24 February 2016

Remembrance Of The Daleks - My Favourite Doctor Who Story

Written by Ben Aaronovitch, Remembrance Of The Daleks is the 148th Doctor Who story, first shown on British television in Series 25 in 1988. With the series' popularity in rapid decline, Andrew Cartmel, then script editor, wanted to reinvent the Seventh Doctor somewhat, played by Sylvester McCoy. Cartmel came up with what has been dubbed the "Cartmel Masterplan", and attempts to add a darker, more mysterious side to the Doctor, through implicit, rather than explicit, revelation. It implies that he was one of the founding figures of Time Lord society on Gallifrey alongside Omega and Rassilon. There are some good examples of this from Series 25 and Series 26. And as the first story from Series 25, Remembrance Of The Daleks is the first such story to have a couple of lines of dialogue with this idea.

To watch Sylvester McCoy's Doctor make the transition from total pantomime idiot to dark and foreboding is incredible. In that transition period, some of the finest pieces of acting I have ever seen come alive. The Greatest Show In The Galaxy, for instance, features The Doctor clowning around in a circus, before a sudden - very sudden! - change in facial expression when the receptionist asks him if he would like to see the future whilst holding up a card reading "The Hanged Man", with a deadly serious "not just yet" being spoken. By Series 26, McCoy's Doctor is incredibly dark, and the incredible climax of the final story of that series, Survival, has an incredible confrontation with The Master - and when The Master cannot defeat him with words, he resorts to force. The Doctor... ah, I won't spoil it. But it gives rise to the one Doctor Who quotation that I have managed to implant on a peer successfully (i.e. someone other than me is saying it). The transition starts at the very end of Dragonfire, when he talks the villain into committing suicide, "Raiders Of The Lost Ark"-style (i.e. he melts). And indeed, the first story in which he becomes a fully dark man is probably Battlefield. But that means that in Remembrance Of The Daleks, we get both the pantomime Doctor and the dark Doctor.

And now for a brief interlude...



Remembrance Of The Daleks begins with a shot of Earth, with lots of 1963 speeches: "our most basic common link", "I have a dream", and so on. The camera pulls back to reveal a spaceship in a geostationary orbit gliding above the planet.


At the Coal Hill School (yes, the same Coal Hill School that Susan attended, and Ian, Babara, and Clara all taught), the pupils are leaving for the day, but a little girl is too busy watching a middle-aged woman get into a van with an odd aerial on top. The Doctor arrives in the TARDIS with his bad-ass companion, Ace, who promptly moans about being hungry, so whilst The Doctor decides to examine the van's aerial and said girl (who seems to recognise him, but does not say so to him) and woman, Ace pops down to a café to buy four (!) bacon sandwiches and a cup of coffee. There, she meets a man called Mike. When they are walking back to the school/van/TARDIS, with Mike trying to explain pre-decimal currency to her, a cry of "Sergeant!" is heard, coming from the woman, Rachel. Mike responds to it, leaving Ace baffled. Rachel, Mike, The Doctor, and Ace all bundle into the van to get to Totters Lane (yes, the same Totters Lane where the TARDIS was in An Unearthly Child), whereupon they meet the group captain, "chunky" Gilmore.

Do my insides look good in this?
Why were they called? A soldier lies dead in the yard, and The Doctor concludes that his insides were "scrambled" as a result of a projected energy weapon - a "death ray". Mike gets some soldiers to move the body, and as they are doing so, a soldier is shot dead by the death ray. The Doctor concludes that it is a Dalek - but the "wrong" Dalek. Ace then gives The Doctor some homemade explosives that she carries around with her (yes, she is that bad-ass), and The Doctor blows it up. The Doctor and Ace (who has run out of explosives) decide to go back to the school, borrowing the military's van to do so. They decide to investigate the school - after all, the military were doing so earlier. Cue the exposition lines - including landing patterns in the school yard, the fact that the Daleks want the Hand of Omega, which is "something very dangerous".

A cellar is too good for The Doctor to refuse, and so he finds a transmat in it for the Daleks. After he accidentally activates it, a de-phase to stop another Dalek from coming through causes it to raise the alarm, and so the Dalek operator charges on Ace and The Doctor. The Doctor trips, and Ace makes it out of the door, where she is greeted by the school head master, who proceeds to knock her out cold and lock The Doctor in. As the Sonic Screwdriver was written out of the series several years earlier, there's seemingly nothing The Doctor can do as the Dalek flies (for the first time!) up the stairs, as the credits come up on screen...

YOU WILL BE EXT-- oh, never mind.
Part Two begins with Ace recovering, kneeing the head master in the balls, and freeing The Doctor. They drag the head master out of the way (where they discover his implant - he's receiving instructions from the Daleks). Conveniently, some anti-tank rockets that the military ordered are delivered at that moment. The Doctor signs for them, and when he and Ace go back into the school to disable the transmat (again), the Dalek, who by now has exploded the door, charges on them, shouting generic Dalek lines (as per usual). After it hits a trophy cabinet, Ace, er, blows it up using an anti-tank rocket. The military then arrive on cue - and The Doctor changes his mind. He decides to "bury the past" - and buy himself some time, whilst the politicians decide whether to evacuate the area or not. He takes a brief interlude in order to have his famous "ripples" speech alongside Joseph Marcell's "John". The following morning, he goes to a funeral parlour, and, taking Ace's baseball bat, finds the Hand of Omega (enclosed in a coffin) and uses it to embody Ace's baseball bat with some electrical power - this is how he now plans to destroy the transmat.

Ace is therefore forced to stay at Mike's house overnight. There's now some chemistry forming between them. Mike has to pop out in the morning to "check things out at the Association". It turns out that both he and the Dalek-controlled school head master are spying on The Doctor, who is burying the coffin along with a vicar. It turns out that Mike's "association" is a fascist organisation run by Ratcliffe, who (unbeknown to Mike) is an agent of what the head master refers to as the "Renegade Daleks", and Ratcliffe has asked Mike to spy on The Doctor. The head master catches the army sergeant unawares in a head lock, and interrogates him on the location of the Renegade base. Mike has no idea what the "Renegade Daleks" are, and, being an army sergeant, is able to overpower the head master very easily, and when the boot is on the other foot three seconds later, the Daleks decide to terminate the head master. The mix-up means that Ratcliffe no longer knows exactly what The Doctor was doing there, and when Mike asks him, he claims he was "contemplating certain local cartographic anomalies". Mike and The Doctor then make their way back to Mike's house, where Ace, Rachel, and her assistant, Allison, are eating breakfast. Curiously, Mike doesn't let Ace come with the others to the military headquarters. Ratcliffe's boss then says that the Imperial Daleks are on the move - and The Doctor confirms that there are two sets of Daleks, the radar is able to pick up one set's base (the spaceship we saw at the beginning), and The Doctor builds a Dalek-disorientating device. Oh, and the evacuation was nodded through.

Ace, meanwhile, gets bored, and when she sees a "NO COLOUREDS" sign at Mike's house, she tears it down and decides to go back to the school to get her tape deck, which she absent-mindedly left there earlier on. But the Imperial Daleks (the white ones) have got the transmat working again, and so when Ace arrives at the school, her tape deck, on its radio setting, is able to pick up Imperial Dalek transmissions. A Dalek searches the school - and when it stumbles across a "small human female", yelling "WHO ARE YOU CALLING SMALL!?", she, well, you HAVE to watch it...

Ace then runs down the stairs to the entrance, attempting to escape, but the reinforcements the Dalek requested catch up with and corner her, and that's the end of Part Two...

The Doctor, Mike, and co. arrive just in time - and disorientate, before blowing up, the Daleks. He then sends Mike to eradicate the other Daleks in the school using the same method, and a huge boom heard upstairs one minute later proves he is successful. Meanwhile, The Doctor and Rachel notice that there are biological differences between the Renegades (grey) and the Imperials (white). Other than colour, obviously. The Imperials then attempt to enter a squad through the transmat for a second time, and so The Doctor, Rachel, and Allison take Ace's baseball bat and destroy it. The military, Ace, and The Doctor then convene at the café, but meanwhile, Ratcliffe has taken the liberty of establishing what the hell went on at the cemetery which Mike telephoned in from earlier on. When he sees a headstone marked with nothing more than an Omega symbol, he smiles, and starts digging it up with the help of his men. But the metal coming into contact with it gives its location away to the Imperials, who, fed up with transmats, decide to send a shuttle to retrieve it. Ratcliffe's men still dig it up, watched by the little girl (remember her?) and deliver it to Ratcliffe's yard (also serving as the Renegade base). There, Ratcliffe gets the shock of his life, when he discovers that his boss is the little girl, with a heavily distorted voice. She operates the time controller (which is actually a plasma ball), and the co-ordinates begin to be calculated. The Renegades, led by the girl and the black, decide, rather stupidly, to patrol the area and not leave one Dalek back.

The Doctor gets the military to set up a proper base at the school, and then after some exposition (that the Hand of Omega was, to cut a long story short, how the Time Lords effectively discovered Time Travel and 'perfected' it, and The Doctor hints that "we" had trouble with the prototype, before hastily changing it to "they"), The Doctor and Ace decide to go Dalek hunting to find the Renegade base, and to make sure that the "wrong" Daleks don't end up with the Hand of Omega - although which side is the "wrong" side, he will not say. Ace and The Doctor manage to (unsurprisingly) get into the unguarded base - and The Doctor notices that the Renegades have the hand. He also leaves his calling card, and resets, rather than destroys, the time controller, in order that the Renegades don't leave now, nor are they stuck on Earth. And then, when they are discovered, Ace and The Doctor run away. 

This is a good time to mention the incidental music. Written by Keff McCulloch, it uses more modern sounds (well, by modern, I mean for the time) than traditional film scores. And when Ace and The Doctor run away, we get this epic breakdown (starting at 7:18 if it does not link automatically):

Unsurprisingly, the girl sends the Renegades after The Doctor when they discover his calling card. They penetrate the external defences by the military, and, just as they are about to invade the school, they change tactics and have to be recalled to defend the Hand of Omega, as the girl has noticed that the Imperial shuttle has entered the atmosphere. Mike has a slip of the tongue, revealing that he knew Ratcliffe wanted the Hand of Omega - and now that he knows Ratcliffe is a Renegade agent, Ace points out Mike's treachery and betrayal. But then the shuttle lands in the playground at the end of Part Three...

You're not quite yourself when you've
just been shot.
Now, Part Four is epic. Really, REALLY epic. Mike is arrested, but overpowers the guard, and proceeds towards the Renegade base. The Imperials unload off the craft and proceed to the Renegade base. The Renegades win the first battle, forcing the Imperials to retreat. This allows Mike to reach the Renegade base first, and then he and Ratcliffe, who, by now, has been betrayed by the Renegades, start planning their escape. The Imperials call for their Special Weapons Dalek - because they need to positively atomise those Renegades. Why they didn't call for it originally is a bit mind-boggling, but nonetheless, the Special Weapons Dalek does its job, and Renegades, one by one, get exploded into dust.
The Doctor does a Boris Johnson and constructs and slides down a zip wire with his umbrella to infiltrate the Dalek shuttle, hotwiring a Dalek stuck in the control circuit so as to disable it. He does this so as to find out why the Imperials want the Hand of Omega - they want to transform Skaro's sun into additional energy so as to win the civil war once and for all. He then returns to the cellar and uses the electrical power of the transmat to set up an audiovisual transmitter and receiver - all he needs to do now is to watch the civil war, and so he and Ace run over to (you guessed it) the Renegade base...

Special Weapons Dalek 1 - 0 Some Wood
Just as the girl has fixed the time controller, right on cue, the Special Weapons Dalek OBLITERATES the gates to Ratcliffe's yard/Renegade base. The explosion is, er... ace. The explosion is so big in fact that when it was filmed, the emergency services were called, believing it was an IRA bomb. It blew up several windows and set off car alarms nearby. When the Police arrived, they were stunned to see Daleks coming at them from out of the smoke. Anyway, whilst the Renegade leader hides, Ratcliffe and Mike steal the time controller. The girl electrocutes Ratcliffe but can't electrocute Mike before he turns a corner. As a result, the Renegades only have one option now - to hold out against the Imperials until she can recover it. But against a Special Weapons Dalek, you have no chance. None. The Renegades are destroyed, and the Imperials retrieve the Hand of Omega, and start taking it back to the shuttle. Ace and The Doctor finally reveal their hiding place, and spot Mike hiding from the girl. Ace follows Mike, whilst The Doctor returns to the cellar.

The Doctor contacts the Dalek mothership, and talks to the Emperor Dalek - which is all of a sudden revealed to be Davros in disguise. Although quite why no one knows. Davros cackles on about how he will transform Sakro's sun into a source of unimaginable power - and the Daleks shall become all powerful (at which point The Doctor interjects - and the last time he's jovial in the story) with the following:

"--powerful, crush the lesser races, conquer the galaxy, unimaginable power, UNLIMITED RICE PUDDING!!, et cetera, et cetera..."

This winds Davros up and he activates the Hand. Oops. Sakro's sun can't cope with just how much sheer power there is - and it vaporises Skaro. The Time War has begun. The feedback from the Hand of Omega destroys the Imperial mothership (although Davros escapes), and that means that the cowarding Renegade leader is the only Dalek left. Not willing to make the same mistakes he did in his fourth incarnation in Genesis Of The Daleks, The Doctor destroys it too with nothing but words. Simultaneously, Mike arrived at his house with the time controller. Ace was second, and the girl was third, but as Mike answered the door, thinking it may be Gilmore or The Doctor, the girl electrocuted him and killed him. The Renegade leader was destroyed just as the girl was turning on Ace, and thus the girl was freed from her Dalek control.

At Mike's funeral, Ace asks The Doctor if their actions were good. Because this is the start of what eventually became known as the Time War.

If you haven't seen Remembrance Of The Daleks, I beg you to. It's an epic four-part adventure. Just unmissable.

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