Remembrance of the Daleks

Posted in Episode by - May 04, 2017
Remembrance of the Daleks

Aired 5 -26 October 1988

Sylvester McCoy’s first year as the Seventh Doctor was a rocky one, but one nonetheless brimming with experimentalism as the show tried to rediscover itself on the fly with a new lead and a new mantra that looked forward more than backward. Strangely, although ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ is very firmly entrenched in the past as the entire serial becomes a reference of sorts to the very first serial, ‘An Unearthly Child,’ and is littered with allusions to other past adventures, it’s clear from the start that Doctor Who has finally found firmer footing once more, taking a much more self-aware and sometimes politically-dissident approach as it presented generally much more intelligent stories.

The sort of celebratory and nostalgic sentiments that pervade ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ can easily be forgiven for a story kicking off the franchise’s twenty-fifth anniversary, especially in a story that so expertly highlights the characterization of both the new Time Lord and new companion in the process. Indeed, this is easily Sylvester McCoy’s finest performance in the role to this point and entrenches his incarnation as a master manipulator with a much darker side than previously seen. At first debating the ramifications of his fourth incarnation’s decision not to eradicate the Daleks from existence before their very creation, he quickly suggests that his current self would be more than willing to commit genocide of his greatest foes. He fully expects the Daleks to show up here, though perhaps not quite as early as they do, but it’s telling that his biggest concern isn’t their presence but instead protecting the lives of the military personnel who unexpectedly throw themselves into the conflict. Incredibly, beyond the Doctor’s manipulations of Davros and Daleks alike, the script also has time to develop the burgeoning relationship between the Doctor and Ace, one that wonderfully takes on a very domestic tone as the Doctor tries to protect and Ace and look out for her best interests despite her rashness.

Just as important, though, is that the serial manages to instill a true sense of danger into the Daleks once more, not only by highlighting an individual Dalek’s prowess within a confined space when outnumbered even before it effortlessly conquers stairs that had been the butt of jokes about the creatures for decades, but also by having them mercilessly control young children to act as their agents in the streets of London. These moments are by no means exceptional evolutionary leaps for the Doctor’s oldest foes, but they update the classic foes well enough to keep then vitally relevant and intriguing. Indeed, by contextualizing the civil war between Dalek factions based around racial purity and evolution with the social problems of the 1960s, the entire Dalek storyline is given tremendous extra weight that greatly benefits the serial as a whole. As Davros inevitably reveals himself and the true situation at hand comes to light with a resolution that ties back to the earliest days of Doctor Who, ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ does well in creating an accessible story that simultaneously caters to long-term fans.

‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ is a fine start to the twenty-fifth anniversary year that looks to the past while boldly proving that Doctor Who has found its footing once more as it treks forward with its relatively new leads who share a warm chemistry. By showing a Doctor seemingly on a mission to right what he perceives to be previous mistakes in an overall more shadowy role, this marks a tremendous turning point for the character and franchise itself.

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