Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks Review

Colin Polonowski has reviewed the Region 2 DVD release of Doctor Who: Remembrance of the Daleks

Doctor Who started it’s very first run in 1963 – the first episode of the long running science-fiction series saw the Doctor fleeing Earth after two teachers from his granddaughter’s school discovered the TARDIS. Twenty-five years later, the series returned to it’s roots with this four-part story set on the very same day that the series first aired on BBC1 and featuring one of the Doctor’s most feared and famous enemies – the Daleks.

The Doctor’s quick departure, first time around meant leaving behind one of the most powerful energy sources known to the Time Lords, and the secret behind their time-traveling abilities – The Hand of Omega. Two rival factions of Daleks arrive on Earth intent on retrieving the device and go to war on the streets of London.

Being set at such an important time in the series chronology allowed the writers to have a lot of fun in bringing back settings from the first ever story ‘An Unearthly Child’ – Coal Hill School, which plays a very prominent part in this story, was previously attended by the first Doctor’s granddaughter, Susan. Totter’s Lane junkyard is the same place where the Doctor first hid the TARDIS in the first episode, and it was also revisited in another important episode – ‘Attack of the Cybermen’.

‘Remembrance of the Daleks’ was set in Sylvester McCoy’s second season as the Doctor and he’d already established himself as a worthy replacement to Colin Baker’s much more abrupt and blunt interpretation of the role. McCoy brought a sense of fun back to the series, last seen during Peter Davison’s stint. Sophie Aldred played the part of Ace – and this was her first full adventure as the Doctor’s companion having only been introduced in the previous story.

As far as the story goes, it’s far from the strongest the series had to offer. It’s certainly an important addition being as it is the last appearance of the Daleks (to date at least), but there’s something about it that makes it all seem a little overly farcical. Doctor Who has never really had the best scripts in the world, but it still managed to present some of the most memorable sequences on television – Remembrance of the Daleks doesn’t really sit up there with the best, but it’s still a hell of a lot of fun.

There are also some familiar faces making an appearance – fans of EastEnders should recognize Pamela Salem (here in the role of Professor Rachel Jensen) who played an integral part in the departure of Albert Square’s first villain, Dirty Den. George Sewell plays the part of Ratcliffe, and will be memorable to fans of the series’ Special Branch and UFO as well as the Jasper Carrott comedy series, The Detectives.

Now onto the DVD. The BBC have slowly but surely been improving the quality of their releases over time – and special care has always been afforded to the Doctor Who discs. Thankfully, this upward trend appears to be continuing with this disc which has a very impressive array of extras.

Before getting onto the added value though, let’s take a closer look at the technical qualities starting with the transfer. On first examination, the picture looks very good indeed. It’s certainly close to broadcast quality, but the TV origins do place a few minor limitations which prevent this disc from getting a perfect score. There is some minor smearing apparent – especially in dark scenes, and these scenes also suffer from low detail in the shadows. That said, these are only very minimal and wont dent your enjoyment of the disc in any way – I’m pretty sure that this is the best you’ll have seen this particular story looking since it was first broadcast.

Another milestone worth mentioning for this story is that it was the first to be filmed in Stereo. Thankfully, the DVD transfer preserves this and it sounds easily as good as it would have on first broadcast. There is an occasional hiss present in the background – especially noticeable in the opening scenes of part four. Rights issues prevented a couple of Beatles songs which were originally used from appearing on this DVD release. Thankfully, the guys over at the Doctor Who Restoration Team managed to work a way around this – replacing the first with a cover version, and the second with a more recent composition in a ‘Mersey Beat’ style.

The most important extra by far is the audio commentary featuring McCoy and Aldred. There are a huge number of recollections that these two share ranging from various on-set anecdotes to their feelings about their roles and characters. Fans of the series will relish the opportunity to pick up even more trivia!

In addition to this there’s also a text commentary, similar to that on The Abyss. Again, this is packed with hundreds of small facts along with some observations which give the reader a good insight into the history of the series. It’s a good idea to read this at the same time as listening to the audio commentary.

There are a number of deleted and extended scenes. Most of these would have been cut to reduce the running time as opposed to any major story-related reasons. There was originally intended to be a brief text-based introduction to each scene, but a misunderstanding during the authoring process resulted in these being missed out. You can access a text version of this on the Restoration Team Website.

Another authoring issue meant that the multi-angle scenes don’t make use of the multi-angle function available in DVD players. Instead you have to select the angles (two alternative views plus the final cut from two scenes in the story) from the menu. Not a huge issue, but one that unforunately takes a little shine of the finished product.

There’s an isolated-score soundtrack which shows off the score in all its glory. It’s very effective, but I can’t help feeling that it’s one feature that wont get a lot of use. Certainly a nice to have.

The photo-gallery features a selection of publicity shots and shots from the story – there appear to be a few duplicates and the differences between some of the pictures are minimal to say the least! Finally, we have a couple of trailers to promote the first two episodes of the story when it was first aired.

Overall it’s quite an impressive package – let’s hope that the Beeb continue to develop their discs like this and that we see some of their other classic series treated in the same way. I for one am looking forward to the next Who disc – The Caves of Androzani – which promises even more than even this release.

Colin Polonowski

Updated: Feb 27, 1999

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