Due to the fact we can’t physically watch and review every classic Doctor Who story before the 50th Anniversary, we have decided to check out two episodes in each Doctor’s era every week until the 50th. This week is the Seventh Doctor’s week, featuring Remembrance of the Daleks and The Curse of Fenric. For those looking for another good episode to understand the Seventh Doctor, also look at Survival.
Remembrance of the Daleks is the first serial of the 25th season of Doctor Who. This four-parter contains many references to the show itself and is set in 1963, around the same time as the pilot, An Unearthly Child. It also continues the Dalek’s civil war story arc, and is the last appearance of Davros and the Daleks in classic Doctor Who.
It’s fitting we watch Remembrance of the Daleks, as it is the 25th anniversary of Doctor Who, which of course is celebrating its 50th anniversary in a few weeks.
Being the Doctor’s most ardent, destructive enemies, it makes sense that the Daleks show up to the party, which is set in Coal Hill Public School and its surrounds. The name should ring a bell – it’s the school that First Doctor companions Ian and Barbara taught in, and that Susan went to. The Daleks are in civil war yet again, and are searching for a MacGuffin the Doctor has hidden: the Hand of Omega. (Apparently Omega is a Time Lord.) Anyway, this artefact gives Gallifreyans the ability to time travel. Naturally, the Daleks decide that they should be able to have mastery over time and space, and are also seeking the device.
Lots of adventure ensues, as does a fair amount of internal references (noted with much excitement on my part). When the Doctor first arrives on Earth in his original incarnation, he is very different from the Seventh Doctor, and this is noted by a human he enlists to help him bury the Hand of Omega. Perhaps the most overt (and amusing) was an old television set announcing the continuation of an adventure in “the new science fiction series Doc-“.
As for the Seventh Doctor’s companion: I love Ace, a lot. While she’s perhaps not as supermodelish as Amy Pond (she is only meant to be seventeen after all), she has a warmth and friendliness other characters are always drawn to. I’m assured there’s a lot of backstory to her character, and while it’s not heavily explored in this episode, the other Seventh Doctor story we watched, The Curse of Fenric, does delve into it further. All we really need to know in this episode is that she loves explosions, as every lady should, and is very brave. This comes in handy on several occasions, and she has the most glorious scene in the entire story: battering a Dalek with a supercharged baseball bat. Amazing.
I’m also a big fan of Sylvester McCoy’s Seventh Doctor. He’s still capable of being grumpy and superior like many of his incarnations, but the relationship between him and his human companions reads as that of partners, and he treats Ace almost as a daughter, which is adorable. They have a great dynamic and it makes for compelling watching. However, he still has a dark side: in this episode it’s most notable in one scene in which he literally goads a Dalek into killing itself. Dark stuff.
The human side characters are also great: the military forces consist of a scientist who has been reluctantly pulled away from her actual work at a university and her assistant, Ace’s boy of the week Sergeant Mike Smith, and many more. It’s great to see the BBC working on diversity in their casting (even if episodes are often lacking in people of colour) and it feels like these episodes portray women much better than episodes in the new series.
A thing I love with the classic series is that while big events transpire, they’re very played down, and it’s only later that we realise how significant they are. In this episode, it is revealed that the Time War that the Doctor ends somewhere in between the Eight and Ninth Doctor tenures is also the war he starts by keeping the Hand of Omega from the Daleks. I’m not sure how significant the writers planned to make this at the time, but looking back on it in 2013 is certainly interesting.
Ah yes, the Seventh Doctor. Personally, I feel that his tenure gets a lot of criticism from the Doctor Who fan base, because he was the Doctor when the show was cancelled. Certainly, he had some atrocious stories, mainly in his first season, but this story, Remembrance of the Daleks, saw a revival in story writing and production. This story, the companion, Ace, is awesome, the Daleks are well done, and there is a ridiculous amount of meta going on. The plot is also quite strong – although slightly complex, it is interesting enough to be engaging and yet not too complicated to bewilder the audience. Overall, a fantastic story and serial.
A Dalek civil war rages on the streets of London, and there is treachery, surprises, a calculating and master-planner Doctor, Ace with a baseball bat, anti-racism and meta references at every turn. The story is set just after the First Doctor kidnaps Barbara and Ian on their first adventure in 1963. He arrives, and then gets a hold the Hand of Omega, a stellar manipulator device which would give the Daleks the power of time travel and allow them to wage war across all of time and space. The Doctor is enacting a plan to destroy the Daleks (although at the implied time the First Doctor hasn’t actually met them – that being said, time travel and all that). In the meantime, there is a Dalek civil war raging, with the Rebel Daleks already being on Earth and being led by a Battle Computer and a hidden figure; and the Imperial Daleks hovering above Earth in a space ship and who are led by the Emperor Dalek. The Rebel Daleks are assisted by a group of humans who are basically fascists, wanting to “make Britain strong” and who like to “protect their own”. Overall, the story is well constructed, despite the minor meta flaw (oh well – Doctor Who is notorious for canon inaccuracies), the story is solid and well written.
There are several meta things that happen in this episode, especially watching in 2013. First and foremost is the references to the old series – the First Doctor gets a couple of mentions, as does the Brigadier. Coal Hill Public School, Ian and barbara’s school, makes an appearance, as does Susan’s history book and Ian’s science lab. Secondly, the Emperor of the Daleks taunts the Doctor that with the Hand of Omega, he will declare war on the Time Lords and make the Daleks masters of time and space. This is a reference to the Time War, and it can be seen that the Doctor’s actions here, along with those in Genesis of the Daleks, are a direct declaration of war on the Daleks by the Time Lords. Therefore the Doctor actually causes the Time War which he is so distraught by in the new series. Thirdly, as a bit of a fun note, in one scene Ace leaves a television set running, which states that it is introducing a new science-fiction series, which is very obviously Doctor Who. Although a little nonsensical, it is a great deal of fun to watch.
The characters are well acted and written in this story as well. Ace is brilliant, easily one of my favourite companions in the entire history of the show, not just the Classic Series. As a taste of her awesomeness, she assaults a Dalek with a supercharged baseball bat, and wins. She also has an appreciation for explosives (although she’s not very good at the fuses, much to the Seventh Doctor’s annoyance), and has a strong moral code, which comes to the fore when she finds a “no colours” sign on a hotel. The Seventh Doctor is a very different character to his predecessors – he is a master planner, which is something that first makes its appearance in this story. Whilst he is still bit of a clown, he is definitely a darker character from the other, earlier selves. The other characters are an interesting array, a mixture of soldiers and scientists, as well as new Daleks such as the Special Weapons Dalek (everyone secretly wants one of those, deep inside).
In conclusion, a very strong story, with strong characters. Truly enjoyable as a story, and definitely worth watching for any Doctor Who fan.