What am I dealing with? Little green men? No, little green blobs in bonded-polycarbite armour. Doctor Who – Remembrance of the Daleks


In 1988, Doctor Who celebrated it’s 25th anniversary.  So bringing back the Daleks (and setting the story in the location and timescale of the first episode from 1963) seemed to be as good a way as any to kick off the anniversary year.  Although there are various nods to the past (Coal Hill School, Totters Lane, etc) they aren’t allowed to overwhelm the story, which is traditional in some ways but also quite different in others.

On the traditional side, the Doctor and Ace link up with the military, who function as a surrogate UNIT.  Group Captain Gilmore (Simon Williams) is visually and character-wise a dead ringer for the Brigadier whilst Sgt Mike Smith (Dursley McLinden) performs the functions of Yates/Benton.  The Doctor’s role as scientific adviser is filled by Dr Rachel Jensen (Pamela Salem) and Allison (Karen Gledhill).

The early action in episode one is impressive.  After the fairly lightweight S24, it seems that Remembrance was an attempt to get back to basics.  The Doctor is a more withdrawn, mysterious figure than the open and, at times, guileless character from S24.  As with some of his earlier incarnations he has a lack of patience with the floundering humans (“Nothing you possess will be effective against what’s in there!”).

The thing “in there” was a Dalek and it’s the first one we see in the story and also the first to be destroyed.  This must be the Dalek story, to date, with the highest number of destroyed Daleks.  And whilst the Doctor put paid to this one with a few cans of Ace’s Nitro 9, he was mistaken about the military being unable to deal with them.  Some of their weaponry would later prove to be very useful.

If you like explosions, then Remembrance is certainly your sort of story, although there’s still time for some quieter, character-driven sequences.  One of the best occurs in episode two, as the Doctor is musing over whether he’s right to do what he’s decided to do.

JOHN: Can I help you?
DOCTOR: A mug of tea, please.
JOHN: Cold night tonight.
DOCTOR: Yes, it is. Bitter, very bitter. Where’s Harry?
JOHN: Visiting his missus. She’s in hospital.
DOCTOR: Of course. It’ll be twins.
JOHN: Hmm? Your tea. Sugar?
DOCTOR: Ah. A decision. Would it make any difference?
JOHN: It would make your tea sweet.
DOCTOR: Yes, but beyond the confines of my tastebuds, would it make any difference?
JOHN: Not really.
JOHN: Yeah?
DOCTOR: What if I could control people’s tastebuds? What if I decided that no one would take sugar? That’d make a difference to those who sell the sugar and those that cut the cane.
JOHN: My father, he was a cane cutter.
DOCTOR: Exactly. Now, if no one had used sugar, your father wouldn’t have been a cane cutter.
JOHN: If this sugar thing had never started, my great-grandfather wouldn’t have been kidnapped, chained up, and sold in Kingston in the first place. I’d be a African.
DOCTOR: See? Every great decision creates ripples, like a huge boulder dropped in a lake. The ripples merge, rebound off the banks in unforeseeable ways. The heavier the decision, the larger the waves, the more uncertain the consequences.
JOHN: Life’s like that. Best thing is just to get on with it.

Tea and sympathy
Tea and sympathy

Eventually it becomes clear that the Doctor has lured the Daleks to Earth in order to allow them to steal the Hand of Omega (a mystical Time Lord device that the first Doctor dropped off sometime prior to the events of An Unearthly Child).  This story marks the start of the Doctor as a cosmic manipulator which after the series was cancelled was developed much, much further in Virgin’s range of New Adventures novels.

I have to admit to being somewhat uneasy with the Doctor’s actions in this story.  All of the deaths can be laid at his door, because if he’d removed the Hand of Omega from Earth then there would have been no reason for the Daleks to come here.  And when you tot up the number of people who died (as well as the fact that the Doctor also destroyed an entire planet – Skaro) it’s hard to argue that it was worth it.

The Doctor has been ruthless in the past (destroying the Ice Warriors’ fleet in The Seeds of Death, for example).  But at least in Seeds you could say that the Ice Warriors made the first move by attempting to invade Earth.  Here, the Doctor appeared to initiate events for no other reason than he fancied wiping out the Daleks.

The original Dalek story was concerned with, as Ian put it, “a dislike for the unlike” or as Ace says, “racial purity”.  This is also developed here, as we see two Dalek factions – the Renegades and Imperials.  It’s something of a surprise to find that Davros is now leading the Imperial Daleks, particularly when you remember he was captured by them at the end of Revelation of the Daleks.  Clearly Davros was a smooth talker!

The Dalek factions are intent on wiping each other out, since both sides consider the other to be an abomination, and this is also paralled with the humans.  It may seem a little crude now, but Mike’s views – “You have to protect your own, keep the outsiders out just that your own people can have a fair chance.” and the sign in the boarding house run by Smith’s mother (“No coloureds”) are attempts to connect Doctor Who to the real world, something which had rarely happened in the series before.

On a more trivial level, Daleks can now climb stairs and the cliff-hanger to episode one is a glorious moment.  The Daleks’ new extermination effect is very impressive as well and the Daleks themselves look pretty good – although they do have a tendency to wobble when out on the streets.  Historically, the Daleks always moved best on a smooth studio floor and whenever they were called out onto location they tended to be placed either on boards or tracks.  A new system was tried for this story, which allowed the Daleks to move more freely, although on cobbled streets they did tend to rock from side to side!

From Genesis onwards the Dalek stories were dominated by Davros, so only having him appear right at the end was a good move.  The battle computer was a clear attempt to fool the audience into believing that it was Davros, and  this works quite well – particularly the creepy moment when the girl (Jasmine Breaks) is revealed.  But as she was seen watching Radcliffe in the scene prior to this, it’s something of a mystery how she was able to get back to Radcliffe’s yard before he did.

"That's some serious hardware. Did you see that, Professor? Unsophisticated, but impressive."
“That’s some serious hardware. Did you see that, Professor? Unsophisticated, but impressive.”

Sophie Aldred has some good material to work with here.  She gets to attack the Daleks with a baseball bat (“Who are you calling small?”) and enjoys a close relationship with Mike that is instantly soured when it’s revealed he’s inadvertently helped the Daleks.

Remembrance also allows us to bid farewell to a number of Doctor Who stalwarts, all making their final contribution to the series.  Michael Sheard and Peter Halliday had both appeared in numerous stories dating back to the 1960’s whilst John Scott-Martin and Roy Skelton had also racked up numerous credits since the 1960’s as monsters and monster voices respectively.

Although I have issues with the Doctor’s actions, there’s no denying that Remembrance is a well-made story with some fine performances.  The return of the Daleks was a canny move, since it generated some good publicity and as the story didn’t disappoint it was surely responsible for hooking some new viewers into tuning in for the following adventure.