Sunday, 12 January 2014

Remembrance of the Daleks written by Ben Aaronovitch and directed by Andrew Morgan


The Real McCoy: ‘This is the Doctor. President Elect of the High Council of Time Lords. Keeping of the Legacy of Rassilon. Defender of the Laws of Time. Protector of Gallifrey…’ That last line is quite ignoble considering what is coming up. What a difference a year makes! I’ve always been on the fence about Andrew Carmel’s approach to the Doctor because whilst I like the way that he tries to shroud him in mystery (recalling the First Doctor) I’m not sure that the hints and whispers about terrible doings in his past and seeing him smugly committing genocide is perhaps the best way to go about it. Not only that but I still to this day think that McCoy was never better than during his goofy first season, deliriously silly and funny and playing with the show as the light entertainer that McCoy naturally is. In Delta and the Bannermen he is simply a delight to be around. Although during Remembrance he is generally fine (more than that actually, he seems to positively revel in this change of direction) there were times over the next two years where McCoy would look extremely uncomfortable trying to bring gravity to the role and failing because that isn’t where his talents lie. Battlefield, The Curse of Fenric and Survival all suffer in this regard and see him trying act full of rage and failing to convince. On the other hand it is clear that things couldn’t stay the way they were going without DWAS all abandoning their anoraks at the lingering death of their favourite show and at this stage it looks as if both McCoy and Cartmel are totally committed to bringing the show up to date and reinvigorating the character. This is even more of a jarring leap than Revelation of the Daleks was to The Mysterious Planet when the sixth Doctor had suddenly turned charming and cuddly. Between seasons the Doctor has stopped acting like he is in a pantomime every week (I mean it as a genuine compliment when I say that I bet McCoy is awesome in pantomime) and suddenly behaves as though the universe is much darker place. What happened to bring about this change is a mystery to me to this day (and it surprises me that BBC books haven’t tried to explain why with their continuity plugging PDA range). I don’t want to sound as though I am being too harsh at the changes that have been made because I genuinely think that Remembrance of the Daleks gets it just about right. I’m just not entirely sold on the changes as a whole over the next two years. What’s definitely true is that Ace fits his new character like a glove (it’s a far more effective pairing than McCoy and Langford) and their chemistry is magnificent.

I love the way the Doctor just dives into the van and starts a conversation with Rachel without introducing himself. This is a man who thinks it is his right to stick his nose in and makes no apologies for it. The way he spits ‘humans’ so contemptuously might just be one of my favourite McCoy line readings. He has never felt more alien. The judgement continues when the Doctor notes that we have an amazing capacity for self deception when it comes to alien invasions of the past. Not for much longer. Note to self, Doctor, when you want to investigate school premises in the future try and think up a suitable cover story (that psychic paper in your top pocket might help) rather than blundering in going on about evil lingering in the corridors. The café scene is absolutely vital because it’s the one and only time where we see the Doctor agonising over his new role of attempting to play God and tidying up the universe. It adds a whole new dimension to what he does later in the tale because at least we know he cares about the consequences. Stories like The Curse of Fenric don’t bother to add this sympathetic dimension and suffer for it. He commands the attention of the Counter Measures team (I realise they weren’t called that in this story but I’m not going to keep referring to them as the ‘60s UNIT’), treating them as chess pieces to be manoeuvred and strategically putting everything in place to ensure his plan is a success. I chuckled when he smashed the Dalek transmat to pieces after behaving in a much subtler way for the first two episodes. It's strange how people don’t like how Tom Baker takes the piss out of the Daleks in Destiny but McCoy seems to scrape a pass when he enters the shuttle and rips the shit out of the lonely scout. One was script edited by Douglas Adams, I suppose, so the humour is more open to criticism. McCoy is simply sublime when he indulges in verbal wordplay with Molloy’s Davros at the climax. I don’t think he has ever been this authoritative when squaring up to a villain. The very idea of the Doctor causing genocide knowingly is something that was given real thought in Genesis of the Daleks. Now he’s done with talk and he simply wants this force wiped out permanently. To turn the hero of this show into a mass murderer is a bold step for the show to take (not just taking the Doctor down such a dark route but the destruction of Skaro as well – we’ve been popping back to that planet sporadically for over 25 years!) and it’s a shame that Doctor Who is more action adventure than adult drama because there is a whole field of moral consequences to plough. Check out the BBC novel The Algebra of Ice, it deals with the Doctor coming to terms with his new position in the grand scheme of things and the frightening steps he is taking. It does everything that the TV series didn’t have the time or the inclination to follow up on.

Oh Wicked: ‘When I say stay put I mean stay put. Not take on an entire Dalek assault squad single handed!’ Whatever I might have said about Ace’s character appearing in too many stories and how Sophie Aldred fails to convince me on audio at times, I still have a great deal of affection for her character as portrayed on television. Aldred had a very natural screen presence and would only disappoint when the scripts let her down and forced her to spout some abysmal ‘street’ dialogue (Sesame Street more like). Mind when she turns up at the beginning of this story with a massive ghetto blaster (couldn’t the Doctor have given her a nice iPod instead?) you can pinpoint the era this was made immediately. At this point in the shows troubled period Ace is exactly what the series needs – a straight talking, cute and resourceful tomboy, the sort of companion you can imagine the Doctor wanting to travel around with (that hasn't been the case for a while). He knows that she is carrying Nitro Nine but chooses to ignore it until he needs to use it. Let’s assume that Ace and Mike spend a night together and their relationship wasn’t all just coy smiles otherwise it makes her reaction to his betrayal feel a little…overdone. Mind you he asks her to the pictures in episode three and surely you wouldn’t do that after a night of hot romance? Finally we’ve got a companion who doesn’t just stand there and scream at the Daleks (even Romana succumbed) and actually sets at them with a baseball bat. There are times like this when Ace is simply the best companion ever (and she does love flirting with a squaddie). Aldred does have a stab at making Ace’s heartbreak feel real but there’s not really enough substance to this relationship to break your heart.

Counter-Measures: What a stroke of genius it was to set the Doctor up with a proto version of UNIT in the sixties, giving the show a real sense of nostalgia without having to bring the old team out of retirement. There is the military buffoon (‘Chunky’ Gilmore), the scientific advisor (Rachel Jensen), her assistant (Alison) and a loyal sergeant (Mike). The fact that they are the best written and performed set of guest characters on the show for an age really helps to sell this story. They are so successful I could imagine further stories being set in and around this time period just to use them again. Or alternatively Big Finish could re-assemble the actors 20 years later and write and audio spin off series. Pamela Salem and Sylvester McCoy share such great chemistry (in the same way that Nerys Hughes and Peter Davison did in Kinda) that she is one of my greatest ‘I wish she could have been a companion.’ The Doctor always seems to have fantastic chemistry with intelligent, mature women so it baffles me as to why they keep giving him young girls to hang around with. We never quite figure out why Rachel trusts the Doctor so implicitly from the start, you just get a sense that she sees what an intelligent addition to the team he would be. He encourages her to think outside the box, to admit that the Daleks possess technology that is far superior to that of humanity. Rachel is in every sense a Liz Shaw wannabe (‘You drag me down from Cambridge!’) but manages to find her own unique character within those boundaries and I loved the moment where she ranted at Gilmore (‘Bluntly Group Captain we’re reliant on the Doctor because only the Doctor knows what is going on!’). The Doctor makes the obvious parallel between Gilmore and the Brigadier early on and their love/hate relationship is massively fun and very familiar. He needs the Group Captain’s assistance just in case things get nasty but his plan is quietly sort this whole mess out without them trying to fire a single shot.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘You can always judge a man by the qualities of his enemies.’
‘That thing merely disorients and weakens them. What do you expect me to do then - talk to them sternly?’

The Good:
  • You know you are dealing with something as bit special when the pre-titles sequence (itself a rarity in Doctor Who) features Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream’ speech over a slow roll back of the Earth in space being approached by a Dalek spaceship. Remembrance of the Daleks immediately feels like grown up television and I doubt this would have sat as comfortably before the credits in any of the last seasons stories.
  • I love Cartmel’s approach to breaking the Doctor and Ace straight into a story. Season twenty-four continued the faltering 80s approach of every story containing an establishing TARDIS scene that added very little to the story. This season (and the next apart from two exception) the Doctor and Ace would enter the story in its location and get all the expository dialogue done there. Straight to the point. Nice.
  • We haven’t seen anything as well paced and gritty as the action sequence in Totters Lane since the early UNIT days (Ambassadors of Death and The Mind of Evil spring to mind). After the camp as Christmas tone last year it might give you dramatic whiplash for the show abandon the jokes and to be      taking itself so seriously. The action is furious; bullets spitting, barrels leaping, soldiers dying and because it is a lone Dalek that is causing the terror it is one of the most effective portrayals of the species to date. The POV shots are marvellous.
  • A fantastic use of the Daleks in what is probably their most effective story since Genesis of the Daleks (I love Revelation but even I would stop short of calling it a great Dalek story). They’ve never looked sexier in the classic TV series with the spruced up Imperial Daleks taking my vote as the classiest looking Daleks of all time. What’s great is how we keep seeing the Daleks from so many different perspectives. For the Doctor they are his mortal enemy and he is determined to wipe them out once and for all. For Ace they are her first glimpse at alien aggressors on her travels and a genuinely formidable force. Rachel is thrilled at the prospect of getting to understand an alien life form. Radcliffe sees them as racist sympathisers who will be the muscle for his KEEP BRITAIN WHITE Party. To Gilmore they are a tactical force who need to be outgunned. It hasn’t been since Power of the Daleks that we have seen this many fascinating viewpoints of the Daleks in one story. I don’t think we needed the potted history of the Daleks (‘they conquered the Earth in the 22nd century’) but since the Doctor is explaining them to Ace they just about get away with it. (however there is little difference between this and the Doctor’s exposition in the park in The TV Movie and that is given a much harder time). The Daleks just kick ass in this story, don’t they? Smashing down doors, heads blowing off in spectacular fashion (especially when they do it sequentially like a pyrotechnic barber shop trio!), hunting on the streets and making the most dramatic entrance possible (blowing some gates clean away) so one faction can kick the crap out of the other. One of the Imperials literally goes up like the most combustible firework! That’s before mentioning the weapon of mass destruction that is the Special Weapons Dalek that can take out several Daleks with one shot. I love the look of the Renegade Daleks’ battle computer as well and the voice is especially creepy. When it is revealed that the little girl is nested inside with the Daleks leeching of her imagination I cheered with delight. It's great twist. How awesome is the scene where the claw snaps out and tries to take the Doctor’s head off? The Daleks are properly scary again. It's nice to see that the Dalek that spontaneously blew its top in Death to the Daleks wasn’t a one off with mental problems. With a little push (as the Doctor does to the Black Dalek here) they are all capable of it.
  • It’s always a pleasure to see Michael Sheard in Doctor Who. This is probably his smallest role in the series but he still makes an impression as the Headmaster from Hell. Then he’s had an awful lot of practice on Grange Hill. Peter Halliday’s appearance made me glow too.
  • Kisses to the past abound from a return to trip to Coal Hill School, the Doctor and Ace in the science lab and a book of the French Revolution. The difference between this and the never ending deluge of continuity in the mid 80s is that it isn’t intrusive and the plot doesn’t rely on us remembering things from yesteryear. They are delightful nods to An Unearthly Child to those in the know and quickly skipped over for those who don’t. I wouldn’t be aversed to continuity of this nature in the 50thanniversary season.
  • The first cliffhanger is justifiably lauded for finally showing us a Dalek floating up stairs and putting an end to all those predictable jokes about how manoeuvrable they are (it's either that or the hiding behind the sofa anecdote, both of which are so exhausted of meaning that you have to say them ‘knowingly’ to make an impact). It’s a terrific moment and the effects shot of the Dalek being assembled on he transmat pad is just as incredible. Sometimes Doctor Who pulls a special effect out of the bag (the opening Trial shot) that will convince you they had a much larger budget than was the actually the case. All of the cliffhangers in Remembrance are superbly realised and they all give me a ‘first transmission’ thrill every time I watch it. Ace being ambushed by a squadron of Daleks in the school is one of the shows most impressive set pieces; a whirlwind of destruction and cut together so fast it really gets your heart thumping! The spaceship landing in the playground remains one of Doctor Who’s most spectacular physical effects. It’s a real finger in the eye to CGI.
  • This is domestic Who long before Russell T Davies took hold of reins. You can see why Davies went for this approach because the scenes set at Mike’s mothers boarding house and the café add a great deal of realism and warmth to the story and allows to see the main characters have some necessary down time.
  • I love it when a theme is handled with subtlety and isn’t rammed down your throat. The ‘white kids fire bombed it’ moment in Ghost Light (as beautifully performed as it is) is the only point during that story that I cringe. Which is why the NO COLOREDS scene is so vital because it manages to discreetly unearth this story’s theme and show Ace’s position without uttering a single word. Had this been a scripted dialogue scene (or Cartmel’s future form) it might have been horrendous but as presented its one of Doctor Who’s quietest and most impressive morality lessons. It sure the hell beats Pertwee gazing into the camera and reminding us that war is hell or the world is going to pot. The ‘keep the outsiders out’ speech from Mike later on is nowhere near as effective and Ace’s ‘not pure in their blobbiness’ speech has come directly from CBBC. Sometimes silence is golden.
  • It wouldn’t be an 80s Dalek story without an appearance by Davros and he makes a particularly emaciated return to the show after his confident turn in Revelation of the Daleks. Like the Doctor between seasons, it would appear that much has happened to the character since we last saw him. I’ve heard it commented that Davros isn’t really needed in this story but I think it makes all the difference for the Doctor to be talking to a person and not a Dalek as he tricks them into destroying Skaro. Davros’ initial gloat which turns to fury when he realises he has been tricked gives the climax an edge that it would have lacked had it been a simple Dalek intoning the same dialogue. Terry Molloy is always great value and much of his dialogue is imminently quotable. ‘Does it worry you, Doc-tor, that with it I will transform Skaro’s sun into a source of unimaginable power! And with that power at my disposal the Daleks shall sweep away Gallifrey and its impotent chorum of Time Lords!’ It might not go down quite the way he was expecting but let's never again say that Davros isn’t a man of his word.
  • Whilst a funeral based climax is not original (Black Orchid) but its still a thoughtful coda for a story that has filled its running time with unusual narrative extras like this (the pre titles sequence, the café scene). It's nice to see Mike given an appropriate send off even after his betrayal and considering McLinden’s death it gives the climax an extra layer of poignancy.

The Bad:
  • There’s no nice way of saying this – Keff McCulloch’s musical score for this story threatens to single handedly tear down it's success. It takes a classily directed piece of science fiction and turns it into something cheap and tinselly every time it kicks in. After a while the story is so good that you barely notice the assault on your eardrums but I can only imagine what Dominic Glynn or Mark Ayres might have brought to this tale (the latters Terror at Totters Lane can be heard playing over a sequence of this story on the Greatest Show in the Galaxy DVD). Listen to it and weep. McCulloch’s disco beat when the Doctor and Ace go Dalek hunting has to be heard to be believed.
  • Jasmine Breaks isn’t the world's most convincing child actress. She’s fine when she has to stand around looking menacing (because practically any child could manage that) but sounds uncomfortable when she has dialogue to say (she really can’t get her mouth around ‘departure imminent’). Mind you I love her terror attack on the boarding house in the last episode, murdering Mike and hunting down Ace.
  • Under no circumstances would two civilians be able to procure an Anti Tank Rocket with such ease. Its so easy, its comical (‘you’ll have to sign for them, sir’).
  • I love the idea of the Doctor visiting the scene of his first story but since there has been no hint in the 24 intervening years that there was unfinished business waiting for him there I’m not sure if this works. It makes the Doctor look slapdash for waiting this long, doesn’t tie up with the continuity of the series (which saw the Doctor’s initial encounter with the Daleks take place after he left Earth so how did he set all this up destroy them before he met them in the first place?) and feels like it is making things up on the spot to please the fans when this is exactly the sort of thing that gets them in a tizzy. Just look at the trouble Moffat has been having lately. 
  • Forgive me but why doesn’t the Doctor just tell Gilmore what he is planning on doing? Rather than running rings around him he could have simply explained his plan about the Daleks leaving with the Hand of Omega and blowing up Skaro and they could have laid down their arms and let them get on with it.
  • Maybe they should have put down some planks for those Daleks? Watching them wobbling down the cobbled streets like they’ve had one to many at the pub isn’t their finest hour.
  • Mike has clearly been attending the Keys of Marinus school of revealing yourself as the villain, dropping some information that only a bad guy would know…
  • I love Roy Skelton’s Dalek voices but he couldn’t have sounded more like Zippy from Rainbow (with a cold) when he says ‘Shuttle force has entered heavy resistance…’
The Shallow Bit: What a babe Dursley McLinden is. He’s such a traditionally handsome male lead the story uses that image to trick you into thinking that he is a perfect love interest for Ace. It makes his betrayal cut that much deeper because we didn’t see it coming either. Sophie Aldred holding an bazooka and blowing the scalp off a Dalek is one of the hottest things Doctor Who has ever presented.

Result: Remembrance of the Daleks is a great story and it's one of the few McCoy’s that in my experience can turn the heads of fans that aren’t keen on the era. My husband is really not keen on the seventh Doctor and Ace but he adored this tale when we watched it. When she was younger my friends daughter made me watch the cliffhanger to episode two over and over again because she found it so exciting. Even my mother (televisions harshest critic) had positive things to say about this one. It's one of those rare classic Doctor Who stories where the story is as great as the sum of its parts and it never flags for its entire length. You’ve got an engaging guest cast, fantastic production values, a ambitious portrayal of the Daleks, lovely kisses to the past, heart stopping action, twists and turns and a Doctor and companion who seem made for each other. It works as both a monster tale, an examination of the Doctor, an all out action adventure and something far more adult and thoughtful. Andrew Cartmel has started to introduce some very strong themes into the show from racism to genocide and a betrayal of love and Ben Aaronovitch packs the story full of extremely quotable dialogue. A creative renaissance for the show? Maybe that’s a little grandiose but Remembrance of the Daleks sees this show being more sure of itself than it has been for years. It was proof to an increasingly doubtful audience that there was still a great deal for Doctor Who to give: 9/10

7 comments:

Andy said...

Because I have no musical taste at all, the Keff McCulloch score doesn't bother me that much. So, this perfect Dr Who story lets itself down in a single way - the awful special effect for the Dalek scrambling device. I don't believe that there is a single perfect Dr Who story that doesn't contain one teeth-gratingly awful moment!

Anonymous said...

Although I enjoy this story a lot, and it's my favorite of the season, I also have a number of dislikes:

I don't think McCoy is the right actor to play the master manipulator - there are moments when he's great, but he occasionally falls short.

I'm not a fan of implying that the Doctor is even more powerful, or that he really had a very powerful weapon with him that he hid in the first story - that just doesn't fit in. That said, apart from that, I do like the references back (much more than, say, The Five Doctors, because they don't come at the expense of a good story).

However, given all the attacks on Attack of The Cybermen being confusing to people who aren't regular viewers, I think this is just as bad, if not worse, than that. When I first watched Attack, I hadn't seen/read any of the stories it references (Tenth Planet, Tomb, Invasion), and yet was able to follow it without problem. I was having a harder time following this story the first couple of times I watched it, even though I had seen the previous stories. In part, this is because if you're only watching it casually, it's hard to tell who is on which side. But in part, it also has to do with the increased pacing (this stories, as well as some of the other stories of this season and the next, feel like they need to slow down and add another episode to them - Ghostlight is probably the most egregious example of this), and partly because the Doctor knows so much more than the viewer (in part because he's manipulating events). All of these things together make it hard to follow casually.

I do find the Doctor talking to a Dalek sternly into committing suicide a little silly, but thankfully that's the only such moment.

And then there's the Genocide bit. This isn't just the Doctor forced to kill for survival, this is the Doctor being cold and calculated and planning to commit genocide (from the onset). And doing it in such a smug way. Ugh. Where is The Inquisitor when you need her?

Joe Ford said...

The point of comparing this story to Attack of the Cybermen is a great one - and one that I have never thought about before. Both stories *are* continuity laden but only one story is punished for it.

Peakius Baragonius said...

From a McCoy fan:
1. Why are we to presume that proto-Counter Measures wouldn't have disregarded the Doctor's advice, or that their imperative would become to capture the Hand of Omega if the Doctor had given them time to digest the information?

2. It's never stated that he'd planned the events here from the beginning of his travels - presumably, he originally hid the device in Shoreditch because it was too dangerous to keep around/let fall into the wrong hands (I originally mistakenly wrote fans, but in certain circumstances that could be a pertinent statement I guess...I hate to think what you all would do to the McCoy and early Matt Smith era stories with that power!). This was probably before he realized how invaded this beautiful blue backwater of a planet would, but presumably when the different faction of Daleks started attempting to track it down he realized that he had the opportunity to defeat them (or at least Davros's faction which have inexplicably conquered Skaro since then.

Peakius Baragonius said...

3. On the Doctor's dark nature and "genocide": While I have grown to see that Season 22 up to 24 have their strengths among the weaknesses, even their most hardcore supporters should face the fact that the general public did not share their enthusiasm. The show was dying, thanks to its wishy-washy portrayal of the Doctor at that time (as well as general gruesomeness and poor writing). Now of course it isn't fair to blame this solely on the Colin Baker years - it was during the Davison era that Saward and JNT transformed the Doctor into a figure who was ultimately ineffective against, and sometimes even (through his stubborn inaction) complicit in, the violence and suffering he came across. Then, when Colin Baker took over, the Doctor seemed to become as much of a monster as those he fought - almost killing Peri, threatening to kill Russell (and terrifying Peri in the process), taking *joy* in the deaths of the Varos guards and his own murder of Shockeye (it is not the deaths themselves that people take offense to, it is the Doctor's pleased reaction to them that really turns people off). Stories with something worth saying - Vengeance on Varos and Revelation of the Daleks (one of my favorite Who stories actually) - were lost in the crowd, their gruesome elements standing out along with the stories like "Attack" and "Two Doctors" that revelled in them. And then gaudy pantos like Season 24 didn't help, seeming to prove the point that the show had become a toothless parody in the eyes of the public. The Doctor had ceased to *matter* in the battle against evil, or in the eyes of the general public.

Season 25 and the Cartmel "Masterplan" needed to happen. There, I said it. The show had to prove that it was willing to take risks, to change, to portray the Doctor as an effective force for good, to prove itself after the previous few seasons, especially in a time full of social injustice.

Let me ask you something: suppose America or Britain or the other countries found the location of a secret Al-Qaeda cell who were planning to wreck havoc with a new weapon they were planning to acquire. Is it more effective to wait until the damage has been done, to pick up the bodies and have to comfort the quivering survivors who lost everything because YOU didn't act, or do you strike pre-emptively (provided their are no innocents in the way) and wipe them out beforehand?

Peakius Baragonius said...

Perhaps the question would be slightly harder to answer in the real world, but in Remembrance these are DALEKS we're talking about. THE MOST EVIL RACE IN THE UNIVERSE. A whole empire of them under Davros's command. So that makes *two* Dalek empires out there, one of which has a clear base of operations on Skaro.

Also, it's pretty clear the Thals have left by this point. Remember, there's no mention of them at all in "Destiny of the Daleks", and "Asylum of the Daleks" refers to the planet as having been long abandoned. So any grumblings about the Doctor killing the Thals are just baloney.

Keeping that in mind, then the Doctor is pretty much COMPLETELY JUSTIFIED in doing what he did. It's not like he didn't wipe out huge armies of villains in EVERY SINGLE INCARNATION prior to his Seventh. The only difference is that the Doctor is going to extra lengths to make sure that they are defeated, in the process saving as many people as he can. After enduring tripe like "Warriors of the Deep" and "Resurrection of the Daleks", all I can say is "it's about time".

And if you're bothered by the whole "playing God" part of it, remember that the Doctor goes out of his way to *consult with the common man*. The café scene shows that the Doctor isn't full of delusions of godhood, he's trying to do the right thing as the Doctor has always done, and he goes so far as to seek the approval of the people he's fighting for.

I don't care what the New Adventures did, turning the Doctor into some cold-hearted manipulator with delusions of godhood and accompanying angst. Because on television, McCoy's Doctor still represents hope, heroism, trying to do the right thing, for individuals' benefits as well as the universe's. And he is, undoubtedly, the Doctor.

Tony said...

I watched this about a week ago via the Horror Channel and to be honest, i thought it has improved a touch since I last viewed it (about 5 years ago).

But they really shouldnt show Daleks trundling down cobbled streets.

The music is awful in a "pressing the demo button on a casio keyboard"

Its good 'classic who',would think that 8/10 is a fair score