Remembrance of the Daleks

I don’t want to be a McCoy basher… I really want to like his version of Doctor Who, and I do on several levels. Though I do find less to like in his three years on the show, his acting included.

Back in the late eighties and early nineties when all I had were a few Doctor Whos from the eighties that I had taped off PBS (and I was younger and less critical) it was easy to like Sylvester McCoy. I didn’t have much to compare him to apart from some Davison stories and most of Colin Baker’s run. Fifteen years on, I have just about every episode and have come to the conclusion that yes, the program lost its way in the last four years or so. It went from a dramatic program to some odd mix of lightness/faux-drama and staginess. It certainly amped up the juvenile antics and silliness. I watched Remembrance of the Daleks the other night, and it merely drove this point home.

The three Dalek stories of the eighties are a variable lot. Resurrection and Revelation are both almost unrelentingly grim, and consequently difficult for me to enjoy. Revelation is the better of the two plot-wise, but is so depressing to watch that I don’t want to watch it again (and find the critical acclaim for it baffling). In contrast to those two stories, Remembrance of the Daleks is much lighter and far more enjoyable, but it comes with the curse of the McCoy years: sloppy or hurried editing, characters who have very artificial dialogue and who do inexplicable things, and lots of self-referential scenes or lines.

The basic plot is sound enough. The Doctor has left a Gallifreyan stellar manipulator on earth in 1963, which the Daleks want. They pursue him there, and attempt to retrieve it. Things get complicated because two factions of Daleks want the weapon. The Doctor runs around trying to keep the humans from dying so he can spring his trap. Simple, right?

Except that I can’t picture Hartnell’s Doctor taking the stellar manipulator with him when he went on the run. It makes his (presumably stealthy) theft of his TARDIS and escape from Gallifrey far more problematic. Furthermore, why remove it from the TARDIS and leave it at an undertaker’s where it is surely less secure than it would be inside his ship? Why bury it in the graveyard, mock graveside service and all? And if there was a good reason for removing the Hand of Omega from Gallifrey (which can’t have been to trap the Daleks, since he hadn’t encountered them yet in his first incarnation), why send it back to Gallifrey at the end of the story? And it’s nearly impossible to accept the Doctor destroying Skaro and Skaro’s solar system considering the animal life or Thals that might have been living there. Hadn’t he just been tried for genocide two seasons earlier? These questions undermine the plot.

As for the Doctor, Sylvester McCoy simply does not have the gravitas or presence to carry off the part. I felt that way when I first heard that he was replacing Colin Baker. I’ve grown more accepting of his portrayal of the Doctor, but he just is not believable as someone who can project an air of authority and control a situation. His delivery of many lines is cringe worthy if we’re expected to take him seriously, apart from times when he’s in a quiet contemplative mood. He’s very good in those scenes, of which the cafe discussion with Harry is a good example. Most other lines are just … stagy, for want of a better term, or exaggerated. Consider “Little green blobs in bonded polycarbide armor” which he spits out horribly, or “That ship has weapons that could crack this planet open like an egg”, a supposedly doom-laden pronouncement that fails to impress. Contrast that with Pertwee’s “Compared to the forces you people have unleashed, an atomic blast would be like a summer breeze” from Inferno, or Troughton’s “It will end the colony’s problems because it will end the colony!” from Power of the Daleks. I know whom I’d take seriously. It’s hard to accept McCoy as this dark, manipulative figure when you actually watch him perform.

It’s not that I dislike McCoy. He seems like a personable fellow. He’s just all wrong for the part, and not an actor with great dramatic range. Neither is Sophie Aldred. Contrast them with the supporting actors who play Rachel, or Gilmore, and it becomes obvious that the two leads are the least convincing actors on the show. That being said, I like them both despite my criticisms and so I can watch Remembrance with the same rose-colored glasses I wear while watching any era of Doctor Who, but I find that I perhaps need thicker lenses.

The Daleks alternate between impressive and sad. The single Dalek looks great while taking on the military in episode one. The Dalek who chases the Doctor up the stairs without shooting him, and then takes thirty seconds to break through the door to the cellar is just silly, and the Imperial Daleks who keep shooting the wall behind the gray Daleks in part four ought to be able to aim better considering that the two groups are about ten feet apart. On the other hand, the Daleks do benefit from the fact that Davros isn’t revealed until the end of part four (though it’s too bad he had to be brought back at all). And the voices sound great.

I want to like this. I’m a Doctor Who fan who doesn’t enjoy criticizing the show. I find that I do enjoy “Remembrance of the Daleks” more than either of its two predecessors, and it’s not a bad story in it’s own right, it just falls apart in a number of ways. It’s enjoyable, but far inferior to the vast majority of stories and acting that preceded it, apart from season 24. Good fun if you don’t look at it too closely.

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Posted in 7th Doctor - Sylvester McCoy

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