Sunday, July 28, 2013

Remembrance of the Daleks - "And didn't we have trouble with the prototype."

BBC - Doctor Who Classic Episode Guide - Remembrance of the Daleks - Details

Season 25, Story 1 (Overall Series Story #152)

Here's the thing, you really need to be desensitized to the awful title graphics, cheap video production, and awful synthesizer music in order to get past how ugly and dated the show is in the late 80s. It is off-putting, to say the least. I have to admit that I've not always been able to do that. Compounding the problem is the fact many to most of the Sixth and Seventh Doctor stories are utter disasters, so when one transcends, if you're already prejudiced against it, you're liable to miss it. In my defense, the preceding story is one of those train wrecks where, I think, things had gotten so bad there could be no reasonable expectation of quality in anything that followed. The show was already dead, it just hadn't shambled to its grave yet.

But, the production team attempted -- and pulled off! -- something really audacious here. Well, pulled off with caveats, but that they didn't logic bomb us all into a headsplosion is a minor miracle.

Ace realizes the young man she's been flirting with is not from a nice family.
OK, I guess I need to step back and explain this just a bit. This story is set the morning after the First Doctor, Susan, Ian, and Barbara have departed in the TARDIS to start their (and our) adventures together. The Doctor had left behind an incredibly powerful piece of Time Lord technology as a trap the Daleks -- when I said the production team was being audacious, this is what I meant, they're retconning right around the edges the first story and positioning the Doctor as a quite a different character than he was in "An Unearthly Child" -- and now we're back to see the trap sprung. Two Dalek factions are battling for the tech, a bit of stellar manipulation hardware that can send a star supernova, and there are humans caught in the crossfire.

That's where the Doctor and Ace arrive, just in time to fall in with the military (not UNIT, but UNIT-esque) and start blowing stuff up. (It takes a little too long, but to our great relief, Ace's ghetto blaster is blown up later -- that's one source of the terrible music that plagues the soundtrack of the story eliminated. It's a shame the jukebox from the cafe isn't used throughout.) The Doctor is actually remarkably competent in combating the Daleks, fitting the hints we're getting that he's, if not older, then wiser and more involved in the creation of Time Lord society and technology than we'd been led to believe all along. Hobnobbing with the Omegas and Rassilons back when the Gallifreyans developed time travel, he was.

And Ace, she's running around supplying the Doctor with Nitro-9, beating up a Dalek with the Baseball Bat of Omega, and, beyond just being the muscle and logistics, she's also tasked with explaining to the ladies of notUNIT that the Daleks are basically involved in a race war, a poignant scene considering her dismay at finding the "No Coloureds" sign in the window of the boarding house run by her would-be suitor's mother. Sophie Aldred, in another surprise, is not terrible here; she's miles better than she was in her first story but still the length of a couple football fields short of a touchdown. At she's at least in the same city as the field the rest of the team is playing on. You couldn't say that about her introductory story. She's got to do a lot of the lifting in this one playing against the handsome (if a bit of a bit of a fish) young crypto-fascist sergeant who's secretly in league the xenophobic businessman who is serving one of the Dalek factions that are after the Hand of Omega. She gets by. Nobody's saying she got overlooked for an Emmy, or BAFTA, or whatever, but she got by.

It works here. Nearly all of it. The retconning, a task I, frankly, would never have trusted JNT to oversee, works better than anyone could have reasonably predicted, though it clearly doesn't fit with what we knew, or thought we knew, about Hartnell's Doctor. Let's not get too hung up on continuity and canonicity though. The surprisingly adept handling of the racial themes is, if nothing else a relief. (I guess it's hard to mess up a relatively straightforward "racists are despicable fools" message but this is the JNT era and they found plenty of ways to screw up.) Even the use of the little girl as the Dalek battle computer works; pillaging horror movie tropes again there, something Doctor Who has long been reasonably good at doing. The Special Weapons Dalek is pretty wicked, much more impressive than the garden variety Daleks who appear to teetering and constantly on the verge of falling over when required to move.

Not sure why the Doctor, when Davros is revealed, remarks that's he's discarded the last vestiges of his human form when Davros is not human to begin with. If he meant "humanoid," he seems to be overlooking the fact he's talking to a head, not just a wired-up blob. Sure, it's the gnarly old three-eyed Davros head, but still, it's recognizably humanoid. Lazy and sloppy, that's all that is.

So here I am not consigning a post-Davison story to the scrap heap. I'm as surprised as you are.

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