine on Doctor Who in a long time. It kicks Season 25 off to a great start, it stands out as one of the best Dalek stories. After the grim massacres of Resurrection, Revelation and Genesis, this episode has a sense of fun about it while managing to take that first step into a darker side of the Doctor's persona.

The Daleks come back not with this enormous climax, but within the first ten minutes. After that, the episode rushes through, quickly wasting no time in getting straight to the good stuff. The idea of two Dalek factions at war with each other is a great idea. Those who have watched previous stories will know where the schism originated, whereas casual viewers are not totally alienated. The fact that the Daleks are not doing a typical Earth invasion but searching for an ancient Time Lord energy source makes a good change and is intriguing. The battle between the Daleks is a great scene and emphasizes just how purist the Daleks are, coupled with some magnificent special effects.

The Hand of Omega is a great plot device used to show that more mysterious side to the Doctor. The fact that the Doctor left it on Earth implies he set a trap at the beginning of An Unearthly Child which again shows the Doctor developing his Machiavellian side. When he implies he had a hand in his creation of it, we begin to realize that we don't really know who the Doctor is, something that is only just touched on in this episode. The Doctor gets some magnificent scenes. He contemplates something as simple as sugar in your tea with the deepest thought, but destroys Skaro, the mother ship and the Daleks like it means nothing. His final line in itself is a gem.

The supporting characters are immediately likeable. Group Captain Gilmore and the Army are a suitable substitute for the Brigadier and UNIT. Despite their annoyance at the Doctor, before long they are prepared to follow his instructions without question. The production and special effects are some of the best yet, there is some great model work and the whole thing looks realistic.

Season 25 starts with a bang and from then on Season 25 goes from strength to strength, truly celebrating Doctor Who's 25th anniversary and makes a pleasant change from the silliness of the previous season.


"You Have to Protect Your Own" by Jason A. Miller 14/12/18

Some classic Doctor Who stories age very well. Or, at least, the septuagenarian directors who recorded audio commentaries for their stories on DVD, 30 to 40 years later, wanted you to believe that. "It really holds up today," somebody would say, or "That compares very well to a feature film," somebody else would say. Uh... no. No, they don't. Even stories that I love to pieces seem hopelessly outdated today, and "special editions" don't help much; putting new video effects on The Ark in Space doesn't change the fact that the rest of the story is trapped in amber, 1975-vintage.

I was honestly expecting Remembrance of the Daleks to play very poorly here in 2018, thirty years after its production. The cheap OB video look, the Casio-inspired synth-heavy '80s score... this looks, from a distance, like a straight-to-video BBV production, not a miniature feature film like we get now on the Netflix.

But, right there in the Remembrance pre-credits sequence, you hear the voice of the Duke of Edinburgh, as the camera pulls back from the Earth to reveal a Dalek battleship listening in on 1963 radio signals. And, hey, then you realize, 30 years after recording, the Duke of Edinburgh would be played on TV by Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor. That's a pretty remarkable coincidence, the long way around, for a show that aired in the 25th anniversary season, and in the same Part One which would feature Ace nearly missing a broadcast of Doctor Who Season 1 on the Beeb. And later on in Part One, the Doctor is mistaken for an applicant for the position of caretaker at Coal Hill School. He'd come back for that job, later, too...

Almost as nice as the inadvertent future-continuity nods are all the returning players in the first two parts. Michael Sheard and Peter Halliday, beloved guest stars in years past, come back for bit parts; Pamela Salem, so dynamic in The Robots of Death, is back here with an even larger part and a center of gravity for the story as a female scientist (in 1963!). That's John Leeson as the voice of the decoy Davros, and, you know what, you just cannot have a Doctor Who cliffhanger without Roy Skelton screaming into the ring modulator at the end of Part One. As an old fan, I found that the class-reunion feel of this episode kept it fresh.

The passing of the years also doesn't dilute the very careful staging of director Andrew Morgan. It's clever how Morgan hides three major secondary characters in plain sight in the first few scenes of Part One; Rachel Jensen, Mike Smith, and the Girl, are all introduced silently walking through scenes, or sitting/standing in the background, before the story's even five minutes old and before you become aware that those characters are going to be important for the rest of the story. That's remarkably cinematic, for a series which so often employed old-school BBC directors of the "Just keep the camera still, and point and shoot, love" school of filmmaking. Also nifty is the Part Two cliffhanger, in which the camera takes the POV of a crouching Ace, surrounded by Daleks, and looking up fearfully at them -- I can't recall too many cliffhangers that took the time to work in a direct POV shot from an unusual angle like this. The hand-held camera prevalent in the OB-video stories of McCoy's era was often distracting, and mostly looks terrible when you watch the other stories again in 2018, but here's one shot that just plain works.

By the end of the story, I was so conditioned by Morgan's greatness that I began imagining allusions that might not have been intended. Ratcliffe's death running up the metal warehouse stairs seems similar to how Tobias Vaughn died in "The Invasion", but that might not have been something Morgan was aware of back in 1988, several years before that story came out on VHS. And the from-the-ground shot of the Doctor stepping out of the van to confront the Black Dalek in Part Four matches up pretty well to the shot of Robert DeNiro getting out of the car in the Godfather Part II, getting ready for his final confrontation with Don Ciccio in Sicily.

One casting choice from Morgan that seems a bit unusual in retrospect was Joseph Marcell, who has a single scene in Part Two as a cafe attendant (and what a scene). Marcell is best known in the US as the butler Geoffrey on the long-running "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air", a show about as genetically unlike Doctor Who as it is possible to get. He's charming here, more than holding his own against McCoy. The scene has no real relation to the story, but it's remarkably good and highlights Aaronovitch's skills as a writer (of which more later).

Now, Davros. Michael Wisher was the Davros, yes. David Gooderson... well, we don't talk about him. Julian Bleach and Terry Molloy are very, very good Davroses (Davri?). This story has John Leeson tease Davros early on -- he's voicing a character who is later revealed to most decidedly not be Davros. But, from the second that the Ban Roll-On Dalek wheels onto the Imperial Dalek bridge in Part Three, it is so painfully obvious that this is Davros, that the whole John Leeson charade just flies out the window, like Ace flew through the window in Ian Chesterton's Coal Hill School science lab. Any subtlety that Morgan had tried to invest the story with kinda disappears at this point.

Also unsubtle is the musical sting used to highlight Mike's betrayal when it's revealed in Part Three... after his betrayal had already been revealed in Part Two. Perhaps Keff McCullough was just showing off the percussion buttons on his new Casio keyboard? And dang, the hand-claps as the Doctor and Ace flee Ratcliffe's warehouse in Part Three is just totally radical, isn't it? As for the Renegade Daleks' "Time Controller"... you know, The Sharper Image was still an active franchise in 1988, when this story was made. Lots of us teens went and hung out at The Sharper Image, to play with the cool toys (and none of us ever bought anything, which is why The Sharper Image is now out of business). How did they think people wouldn't recognize this prop/toy?

So, Andrew Morgan, genius; the casting, mostly genius; and you can forgive Terry Molloy turning up the dial to 11,000 as Davros because, hey, this is a reunion story, of sorts. But that doesn't even touch on the writing, which is where the greatness of this story really lies.

This is clearly a "first novel" of sorts, with Aaronovitch bringing about five different complete story ideas to the table, and cramming them into one 90-minute feature. The ongoing Dalek civil war storyline is interesting enough, and the Special Weapons Dalek just about papers over the fact that Part Four is one long numbing car chase/death-ray fight. But there's the female empowerment of Rachel and Allison, the two scientists co-opted by the military. There's the cafe scene, with the Marcell's character, a descendant of slaves, imagining a world where he could have stayed in Africa. And the Hand of Omega burial scene, which allows Sylvester McCoy to stretch his acting muscles in a different direction than usual.

And then there's the racism. As one of the Classic Series' few minority writers, Aaronovitch goes all in here with pointed social commentary. Ratcliffe is a white supremacist businessman who's lured an Army Sergeant into his schemes for control of the UK. Sergeant Smith's mother, who seems like such a nice old lady, has the "No Coloureds" sign in her boarding-house window. The Dalek Civil War, Ace tells us, is predicated on the Renegade Daleks being "not pure in their blobbiness". Group Captain Gilmore, who in the '70s would have been the moral center of the story, gets ruthlessly mocked by the Doctor over the first half of the story and is always several steps behind Rachel and Allison. In the novelization, Rachel is revealed to be Jewish and has visions of the Doctor as a Talmudic figure in her childhood synagogue. These kinds of characters are all voices (for good and bad) which the first 24 seasons of Doctor Who typically just didn't include.

What's the final score? Remembrance of the Daleks: great script and great direction, masked by a very dated look and sound. It was a story I didn't quite "get" as a teenager, but watching now from Donald Trump's America in 2018, where a lot of aspiring politicians winning House and Senate primaries around the country look and sound a lot like Ratcliffe and whose campaign slogans and speeches overtly echo Mike's plea to "protect your own people" and "keep the outsiders out"? Well, I write this the week that the story broke about the Trump administration ripping apart refugee families at the border and refusing to reunite them even after the forced-separation policy was rescinded. That makes Aaronovitch's story sting in a way it didn't in 1988, the year that the US tried to elect a "kinder, gentler" President.

In Remembrance, the good guys save the day, the white supremacists are defeated, and the Daleks destroy themselves. That's one other part of the story that, regrettably, is also aging very poorly.