Remembrance of the Daleks: DVD Special
Ben Aaronovitch isn't the series' best writer by a long shot (as reversing the words "Field" and "Battle" will attest), and often it comes down to ciphers saying lines at one another. But this doesn't really matter here, as it's so decently acted and well directed it more than gets by. It's weird to hear Sophie's middle-class accent slipping through in her shaky performance, but Sylvester is on top form. Lots of Doctorish moments, like quaintly licking the soot and cheekily sneaking in the back of the van, pepper his performance.
There's also a nice indication of the Daleks' power by having just one take on an army single-handed. Well, single-plungered. There's even a top quote in "You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies." There are negative points: when the grey Dalek finally emerges it wobbles all over the place like an incontinent granny, and there's some distracting - and often wrong - continuity. A visual gag I liked on first viewing was Sophie & Slyv swapping places in the van. I don't know whether the BBC video copy is too bright, or it was always obvious, but seen again it's quite clear that Sophie jumps up and down like a 'nana in semi-darkness from a seating position. And check out the Doctor's first meeting with Mr.Bronson, er, the Headmaster (Michael Sheard in the least of his Who performances) - to the right there's a three second shot of a camera. Oh, and not a complaint, just an observation - why is the Doctor wearing a wrist watch?
Yes, this one is shallow, superficial and slightly brash. But I really quite liked it. That cliffhanger really is a killer, the special effects are great and even Keff McCulloch has a good day.
One thing I hate about Aaronovitch's Daleks is that they talk exactly how they used to when you played Daleks at primary school. "You-will-be-ext-erm-in-at-ed!" "You-are-the-en-emy-of-the-Daleks!" The cliffhanger sees "exterminate" get said over a dozen times.
Yes, this episode is a downturn, but there's still loads to enjoy. The Cafe scene is great. ("Life's like that. Best thing is just to get on with it.") and is it implied that Mike shagged Ace? If so, I can't blame him - I probably would as well to be honest. The "Doc-" gag works well, and the "no coloureds" sign is partly magnificent, partly ramming it down your throat.
However, all the stuff with the Omega coffin is fannish twaddle, and the special effects are iffy. Did no one really notice him walking through the streets with a flying coffin? Still, just as well the vicar's blind, eh? Nice bit of tasteless contrivance, that.
The "sparks" on the Omega-ed baseball bat are pathetic, and it all goes a bit disco at that point. Speaking of McCulloch, he really kicks in big style here, with drum machines and single note percussion a-go-go. It's a good job Mozart's not still alive - he'd probably shit his pants in fear at this musical maestro. That said, the opening bars of the bit where Bronson follows Mike are a bit likeZombie Flesh Eaters so I'll let that pass. Just. Ratcliffe's "the country fought for the wrong side during the last war..." is appallingly bad exposition, delivered shakily, and Group Captain Gilmore is too tall. Imagine him and Slyv in a two-handed close-up.
Still, not bad. Note though how Slyv has a Pertwee-rivalling lisp. I'd never noticed it was so ssssssstrong before.
Check out the scene where McCoy intrudes on Rachel's conversation (from the line "lovely flowers, begonias") - you can see his moving shadow all the way through as he waits for his cue.
The Daleks, meanwhile - those highly advanced, sophisticated beings with a spacecraft that can crack a planet like an egg - finally reveal their time controller. Surprisingly, it's one of those static electricity balls you can get down the market for a tenner. Mind you, their leader has an old crash helmet sprayed silver with an eyestalk sellotaped to it, so Dalek budgets are obviously taken up with something else. The scenes set on the mothership with Roy Tromelly (yeah, as if you can't guess - it's so OTT it could only be Terry under a pseudonym) are particularly silly looking. The grey Daleks are particularly (yeah, I used "particularly" twice in two sentences - oh well) wobbly and flimsy looking, like fan replicas (no offence), and Roy Skelton is awful at doing the voice.
There's still a great load of fun here, and it's always very, very watchable, but it's starting to get seriously messy and tatty. After the almost-classic first episode this is a major comedown. That girl can't act for sh - sugar, and Keff "dum-dum-dum-da-dum!" McCulloch's music has been less written, more pooed onto a casio keyboard.
Mike asks out Ace, so they haven't shagged, though her later "I trusted you!" (in episode four) would seem to indicate otherwise.
It's such fun anyway though - the spaceship landing in the schoolground is excellently done. For some reason I'd never clicked that Slyv's finally "I think I might have miscalculated" is him breaking the fourth wall. Those last two elements are what gives this episode its extra half-star:
But ultimately this is Doctor Who trying to be something it can never be. By having a blockbuster mentality applied to the Daleks it just undermines 'em because they're made out of balsawood and wobble more than in any other story. When the Black Dalek goes into the warehouse his casing nearly shakes off. And yet people still slag off Destiny. "Daleks are such boring conversationalists" notes McCoy. When written by Aaronovitch they certainly are. Aaronovitch and director Andrew Morgan are trying to reinstate the Daleks' credibility - in fact, it's never been so near to collapse. Even in the derided Chase and Destiny they kept their respect by being self-aware. Here, because these outdated, bargain basement monsters are treated with po-faced seriousness they verge hopelessly towards self-parody.
Most crushing scene is the one with Davros. Molloy and McCoy, both in a ham grudge match to the death. Sylvester, who has been brilliant up until this point, suddenly turns... well, crap, frankly. It's all a bit Victoria Wood. You half expect Molloy (a man who has never been acquainted with the word "subtlety") to call himself Crayola. Terry Molloy really is abysmal here. And I love The Mighty Trout's secret masterplans, but the seventh Doctor's scheme is so obvious even Stevie Wonder could see through it. Hey, if Aaronovitch can do a blind gag, then so can I!
Davros's appearance really screws this episode into the ground. This is an awful, crass instalment, a sad shadow of a great series. Perhaps the only good bit is the Doctor talking the Black Dalek to death. Though as it's juxtaposed with the acting void that is Jasmine Breaks then it's somewhat neutered. No, in fact I change my mind - what was I talking about?!!? Sylv talks to a Dalek till it spins round like a cheap fairground attraction being whizzed by a Romany and then starts steaming like a kettle? It's utter garbage, isn't it? Incidentally, Slyv calls himself "President Elect of the High Council of Time Lords". A story we've not seen since Trial? (And a continuity point they missed out in The DisContinuity Guide - saps!)
I tell you what is good, though - two top quotes: "I can do anything I like!" and, inevitably: "Time will tell. It always does."
So very near to a four-star story, this exciting, flash-bang adventure never gets boring. Yet sadly, from a near-perfect first episode it gets worse and worse, eventually degenerating into what is virtually a send-up of its own misguidedly cheap tack. Even if it had kept up the initial quality then this wouldn't have been the best Dalek story as it lacks any kind of depth. As it stands, though, it's a vibrant mix of the brilliant and the awful, forcing it to just a little above average.
* * *
In most real senses, Remembrance was the third DVD release in the UK. There was an extra-free ("Vanilla") release of The Five Doctors as a tentative try-out in November 1999, but it wasn't until November of the following year that we got a DVD with a commentary and extras. Following The Robots of Death we got Spearhead From Space in Jan 2001, and then this season opener in February of the same year. I relate these facts just to remind you that Remembrance was a primitive use of the format, and that the majority of the detractors of the covers would be drawn to this one. Personally, I have no qualm with the much-derided DVD covers at all, I think they're more than serviceable. But I must, on this occasion, observe that it's total crap. A plain smoking Dalek slapped unceremoniously on the front, it acknowledges neither artistic symmetry nor populist appeal. It looks dire. To be fair, I should point out that it was designed before Clayton Hickman started doing the covers, and that the overall design of the package is so poor that the commentary by Sylvester and Sophie isn't even credited on the back. For various reasons I've only just got round to checking out this package over three years after it was released, so I'm tackling this post-Fenric. Whatever your or my issues with Sylvester and Sophie and the way they worked - or didn't, depending on your viewpoint - on screen, I really do like their commentaries together. There's something to be said for relaxing in the pleasant company of two people who really do like each other, and even if they don't say anything groundbreaking, they are very amiable and likeable in real life. They might not have the edge or irreverence of the Davison discs, but as The Visitation went to prove, that kind of thing quickly gets tired anyway. A nice information text also works well, though it should be noted for completists that the song by The Beatles has had to be replaced by Billy J Kramer…
THE EXTRAS: I've always said that when it comes to extras, it's not the quantity, it's… Remembrance of the Daleks only gets just over twenty minutes of special features, not counting the commentary, but what extras it does get are all first-rate:
Extended and Deleted Scenes (10'25m) - Cracking extra - fourteen deleted/extended scenes (they undersell it as thirteen in the booklet), some of which are extremely notable. Most famously there's the "I am far more than just another Time Lord" line, but the one that really got me was the eerie sight of Sylvester staring at the Café owner. Probably the worst is Mike noting of Ace "I wouldn't want her to be foreign, would I?" which is overstating it.
BBC1 Trailer - Episode One (0'35m)/BBC1 Trailer - Episode Two (0'34m) - Hmmm… both these trailers make the story look a little tacky and shakily acted… is that just a dodgy selection of clips used, or…? Mind you, look on the bright side - if Remembrance had been released as a DVD today they'd have a six-hour documentary with Gary Gillatt talking about it on his toilet and a "comedy" extra where the Dapol figures battle it out with some plasticine and Andrew Beech in a gimp mask. Allegedly, anyway.
Alternative Angles (5'56m) - Two scenes made up of alternate cuts, detailing six mini-clips in all. The booklet suggests that you can switch between them at will using your remote, but I couldn't get the bugger to work for the life of me. I've been reliably informed that this feature only works on the Region 1 discs, but who really knows?
Out-takes Compilation (4'07m) - Eleven mistakes, line fluffs and foul-ups, some of which are very funny. This is where, as a DVD package, the McCoy stories can score over the others regardless of quality of story - with all the extra material it's a real bonus.
Photo Gallery - One of the early ones, which means silent and manually navigatable. 65 in all, most of which are just story shots and press poses, but some of the later ones feature behind-the-scenes shots.
As with Fenric, a McCoy story proves to be another success when released on the DVD format. As well as the extras above there's also the opportunity to listen to Keff McCulloch's music in isolation, but please don't let that put you off - it really is a great disc.