Remembrance of the Daleks

Region 1
Special Edition

Region 2
Special Edition
VHS Video
boxed set
(Doctor Who Story No. 152, starring Sylvester McCoy)
  • written by Ben Aaronovitch
  • directed by Andrew Morgan
  • produced by John Nathan-Turner
  • music by Keff McCulloch
  • 4 episodes @ 25 minutes each
Story: The Doctor and Ace return to Coal Hill School and 76 Totters Lane, London, 1963, where it all began. Activity from several different factions of Daleks has aroused the curiosity of the military, and the area is no longer safe for anyone. But the Doctor is making an even more dangerous gamble with the Hand of Omega. Has he raised the stakes too high this time?

Special Edition DVD Extras include:

  • Audio Commentary by actors Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor) and Sophie Aldred (Ace).
  • "Back to School" making-of featurette (32 min.) adding Simon Williams (Group Captain Gilmore), Karen Gledhill (Allison),
    writer Ben Aaronovitch, script editor Andrew Cartmel, and director Andrew Morgan.
  • "Remembrances" featurette (15 min.) on the Doctor Who mythology, references, and in-jokes in the story.
  • Mythological "Connections" featurette (43 min.)
  • Deleted & Extended Scenes, introduced by McCoy and Aldred (12 min.)
  • Bloopers & Outtakes (4 min.)
  • Multi-Angle Sequences (2 min.)
  • Audio options: New Dolby 5.1 Surround Sound mix, and Isolated music track (stereo) by Keff McCulloch
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery (8 min. montage)
  • Easter Egg
  • Trailers & broadcast announcements (5 min.)

Buyers' Guide Review

by Martin Izsak

(A more in-depth analysis, containing "SPOILERS" and intended for those who have already seen the program, can be accessed here.)

Season 25 is largely a year in which Doctor Who came back into some favour with the public. While fans and general viewers became a little more lenient towards the new ideas that the show's creators were attempting, the show also drew on more of its traditional strengths to keep the faithful happy. In addition, McCoy's Doctor gravitated further towards unique aspects of his character that appeared to work, leaving more and more of the ill-conceived gags behind.

"Remembrance of the Daleks" is likely the most traditional of all of McCoy's better stories. Most obviously, our hero is once more up against some of his most popular long-term enemies. But something even more fundamental to the show's old formulas is at work here. Beginning with next year's "Battlefield" (story no. 156), and often later in the New Millennium version of the show, many lukewarm attempts are made to bring back the U.N.I.T. organization that graced the Jon Pertwee Era and surrounding years, which for the most part fail to recreate UNIT's unique cast charm and dynamics. "Remembrance of the Daleks" is uniquely successful where those stories fail, precisely for getting the UNIT dynamics and cast charm correct, while abandoning the names, titles, and limitations of using the actual organization, recurring characters, and actors.

Group-Captain "Chunky" Gilmore is an obvious substitution for Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, both looking the part and fulfilling essentially the same functions in the script.... and a slip of the tongue from the Doctor at one point makes the comparison obvious. Sgt. Mike Smith copies Captain Mike Yates in more ways than I will go into here - even the name didn't change much with this one. Rachel is a faithful clone of Liz Shaw from season seven, with nearly identical motivations throughout. And although Allison manages a somewhat different look and portrayal once the actress inhabits the part, it wouldn't be too hard to interpret her as Jo Grant, particularly as her main function appears to be pulling audience-perspective answers out of Rachel and the Doctor. With these tried-and-true character dynamics, and the host of good actors assembled here to pull it off, success isn't hard to achieve. Amongst this cast of characters that are new in name only, the Doctor is once more at home.

Of course, adding Ace on top of this is yet another bonus, as she adds new dynamics to interact with familiar ones and produce scenes and humour that we haven't really had before in the UNIT days. Both the writers and actress Sophie Aldred build on what had begun in her debut in "Dragonfire" (story no. 151) and define Ace's continuing role to be a surprisingly active, feisty, and humorously likeable character who works well with the Doctor and the new people he regularly encounters.

Opening Night

Strangely, both "Time and the Rani" (story no. 148) and this story turn out to be the only Sylvester McCoy stories that fail to feature an opening materialization for the Doctor's vehicle. The TARDIS interior set is also about to make itself VERY scarce from here on. Despite the considerable mileage that the story wants to get out of both the Doctor's alien background and Ace's relatively futuristic background, it is bizarre that they are denied the staple, simple, fun setup that a suitable entrance with the TARDIS would normally give them. Thus another of Doctor Who's "good" shows once more proves unnecessarily less than ideal for initiating new viewers to the program.

The numerous re-caps of Dalek/Doctor history from early eras shows that Aaronovitch has successfully researched his stuff, but one senses that the writer's creative freedom is starting to get cramped by revisiting too many old settings instead of new ones. Although things are still largely okay here, the trend begun here will later cause many more problems.

Sylvester McCoy's Doctor suddenly seems much more serious and compelling here than before, even though his humour still abounds. What gags are attempted this time around are done single-camera on location, which produces a MUCH better result than the in-studio run-on long-shots that appeared so staged back in "Time and the Rani".

Part One continues to be the true tour-de-force of tradition, as it gets into a classic formula from the Pertwee years. Strangely though, the combination of forces we have here never did occur in the Pertwee years as successfully and iconically as what we get here, helping to keep this encounter fresh. The succession of story beats here very nicely build upon each other, and work well to emphasize important characteristics of the Doctor, some of which we're seeing for the first time in McCoy's version.

Episode One's good stuff all leads up to an actual cliffhanger that gives us something new from the Daleks - something often talked about but never before seen in any TV episode or film. Brilliant. This has been a VERY good first episode for the season, no doubt garnering more viewers for the story and the season as word of mouth spread.

Mythological Convolutions

Racism turns out to be the biggest underlying thematic point in the story, but although a good number of scenes dabble in it, it never really rises to the level of importance that it deserves. Many opportunities to highlight, dig into, and work with the issue remain under-developed, until it becomes just a bit of motivational detail rather than something integral to the story. Too bad such a good opportunity was casually thrown away.... but once again for the McCoy era, the novelization was able to make a bit more out of this than what appeared on screen.

Although the main plot of the story is solidly worked out and presented on screen, many of the smaller details appear to have been rewritten too often, until a few gaping holes appear. Of course, I'll save such details and spoilers for the in-depth analysis version of this review, where those who have seen the story already can read more.

One thing I will bring up even here is that it seems very unlikely that the Doctor was actually plotting anything too specific to this story back in "An Unearthly Child" (story no. 1), since he is clearly discovering the entire nature and existence of the Dalek race in "The Daleks" (story no. 2) - a point easily lost as professional fandom continues to elevate Dalek vs. Time Lord mythology to such heights that you wonder how the Doctor wouldn't have learned all about them in school. And really, the modern, heavily mythological stories usually lack dynamics that are better than the initial, explorative, first-contact encounters with the creatures in their first story. It really is better to honour the events of "An Unearthly Child" and "The Daleks" as they were, without adding overcomplicated mythology.

"I can do anything I like!"

This line, uttered while angrily yanking his umbrella out of a Dalek hatch, reminded me so much of David Tennant's Doctor uttering an almost identical line from the end of "Voyage of the Damned" (story no. 193). I think we can see here in "Remembrance" how a lot of the character's worst long-term ego problems set in, as he assumes his new mantle of the master manipulator. Mind you, it does keep him dramatically interesting, which is a noble goal. But rooting for him philosophically has become perhaps a bit more complicated than it really should be.

The final moments of the conflict in the main "A"-plot are generally well done, while some of the other bits... not so much. Part Four seems a bit more distracted than necessary, even though it is still superbly entertaining and generally quite satisfying.


Of course, we can't leave off without mentioning the superb improvements in video effects for this story, especially those masterminded by the program's long-serving video wizard Dave Chapman. Very bluntly, this story calls for a LOT of effects, and really none of them are skimped on. Laser effects are abundant everywhere you'd want them and then some, becoming one of the key ingredients that keep the story's prolific battles exciting. The story is a bit unique in the style of laser effects used, since future Dalek stories reverted to more traditional ideas, making "Remembrance" a bit more special in that regard. Transmat is another staple required effect that has not always been done justice on Doctor Who, but here we get the effect we need and want, with three layers of visual interest instead of just one, plus timing and subtleties that add really nicely and appropriately to the creep factor in a number of scenes. Model shots are also working well, overcoming the problem seen in other stories of this era that lack stars behind anything that moves, but there is at least one specific drawback to the story's effects.... and I think I don't want to spoil that here either, since it doesn't really hurt the story, which is so captivating that new viewers may not really notice such flaws on their own until their 3rd or 4th viewing. In addition, Chapman and company pull off some VERY good work conquering this same problem in other shots, proving once more that they were on the cusp of the next revolution of television effects at the time in 1988.

Composer Keff McCulloch achieves a lot of good stuff during the episode, including a very nice new age "pad" theme during the vicar's scene, some iconic piano and flute riffs for scenes of the Doctor sneaking around, and a distinctive scream for various Dalek POV shots. My first time through, I was especially looking forward to hearing the "Cemetery Chase" cue on the program, having first heard it as the American NJN "Making of Doctor Who" documentary interviewed McCulloch while he laid down one of its instrument tracks from his keyboard, while my imagination reeled with the iconic Dalek action that it would back. In the actual program, it seemed a bit over the top for a scene that was really just about two men instead. Still, it's a fun and enjoyable cue. As the score continues though, it gets a bit too frenetic and muzak-like, popping out more than it should, and lacking the power and menace that scenes of Dalek battle and mythology should convey.
Music by Keff McCulloch
The Season 25 opening and closing
Doctor Who themes,
"Cemetery Chase", "A Child's Return", and
"8891 Royale" feature on:
Audio CD - The Doctor Who 25th Anniversary Album
BBC CD 707

More info & buying options

Ultimately, this turns out to be the best Dalek story of the 1980's, and of John Nathan-Turner's producership. It has more successfully kept the Doctor involved front-and-center in the adventure, used a far superior set of guest characters, and shown us more important events in the mythology both on the personal and universal levels, controversial as they may be. In fact, the story itself nicely invites the audience to be uncertain about the controversial aspects here, raising the calibre of the piece a little more. Plus, the effects are complete and satisfying. This is one of the big winners for both 80's Doctor Who and the McCoy era in particular, not to mention being the best story of the 25th season.

What? This one's not in your DVD collection already? Get it right now, without delay!

This story has become available on DVD and VHS video.
Special Edition:
DVD NTSC Region 1
Special Edition
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
Special Edition
for the U.K.
VHS Video boxed set with
"The Chase" (story No. 16)
NTSC A for North America
NTSC B for North America
PAL for the U.K.

Original release:
DVD NTSC Region 1
for the North American market:
in the U.S.
in Canada
DVD PAL Region 2
for the U.K.

Original DVD Extras include:

  • Audio Commentary by actors Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor) and
    Sophie Aldred (Ace).
  • Deleted & Extended Scenes (10 min. scenes + 4 min. text intros)
  • Bloopers & Outtakes (4 min.)
  • Isolated music track (stereo) by Keff McCulloch
  • Alternate Angles (2 min.)
  • Pop-up Production Note Subtitles
  • Photo Gallery (silent, menu-based stills)
  • Trailers for parts one & two (1 min. total)
  • "Who's Who" text biographies (may feature on Region 1 discs only)

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Read the Buyers' Guide Review for the next story: "The Happiness Patrol"

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