In his seventh incarnation (see my review of The Caves of Androzani for a brief Doctor Who history lesson), the Doctor once again meets one of his most feared enemies: the Daleks. During the tenure of this Doctor, the stories became far more intelligent, witty, savvy, and exciting. Remembrance of the Daleks is an excellent example of the growth realized by the writers during the late 1980s. Unfortunately, the series would only last another year and a half; fortunately, this story sets the tone for a near perfect end to the series. Drama. Danger. Comedy. Explosions. What more could you ask for in a TV show?
Facts of the Case
While not fully realized before the BBC canceled the series, Remembrance of the Daleks marks a turning point in developing the history/background of the Doctor. With the show having been on the air for 25 years, most viewers believed that they had learned all that they would about the intrepid time-traveling Doctor. However, as the Doctor is over 900 years old, there was obviously a lot of his story left to reveal. It was thus decided to share more of the character's history in an attempt to make him, once again, mysterious.
In this story, the Doctor and his new companion Ace visit 1963 London. The fun twist is that this story chronologically takes place approximately one week after the very first episode that aired in 1963 (and was also set in that same time). Unbeknownst to us from that first episode, in the Doctor's hasty retreat from London, he left something very important behind: the Hand of Omega. The Doctor has returned to retrieve the Hand but danger immediately presents itself when the Daleks are discovered looking for the Hand as well.
What is the Hand of Omega? Just like Star Trek, Doctor Who is replete with its own dense techno babble. I wish I could tell you what the Hand is, but that's a major plot point. But, whatever it is exactly, it could be used by the Daleks to cause even more chaos throughout time and space.
Now, what the devil is a Dalek? It turns out that the Daleks are the Doctor's oldest enemy, as they were introduced in the second story back in 1963. Long ago (or is it in the distant future?) the Daleks were once peaceful inhabitants of the planet Skaro, but over time and due to the evil machinations of their leader Davros, they have mutated into green blobby beings that need to be encased in machines to live and move; thus, they are cyborg (but not as cool as the Borg). In one of those odd twists of fate, the Daleks are both impressive and silly in design—they look like an oversized saltshaker, which is somewhat laughable. Nonetheless, the design is actually impressive owing to its 1963 creation.
Getting back to the story…In going to retrieve the Hand, the Doctor has stumbled upon the Daleks trying to get the Hand for themselves. Additionally, the British Army is also there, as they've detected odd transmissions from the area where the Hand is. As the Army is completely outgunned by the futuristic Daleks, the Doctor must also protect them from the Daleks. If that sounds hard enough, that is but the mere beginning of the trouble facing the Doctor: his new companion Ace doesn't listen to his advise and gets herself cornered by Daleks; it turns out there is a traitor in the Army who is working with the Daleks; and there are actually two Dalek factions fighting for control of the Hand!
With so many sides fighting for control of the Hand, how will the Doctor protect the Hand of Omega? Will he be able to win this time? This story is exceptionally complicated and filled with many twists and turns. This is certainly one of the strongest stories ever written for the entire series.
BBC and Warner Bros. have carefully chosen (with some fan feedback) some of the best Doctor Who stories to be the first releases to DVD. Not only is Remembrance of the Daleks dense and well presented, the acting, directing, set design, and overall production of the story are top notch. While it is a running joke that Doctor Who has some of the worst costumes and special effects in all of science-fiction history, this story absolutely breaks the tradition. There are enough real explosions to put any of today's shows to shame and the sets and costumes are perfect for the era. This story just goes to show how much better Doctor Who could have been over the years if the BBC had only given them a real budget from the start.
As this story was aired in 1988, it is not as dated as most of the earlier stories and holds up well to the proverbial test of time. The BBC and Warner Bros. have done an exceptional job with bringing this story to DVD. The picture is presented in its full frame format with nary a flaw to be seen. The video transfer is simply excellent. There is no artifacting, no grain or dust, and no edge enhancement that I could detect. The colors are crisp, clean, and solid. Overall, this is a very sharp, clear, and pleasing picture.
The audio on the disc is presented in 2.0 Dolby Digital and is a satisfying track. As noted in the bonus features, this story was the first to be recorded and broadcast in stereo. That can certainly be heard when compared to the earlier stories already released on DVD. While I would have appreciated a 5.1 remix (as can be found on The Five Doctors), this mix will not disappoint.
This DVD contains a nice assortment of bonus features. As always, the most important of which is the audio commentary track by Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor) and Sophie Aldred (Ace). While this track is not quite as insightful as others, it is quite entertaining and insightful. This time it is actually the supporting character that has more to say than the central figure; fortunately, it's all pretty interesting and informative. There is a good mix of information about the big and small of the episode, but they didn't always go into as much detail as I would have preferred.
In addition, there is an information text option that runs on the subtitle track. This track provides additional background information on the story and those involved in its creation. There are some long gaps as it does not run continuously throughout the story, and some of the information is far too "British" to be of interest to an American audience.
What else is there? There is also a nice selection of extended and deleted scenes. These are quite interesting and help flesh out some of the story so it all does make more a bit more sense. Fortunately, each segment has a text introduction that explains where it fits in the story and why it was cut.
But that's not all! Other bonus features include an isolated music track, BBC 1 trailers for episodes 1 and 2, alternate angles of two key action sequences, an outtakes compilation, a Who's Who, and a photo gallery (which oddly fixates on the character of Mike).
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I really hate it when I can't skip past the opening FBI warnings and the Warner Bros. and BBC logos before I get to the main menu. And shame on the BBC and Warner Bros. for not including any subtitle tracks on the disc!
As with all of Doctor Who, Remembrance of the Daleks is crammed with a ton of back-story and history and may be difficult for new viewers to understand all of the references. However, this story with its brisk pacing and excellent plot would be a perfect introduction for anyone to the series. It is highly recommended for anyone interested in a different spin on British science fiction.
Remembrance of the Daleks is guilty on all counts of quality, and you will be EX-TER-MI-NA-TED if you do not give this disc a spin.
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