Remembrance of the Daleks ***

The 25th anniversary season takes the Doctor back to London 1963 for a Dalek showdown

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Doctor Who story guide
Patrick Mulkern
Patrick Mulkern
Remembrance of the Daleks ***

Season 25 – Story 148  

“They hate each other’s chromosomes. War to the death” – Ace

Storyline
The Doctor has some unfinished business that takes him right back to the start of his televised travels – to London 1963. He and Ace team up with a military/scientific corps tracking a Dalek at Totter’s Lane junkyard, while at Coal Hill School more Daleks have set up a transmat in the cellar and a launch pad in the playground. Two factions are at war for racial supremacy: renegades commanded by a Black Dalek and Imperial Daleks led by the Emperor (Davros in disguise). They’re searching for the Hand of Omega, a remote stellar manipulator created by the Time Lords and left on Earth by the first Doctor. It is part of an elaborate trap – the Doctor goads Davros into activating the device, which sees his archenemies and their home world Skaro vaporised.

First transmissions
Part 1 - Wednesday 5 October 1988
Part 2 - Wednesday 12 October 1988
Part 3 - Wednesday 19 October 1988
Part 4 - Wednesday 26 October 1988

Production
OB recording: April 1988 in London at St John’s School, Hammersmith; Kew Bridge Steam Museum, Brentford; John Nodes Funeral Service, Ladbroke Grove; Willesden Lane Cemetery; Theed Street and Windmill Walk, Waterloo.
Studio recording: April 1988 in TC8

Cast
The Doctor - Sylvester McCoy
Ace - Sophie Aldred
Group Captain “Chunky” Gilmore - Simon Williams
Sergeant Mike Smith - Dursley McLinden
Professor Rachel Jensen - Pamela Salem
Allison Williams - Karen Gledhill
Ratcliffe - George Sewell
Headmaster - Michael Sheard
Harry - Harry Fowler
Vicar - Peter Halliday
The Girl - Jasmine Breaks
Embery - Peter Hamilton Dyer
John - Joseph Marcell
Martin - William Thomas
Kaufman - Derek Keller
Davros - Terry Molloy
Emperor Dalek - Roy Tromelly (anagram for Terry Molloy)
Dalek operators - John Scott Martin, Tony Starr, Cy Town, Hugh Spight
Black Dalek operator - Hugh Spight
Dalek voices - Brian Miller, Royce Mills, Roy Skelton, John Leeson

Crew
Writer - Ben Aaronovitch
Designer - Martin Collins
Incidental music - Keff McCulloch
Script editor - Andrew Cartmel
Producer - John Nathan-Turner
Director - Andrew Morgan

RT review by Patrick Mulkern
OK, let’s start with that title. 1980s Doctor Who is fixated with Dalek story titles beginning with “Re”: Resurrection… Revelation… Perhaps having ruled out Restoration and Repetition, chewed over Repêchage and Rectum, John Nathan-Turner plumps for Remembrance of the Daleks! It may not really relate to anything in the plotline but, hey, it resonates and reflects an air of revelry… 

For this rambunctious four-parter launches Doctor Who’s 25th anniversary. It not only reunites the Time Lord with his deadliest enemies and their creator Davros, it also returns to the dawn of the series: the school where the first Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan, caused consternation for her teachers, Ian and Barbara; and the junkyard (now more evidently a scrap merchant’s) where they stumbled upon the Tardis.

So praise to all for attempting to honour the programme’s roots, even if, sadly, the effect is more of the present clomping all over the past. Remembrance doesn’t have a shred of the atmosphere conjured by Waris Hussein’s debut episode, An Unearthly Child. Not for one second am I convinced that this drama takes place in London 1963. 

Horrible dance-beat music and harsh on-location video-recording place it slap-bang in the 1980s. The devil is in the detail. Anachronistic parking bays are painted on the roads. Modern cars pass in the background. The design team laboriously re-creates the original wording on the scrapyard gates but misspells “Foreman” as “Forman”. 

In a cheeky anniversary touch, Ace switches on a telly in a B&B and leaves the room just as an announcer says: “This is BBC television. The time is a quarter past five and Saturday viewing continues with an adventure in the new science fiction series, Doc…” It doesn’t matter that the 1963 announcement was much simpler. More importantly, the TV set looks too modern, 1970s at best, not like some boxy 1950s relic that this down-at-heel lodging house would surely own. It’s also broad daylight outside, not night-time as it should be at 5.15pm on 23 November. 

The script implies that when the series began, the first Doctor had been in London to conceal a casket containing the Hand of Omega, thus laying a trap that he or a later incarnation could spring on the Daleks. But, unequivocally, the Doctor’s earliest awareness of the Daleks occurred in his second televised adventure. 

I’m nitpicking, maybe being too harsh with this fan favourite, but such niggling points underpin the greater failings of a production where little rings true. 

At the top, I’m not at all sure about the seventh Doctor and Ace. Sylvester McCoy makes the Time Lord endearing but he’s jettisoned his japing from season 24, and struggles to convey gravitas. He’s now lustily rolling his Rs (“I made a grrrave errrorr of judgment”) and elongating words like “leeeeeeavve”.

Sophie Aldred attacks Ace with gusto – bashing one Dalek with a baseball bat, blasting another with a rocket launcher, jumping over tables in a science lab and smashing through a window. But despite her Nitro-9 explosives, Ace is a peculiarly safe, middle-class rendering of a streetwise kid.

Ben Aaronovitch’s script is thoughtful and neatly draws parallels between the Dalek mindset and racial tensions in 1960s London. To this end, Mike is the most intriguing character – a dashing sergeant in a flying jacket, who seems terribly nice but is actually a traitor with fascist tendencies. (Dursley McLinden, a promising young actor, died seven years later. The Independent printed a poignant obituary.) 

Other characters lack depth. Simon Williams plays the same old upper-class twit; George Sewell is as dull as ever as a small-time crook; the alluring Pamela Salem almost makes Rachel breathe (she’s like a blend of former Who companions Barbara and Liz). Her colleague Allison is redundant. Most annoying is the skipping, scowling schoolgirl. Almost every appearance is heralded by a rendering of Ring a Ring o’ Roses. It’s intended to be eerie but is simply drippy. 

The dizzying pace at times compensates for such shortcomings. Action scenes are well handled by director Andrew Morgan, from the extravagance of a full-size spaceship landing in the playground to a soldiers-v-Dalek battle in Totters Lane. The extermination effect packs far more punch than ever before. And a fabulous cliffhanger proves that Daleks can indeed go upstairs. 

The Black (and silver) Dalek looks gorgeous, almost like one of the shiny versions from the 1960s movies, but most of the Daleks look fragile, wobbling on cobbles. They shriek “Exterminate!” but will not get on with it. Predominant voice artist Roy Skelton seems stuck in Zippy mode. And I can’t decide about the tank-like Special Weapons Dalek: menacing or absurd? 

What is unforgivable in Remembrance is that the Doctor (without any apparent compunction) tricks Davros into using the Hand of Omega, so that Skaro is vaporised. When an anxious Ace asks at the end, “We did good, didn’t we?” he replies, “Time will tell. It always does” – blithely skating over the fact that he and, by extension, the Time Lords have double genocide on their hands. Daleks and the pacifist Thals lived on Skaro.

No wonder when Russell T Davies brought the Daleks back 17 years later, he established the back-story of a Time War, which was initiated by Gallifrey in Genesis of the Daleks and is surely ramped up several notches in Remembrance.

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Radio Times archive material

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RT letters

A rare behind-the-scenes shot in the backstreets of Waterloo, showing the Special Weapons Daleks, dismantled Daleks and the Dalek operators' tricycles that go inside the bases. (Photographed for Radio Times by Don Smith)

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