October 5th 1988, a small boy sits with his family in their small house watching the images on the small screen. He wonders ‘just what is inside those white and gold machines?’ He's confident that by the end of the show he will have seen. The hero of this story, The Doctor he is called, makes contact with one of these creatures. But something is different, the beast doesn’t talk like the others, his voice is more human. Could this be the moment? The boy wonders excitedly and then with perfect timing the top of the machine slides back and reveals what he has waited so long to see. ‘Davros!’ Exclaims our hero. The boy has no idea what a Davros is, but he is excited, do all these creatures look like this on the inside? He watches the rest of the episode play out and he is thrilled to bits, he can’t wait to watch it again next week.
And this is the moment I stopped being a ‘normal kid’ and became a ‘geek’. But what more is there to be said of ‘Remembrance of the Daleks’? Regarded as a classic since broadcast, every fan has had their say on this one. I suppose the question would be ‘why do we all agree?’ I can only recount my personal reasons for loving it and see if that answers the question.
There’s the story. It really isn’t that much superior to a lot of others of this period; in fact it has much in common with ‘Attack of the Cybermen’ as far as continuity is concerned. ‘Remembrance’ goes one step further though by referencing other shows, most notably Quatermass. And yet unlike much other eighties Doctor Who it is praised rather than derided for this approach. So why do we forgive ‘Remembrance’? Personally I think it’s all down to presentation. Each reference is cleverly woven into the fabric of the story in a succession of throwaway comments. As a child and casual viewer in 1988 I wasn’t put off by theses references, in fact I didn’t notice, I was too busy being wowed by big explosions.
Speaking of presentation ‘Remembrance’ is the first big budget Doctor Who. Dispelling the myth that Doctor Who was low budget (it wasn’t, it was given the same money as any drama show) and taking into account that ‘Remembrance’ went massively over budget, so massive that director Andrew Morgan was told he would never work on the show again, this is easily the glossiest production of Who at this point and it shows. OK it’s not as glossy as today and the all video-tape look tarnishes it slightly but Doctor Who had rarely looked better than this. Leaving us with a genuinely engaging story with multiple layers, richness and depth with enough crash/bang/wallop to entertain those with the least critical faculties (I was four).
Doctor Who has always either been ‘entertainment for the kids’ or ‘a British institution to be picked apart and analysed by the most die-hard devotees’. ‘Remembrance’ is possibly the only story that successfully manages to be both. I love ‘Genesis of the Daleks’ and ‘Caves of Androzani’ as much as the next fan but I would never show them to my four year old. Ignoring the fact that they are both incredibly dark, neither of them has enough superficial excitement to hold a child’s attention.
Now I have a minor confession to make. Modern Doctor Who is not entirely to my taste, not a popular opinion but a personal one. ‘So why keep watching?’ People have asked me. I have a huge amount of envy towards newer fans of the show. For those that came to it in recent years it can still hold that certain kind of magic meaning they can enjoy the programme in a way that I can’t anymore. It doesn’t matter how brilliant the show is now, nothing can compare to the excitement of being four years old and watching two different kinds of Dalek blow each other up while an unorthodox hero pursues his own agenda resulting in a confrontation that reveals the creator of the Daleks moments before their home planet is destroyed. But I keep on watching because I can still remember this particular episode and the thrill it gave me that has endured for twenty-seven years, and beyond. And it hasn’t palled with age or repeated viewing. What I don’t envy is that in another twenty-seven years modern fans will be grumbling ‘it's not as good as it used to be!’ as the new fans yell ‘Trent Fisher is the best Doctor ever!’
There are certain stories, like ‘Timelash’ and ‘The Twin Dilemma’ that press all the wrong buttons. To this end, ‘Remembrance’ presses all the right buttons, managing to tell a good, solid, original, futuristic story with a period setting, enough nods to the past (and other shows) to add texture and depth to the proceedings that are not intrusive so as not to alienate the non-fan, while all the time adding enough new elements into the mix and moving the series forward creatively. ‘Remembrance’ isn’t a classic in the same sense as something like ‘Blink’, which is a standout episode but not something that should really be repeated, it is a classic in the sense of ‘if only every episode could be like this’. To my mind it’s as close to perfection as Doctor Who ever got.
Dominic Fellows is an actor and writer from Birmingham in the UK. He is also producer of the group Stripped Down Theatre (find them on Facebook). His shows have had more than one or two ‘geeky gags’ in them.