Sunday, 24 November 2013

Who is Tom Baker meant to be in "The Day of the Doctor"?

Would you like a jelly baby?
There is so much I want to write about this amazing 50th Anniversary special, but I'm too excited to put it down in words yet. In the meantime I want to just concentrate on that spectacular last few minutes... and pose the question: who on earth is Tom Baker?

THEORY 1: He's human
He could be a man who simply looks like a previous incarnation of the Doctor - hence why the Eleventh Doctor says "I never forget a face." After all, we've seen a Pompeian who looks like the Twelfth Doctor (Caecilius in "The Fires of Pompei") and a Timelord who looks like the Sixth Doctor (Commander Maxil in "The Arc of Infinity"). So, it's not inconceivable that an ordinary human could look like an older, prior incarnation of the Doctor. This makes the most logical sense, but it doesn't entirely explain away the curator's apparent knowledge of events that have happened in "The Day of the Doctor". It's also the least interesting theory.

THEORY 2: He's the Fourth Doctor
The effect of saving Gallifrey has massively changed the Doctor's own timeline, such that his fourth incarnation did not die when he fell from the communications tower in "Logopolis". Instead, his fourth self went on to lead a long life, ending up as a curator at the National Gallery. This explains why he looks so much older in "The Day of the Doctor". Of course, this means he is a past Doctor, which makes it difficult to explain how he knows who Matt Smith is. There's also a whole host of questions surrounding what else may have changed in the Doctor's past. For my money, this is the most interesting theory.

THEORY 3: He's the Future Doctor
The Doctor, in some long-distant future incarnation, decides to regenerate into a body that looks like his fourth incarnation. This is entirely possible - perhaps he had a fondness for that body? Tom Baker was, after all, the longest serving TV Doctor. We also know there is technology out there (thank you, Sisterhood of Karn) that allows a Timelord to choose what they look like when they regenerate. There is prior form for this as well: when Romana (a Gallifreyan companion of the Fourth Doctor) regenerated, she chose to look like Princess Astra, a woman she had met in "The Armageddon Factor". This would explain how the curator knows who the Eleventh Doctor is, knows about the events of "The Day of the Doctor" and suggests that the Doctor will eventually become a curator, just as the Eleventh Doctor had pondered.

THEORY 4: He's Tom Baker
This was just a bit of fan service from Steven Moffat, and nothing should be read into it.

What do you think...?

Friday, 22 November 2013

REVIEW: An Adventure in Space and Time

David Bradley as William Hartnell
It is a rare thing indeed to create a piece of drama that from start to finish never once drops the ball, but that is precisely what Mark Gatiss managed to pull off with An Adventure in Space and Time (AAISAT), which aired yesterday on the BBC.

It's fair to say that fans don't always make the best creative visionaries. If you've ever cast your eye over the frothing fanfics that exist out there on the interweb, you'll know what I mean. But then Gatiss is far from your average Whovian anorak. From his legendary characters in the League of Gentlemen to his stunning collaboration with Steve Moffat that gave birth to Sherlock, he has delivered in spades on pretty much every project he's turned his hand to. His scripts for Doctor Who (and his novels) have been amongst the very best the show has seen, so the expectations for AAISAT were already very high from the moment it was announced. And from the very first couple of scenes, I was won over.

It's hard to know where to start, but perhaps the first thing to note are the splendid casting choices. Jessica Raine positively shines as show producer Verity Lambert, equal parts gutsy and vulnerable. She is totally believable as a young woman trying to make her mark in a stuffy, tweed-dominated Beeb where old men call the shots and dear ladies make the tea. Brian Cox is a fantastic Sydney Newman, the showman head of drama at the Beeb who pop-pop-pops with ideas and gives Verity her chance. Cox is always good value, and he certainly doesn't disappoint on this outing. The scene in which he cajoles a despondent Hartnell by showering him with praise, only to fire Verity Lambert a warning shot as she thanks him for doing so, is lightning stuff. Sacha Dhawan plays a very likeable Waris Hussein and Lesley Manville puts in a warm, solid performance as Hartnell's devoted (if, at times, frustrated) wife.

The star of the show, however, is David Bradley. He captures William Hartnell so perfectly, it's easy to forget that he isn't the man himself. His transition from a surly, disillusioned actor annoyed at his 'variety' castings and lack of starring roles through to a devoted grandfather to both terrestrial and Gallifreyan granddaughters is spellbinding. I was genuinely worried at the beginning that I would come away from AAISAT not much liking Hartnell. His gruff manner with his own family and his diva-like behaviour when approached for the role made me fear that I would lose my Whovian idol forever. But such fears were to prove entirely groundless, for by the time Bradley was giving his own take on the "one day I shall come back" monologue, Hartnell's halo had been well and truly burnished. If Bradley isn't festooned with awards for such a towering performance, the world just isn't fit for purpose.

There are so many beautiful touches scattered throughout the drama. A number of them hark back to Gatiss' League days: a Mondasian Cyberman having a fag break, the slightly surreal appearance of a group of Menoptera nonchalantly wandering through a car park and the Cockney moans of a Dalek operator in need of a wee are all perfectly executed and very funny. Then there are the blink-and-you'll-miss-them cameos from the real actors who played the First Doctor's companions, as well as some substantial nods to the groundbreaking work of Ron Grainer and Delia Derbyshire of Radiophonic workshop fame. Sydney Newman's well known hatred for B.E.M.'s (bug-eyed monsters) was highlighted many times, and it was lovely to watch Verity Lambert defending the Daleks ("NOT Day-leks!") only to have her passion vindicated by a bunch of schoolboys on the bus yelling EXTERMINATE down the aisle. And, of course, it wouldn't be an authentic homage to Hartnell without a few 'Chesterfield' fluffed lines. We even had a classic Hartnell "hmm!" when Waris and Verity explain the role to him and he grabs his lapels to exclaim "Doctor...Who? Hmm!"

Hartnell's devotion to the show and his belief that he had to keep going on because the show couldn't exist without him was heartbreaking stuff. His final dismissal, and the tearful breakdown at home were almost too painful to watch. This was all the more poignant because of the beautiful scene in the park only moments before, where a group of children recognise him and he takes them on an expedition in character as the Doctor.

The final scenes in the TARDIS where we meet Pat Troughton (played to perfection by fellow League alumnus Reece Shearsmith) and Hartnell knows he is about to bow out are handled superbly. The decision to include Matt Smith at the console, exchanging a knowing look with Bradley, could have backfired - but it is so tastefully done, masterfully tying the show's origin to its present-day incarnation. It's pure indulgence to have this knowing nod to the show's future, but it just works so well. It's as if First and Eleventh Doctors are both acknowledging the admiration each has for the other: Smith to Hartnell out of respect, and Hartnell to Smith out of wonder that "his" show is still going, 50 years later.

So, thank you, Mark Gatiss and David Bradley for such a beautiful tribute to Doctor Who, a show which, but for the pioneering efforts of Verity Lambert, Sydney Newman, Waris Hussein and William Hartnell would not be celebrating its 50th anniversary today.

Monday, 14 October 2013

REVIEW: Pyramids of Mars

Sutekh The Destroyer
Sutekh: badass
When I was growing up with Doctor Who, I used to have a rule of thumb: if it didn't have Daleks or Cybermen in it, it would never be as good as it could be. Sontarans and Zygons got a special pass, but beyond that I would tend to relegate a story to the pile of "good because it's Doctor Who, but not that good." Of course, as I have got older, I've come to recognise that some of the best stories had no traditional monsters in them at all - but even through childlike eyes, I was able to see that Pyramids of Mars was a fantastic serial.

Fezes are cool!
I like to think the Doctor purloined Namin's fez
for later use in his 11th incarnation
Pyramids is firmly set in what has come to be known as the "Hinchcliffe Gothic" era of Who. We've got shifty foreigners, strange goings on in a creepy manor house and Egyptian mummies running wild in the forest. Something's not right, and the Doctor is here to find out what. But what makes Pyramids more than a simple horror yarn is that it manages to present an overarching threat with potentially devastating cosmic consequences in a thoroughly rural setting with a very small cast of characters. This is precisely the kind of story that Doctor Who does at its best: no magical powers, no Doctor Against The Whole Universe, but at the same time a very real menace and a story that bounds along with good humour, other-worldliness and a healthy dose of terror.

I walk in eternity
Sarah Jane Smith: the Amish years
The Doctor and Sarah Jane are not actually the first characters we see, in what is a rather surprising opening for a Who serial. Instead we have a scene that could have been taken directly out of The Exorcist, with Marcus Scarman uncovering a lost tomb in Egypt. Personally, if I stumbled into a tomb and the wall started glowing red, I might think twice about digging further, but this doesn't seem to put Prof. Scarman off. After he's been blasted with a dose of the green stuff, we cut to a classic "TARDIS in distress" scene with Tom Baker and Liz Sladen doing their best fall-all-over-the-floor acting. Next thing we know, they've landed on Earth at U.N.I.T. HQ but many decades in the past. In its place is a strange manor house, filled with sarcophagi and loud organ music. It turns out that Sutekh, last of the Osirans, is trapped inside the very tomb unearthed by Scarman, who has by now become Sutekh's mind-controlled slave. He, with the aid of some peculiar service robots that look like Egyptian mummies, is trying to free Sutekh by building a missile to destroy the pyramid on Mars which is keeping Sutekh imprisoned.

Osiran Service Robot, codename "Beefcake"
Now, about those mummies. While they do provide a reasonable amount of menace, it has to be said that they do look a bit weird. Why have they got such a big chest? OK, so it's probably the robot's central motor, but if it's meant to look like a walking cadaver, it's not very convincing. It would have been scarier if the robot mummies looked like, well, mummies. Plus, when the Doctor gets Sarah Jane to wrap him up in the bandages of a deceased robot so he can disguise himself, he somehow also acquires one of these giant chests. Still, it does give us the wonderful line "I shall mingle with the mummies, but I shan't linger."

"Oh, you brought the gift of death! You really shouldn't have..."
One other curiosity is the shape of the mummies' faces. They seem to have the same shape as the headgear that Scarman wears shortly before he sends poor Ibrahim Namin off to an untimely death - and us into a sinister cliffhanger. I think that face design bears a passing resemblance to the Ice Warriors' helmets, which is a nice touch if it was deliberate, given that both have apparently originated on Mars. An Ice Warrior would never get his foot stuck in a poacher's trap, however.

Prof. Marcus Scarman
Scarman hasn't got much of a tan for spending so long in Cairo
The casting for Pyramids is splendid. Bernard Archard puts in a deliciously evil turn as the Sutekh-controlled Scarman, and Who regular Michael Sheard is a great counterpoint as Scarman's lovable brother Laurence. His childlike glee on entering the TARDIS is wonderful, making his death at the hands of his own brother all the more upsetting. Even those who don't last much beyond the first episode, like Peters Mayock and Copley as Namin and Warlock respectively, light up the screen. Copley's look of sheer terror as he is murdered by the service robot mummy is really blood-curdling. Poacher Ernie Clements (George Tovey, father of Roberta from the Cushing films) has a good few scenes, particularly where he discovers the deflection shield - itself a genius idea, so simple, totally believable and, best of all, cost-free! It's a shame Clements has to die such an ignominious death.

Mummy sandwich
I mean... just... no, I don't know what they were
thinking when they choreographed this
The real star of the show, though, has to be Gabriel Woolf. His Sutekh voice is so perfectly pitched: rich, velvety evil with a hint of mischief underscored by a very serious timbre of dark, deep power. It's a testament to Woolf's abilities that he is able to imbue Sutekh with such great character in spite of barely being able to move and having to wear a head-encasing mask. He projects a threat that makes us really believe Sutekh is as powerful as the Doctor says he is. We've all heard the Doctor go on about how terrible such-and-such a villain is, but they're rarely as convincing in their evilness as Sutekh is.

Gabriel Woolf as Sutekh
I find that good.
Pyramids reinforces the now well-established fact in the Who universe, that once the Doctor becomes part of a timeline, he cannot simply leave on the assumption that all will be right in the end. Sarah Jane says that Sutekh can't possibly win because she's from 1980 and the world didn't end in 1911. To prove a point, the Doctor takes her to 1980, as it would be if they don't do anything to stop Sutekh. It's a chilling moment, but very well done.

"1980, Sarah. If you want to get off."
Thatcher's Britain, apparently
Sarah Jane has a good outing in this story. She gets to wear a slightly less ludicrous outfit that goes with the period (and has a nice reference to Victoria Watling, a Troughton-era companion). She nearly gets strangled - in a close up that, to be honest, goes on for too long - and then manages to get her own back by blowing the mummies and their rocket to smithereens with a box of gelignite and a rifle. Who knew Sarah was such a sharpshooter? I really like the moment when she fires the rifle and, as Sutekh holds back the explosion, she hisses "I know I hit it!" as if it's an insult to her marksmanship. She also acts as a stable, humanising influence throughout the story. Perhaps because the Doctor is facing down a particularly horrific foe, his own alienness is emphasised, leaving Sarah to emote the grief at how people are dying all around them.

Sarah Jane, good with firearms
Not just a screamer
Pyramids is by no means a perfect story. It's unclear, for example, why Sutekh projects his face into the TARDIS at the beginning, drawing it to 1911 in the first place. Furthermore, once he has regained his freedom, there seems to be no justifiable reason for Sutekh to decide to go through the time corridor to the manor house. If he's free, why doesn't he just destroy Earth from Cairo? Also, if he's as powerful as the Doctor says he is, why does he even need to use the time corridor - surely a demi-god like Sutekh could just transport himself wherever he wanted to go? Then there's the rather silly 'puzzles' that the Doctor and Sarah have to solve in order to reach the heart of the pyramid on Mars. They're pathetically easy, and even the scriptwriters seem to know how much they're cribbing from Death to the Daleks, as Sarah says herself "ooh, this is just like City of the Exxilons!" The final insult is Sutekh's real face. His mask is a thing of beauty, a real work of art for which the design department at the Beeb should be duly proud. His dog head underneath it is just awful. I don't know why, having built up the character to this point, they saw a need to take his mask off - but if they really felt that was necessary, it should have revealed something truly terrifying, not a skinny necked bat-dog-thing.

Dog-headed Sutekh
Really, though, these are cosmetic complaints. Pyramids of Mars is one of the very best Doctor Who stories and definitely high in the top ten for the Baker era. With such strong performances from the cast, it hardly ages at all.

That just leaves one, nagging little concern... why, exactly, was there a living human hand underneath Sutekh's bum for all those years of imprisonment?

Plaything of Sutekh
No wonder he was cross...

Thursday, 19 September 2013

REVIEW: Earthshock

March of the Cybermen
They do it with mirrors
Many's the time that I've watched a Doctor Who serial and lamented the fact that its very title robs the story of any suspense it might otherwise have had. Imagine how much better Romana's cliffhanger at the end of the first episode of Destiny of the Daleks would have been without 'Daleks' in the title (well, that and the incessant 'Do Not Move!' orders). Even the rightly celebrated Dalek of the Ecclestone era would have been a considerably better episode if, like the Doctor, we'd had no idea what was lurking in Van Statten's bunker. How refreshing it must have been, then, to watch Earthshock when it first aired in 1982. Not until the very last seconds of the first episode was there any indication that the metal meanies from Mondas were involved; and that grand reveal is so much more exciting for being unexpected.

Hi-tech Cyber telly
Is that Tom Baker's old TARDIS console
with a few angle lamps glued on?
And what a great look those Cybermen now have! While the Telosian Cybermen of Tomb fame were good for their day, by the time of Revenge of the Cybermen, they were beginning to look a bit stale. Fast forward to 1982, and the upgrades have worked out splendidly. From the metallic, crumpled body suits to the sleek helmets and perspex mouth guards, these Cybermen really do look like people trapped inside a cybernetic shell. What is more, their voices sound deep and booming - gone is the campness of The Tenth Planet and the reverberating bumblebee of Tomb, replaced instead by a heavy, clear baritone infused with a metallic echo chamber.

So, Doctor. We meet again!
Personally I'd love to see the Cyber Leader enjoying
a sunset and a perfectly prepared meal, myself
To cap it all, David Banks graces our screens for the first time, lending an air of authority and villainy to the Cyber Leader's role. What is more, his Cyber Leader genuinely has a personality. Whether he's clenching his fist and booming "Eggcellent" or taunting the Doctor for his "irrelevant" morality, Banks provides a Cyber Leader who, for the first time, rivals the Timelord for best onscreen presence. Some have criticised this approach, claiming that Cybermen have no emotions and thus should have no personality. But I can't help thinking that the technological prowess of the Cybermen, coupled with a lack of emotion, would naturally bring about an apparent sense of smug superiority. Many's the time that my own computer has infuriatingly told me that "this machine was not shut down properly" in spite of the fact that the reason it wasn't is because it bloody well crashed last time I used it. I reckon Cybermen are no different in that regard. The only time the Cyber Leader lets his guard down is on the subject of Voga, "the planet of goooooold!" I have to admit, he does sound a bit like an arachnophobe trying to say 'tarantula'.

The Doctor and Adric
Alas, poor Adric, I liked him not well
Earthshock is memorable for many reasons, and the shock of the Cybermen at the end of the first episode is perhaps not the only reason why it is named as such. This is the serial that saw the death of Adric, a companion picked up by the Fourth Doctor on his travels in E-Space. For me, I can remember the first time I watched Earthshock as a child not being particularly moved by the fact that Adric copped it at the end. I suspect this is because I'd had enough of him by this point and was glad he was leaving the show - even if it was in a burning fireball. However, with the dispassionate eyes of an adult watching this serial in isolation, he's not such a bad companion. The irony, perhaps, is that this is the first story in which he's shown himself to be both capable and likeable.

Mr and Mrs Android
Wait, is this Caves of Androzani?
Let's hop back to that first episode. It starts out well, providing a classic Who mystery with some archaeologists who've gone missing. Indeed, the archaeology angle, coupled with Cybermen bursting out of cling film later on, naturally brings back memories of Tomb. The first episode plods along even more slowly than an advancing Cyber army, however, and one gets the feeling that Eric Saward may have had to pad it out a little so as to postpone the Grand Reveal of the Cybermen until the very end. The action is poorly paced and the historic reference to the dinosaurs being wiped out is an overly laboured point. The androids make for interesting villains, but it's just as well they weren't the only thing posing a threat across the four episodes. You need a character in crazy make-up to pull that off.

Berrrrrrrrrrrryl Reid
Who says space captains can't be glam?
Which brings us to Beryl Reid, aka Captain Briggs, perhaps the most curious casting choice of Earthshock. When she first rocks up, hair immaculately permed and tinted, moaning about having been kept waiting for seven hours, you can't help thinking your Gran has somehow entered the Whoniverse. For a world-weary space marine, our Beryl is not quite what you'd expect. And yet, I can't help liking her performance. Somehow, it just seems to work, even though it really shouldn't.

Doctors 1, 2 and 4
No Cyber love for Pertwee
This is the first time the Cybermen have appeared since Revenge, and the story does a nice little potted history of Cyber-encounters with previous incarnations of the Doctor. It's truly wonderful to see any of Hartnell in relation to Cybermen, as we all know they were his ultimate nemesis. Patrick Troughton and Tom Baker can't fail to raise a smile, especially Doctor Four's cheeky line about tin soldiers skulking around the galaxy in an ancient spaceship.

"NO!" said Nyssa
Well, at least she got to keep all her clothes on
Spare a thought for poor Nyssa in this story. It was clear by this stage that a trio of companions just didn't work. There just isn't enough for that many people to do, and in Earthshock it's Nyssa's turn to sit it out in the TARDIS doing didlysquat. Indeed, such is the scriptwriters' insistence that she not leave the TARDIS, they're left giving her sinister lines to prevent even so much as a radio call to the Doctor. "NO!" she cries, when Kyle attempts as much, "I'm sure everything is all right." Admittedly she always was a clever thing, so maybe this was her way of ensuring at least one of Adric or Tegan bit the dust to ensure she got in on the action next time around.

Tegan takes aim
Not just a mouth on legs
Speaking of action, Earthshock is one of the most violent of all the Davison outings. If we include Cybermen and android deaths, the total body count for the story is a staggering thirty seven! Not only that, but pretty much every character gets a go at killing Cybermen - except Adric who has to make do with androids (and millions of dinosaurs). And yes, when I say every character, I don't just mean Tegan. We'd expect it from Tegan. But what about innocent, clever Nyssa?

Nyssa shoots a Cyberman
Not entirely sure how the Doctor managed to avoid that
Well, OK, she's just a companion. At least we know the Doctor would never stoop to such violence... right?

But Doctor! I thought we were... friends
Even the Cyber Leader can't quite believe it
Apparently John Nathan-Turner faced a backlash from fans after this story. Not that they were upset about Adric, no. They just didn't think guns should be fired in the TARDIS. Good old JNT said the State Of Grace circuits had been damaged by the Cybermen, thereby allowing gunfire in the console room. Cunning.

Really rather good
Never pull the Doctor's finger.
There are some great effects in Earthshock, particularly for its day. The Cyberman getting stuck in the doorway is a work of art, totally unexpected and cleverly executed. The incidental music is also great, with some superb plodding electronica as the Cybermen burst out of their containers and march to the spaceship bridge. Alas, the music does let itself down a bit with a comedy synth flute at the very end just before the episode cuts to the silent credits as a mark of respect to Adric. I think for the silent credits to have worked properly, it would have needed a silent close-up on the Doctor's face preceding it.

Never quite understood why, if it was made of gold,
Adric's badge was caked over with blue ceramic
In terms of bad things to say about Earthshock, there aren't many. I can forgive the tortoise-like pace of the first episode because of what it delivers in shock value in the closing seconds. There is a question mark bigger than Sylvester McCoy's umbrella hanging over exactly why the Cyber Leader insists that Adric stays on the spaceship yet demands that the Doctor and Tegan return to the TARDIS - particularly as Adric is the only person with any remote chance of undoing the Cyber plans (which, in fairness, he very nearly does). Then there's this comedy moment in which two scenes have clearly been shot on separate days and the exact cast of extras has been forgotten. Compare these shots of the soldiers entering the TARDIS...

Then there were three

...with these shots of them having successfully entered:

Hang on, where's mullet?

Notice how the woman in the blue circle is caught by a Cyberman in the preceding scene, yet is present in the next scene inside the TARDIS - yet the chap circled in red has mysteriously disappeared! Not to worry, eh? Oh, and spare a thought for the poor old Cyberman who gets ordered by the Cyber Leader, having boarded the TARDIS, to "search this ship!" Maybe he's still wandering the corridors, even now?

Butter wouldn't melt
Looks like the temporal shift had an effect on the spaceship's hardware,
if those ancient mainframes are anything to go by
All in all, Earthshock is a solid story with some great scenes and a very triumphant return for the Cybermen. We say goodbye to Adric and hello to ultra-violence. What's not to like?

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

REVIEW: Remembrance of the Daleks

Dalek on fire
Bonded polycarbide armour: also flammable
Ah, Remembrance. It's one of the best serials of the McCoy era, and a truly great Dalek story in its own right. Not only that, but as a 25th Anniversary special, it has more than a handful of cheeky references to the show's past. On this viewing, it's easy to see why it's a perennial fan favourite: it's got a great story (thanks, Ben Aaronovitch!), the Cartmel Masterplan is starting to play out and the Daleks look spectacular. Well, OK, they do wobble quite a bit, but their arsenal has been turbo-charged and the imperial Daleks in particular are sleek, elegant and they can climb stairs! Yes, this is also the story that finally lays to rest the old chestnut that running up a flight of stairs is all you need to do to outfox a Dalek.

Stairs no obstacle
Take that, Russell T. Davies!
So, what's the plot? The Doctor and Ace arrive in London, 1963 (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) to find a Dalek holed up in the scrapyard at Totter's Lane. This is, incidentally, meant to be the very same scrapyard in which the First Doctor parked his TARDIS in the very first episode; although it is disappointing to see that the producers couldn't be arsed to spellcheck I. M. Foreman's name.

I'm For Man
An error so grievous that these fans are on the brink of rioting
It's not long before it becomes apparent that there are two factions - renegade and imperial - both out to get their "grubby little protuberances" on the Hand of Omega, a Gallifreyan stellar manipulator which the Doctor hid in London many incarnations ago. In a grand twist, the Doctor actually wants them to get it because he's got plans of his own; although not before one faction has wiped the other out. "Well devious!" as Ace rightly puts it. In the meantime he's keen for Brigadier Group Captain Gilmore and his band of brothers not to get diced in the crossfire.

Chunky Gilmore
Chunky to his friends
There's so much to like about this outing. First of all, the effects are top notch, with the Dalek extermination ray being a notable example. It now pulses out of the gun in a burst of energy, briefly giving the victim an x-ray before they die of massive internal injuries.

Dalek burst
The helpful skeleton

The Daleks have also overhauled their army, and on the imperial side they've drafted in a new recruit: the Special Weapons Dalek. I can imagine the thinking that went behind this. Over the centuries, Daleks have always been equipped with the traditional egg-whisk gun, and even when they're deployed in large numbers, they have a hard time hitting anything accurately. To be honest, given the fact that they've only got one eye with zero peripheral vision, it's not that surprising they're such poor shots. Not only that, but they spend far too much time telling their victims that they're going to exterminate them before doing so, giving them ample opportunity to scarper. Answer? Just make the gun ginormous and crank up its power by a factor of a zillion. What do you get? A Dalek that's basically just a massive moving gun. He doesn't have a voice or an eyepiece because when you're packing that kind of firepower, who cares whether you can speak or see? Fire at will!

Special Weapons Dalek
He could do with a hose down, though
It's not just the Daleks who have upped the ante: with Ace at his side, the Doctor is now fully equipped with a battle-ready companion. When she's not bashing Daleks to bits with a Hand-of-Omega-powered baseball bat...

Bish, bash, bosh
Whatever you do, don't call her small
...she's blowing them up with rocket-propelled grenades!

Fire in the hole!
Hiding behind a piece of furniture from a Dalek, Doctor?
Don't worry, your fans do it all the time.
The chemistry between Ace and Doctor Seven is good in this story. There's a decent amount of playful banter, in amongst which the Doctor is able to offer a potted history of the Daleks and Ace's interjections are often both humorous and perceptive. She labels the Dalek factions as blobs and blobs with bits on, and explains their dispute as being about purity (or otherwise) of blobbiness. There's also a great switcheroo scene in the van after the Doctor gets tetchy about her driving abilities.

Smug contest
This vicar's spectacles would later belong to Josiah Smith.
One hundred years earlier. It's a timey wimey thing.
The underlying plot regarding the Hand of Omega is pure Cartmel masterplan genius. Some fans dislike this dimension to the Seventh Doctor, but I personally think it's brilliant - the only lamentable part being that Cartmel was never able to fully realise his plan before the series got canned in 1989. It's great when the Doctor drops little hints that he's more than just a Timelord, like when he describes the early experiments with time travel on Gallifrey as if he was there (before Ace questions this and he 'corrects' himself). The scene at the funeral parlour is good fun, especially when the undertaker is on the phone asking his guv'nor about the Doctor's appearance ("I thought you said he was an old geezer with white hair?")

Racial purity: not just a Dalek thing
Aaronovitch isn't afraid to use his story as an allegory for a serious moral message, either. The purity of the Daleks is contrasted with racist Mike and his fascist chums, led by Mr. "we were on the wrong side in the last war" Ratcliffe. In addition, one of the finest scenes doesn't involve explosions or even Daleks; just a simple cup of tea in a cafe. It's a superb scene, and I'm so glad Sylvester McCoy fought to keep it in, as it almost got cut out entirely during the edit.

Joseph and the Doctor
Best thing is to just get on with it.
Aside from the "Forman" slip-up, the other history references scattered throughout the story are really nice touches. We have the Doctor recalling the "Zygon gambit" and the "yetis in the underground". He makes a Dalek jamming device that he says is similar to something he once made on Spiridon, the so-called 'Planet of the Daleks' from the Pertwee era. There's the Doctor's casual "nothing so mundane" line when Ace incorrectly guesses the Daleks want to conquer Earth - because, of course, they already do... in the future. Plenty of "aim for the eyepiece" lines being bandied around, as well as references to Omega himself - who, famously was the villainous Timelord in the classic Three Doctors 10th Anniversary special. Not only is Coal Hill School back - the school at which Susan was a pupil - but Ace picks up a book on the French Revolution, just as Susan does in the first episode of "An Unearthly Child".

The French Revolution
Too soon to tell.
Then there's President Kennedy's speech playing over the opening scene, as a reminder that he was assassinated the day before the first episode aired on television. And that very transmission is strongly hinted at when Ace is in the guest house, although the broadcaster's voice is cut off just as he says "Doc-". A lot of fans hate this because they think the show can't reference itself internally, but I just think it's entirely plausible for there to be a sci-fi show called Doctor Who in the universe of the Doctor. Why not? In any case, Ben Aaronovitch only meant it to be a throwaway line as a bit of an in-joke. If we want to talk about things being in the wrong place, we need only turn to Ace's ghetto blaster which - bizarrely - the Doctor seems to believe is more of a risk to the timelines than, y'know, two hordes of rival Daleks killing each other and those around them.

Before there were smart phones with tinny speakers, there was this
"Can't you at least put some jazz on?"
It wouldn't be a post-Genesis Dalek story without the appearance of Davros at some point, and he duly turns up at the end, having been hidden inside the admittedly improbable Emperor Dalek.

Davros (Terry Molloy)
Davros, having had an argument with several corded phones
Terry Molloy is, once again, on fine form as the insane creator. He also throws in a delicious chuckle, which starts out as a standard Davros "Hah-hah-hah" laugh but ends with a higher pitched "he-he", like he's a naughty schoolboy. His ranting gives rise to the Seventh Doctor's immortal line for which he is famous (or infamous if you're not a Seventh Doctor fan; and if so, what's wrong with you?)

Dairy-based carbohydrate snacks for all!
In a reference to Resurrection of the Daleks, Davros also manages to evade an exploding spaceship at the very end by activating his escape pod. If you watch very closely, you can even see it!

I'll get you next time, Gadget
Sneaky Davros
Some other nice touches include the overtly Scottish "burrrrrrrrrrrrrrn marks" line from Sylvester, the talking-the-Dalek-to-death scene towards the end and the very subtle hint that a female incarnation lies somewhere ahead in the Doctor's future:

Wrong gate, Doc
If you look closely, you'll see.
Is there anything bad to say? Well, the Doctor forgets that he isn't actually High President elect of the Gallifreyan High Council anymore (he was deposed in absentia, as we learnt during the Trial of a Timelord). There's the fact that the Doctor actually commits genocide without any apparent scruples; but then, this is the Seventh Doctor and we all know how dark and devious he can be. It's part of his charm. No, if I have to single out the worst thing about Remembrance, it's this:

I'm sorry. I mean no offence to the actress, I'm sure she's a lovely person. But she just couldn't act very well at all.
So, all in all, a very successful Seventh Doctor story and a fine tribute to the show's 25th Anniversary. It's a shame that many of the features it introduced have yet to make it into NuWho. I'd like to see the Special Weapons Dalek make a proper comeback (if you look closely in Asylum of the Daleks you'll notice a dead one in the background), and the whole imperial vs. renegade dimension was a good idea. Ben Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel can be rightly proud of this serial, as can Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred who hit it off splendidly.

In closing, I'd be curious to know if the Doctor is still carrying these around with him:

Egg shell with Roman, or bone with Silian Grail?
The Doctor's business card
Maybe it was just an Eighties thing...