Wednesday, March 13, 2013
Remembrance of the Daleks is the start of the 25th season of Doctor Who, but it is also has, unofficially, two other worthy distinctions: it is Doctor Who's true 25th anniversary story (step aside, Silver Nemesis), and it is the real start to the Sylvester McCoy era. A friend recently showed a great interest in anything and everything Sylvester McCoy and asked me to lend me any or all McCoy era DVDs that I had. I responded by giving him Seasons 25 and 26, and explained what I thought he needed to know about Season 24 with five simple words: "Ace joins at the end". It's not that I didn't like McCoy's first season, but if you can introduce someone to the era of the Seventh Doctor, it would seem a crime not to start with this story.
The dark, manipulative Doctor that dominates the rest of the Seventh Doctor era on screen and in print from here on in has his fertile roots in this story. It's rare that we start a story with The Doctor knowing what's going on, even actively working on something, without the audience (or anyone else) aware of it. The Doctor isn't just a step ahead, he's several hundred years ahead as he ties up loose ends from something he started in his first incarnation on a cold, foggy night near Totters Lane in 1963. This immediate, yet subtle, connection to the very first episode not only makes this story a worthy celebration of its long history, but it also does a great deal in making William Hartnell's character that much more interesting. Much like people would reflect on The Doctor's relationship with the TARDIS in previous stories after seeing The Doctor's Wife in 2011, watch An Unearthly Child again after Episode One of this story (as well as the other episodes) and try to imagine that the First Doctor was dropping off the Hand of Omega casket before stumbling into an awkward social scene with two school teachers who happened upon his hiding space. Unfinished business, a common expression during the last two years of the classic series, actually starts from day one, twenty-five years before.
Another interesting change occurs in the way The Doctor and his companion interact with the story. Apart from the opening pre-credit sequence, the very first scene features The Doctor and Ace having already landed, and within seconds, they're exploring Professor Jensen's van and entering the story. This not only marks an obvious change from the Colin Baker era, where several minutes would pass before the TARDIS even lands at its intended destination, let alone its occupants actually leaving the confines of the ship, but it continues a trend of introducing the main characters into the story from the very start. It makes for an engaged and proactive Doctor, not one who gradually reacts to events that have been underway long before he arrives on the scene. In fact, apart from brief TARDIS scenes at the start of two subsequent stories, we've seen the last of the TARDIS interior. Once a device to provide a safe haven for the main characters, as well as a setting to safely explain (and expand) the plot, the TARDIS is now merely an implement to deliver The Doctor and his companion into the story where they belong.
Oh, and, yeah, the Daleks are fantastic in this episode. No longer under Davros's shadow, as they were increasingly so in the previous post-Genesis of the Daleks stories, they are allowed to be powerful and frightening once again. The famous sequence where the Dalek climbs the stairs was intended to show that the Daleks no longer had any hurdles, both in story terms and in their status in the public eye, to overcome to become the most dominant force in the universe, but the Dalek still just shouts "Exterminate!" enough times to allow The Doctor to look scared and (eventually) escape. No, the Daleks immediately become cool again in their very first scene when, unseen, one of them starts exterminating soldiers from inside a building. Death precedes its first appearance, and what a death, punctuated by a wonderful stunt and effects sequence that sees stuntman Tip Tipping flung back several feet into a pile of sheet metal. Never before had we seen the destructive power of a Dalek gun (which also has a glossy makeover), nor had we known the full effects of it. (The Doctor's simplified diagnosis of what killed another soldier - "his insides were scrambled" - is a chilling notion indeed.) It's great, too, that only one Dalek keeps an entire squadron at bay and it's eventually only destroyed by a couple cans of nitro-9. Once again, one Dalek is capable of exterminating all.
Posted by Steven at 2:55 PM