The BBC science fiction series Doctor Who is a powerhouse legend in television. It initially ran almost continuously from 1963 - 1989. That's 26 years! After a lengthy hiatus (filled by a plethora of novels and Big Finish full-cast audio productions), the series recently returned to production with great success. David Tennant was a splendid Doctor, and Matt Smith has shown some early promise taking over for Tennant. It can be seen on BBC America here in the States, and, of course, on DVD and Blu-ray.
My first experience with Doctor Who came in the 1980s, when WVIZ, channel 25, a PBS station in Cleveland, aired the show each Saturday night. I grew up with the Third, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Doctors, and the program remains close to me as it was an important component to my childhood imagination.
For the uninitiated, Doctor Who follows the exploits of an alien Time Lord named the Doctor as he travels through time and space in a cavernous vehicle called the TARDIS. Typically, he goes on adventures with companions - often from Earth. His ability to regenerate when facing death allows for a new actor to assume the role, perhaps in part explaining why the series has been able to last for 47 years. Thus, each new actor becomes a numbered Doctor. Matt Smith is the eleventh actor to assume the role, for example, so he is the Eleventh Doctor.
Remembrance of the Daleks was the first serial of the original show's 25th - and penultimate - season. This season marked Sylvester McCoy's second season as the Seventh Doctor and the first adventure he had with his final television companion, Ace (Sophie Aldred), who was introduced at the end of the previous season. To commemorate the show's silver anniversary, this story is heavily self-referential. It's set in 1963, the year the program began, and occurs around the same school that the First Doctor's granddaughter attended. As the title suggests, the program's most popular antagonists, the alien Daleks, are up to their old tricks; although, this time, there are opposing Dalek factions and even the Dalek creator, Davros, plays an important role.
Remembrance of the Daleks, perhaps more than any other show in the series' run, is a serial for Doctor Who fans. While my fellow DVD Talker John Sinnott is correct in his review of this story that newcomers can enjoy it without being confused, a lot of the fun postmodern nods to the show's history will be missed by novices. Sure, some of them are overt and obvious - as when Ace turns on a television set to a BBC announcement about the premiere of a new science fiction program called Doctor Who. However, other nods, like the Seventh Doctor mistakenly calling a character The Brigadier, would only be appreciated by long-time fans of the series.
Still, Remembrance of the Daleks comprises a fun four-episode romp. There are Daleks-a-plenty along with their signature "EXTERMINATE!" chant. The Seventh Doctor gets one of his best moments, until Sylvester McCoy returned to the character for the Big Finish audio range, in a coffee shop as he muses about choice. Ace gets a super-charged baseball bat and bashes the heck out of a Dalek (a fun albeit juvenile kick). The Hand of Omega, an artifact left behind by the First Doctor in 1963 England, is an important little piece of Doctor Who mythology developed here - and explored further in a very fun Big Finish audio titled Omega starring Peter Davison as the Fifth Doctor. And the British military, in a surreal scene in this serial, seem nonchalant about handing over rocket launchers to total strangers - come to think of it, the military in general are surprisingly open to the Seventh Doctor and Ace's "aid" in this story. That's worth a chuckle or two.
The Daleks may have had better stories (my personal favorite being the 4th Doctor romp Genesis of the Daleks) - and Davros too has been better handled (the Big Finish audio production of Davros with Colin Baker as the Sixth Doctor is quintessential). But still, Remembrance of the Daleks is nostalgic Doctor Who fun from start to finish. This newly-released Special Edition is loaded with extras (more on this further in the review). Fans of Doctor Who who already have the original edition on DVD may not find enough to warrant a double-dip, but taken on its own terms, I'd highly recommend this edition to any fan of the series.
The episodes of Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks are presented in a full frame 4:3 aspect ratio that reflects its original television broadcast. The image looks as good as I've ever seen it with solid colors and okay detail - don't expect stellar blu-ray visual quality here, however, given the show's 1980s video production roots.
No fewer than three audio tracks are available on this disc. The episodes themselves may be played in either Feature Audio Stereo or Feature Audio 5.1. Both are English language. I preferred watching this with the stereo track, if only out of nostalgia given that's the format I would have heard back in the late 1980's on television. An additional track titled Isolated Music is, as the name suggests, a music-only track.
In addition, an English subtitle track is available.
As is normal for home video releases of the original Doctor Who series, this DVD set is loaded with extras. Disc one contains the following:
Back to School: The Making of Remembrance of the Daleks (32:39) is a featurette with cast and crew comments on the making of this serial. It's a fairly standard featurette with a lot of soundbyte comments and clips from the show.
Remembrances: Referencing the Past (15:14) feels like an extension of the previous featurette. Here, the same cast and crew (actors, writers, etc.) recall their memories of watching Doctor Who and discuss the references to past Doctor Who episodes in Remembrance of the Daleks. The best part about this documentary is that it includes clips from prior episodes of Doctor Who through the years.
Extended and Deleted Scenes (12:24) includes an introduction by Ace herself, Sophie Aldred. Outtakes (4:13) provides precisely that. Multi-Angle Sequences allows you to select the angle of two scenes: Chemistry Lab and Gate Explosion.
A commentary track with Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred is casual and chatty.
Additional historical extras are for the hardcore fans. Trails and Continuity (4:59) is a collection of the vintage television spots for this program. Photo Gallery (8:35) is a slideshow of stills from the making of this story set to music from the show. A trailer for the third season of the new Doctor Who precedes the main menu. Finally, a PDF file of Radio Times Listings is accessible via a DVD-ROM drive.
That was just disc one. Disc two, however, really only houses one final extra, outside of a trailer for the fourth season of the new Doctor Who series and a funny spot for BBC America. This extra was Davros Connections (43:14), a documentary covering the history of Davros, the Daleks' creator in Doctor Who mythology. I was impressed to see that it incorporated Big Finish's audio productions with the original television series.
Remembrance of the Daleks is a fun, nostalgic four-episode serial from the original Doctor Who's penultimate season. This Special Edition is loaded with good extras - and comes Highly Recommended on its own terms. Fans who have the original DVD edition will have to decide if there's enough here to warrant a double-dip.