Sylvester McCoy has by now very firmly established himself as the Doctor and kicks off his second season by re-introducing an air of mystery to the role. Just when the fans thought they knew everything there was to know about their hero, along come some new plot twists and hushed moments of dialogue to turn the Almighty God Of Plot Continuity on its head. New companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) wastes no time in establishing her rapport with "The Professor," and the two of them are already forging a partnership that will be the best-loved duo since the days of Tom Baker's Doctor and Elisabeth Sladen's Sarah Jane Smith.
More than a mere hat-tip to the series' own pilot episode, REMEMBRANCE actually returns to 1963 London and familiar settings last seen haunted by William Hartnell's incarnation of the first Doctor: to include Coal Hill School (including some prominent scenes in the Chemistry lab), and Foreman's junkyard in Totter's Lane. The long-standing question of just exactly what the Doctor was originally DOING here is finally answered as two warring schisms of Daleks emerge out of space-time and begin the all-out battle that viewers have been waiting for since 1984's REVELATION OF THE DALEKS. The Daleks somehow don't quite come off as terrifying as audiences may remember them; despite their murderous ways and their unending grating screams of "Exterminate," they present more like long-absent friends than the ultimate threat to the universe. Even the "Emperor" Dalek, last seen in 1967's EVIL OF THE DALEKS, has undergone a makeover in the style of the old Dalek cereal box comics.
More central to the story, however, is the wonderful character development and the repeated emphasis on racism. Sophie Aldred's 1990's teen spirit is justifiably thrown off by the ways of the early 1960's --besides being baffled by the old English monetary system, she runs up against harsher realities such as the "No Coloureds" sign in the window of the boarding house run by Mike's mother. From this we can guess where Mike (Durslet McClinton, in a tragically handsome romantic foil for Ace) soaked up his "look out for your own" attitude, and how that idealism in turn caught fire with Ratcliffe (George Sewell) who once found himself at the wrong ideological end of what passed for "patriotism" in World War II. Ratcliffe's resentment has brought him into a reckless partnership with the renegade Dalek faction, who are themselves in turn despised by the "racially pure" Imperial Daleks. (Ace's deep revulsion to racist attitudes will be more fully explored in the later episode GHOST LIGHT.)
REMEMBRANCE launches Doctor Who into its final triumphant run on BBC --Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred shepherded the series through its two final seasons with some of its best-ever writing and production values (which, alas, would not be enough to save the series from its ultimate cancellation by the Beeb in 1990). McCoy's unreadable "man of mystery" performance is first glimpsed in this episode, mostly in form of hints and verbal slips that do not go unnoticed by Ace. The grander backstory of the Time Lords is widened out as well, and there are quite a few references to past episodes that longtime fans will enjoy. The script even manages a couple of gags at the series' own expense, as well as providing a plausible "early origins" basis for the secret military agency that will later be known as U.N.I.T. Simon Williams' Captain Gilmore appears to be played mostly for comic effect in a kind of exaggerated foreshadowing of Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart. The performances by Pamela Salem as Rachel and Karen Gledhill as Alison go a long way towards solidifying the "peacetime chaos" that was English society in the early 60's. The opening pre-credits shot of the Dalek mothership looming over an unsuspecting Earth is brilliantly accented by a background babble of 1960's media sound bytes, to include speeches by John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King.
Besides some hilarious commentary by McCoy and Aldred that demonstrates just how closely the two worked together during their time in the series, the DVD has cleaned up the eternal problem of Doctor Who background music dampening out the dialogue. Special Features are little more than the obligatory biographies, blooper outtakes, and alternate camera angles of two effects sequences --not all it's cracked up to be. Aaronovitch clearly has some big shoes to fill (this being the first Dalek serial in the series NOT directed by Dalek creator Terry Nation), and he carries it off very well. No character (least of all Ace) is left standing around looking for something to do, the story's pacing proceeds at a comfortable rate with very little filler, there are a number of total surprises (even to hardcore fans who think they already know all about Doctor Who), and of course plenty of action scenes with lots of Daleks going kerboom. Definitely one of McCoy's best outings as the Doctor, as well as the best Dalek serial ever (with the possible exception of 1974's GENESIS OF THE DALEKS). This episode occupies a place in my own personal Top Ten list of Greatest Doctor Who Stories Ever.
Tremendous credit is due as always to The Doctor Who Restoration Team for the extra features. In addition to commentary from the lead actors, there's also some amusing outtakes and fascinating deleted scenes (though the latter might have been better if included in the program). And with production information text, alternate camera angles, and episode trailers this disc, like all Doctor Who DVDs, is an outstanding value.
Even with Daleks it wasn't possible to increase the viewing figures and save the series from the dead end... Read more