It is 1963. Two Dalek factions arrive in London and search it for the elusive Gherkin Sandwich of Omega. The Doctor? He is faffing about with a gobby Londoner and a random café owner.
Did I say ‘gherkin sandwich’? It might as well be. Again we have a Seventh Doctor story with a maguffin at the heart of it, a maguffin that has the words ‘plot stopper’ stencilled all over it. The Hand of Omega.
Remembrance of the Daleks is basically Silver Nemesis but a squillion times better. I can’t stress how good this story is. You may think that chocolate or Spectrox or cats with rocket packs are great but this story is better. Not better than John Steed or Mrs Peel but then nothing is.
We have two opposing factions of Daleks. The factions designate themselves thusly: Imperial Daleks and Renegade Daleks. One lot are mutants but the others are…um…actually they are mutants too. One group of mutants hates the other because they are far more mutated than they are. Which is a pretty foolish reason really but fits in well with Dalek mentality. You don’t need a rational reason when you can just exterminate them instead.
The Imperials are blobs with all their noodly appendages intact and functioning. They also have mechanical gubbins glued onto them. The Imperials are therefore true cyborgs instead of a blob driving a pepperpot-shaped tank.
The Renegades are all vestigial tentacles and primitive with it. They are the single-toothed, banjo-playing, sister-marrying cousins of the Imperials. They are said to be amoeboid but, as I recall, I am pretty sure that would be impossible. Giant amoebas? Puh-leese, didn’t we get enough of that sort of thing in that episode of Star Trek where an amoeba tries to eat the Enterprise? In any case, these blobs are just blobs.
If all that wasn’t exciting enough, we also have the Special Weapons Dalek. This Imperial Dalek is very nicely grimed up and has a cannon instead of the traditional sink plunger and egg-whisk. It is a strange sidestep in Dalek evolution. I loved it.
The Special Weapons Dalek also made a squint-or-you’ll-miss-it appearance in Asylum of the Daleks and a far more substantial appearance in The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar. It is in this latter adventure that we get to finally hear it speak for the first time. Such a deeeeeeep voice! The Special Weapons Dalek is the Skaro version of Barry White. Brilliant.
I suppose I should also mention that the Imperial Daleks are painted cream and gold while their Renegade counterparts are all dark grey and black. The former being my favourite Dalek livery until the all-black leader of the Cult of Skaro from David Tennant’s era.
Here is a fact that I keep meaning to stick into one of my unreviews. ‘Dalek‘ is a real world. It is Croatian for ‘far away thing’. See, not only do I give you stupid jokes but I also educate you as well.
Time to change the subject. The Time Lord weapon, the Hand of Omega. Sounds ominous, doesn’t it? For some reason this Gallifreyan maguffin reminds me of the Hand of Glory but I doubt it has anything to do with the sawn-off hand of a criminal (don’t ask). No, this Hand is not an actual hand but an object capable of manipulating stars. Yes, the Hand of Omega is a PR person’s nightmare. It hacks the mobile phones of celebrities and uses their secrets to blackmail them. It can also, less plausibly, create and destroy stars (the celestial kind this time not the z-list kind). I suspect the Daleks want it for the latter ability although I wouldn’t rule out a plan to use the Beckhams to conquer the universe.
The Hand of Omega is my favourite Whovian maguffin. For obvious reasons certainly. But dare I say it, because this magical mystery maguffin is essentially part of a retcon that muddies the waters of the first story An Unearthly Child.
To misappropriate a T. Rex lyric, retcons are dirty sweet. A guilty little pleasure.
For the sake of clarity, and so that I don’t alienate those that are not steeped in the language of geekdom, a retcon is described by Wikipedia thusly:
Retroactive continuity, or retcon for short, is the alteration of previously established facts in the continuity of a fictional work. There are various motivations for applying retroactive continuity. The changes may occur to accommodate sequels or derivative works, allowing newer authors or creators to revise the diegetic (in-story) history to include a course of events that would not have been possible in the story’s original continuity. Retcons allow for authors to reintroduce popular characters and resolve errors in chronology. Another form of retroactive continuity involves placing well-known characters in a parallel universe. This approach can be used to allow familiar elements of a story to be explored in an entirely new context, without affecting external elements.
Remembrance of the Daleks isn’t just about big sci-fi concepts or explosions but it is also quietly retrospective. This story (and writer Ben Aaronovitch) is confident enough to have moments where not much happens than just… I’m not sure that I can quite articulate what I’m trying to say. One example of what I want to say is the café scene between Joseph Marcell and Sylvester McCoy. That is just sublime and is a good enough reason to watch the whole story.
Ben Aaronovitch is such a clever writer (and if you don’t believe me, check out his occult police procedural novels) because while he is telling a story, he is also inviting us to compare and contrast. I mentioned the Daleks and the fact that both groups are proper mad at the other, yes? Compare this need for racial purity with that of Ratcliffe and Mike the genial East End fascists.
Old man Ratcliffe (never trust anybody whose surname includes the word ‘rat’), who was one of Oswald Mosley’s supporters (probably), is a man who is firmly of the mind that Adolf Hitler had some very good ideas. Yes, Ratcliffe would make a good Dalek. Then you have Mike who grew up with all this racist clap-trap…meh.
Ratcliffe and Mike are basically the proto-UKIP. But while UKIP deny being racist, in the same way that your dog denies clawing your pillows despite being caught muzzle-deep in feathery goodness, our bigoted twosome would be the first to racially abuse those whom they wrongly consider their inferiors.
All of this racist rubbish comes back in another of this story’s sublime moments when Ace sees the ‘No Coloureds’ sign in the window of the bed and breakfast. How many of us would be disgusted? I’d hope all of us but…well. In the olden days signs such as this existed everywhere. It was a common thing to see a sign saying things such as:
This is worse than the sign in Remembrance of the Daleks because it equates the Irish and black people to the same level as an animal. Disgraceful. In a way, this story shows that even the recent past can be terrible and distasteful and shameful.
I am going off on too many tangents, aren’t I? ‘A little bit of politics’ as Ben Elton used to say. You are not reading this unreview for this, sorry, but it needed to be said. Well, it didn’t need to be said. I just wanted to say it…
This story is not 100% perfect, no story is. But there are relatively few things to gripe at besides the lack of Steed and Mrs Peel. For example, how the hell can Ratcliffe not notice that the battle computer is a small girl wearing a motorcycle helmet? And isn’t that type of helmet anachronistic? Did they have that design of motorcycle helmets in the early 1960s?
Sophie Aldred is ace as Ace (see what I did there?) She is everything you would want in a companion. In her own way, Aldred’s portrayal of the character is as important to the show’s feminism as Elisabeth Sladen and the modern companions. She plays Ace with the right mixture of girlishness and confidence. In this, Aldred really is the cat’s miaow.
Sylvester McCoy is the Seventh Doctor and thank the Tin Vagabond for that! McCoy was in, for a lot of people, the fag-end era of Doctor Who. This was a time when not many people were watching. When you watch this story, you have to wonder why nobody was watching. Michael Grade? Awkward scheduling? Yes, those are the main reasons. Doctor Who was improving with each story from Ace’s arrival. The show was much better than it had been during the Colin Baker years and yet it didn’t survive past the late 1980s. Did people not know how great McCoy was? This was the start of the last hurrah of the show, a time when it was more creative than it had been since, arguably, Snakedance.
By the by, before I finish up this unreview, I should add that there is nothing wrong with the episodes between Snakedance and Remembrance of the Daleks. Colin Baker was a fine Doctor who was poorly served by his production team. I just feel that Sylvester McCoy’s era ushered in a renaissance for the show (Renaissance of the Daleks anyone?).
Remembrance of the Daleks is quite simply the best story of the classic series. I could go on and on about the scenes where Ace beats up Daleks with a pimped-up baseball bat or when the Doctor interrupts the Daleks when they are singing My Sharona on their ship. Hell, I haven’t even mentioned the return of ol’ blue eye himself, Davros.
Go on! Watch this story. You can thank me afterwards