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

remembrance

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  The Doctor is a more withdrawn, mysterious figure than the open and, at times, guileless character from S24.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.
DOCTOR: But
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.

Do you fancy a quick trip round the twelve galaxies and then back to Perivale in time for tea? Doctor Who – Dragonfire

dragonfire

Back in 1987 Dragonfire topped the DWM best story poll.  Maybe this was because it was the most “traditional” story of the season and that was why it appealed to the fans.  But though it’s a decent enough romp, the lack of logic in the plot (and some of the performances) are a bit of a problem.

Edward Peel, as the villanious Kane, is one of Dragonfire’s highlights though.  Peel doesn’t have to do a great deal – except loom menacingly – but he looms very well.  He does has the benefit of playing against Patricia Quinn as Belazs, who has a nice line in frustration and despair.  Tony Osboa as Kracauer isn’t so good though – he’s rather overplaying throughout all his scenes.  And Kracauer is clearly not too bright.  Having agreed with Belazs that it would be a good idea to kill Kane, he then waits around after sabotaging the temperature controls for Kane to wake up and kill him.  Not a good move!

I also have to mention the ice statue created of Kane’s dead partner, Xana.  He’s clearly delighted with it – “A work of artistry, my friend. Incandescent artistry. I could almost believe Xana lives again.” – but it doesn’t look very impressive to me and not even a terribly good likeness of Xana from the brief picture of her that we see.

The Doctor and Mel are on the hunt for a Dragon, assisted, in his own unique way, by Glitz (Tony Selby) and Ace (Sophie Aldred).  The icy lower levels allow McCoy plenty of opportunities to slip and slide, whilst episode one ends with a notorious cliffhanger – as the Doctor, well, hangs off a cliff.  Apparently it should have been made clear that the Doctor had to go down since he couldn’t go back – but why wouldn’t he have waited for Glitz?  And how did Glitz get down in order to rescue the Doctor?

Bonnie Langford was uncertain for a long time whether or not to return for S25.  When Dragonfire was written it still wasn’t decided, so there were two endings scripted – either Mel went off with Glitz and Ace joined the Doctor, or Ace left with Glitz.  As it was, shortly after the first studio session Langford decided to leave after all, so Ace would become the Doctor’s new traveling companion.

Kane has a tempting offer for Ace
Kane has a tempting offer for Ace

Sophie Aldred was incredibly inexperienced (Dragonfire was the first time she’d been inside a television studio) but she acquits herself well.  The character of Ace is not as well defined in this story as it would become – but given the fact that many companions never develop at all during their time on the show, the growth and journey of her character is quite remarkable.  For some fans in the late 1980’s, it was Aldred’s show with McCoy playing second fiddle.

Some of the plot-threads in this story will be picked up and developed across the next two seasons, and already we have the sense of a damaged girl hiding behind a tough, streetwise facade.

MEL: You’re from Earth?
ACE: Used to be.
MEL: Whereabouts on Earth?
ACE: Perivale.
MEL: Sounds nice.
ACE: You ever been there?
MEL: No.
ACE: I was doing this brill experiment to extract nitroglycerine from gelignite, but I think something must have gone wrong. This time storm blows up from nowhere and whisks me up here.
MEL: When was this?
ACE: Does it matter?
MEL: Well, don’t you ever want to go back?
ACE: Not particularly.
MEL: What about your mum and dad?
ACE: I haven’t got no mum and dad. I’ve never had no mum and dad and I don’t want no mum and dad. It’s just me, all right?
MEL: Sorry. What about your chemistry A level, then?
ACE: That’s no good. I got suspended after I blew up the art room.
MEL: You blew up the art room?
ACE: It was only a small explosion. They couldn’t understand how blowing up the art room was a creative act.

Things tick along quite nicely for the first two episodes.  The Doctor/Glitz and Mel/Ace make two good teams but everything collapses in episode three as there’s no escaping the major plot flaws.  Kane’s been imprisoned on Svartos for three thousand years, so why has he only decided now to escape?  And if the Dragon (the biomechanoid) is his jailer (and how exactly does this work?) then why does it contain the key which enables him to escape his exile?

And the silliest part of all – are we really supposed to believe that during the last three thousand years, when he’s been running the galactic equivalent of Bejam, he’s never once checked to see how things were going on his home planet of Proamon?  It was destroyed by a super-nova two thousand years ago and nobody thought to tell him or he didn’t discover this for himself?

There’s an echo of The Hand of Fear here, but at least Eldrad had a good excuse for not knowing about the current situation on Kastria as only his fossilised hand remained, buried deep in the Earth’s surface for millions of years.  Therefore you can’t blame him for not keeping up to date with the latest news (unlike Kane, of course).

Episode three also has the rather uninspiring bug hunt with McLuhan and Bazin and rather too much of the cutesy Stellar (Miranda Borman) for my taste.  So ultimately Dragonfire is a bit of a damp squib, though the future was looking brighter.

S23 and S24 had been difficult times for the series, but S25 and S26 would see something of a creative rebirth.  As it remained scheduled against Coronation Street there was a general public indifference and the critics were rarely kind either.  Doctor Who might have become a beleaguered and largely unloved series, but it still had a few tricks and surprises up its sleeve.