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Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks

BBC Worldwide // Unrated // March 2, 2010
List Price: $24.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted April 11, 2010 | E-mail the Author
The Show:
The 25th Season of Doctor Who kicked off with one of the best Sylvester McCoy adventures featuring his most popular foes, the Daleks.  With a new companion, Ace, and a fairly large budget, the story was pretty exciting and had a lot for fans to enjoy, along with several flaws and plot holes that irritatingly make it less than it could have been.  The story was originally released in the US in 2002, but this newly restored version boasts a new set of bonus features. 

So, why re-release this story when there are so many adventures that haven't arrived on DVD yet?  The answer is a bit convoluted.  Originally released in the UK in 2001, Remembrance of the Daleks was one of the first Doctor Who releases, and there were some mistakes made in the restoration:  some special effects were left out, and (through no fault of the restoration team) a pair of Beatles songs had to be replaced due to rights issues.  The missing SFX shots were quickly replaced for the Region 1 release (in 2002) but the fans living in the UK had to live with the flawed first release. 
Flash forward to 2007.  The Restoration Team, not happy with their first attempt at this story, starts from scratch and restores the whole thing again for a big Davros boxed set (that was sadly never released in the US.)  Not only are they able to fix the SFX cockup, but due to a new blanket agreement, they can include the Beatles songs!  In 2009 this new edition is released by itself in the UK.  Across the pond, we have to wait until 2010 to get the new version, but, since the licensing agreement with the Beatles is only good for the UK, the two songs by the Fab Four are replaced with cover versions.  The upshot is that now Region One buyers can get the updated image restoration, but it's still not totally perfect.

As for the story itself, it's a great adventure that unfortunately has some major flaws.  Landing in London in 1963 (very soon after he originally left in the very first episode) the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and Ace (Sophie Aldred) run into some military scientists investigating a magnetic anomaly.  They're soon called off to an old junk yard where a Dalek is held up, having killed a soldier.  With a lot of help from the Doctor the single Dalek is disposed of, but that's only the tip of a much larger plan.  The Daleks are looking for The Hand of Omega, a Gallifreyan device that was instrumental in letting that race gain control of time.  It was something that the Doctor left on Earth when he abruptly left back in November of 1963, and now he's returned just in time to claim it before the Daleks do. 
The plot is made more interesting by the fact that there are actually two Dalek groups after the Hand, the silver Daleks lead by the Dalek Emperor, and a faction of renegade Daleks, creatures that have not evolved as far as their shiny counterparts.  These two groups are in a war, and both hope to get the Hand in order to give them a distinct advantage over their enemy.  Of course the Doctor knows where the Hand is, but he's not eager to stop the Daleks from taking it... as a mater of fact, that's exactly what he wants.

There's a lot to like about this serial, and I'll start with that.  Writer Ben Aaronovitch did a good job making the Doctor's character darker and even a bit mysterious, and threw in a lot of small jokes that fans will enjoy without making it too obvious.  (The junkyard is the same one (though misspelled) that the Tardis was originally discovered in during An Unearthly Child, the school at the heart of the mystery is the same one Susan Foreman was attending, etc.)  If you're not a big fan and don't know the history, you'll miss the jokes but not be confused at all.  They're subtle and fit in with the story.  And, most of all, we finally see a Dalek levitate up a flight of stairs!! Woo-hoo.
This story also has a lot of action that's really exciting.  Seeing Ace destroy a Dalek with a super-powered baseball bat is fun, and the Dalek vs. Dalek battles are great.  The Special Weapons Dalek was also very cool and really kicked some ass.

The thing I think I enjoyed about this adventure the most however was that the Doctor was in control just about the whole time.  There are a lot of serials where he's simply reacting to events as they unfold, like a leaf that is being carried away by a stream.  Here he's anticipating what's going to happen and does something about it.  He doesn't come up with a plan on the fly; he's had one from the beginning.  The Doctor is also darker in this story, almost ruthless.
Unfortunately there were some aspects of the show that really didn't work and really mar the whole production.  The first is the incidental music.  To put it simply, Keff McCulloch's music sucks.  It's trying to be hip and groovy, cool music for the 80's so that teens will tune in, but listening to it today, it's just painful.   
The romantic relation between Ace and the young handsome Sergeant didn't work for me at all... it was just clunky and seemed awkward.

The Daleks still act stupid, unfortunately.  They always do, but it's just more irritating here.  The biggest strike against them is when they're chasing Ace through the school, shooting at her and yelling "Exterminate!" as they do so well.  When a trio of the creatures finally does manage to corner her, do they shoot her?  No.  Instead they just close in and repeat "Exterminate!" over and over until she's rescued. 
Finally, there are several continuity errors that are really galling.  No one heard or saw the Dalek shuttle land the first time (before episode one)??  When it lands in the third episode it made a huge noise and blew out windows.   Or how about when the Doctor and Ace run up to a military truck and the driver, whom they've never met before, and he just gives them a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher??!  Of course the Doctor had to sign for it, but that's all.
What happens at the end?  The Doctor tells the final Black Dalek that he (the Doctor) has destroyed the invasion fleet.  So it spins about in circles and then blows up.  WTF?  What about the creepy girl?  How can she shoot lighting from her hands?  Why does she die at the end?  None of that makes any sense, but it sure ends the story quickly.
One more thing... The doctor was supposed to have planned everything from the beginning?  He purposely left the Hand of Omega behind on Earth when he left with Ian and Barbara in the very first episode as a trap to destroy the Daleks, right?  But he didn't even know that the Dalek's existed then.  If you're going to have fun with continuity, you can't break it too.
Oh yeah, and what happens to the Thalls living on Skaro??
[End Spoilers]

I'll admit that the last couple of continuity errors are easy to overlook, but the first couple really bring the story down.
Having said that, this story does have one of my favorite scenes from any episode of the classic Doctor Who.  There's a part where the Doctor is trying to decide if he should let his plan go through to fruition.  He goes into a café and orders some tea and tries to decide if he should have sugar with it.  Anyone who says that Sylvester McCoy was lousy as the Doctor needs only look at this scene to see that he did have some redeeming qualities.
The DVD:

This new version comes on two discs that are contained in a single-width double keepcase.
This disc includes the original stereo audio track (though the back cover lists it as mono) as well as a newly created made 5.1 track and an isolated music track (for masochists only) but they're hidden.  For some reason there isn't an audio sub menu on the main screen.   Instead you have to search for these in the extras menu, where they're located on the second page of bonus material.   In addition to that, the technical specs box on the back of the DVD case only lists the mono track, which is a bit thick if you ask me.  In any case, both tracks sound good, but I preferred the 5.1 for the action scenes, especially during the battle between the rival Dalek factions under the bridge.  Great stuff.
The 1.33:1 image looks very good.  I did a comparison with the earlier release and there is a definite improvement.  The colors are a bit brighter and more solid, the flesh tones are just a tad more realistic, and the image seems to be a bit sharper.  It's not a night-and-day difference, but this new restoration does look better.
There are a host of extras included on this release (all on disc one save the last item), like usual, and I always enjoy digging through them. 
They've ported over the commentary track by Sylvester McCoy (The Doctor) and Sophie Aldred (Ace), from the earlier release which is fine but not outstanding.  There's nothing really wrong with it, I was never really engaged while it was playing though.
There are a couple of new featurettes.  The first is Back to School (36 min) where the cast and crew reminisce about the filming and what they thought of the serial.  This was very good, and they even go to some of the original exterior sets and show what they look like today.  In Remembrances (15 min) - The cast and crew point out all of the hidden 'in' jokes and references to other Doctor Who stories that are contained in this serial.  It's fun to see how many you can spot. 
Following that up are a series of extended and deleted scenes (12 min) and outtakes (4 min).  There's a pair of Multi-Angle Sequences where you can switch between two cameras filming the same scene as it's playing, a Photo Gallery, Radio Times listings, Trails and Continuity (the bumpers before and after the show) and the famous Production Information Subtitles that fill you in on everything you'd want to know about the creation of the story (I really like these.)
Disc two only has one extra:  Davros Connections (43 min) a featurette that was originally included in the UK Darvos set.  This looks at the evil genius who created the Daleks and traces his journey through the TV series and through the Big Audio audio books, especially I, Davros.  While I had not heard the audio plays, this special didn't really do much for me.  It went over the things I new from the show and talked to both actors who had played the role and writers who had worked with the character.  There were a lot of spoilers if you haven't seen all of his appearances yet, which may make novice fans what to skip this, but if you're an old time fan you know most of his story.    
Final Thoughts:
This is easily one of the best Sylvester McCoy stories, but it's marred by a few problems that keep it from being truly great.  Well worth picking up if you don't have a copy already, and so this gets a strong Recommended rating.  If you have the earlier release however, I'm not sure if it's worth the upgrade.  The 1st US version includes the effects shots that the UK release missed, and that's a big thing.  The improved image quality is nice, but the earlier released didn't look bad by any stretch of the imagination.  The new featurettes are nice too, but how often are you going to watch them?  If it were me, I'd pass on the double dip this time around, but it largely depends on how much you want the bonus items and the improvement in video quality.
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