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Remembrance of the Daleks

By James Zuppicich

The best way to describe this story is traditional: the Doctor is wondering do-gooder, rather than the mysterious and manipulative character that appears all to often in the pages of the New Adventures.

The plot, like most of the other elements in the story, has been used many times: Daleks seek a device to give them power over time. What is very different about this story is the plot device used to represent that power. The Hand of Omega is the device that enabled the Time Lords to conduct their research into time travel: The audience is expected to believe that the Doctor was simply allowed to leave Gallifrey with a very important artifact (linked as it is directly to Rassilon and Omega). I found it interesting that Ben made no direct attempt to answer how or why the Doctor was allowed to do this. This raises even more questions about the Doctor and yet more mystery - as if we didn't have enough already!

Looking for solid characterisations in this story is like looking for unicorns - you won't find any. What I did find were a whole range of recycled UNIT characters. To draw a few parallels: Rachel Jensen is almost certainly a repackaged Liz Shaw - both draw from Cambridge, and both made to feel somewhat scientifically inadequate by the Doctor. Allison Williams also is a means of reinforcing the Doctor's superior skills over the scientific community. We all know who Captain Gilmore is a copy of, and the sergeant is a simple refinement of the troubled Mike Yates from Invasion of the Dinosaurs.

Taking a close look at the Doctor in this story is a lot like watching a regeneration. There is the usual blend of characteristics but there is also a vaguely disturbing sense of superiority. The Doctor has always been superior to both his friends and enemies but what troubles me here is the blatant way in which this important aspect of the Doctor has been handled. Where as in earlier stories this would have been balanced out by setting, crisis, or some other plot device, no such effort has been made here. The result is a Doctor with an over abundance of self-assurance which verges on smugness. While this is tolerable in this story and indeed enhances it in some respects, it also gives rise to the previously mentioned weakness of the New Adventures.

Ben Aaronovitch's choice of setting provides a comfortable feeling of familiarity for any Doctor Who fan with Coal Hill school's part in Who history being well known. However it's obvious that the setting is almost entirely incidental in terms of the plot: under other circumstances the events in this story could have happened anywhere else in the universe.

Why, if everything is so ordinary, am I even bothering to review this story? After all, we have recycled characters, in a recycled setting, acting out a very recycled plot. But what we also have is a work of genius with more than a little desperation in evidence.

The Doctor barely survived the bizarre storylines and appalling acting of Colin Baker, not to mention the equally inept "acting" of his sounding boards (to call them companions would be an insult to many fine actors and actresses). A strategy was adopted to bring the Doctor back to more solid ground, by first acknowledging his past, and then injecting more mystery into the character. A strategy I feel would have restored the programme's lost ground had it been followed through. Instead what followed was a drop in standards (Ghost Light and The Greatest Show in the Galaxy to name just two bottom dwellers).

Remembrance of the Daleks is a monument to the strength of the Doctor's beginnings and, if nothing else, reminds us all of the folly of losing sight of those beginnings.

This item appeared in TSV 46 (January 1996).

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