There has been an enduring image in my mind since age six, which is brought into focus whenever the word ‘Dalek’ is spoken. This is an image of the Doctor peering into the open top of a Dalek casing and a clawed hand or beak reaching out and grabbing him by the neck. This is my earliest memory of Doctor Who, an image that has stayed with me for 25 years, and I’ve finally found where it was from! Wednesday, October the 19th, 1988.
Remembrance of the Daleks has its own historic date, set as it is in 1963, taking place around the time and place of the very first episode, the school and junk yard in Shoreditch. There are plenty of references to An Unearthly Child, as well as an in-joke while Ace is watching a television broadcast, and the announcer almost says Doctor Who is about to start. It’s cute, but perhaps that’s taking an homage too far! The pre-UNIT military taskforce is investigating a Dalek incursion, and it turns out to be one of the best Dalek stories in quite some time.
Remembrance is quite ‘plotty’, but not overly so. There’s the central focus on the two Dalek factions looking for the Hand of Omega to control time, and within the ruckus is the Doctor taking charge of the military and causing an awful lot of explosions. There’s some great misdirection, as we’re led to believe the renegade Daleks are commanded by Davros and the Imperial Daleks by the Emperor. There’s the mysterious little girl who seems to know more than she should. There’s the military man on the inside giving information to the traitorous group working for the Daleks. There’s even actual themes explored, like using the Dalek segregation as an allegory for racism. It’s a very smartly written story, all told.
It’s also the first chance Sylvester McCoy has had to properly get into the character of the Doctor. He’s actually really good in this. Curious, cunning, quick-witted and commanding. He’s got the right balance of respect and annoyance for humanity and gets to give a good talking to Davros at the end. There’s a scene where he mentions to Ace about previous monster invasions (Yetis, Loch Ness monster), and the human capacity to deceive themselves, which is a knowing wink to the way everything on Earth seems to return to normal (a habit unbroken by the modern series). Ace is also turning out to be a capable and worthwhile character. She’s given a lot of the action roles in this, smashing up Daleks with a various weapons (baseball bat, rocket launcher) and diving through windows.
A lot of the production is set outdoors or in real locations, which does lend an appealing sense of realism. The visual effects are quite ambitious and the amount of explosions is insane. The “oh, I reprogrammed the McGuffin” resolution is perhaps a bit cheap, but wiping out Skaro is a dramatic conclusion, fitting for the Daleks’ final appearance in the classic era, making sure they go out with a bang (or several!). Remembrance starts to feel modern, in production, direction and writing, but it’s also my earliest (and perhaps only) memory of the classic era show. The title is appropriate, then, and the story is a good one. I enjoyed this a lot.