Remembrance of the Daleks
- Buy the DVD
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
t’s almost a shame this title is being released on the same day as the inaccurately named “Dalek War” box set, because “Remembrance” features far more Dalek carnage. Better still, it’s Dalek whooping Dalek ass, assuming Daleks have asses to whoop. Having been very unkind to the Sylvester McCoy era in recent Bullz-Eye reviews (“Delta and the Bannermen” and “Battlefield”), this story affords the opportunity to bestow some major kudos. Like the story itself, let’s travel back to another time.
In 1988, “Doctor Who” had seen far better days. Colin Baker’s controversial era – during which the show was put on hiatus for 18 months – hadn’t gone down well with viewers, and he was eventually fired. The first season of Doctor #7 (McCoy) was god awful – surely the worst the series had ever seen, and it proved that Baker wasn’t the problem. The show’s 25th Anniversary was approaching, and even the faithful had lost faith. Could there possibly be anything new unveiled worth celebrating? Season 25 charged out of the gate with a “fuck that shit” attitude: “Remembrance of the Daleks” aimed to prove that not only the Doctor, but the Daleks themselves, still had a lot of life left in them. It’s something of a shame that Colin Baker’s Dalek story was titled “Revelation of the Daleks,” because back in the day, this is the one that felt revelatory.
The Doctor and his new companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) arrive in London in 1963 at Coal Hill School – the very time and place of the first “Who” episode ever, “An Unearthly Child” (this story is best appreciated if that single episode is viewed prior to it, although it’s by no means necessary). The Doctor left something powerful behind all those years ago, and he’s come back to collect it. But the Daleks are at work on Earth, and they want the powerful something as well. It’s a Time Lord device called the Hand of Omega; a remote stellar manipulator that can do all sorts of powerful things, but really it’s just a MacGuffin around which this story is built. And so begins a tale of mystery, nostalgia, and racism. Mostly, though, it’s about Daleks, and how uninteresting they’d become over the years – because here they are not. Here they’re ass-kicking terror machines. There’s even a sort of steam-punk version called the Special Weapons Dalek that can obliterate other Daleks with one blast. Given that the new series has completely rewritten the book on how badass Daleks can be, the story probably isn’t as unique as it once was, and yet for those who care to take into account production values of any given time, this remains something pretty special.
“Remembrance” also kick-started the attempt to bring some mystery back to the show’s central character, and it works marvelously. For the first time in a good long while, we got the impression that the Doctor was truly a force with which to be reckoned. McCoy is perfectly acceptable in the role, and watching this you’d never guess that nonsensical crap like “Battlefield” was waiting right around the corner. (In a sad twist of fate, “Remembrance” and “Battlefield” were written by the same man, Ben Aaronovitch.) Aldred’s Ace was also a standout, especially for viewers who’d endured a season and a half of Melanie Bush. The duo seemed an ideal team, and it’s almost a shame the show wasn’t canceled immediately after this story.
Well, almost; truth be told, there’s one McCoy entry I prefer to this story, but it’s not one that’s as easy to recommend. This thing is just crowd-pleasing entertainment, firing on most every cylinder. There are a few goofy elements in the third episode, including its cliffhanger and a “time controller” that’s easily purchased at your local Spencer’s Gifts, but by and large, if you’re going to watch or own one tale from McCoy’s era, this is it, especially if you’re a fan of the new series.
This “Special Edition” is actually a double-dip, as “Remembrance” was one of the first “Who” DVDs released. Outside of what I’ve read, I have no experience with the previous disc, so I don’t really know whether it’s worth buying again. Gut instinct tells me it’s not, unless you’re a whore for 5.1 Surround tracks, in which case, yes, by all means pick it up, because it sounds great. Anyone hoping to hear the Beatles tracks that were replaced for the previous release will be disappointed. Once again, for clearance reasons, “Do You Want to Know a Secret?” and “A Taste of Honey” are absent, although “Return to Sender” by Elvis remains intact.
Special Features: These extras feel pretty average for a “Who” DVD, which still makes them above average compared to most TV on DVD. If you didn’t own the previous release, however, I’m sure they’ll fit the bill. All the stuff from the previous disc has been ported over, I believe, including the commentary track with McCoy and Aldred, extended and deleted scenes, outtakes, and the multi-angle sequence. New features include making-of and “Remembrances” featurettes, and the aforementioned surround mix, alongside a music-only option. Probably the big draw here for those who owned the previous edition is the sole feature on Disc Two, which is a 43-minute documentary called “Davros Connections” that will be of moderate interest to anyone unfamiliar with the Dalek creator’s presence on the Big Finish line of audio releases, as it covers all that material in addition to his TV appearances. Unfortunately, the doc was produced prior to his reappearance in Season Four of the new series, so that fare isn’t even mentioned. Even though this is a two-disc set, the price point is the same as a single disc, which is, of course, a good thing.