Remembrance of the Daleks is a fantastic episode of Doctor Who. Not only was it one of the first episodes of Doctor Who that I ever saw, not only did it introduce me to the Daleks that I would come to love, it actually holds up as an enjoyable episode even today. For most people, Classic Doctor Who episodes are hard to watch because they are slow, the production values are awful and the monsters look cheap and fake – this is not true of Remembrance. Not only does it stand the test of time but it remains one of the Daleks best appearances in the Classic series and serves as the perfect finale of the ‘Dalek Civil War’ trilogy consisting of Resurrection of the Daleks in 1984, Revelation of the Daleks in 1985 and finally Remembrance of the Daleks in 1988.
One of the greatest strengths of Remembrance compared to previous Dalek stories is the character of the Doctor and how he is influenced by the story. In Resurrection the Doctor is caught up in a situation that he has no control over whatsoever, and most of the events that occur in the story that move the plot forward have no relation to him whatsoever. This is even worse in Revelation, to the extent that the Doctor may as well not have even been on Necros in the first place. Remembrance, on the other hand, places the Doctor firmly at the center of the plot, he carries it forward whilst springing his trap for the Daleks which puts him in a much more powerful position than in previous Dalek stories.
This is thanks to Andrew Cartmel, the script editor for much of the Seventh Doctor’s tenure and instigator of what many now call the ‘Cartmel Masterplan’, in which Cartmel attempted to make the Doctor a much darker and more mysterious figure, to bring the show back to its roots and shroud the Doctor in mystery once more. This change in the Doctor’s character works perfectly for a Dalek story, where he is willing to manipulate humans and Daleks alike to ensure his plan succeeds.
Another of Remembrance’s greatest strengths is the Daleks themselves and how they are used. After being stuck with the same props for over a decade the BBC finally created some new Dalek props for this episode, bolstering the ageing ranks of the original Daleks with four new Imperial Dalek props, a Special Weapons Dalek prop, several SFX props and a Dalek Emperor prop. This allowed for greater set pieces involving more Daleks on-screen than was possible in the previous Dalek stories, and improved special effects and tonnes of explosives lead to some exciting battle sequences in this episode, particularly when the awesome Special Weapons Dalek is rolled out in Episode 4.
Speaking of the Daleks, their primary motivation in this episode involves defeating an opposing faction of Daleks very like themselves only just different enough to warrant extermination. This theme of extremist racism and ethnic purity runs deep in the story of Remembrance, with dissident fascist groups and a far-right military defector working with one of the factions of Daleks with promise of help to conquer the nation, put also a more domestic view on everyday racism in the 1960s – with a disgusted Ace pulling a ‘No Coloureds’ sign out of a B&B window striking a contrast between the norm of the early 1960s and the much more culturally developed mindset of the late 1980s.
With its position as a classic hardly in dispute, as it consistently wins top spots in Doctor Who ‘favourite episode’ polls, I still feel Remembrance of the Daleks deserves more praise considering how much it achieves with such limited budget. There is a lot of heart in this episode and Ben Aaronovitch deserves credit for such a fantastic script, especially since he later adapted the episode into book format, expanding on the characters in giving detailed insight into the Daleks and how they operate. Overall, Remembrance remains a fantastic end to the Daleks tenure in Classic Doctor Who and is, to many, the true 25th Anniversary Special.