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Anniversary Week: Remembrance of the Daleks Review

Episode: Remembrance of the Daleks
Written by: Ben Aaronovitch
Directed by: Andrew Morgan
Starring: Sylvester McCoy as the Doctor, Sophie Aldred as Ace, Terry Molloy as Davros, Simon Williams as Group Captain Gilmore.

Remembrance of the Daleks was the first pre-2005 episode that I watched. It opened up a whole new world of Doctor Who for me, so I’ve always had a certain fondness for it.

The episode comes at the start of Season 25, and with the show celebrating its 25th Anniversary, producer John Nathan-turner wanted to do something special to mark the occasion. Therefore Remembrance became a sort of unofficial anniversary episode, with plenty of references and throwbacks to years gone by and the appearance of the show’s most successful villains, the Daleks.

Remembrance is remembered for one particular scene. One moment from that sticks into the mind of viewers, if for the wrong reason. At the end of the first episode, The Doctor stumbles up a flight of stairs trying to escape a Dalek, only to be horrified by the sight of it elevating and floating up the stairs towards him. This scene will have surprised a lot of people, introducing to them the idea that Daleks can now fly. Although this wildly spread myth is partly true – this is the first time we visibly see a Dalek fly – the notion that they can fly was introduced as early as Season two’s The Chase. Still, back then this must have felt like a momentous event. Even after 25 years, the Daleks were still surprising people.

The plot is fairly thin for Doctor Who, with two Dalek factions fighting over a Time Lord device and the Doctor having to make sure the right group gets control of it. That’s pretty much it, but even spanned over four episodes, the story never feels flat. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred – as The Doctor and Ace respectively – give great performances, and their characters’ relationship feels very real in this story, which, given that they had only met in the previous story, is a testament to the two brilliant actors. The two characters also get some great scenes in this episode. Ace beating up Daleks with a baseball bat is quite the fan pleaser.

The Doctor’s pondering in the cafe is a beautiful little scene, and one of my favourites. It contains one of my favourite bits in Doctor Who where the Doctor, when asked if he wants sugar in his tea, questions “Beyond the confines of my tastebuds, would it make any difference?” and then goes on to question whether his decision to take sugar in his tea would affect the rest of life, including the people who make the sugar. It’s only a brief moment of questioning, but it really highlights the Doctor’s inquisitive nature and shows how he thinks about every little detail in life. The scene ends on a joke with the Doctor paying with currency from 30 years in the future. This is a great little addition that reminds us of the time travel element of the show and brings us back on a high after the contemplative moments just before.

Meanwhile, Ace beating up Daleks with a baseball bat is quite the fan pleaser. The Doctor and Ace’s relationship feels very real in this story, which, given that they had only met in the previous story, is a testament to the two brilliant actors.

The story introduces a range of new characters, including Group Captain Gilmore and his gang acting as not-quite-UNIT, who later went on to star in their own line of Big Finish audios. We also get a chilling performance from Terry Molloy’s insane Davros.

But the best guest star in this episode is of course the Special Weapons Dalek. Trundling into the war zone with it’s big cannon and warn look, this Dalek won the hearts of viewers, with the fan’s focus of 2012’s Asylum of the Daleks being the Special Weapons Dalek’s 1 second cameo. The Daleks, although often redesigned, are not usually given such an extreme makeover, so this Dalek is somewhat of a novelty for viewers.

The references in the episode are a nice touch, with the main part of the story being set in Coal Hill School and the junkyard on Totter’s Lane which both featured in the very first episode, An Unearthly Child, way back in 1963, which serves nods to the First Doctor – the “old geezer with white hair” – who also gets a mention. There are also a few other little gems in this episode. Ace reading a book on the French Revolution (a nod to Susan who did the same in An Unearthly Child),  the x-ray extermination effect (which is used for the first time in this episode) and the little in joke with the BBC continuity announcer who announces “an adventure in the new science fiction series Doc…” which is probably the riskiest bit of dialogue in the show’s history (after the Ninth Doctor’s half-human remark obviously).

As with Genesis of the Daleks (reviewed by Jenna), The Doctor makes a choice in this story that has a big effect on the Daleks, although this time he is less hesitant when it comes to blowing up the Dalek’s home planet, Skaro. Remembrance also revisits the idea of the Nazi and political parallels with the Daleks, with two factions fighting each other, Ratcliffe’s fascist association and hints at racism – including a ‘no coloureds’ sign in the guesthouse.

Overall, this episode serves as one of the highlights of Season 25. It’s hard to believe such a great episode was followed by The Happiness Patrol, but during a rough time in the show’s history, Remembrance of the Daleks stands out to me – and I’m sure many of you – as one of the best episodes in the show’s long and rich history.