As part of our 50th anniversary celebrations, we’re looking back at some of the pivotal tales of all of time and space, taking on one Doctor each month, running up to November – and An Unearthly Child…
There’s no doubt about it: Remembrance of the Daleks was the turning point for both the Seventh Doctor era and Doctor Who itself.
The previous season had been somewhat lighter than the intentions of Script Editor, Andrew Cartmel, but, with new companion, Ace (Sophie Aldred) on board the TARDIS, Remembrance opened Season 25 by introducing a new tone and a darker Doctor (Sylvester McCoy). The tale accomplishes an extraordinary task by being a traditional adventure and something decidedly new.
When it comes to examining Remembrance of the Daleks, we have to look to the show’s origins in 1963…
“Time Will Tell.”
On 23rd November 1963, An Unearthly Child gave us a mysterious traveller in time and space, his motives hidden, his origins unknown – an alien, in all senses of the word. But since then, we found out so much: he became more likeable, we found out his species and his home planet, and from seeing his stoic, corrupt peers, we came to partially understand why he stole a TARDIS and ran away.
The Cartmel Master Plan never existed, the term dreamt up to sum up the late-1980s movement pushed most prominently by the then-Script Editor, but it’s an effective umbrella for the Seventh Doctor era. Despite never being a seasoned viewer, Andrew Cartmel’s recollections of Doctor Who were of a mysterious old man fighting the Daleks – and he wanted that enigma back. He surrounded himself with like-minded writers – notably long-time fans, Marc Platt (Ghost Light) and Ben Aaronovitch – after a fan wrote to him and suggested he watch The Seeds of Doom and The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Seeing these and The Caves of Androzani (suggested by producer, John Nathan-Turner), Cartmel certainly had a grip on what Doctor Who at its best is like!
And in Season 25 and 26, the Doctor manipulated events, helping Ace face her fears and grow, and eventually revealed himself as the ultimate chess champion in The Curse of Fenric. Cartmel told TSV:
“I remember having this chat with Sylvester, probably during Season 25, where we said the Doctor is like a distant mountain range, mistily seen, an imposing power from a distance… In one sense it’s the cheapest, crassest plot device possible; in another it’s a stroke of characterisation that gives you chills down the spine. He should be this enigma. It all goes back to Doctor – Who? The mysterious, scary, powerful Doctor.”
Remembrance of the Daleks, essentially, is Cartmel’s statement of intent.
Recognising your Mortal Enemy
Harking back to the mysterious Doctor of old wasn’t the only way the season celebrated the show’s 25th anniversary in 1988/89. The fourteen-episode run featured many elements that make Doctor Who so great.
In The Happiness Patrol, the Doctor and Ace, two quiet travellers, land on Terra Alpha and decide to take down the government. And in The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, the pair take on beings with near-infinite power, the Gods of Ragnarok. These imbalances of power recur in tales like Pyramids of Mars and The Rings of Akhaten, Inferno and The Face of Evil. Of course, there’s also a delicious helping of horror traits (notably creepy clowns and a werewolf) and familiar Who tropes – like running down tunnels and corridors and posing questions the majority are too scared to ask.
Oh, and then there are Daleks and Cybermen.
The silver menaces from Mondas/Telos crop up in the actual 25th anniversary storyline, but Remembrance of the Daleks is as much a celebration as Silver Nemesis.
Supposedly set in November 1963, Remembrance addresses why the First Doctor (William Hartnell) was visiting London all that time ago and hints that the Time Lord’s secretive side has always been there, bubbling under the surface, influencing events from afar and tricking his enemies into doing his dirty work. It even has the audacity to hint that the Doctor has arrived in time to see his first adventure on TV!
Appearances from Pamela Salem (Robots of Death; The Face of Evil), Peter Halliday (The Invasion; Carnival of Monsters) and the prolific Michael Sheard (The Invisible Enemy; Castrovalva) ensure the cast is pleasingly familiar, alongside newcomers like Upstairs, Downstairs’ Simon Williams and The Diamond Brothers’ Dursley McLinden.
There’s a plethora of other references to the past; most obvious is Coal Hill School and For(e)man’s Scrap yard, two places An Unearthly Child took place – both of which shall be seen again in the 50th anniversary docudrama, An Adventure in Space and Time!
There are subtler allusions, of course, including Ace reading a book about the French Revolution… but half the fun is finding all these things yourself, so…
Unlimited Rice Pudding (Etc. Etc.)
Ben Aaronovitch, now best-known for his DC Peter Grant novel series (including Rivers of London and Broken Homes), was approached by Cartmel to open Season 25 with a Dalek story; Aaronovitch, a long-term Doctor Who fan, was over the moon and delivered a solid, much-loved script – the last Classic Who story to feature the show’s most famous foes.
That’s not the only reason why Remembrance of the Daleks is such a monumental story for those little green blobs in bonded polycarbide armour. It’s also the last Classic Doctor Who to feature – spoilers! – Davros and Skaro, but the first appearance of the iconic Special Weapons Dalek. Despite the TARGET novelisation of Remembrance stating that only one Special Weapons Dalek was ever created, it reappears briefly in 2012’s Asylum of the Daleks, and in the comic strips, Emperor of the Daleks! and Fire and Brimstone.
(If you want to get up close and personal, you can see the tank-like creature alongside other brilliant Dalek designs at the Doctor Who Experience.)
Remembrance of the Daleks also highlights a particular undercurrent in Dalek stories: civil war. Aaronovitch told Geek Chocolate’s Michael Flett:
“If you’re doing a story about the Daleks, then you’re doing a story about Nazism and racism, because that’s what the Daleks are like. I’d watched the very first Dalek story, and they do do a kind of Nazi salute at one point, and I thought, ‘okay, there’s no subtlety in this metaphor,’ so you may as well just take that. And if you’re going to do that then the themes must flow into it, so it becomes about racism, it becomes about misguided loyalty, it becomes about absurd notions of difference, and in a way that makes it easier to write, because you go ‘ah, that’s why the Daleks are fighting, because they don’t like each other.’ You don’t have to come up with a complex five page exposition of why the Daleks are fighting each other.”
As with racism, as with the Nazis, it all comes down to ‘purity.’ All the way back in 1963/64’s The Daleks, the First Doctor encountered them and the Thals, the former ironically thinking the Aryan-esque race was impure. Of course, this is the core concept of the Daleks, their raison d’être: to rid the universe of anything that’s not pure Dalek.
The idea of their race splitting into factions was first introduced in 1967’s The Evil of the Daleks, and we see that they turn against their own creator in Genesis of the Daleks (1975).
Expanded upon in Resurrection of the Daleks (1984) and Revelation of the Daleks (1985), it’s further strengthened by Bad Wolf/ The Parting of the Ways (2005) in which the Ninth Doctor realises the Daleks hate their own flesh – and the idea is subverted after Daleks from The Stolen Earth/ Journey’s End (2008) welcome death at the hands of the new paradigm in 2010’s Victory of the Daleks.
But the civil war has never been portrayed better than in Remembrance, which features the Imperial and Renegade factions.
A perfect Doctor-companion team; beautiful white-and-gold Daleks; plenty of explosions; kisses to the past; a UNIT-like taskforce; a very effective baseball bat; awesome cliffhangers; moral dilemmas; Geoffrey from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – - Oh, and a Dalek climbing stairs for the first time ever.
Remembrance of the Daleks is Doctor Who at its finest.