Will Brooks’ 50 Year Diary - watching Doctor Who one episode a day from the very start...
Day 699: Remembrance of the Daleks, Episode Four
Ladies and gentlemen, we are at war!
Those of you who’ve been reading along with my marathon for a while will know that I’ve been tracking the evolution of the Time War (sometimes in very spurious ways) for quite some time now. It’s largely because after 50-odd years of Doctor Who, things don’t always hang together all that neatly. Different producers, script editors, writers, and directors have all brought their own things to the programme over the years, and altered the mythos as they go. The Time Lords change on screen - from the immensely powerful god-like beings of The War Games to the asinine bureaucrats of The Deadly Assassin and beyond (though I still maintain that it’s the difference in seeing them through Jamie and Zoe’s eyes in that first story, and the Doctor’s view of them later on). The process of regeneration is made up when the need arises to allow the lead actor to leave the show. A decade later, that ability is capped at a set number of regenerations. At one point, we even see lots of the Doctor’s previous incarnations, meaning that he really should have died with Davison (‘is this death?’).
That’s why I can’t help but love the Time War. It’s big, and it’s mythic. The programme goes off the air for sixteen years - save for a one night fling with Paul McGann in the mid-1990s - and when it returns, everything has changed. The Doctor’s not been having adventures on our TV screens each Saturday night, because he’s been busy, off fighting a bigger war between his own people and his greatest enemies. It almost justifies the fact that there’s such a big gap in the broadcast of the show, and I love that idea. And yet… it’s all right here, being built up in the narrative of the ‘classic’ series for ages. When the Doctor first encounters the Daleks on Skaro, they’re just the week’s evil alien baddies to be stopped. By the time they return the following year, though, they’ve become the catalyst for the biggest change in the Doctor’s personality. Do you remember, back in those early days, how I used to track the Doctor’s evolution from the man we met in the junkyard through to the man he would then become? Fittingly, we’ve returned to that junkyard with this story, because this tale is unambiguously a major early strike in the Time War.
You don’t even have to try to shoe-horn it in. This isn’t like my argument that The Invasion of Time is a part of the war (I’m still convinced that it is), but it’s absolutely a part of it. Going back half the programme’s life time from here, The Genesis of the Daleks is also 100% a part of the Time War - it’s the Time Lords taking that very first strike. All these different production teams coming in and imposing their very different wills on the programme over the years, and yet when this major upheaval comes in - the Doctor becoming the last surviving member of his race - it’s perfectly in keeping with everything we’ve seen before, and retroactively looks like a great big game. I love that, and I think that’s even gone so far as to help up this story a little in my estimations.
Not that it needs that, of course, because Remembrance of the Daleks is simply a brilliant piece of Doctor Who. I think, if anything, it’s suffered slightly from how little I enjoyed Season Twenty-Four (I know, I promised not to bring it up again, but bear with me. I’ll not mention it for at least the rest of this season, promise). Because I became so used to handing out 3/10 and 4/10, suddenly having a story like this, which is such a leap in quality, throws me a bit. Had I been bobbing along with episodes at around 7/10, then this story would likely have rated a bit higher, because it’s so head-and-shoulders above the rest. It’s almost as thug hI’ve rated it down a little bit because I’ve been expecting the worst for a while.
I’m not going to really discuss today’s episode in a great deal of detail, because it seriously runs the risk of just me gushing over everything again. The guest cast on top form, the sets and locations looking lovely. The special effects (that Dalek battle under the bridge!) are fab. Sylvester McCoy is finally proving that he’s the right man for the job and a brilliant Doctor… Really, I’m going to sound ridiculous if I carry on. I think I’m just pleased that this is the final Dalek story of the ‘classic’ run, because it’s such a grand way to see them out - a real return to form, and easily their best outing since Genesis of the Daleks. I think this is probably the one I’d want to show new fans looking to get in to the classic series with a Dalek tale - because it sets everything up really nicely, and all that Time War stuff I’ve been banging on about is an easy bridge from the modern stuff, too.
The one thing I do want to draw attention to, though, is the way that this story uses Davros - because it’s the only one since Genesis to really get it right. Davros here is used sparingly. Really sparingly. He doesn’t turn up until this episode (or, rather, he’s not actually revealed - we see the ‘Emperor’ in Episode Three, too), but the whole story plays on your expectation that he’ll arrive. Because Terry Nation insisted on the character being in all Dalek stories from Genesis on, you reach points like Revelation of the Daleks, which seem to have Davros there just for the sake of bringing the character back. Hello, Doctor, I’ve lured you here to taunt a bit and stop my evil plans, etc.
Here, we’re built up to believe that the creature in Ratcliffe’s office could be Davros - it looks and sounds like him, after all, before we’re shocked with the reveal of the little girl plugged in to a Dalek Battle Computer. Just when you think we could be having a Davros-free story, the Emperor’s casing flips open and there he is! It’s a great moment, and I love that he’s so completely encased in the machine. From here in the audios, he returns in Terror Firma, where he’s become even more of a ‘Dalek’, and that really does feel like a natural evolution from this point. I just think that this is such a clever way of playing with your expectations of a Dalek story, and then doing something entirely different with it.
Oh, and it gives us the ‘unlimited rice pudding’ line, which is always sure to raise a smile!