We’re back, with another season of our Classic Doctor Who rewatch! It won’t be long now, as we approach the end of the classic series. Only one more season to go after this! (Three more posts, however; I intend to do a post for the 1996 TV movie, and also a wrap-up post.) This week in Season Twenty-Five, we begin to say our goodbyes to some old friends—or rather, some old enemies. Let’s get started!
We get right to it with Remembrance of the Daleks. It’s the final appearance of the Daleks in the classic series, and also the final installment of the “Davros arc” of Dalek stories which began with Destiny of the Daleks way back in Season Seventeen. It does something unusual for the classic series: It begins with a cold open, showing us the Dalek ship approaching Earth. The story immediately takes us full circle, all the way back to the beginning, by landing the Doctor in late November 1963 at Coal Hill School and Totter’s Lane, right back where it all began. Specifically, it’s November 29th and 30th, 1963, just six days after the First Doctor kidnapped Ian Chesterton and Barbara Wright—and six days after the real-world premier of Doctor Who. Interestingly, there’s a bit of meta-reference there; at one point we hear a radio announcer mention a new episode of the “science-fiction series Doc-“ only to be cut off by a scene change. In fact, this episode is full of references to the show’s history, making it a “remembrance” not just of the Daleks, but of the entire series:
- Ace sees a French Revolution text in Coal Hill School, like the one Susan read in An Unearthly Child;
- The Doctor references his time as Lord President;
- The Daleks (Imperials, to be precise) have control again of Skaro; the Daleks use a transmat;
- The Doctor builds a jamming device and refers to having done so on Spiridon;
- The Doctor makes veiled references to the as-yet-nonexistent UNIT;
- The renegade Daleks use a human child in their battle computer, a trick they learned in the Movellan War;
- Several people make references to, and describe, the First Doctor;
- The Doctor refers to the events of The Dalek Invasion of Earth, which is still almost 200 years in the future.
For fun, there’s even a reference—from our perspective—to NuWho, as the headmaster of Coal Hill thinks the Doctor is there to apply for a job as the Caretaker.
This is the earliest occurrence, to my knowledge, of the Daleks making incursion on Earth, or at least until time travel shenanigans get rolling in the Time War. They do possess time travel at this point, however, as both factions clearly used it to get to 1963 (and in fact it figures into the plot—both factions want to take the Hand of Omega back to their own time). The Hand of Omega—the stellar manipulator used by Omega to create the Eye of Harmony—is the macguffin, or rather (as TVTropes puts it) the magnetic plot device of this story. It’s intelligent to some degree, able to parse and obey voice commands; that’s not unreasonable, as we’ll see that feature again in other Time Lord technology this very season, and we already know it’s true of TARDISes and of the Moment. The First Doctor took it with him—stole it, really—when he fled Gallifrey, and after carrying it for awhile, he intended to bury it on Earth before Ian and Barbara changed his plans. Here, he returns and actually completes his burial, but it’s short-lived. (The cemetery looks to be the same as the one seen in Death in Heaven, but I have no way to verify.) The Daleks want it for various purposes: the Renegades want it to defeat the Imperials, and Davros’s Imperial faction wants it to destroy the Time Lords and supplant them. In the end, the Doctor lets Davros get away with it, but with a deception: he has programmed it to destroy Skaro’s sun, then return to Gallifrey. Skaro is destroyed, and the Daleks are—for now—defeated. (Of course it will be rebuilt, as referenced in both the TV movie and several places in NuWho.)
There’s a famous scene of Ace damaging an Imperial Dalek with a bat that has been charged up by the Hand of Omega. The bat is used thereafter to kill the mutant inside, and to destroy the transmat device. In the course of all this, it becomes clear that the Imperial Daleks have been cybernetically augmented. Davros himself is not revealed until late in the story, when it becomes evident that he is, in fact, the Dalek Emperor, with a unique casing for his degraded body. We also get a brief appearance by an Imperial Special Weapons Dalek. This season is also the actual beginning of the previously-mentioned Cartmel Masterplan, and to that end, the Doctor lets slip at the end that he may have been involved in the creation of the Hand of Omega. Overall, it’s a great send-off for the Daleks.
The Happiness Patrol takes us back into the future—specifically, the 24th century, on the human-colonized planet of Terra Alpha. The premise is simple, but farfetched: unhappiness is illegal and enforceable by death. Still, we’ve seen a lot of untenable dystopias, so we’ll let it slide. Allegedly the story is an allegory for the leadership of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, but I don’t know enough about her term to comment on that. I do see that it’s essentially a rebellion story, with the overthrow of a corrupt and hyper-legalistic government, which is something that Doctor Who does well. It’s somewhat rare in that, usually, the Doctor supports the removal of a tyrant, but not the overthrow of the entire form of government; here he does exactly that. Someone commented recently that this story and Paradise Towers are essentially the same, and there are definitely similarities: the closed environment, the maniacal dictator, the killer robot(s), the rebellion movement, and so on. Personally, I think The Happiness Patrol wore it better.
The tyrant in question, Helen A, uses the sadistic Kandy Man robot to enforce her will and carry out executions. (I use the term “robot” loosely, as he appears to be actually made of confections.) It’s a goofy villain, but very malicious. She also has and uses a vicious pet, the Stigorax, to hunt down escapees; the Doctor refers to having encountered one on 25th-century Earth, though we have not seen this onscreen. He also refers back to Invasion of the Dinosaurs, saying that the Brigadier had encountered a Tyrannosaurus and Pterodactyls.
Earth itself is a bit of a backwater at this point, and not a nice place to live, as stated by the census taker Trevor Sigma. That’s to be expected in a time of rapid expansion; one would expect power centers to shift extensively throughout the galaxy. Trevor Sigma himself is a bit silly, a very Douglas Adams-like parody of a civil servant (unfortunately not actually written by Adams). Oh yes, and the TARDIS gets painted pink. ‘Nuff said.
It’s back to Earth for Silver Nemesis, specifically to Windsor, England, 1988. (There are also some scenes in the year 1638, and in South America.) Having said goodbye to the Daleks, we now say goodbye to the Cybermen, with their final classic appearance. We also introduce a secondary villain: The time-travelling Lady Peinforte, who comes forward in time using black magic (and, unbeknownst to everyone at this point, a bit of a nudge from a more ancient evil—but that’s next season!). Peinforte, the Cybermen, a group of Nazis—this story has everything!—and the Doctor and Ace all converge on Windsor in search of something rare: a crashed comet and its cargo of the living, deadly, Time-Lord-created metal known as Validium. The Doctor and Peinforte have some history with it; she found it in her own time and made it into a statue of great power, and the Doctor put that statue on the comet and sent it away. The Cybermen want it for how it can augment their own power; they intend to use it eliminate humanity and turn Earth into a new Mondas (unsurprising, as this story takes place just two years after the destruction of Mondas at the hands of the First Doctor). In the end, the Cybermen are defeated by the Validium due to the Doctor’s cunning; Lady Peinforte dies when she merges with the statue.
There are several random but noteworthy things about this serial. It’s the 25th anniversary special, and the only anniversary special thus far to NOT be a multi-doctor story; hence the “silver” in the title has a double meaning. Also as a result, it was set on November 22 and following days, 1988, and also began its initial broadcast on November 23, 1988, the literal 25th anniversary of the series. It’s the first introduction of the phrase “Doctor Who?” as a question; the question is given some importance (and of course not answered), but that thread will not come to fruition until NuWho under the Eleventh Doctor. There’s a painting of Ace in Windsor Castle, but the Doctor says the events that spawned it have not yet happened (and as far as I know, never happen onscreen). The Doctor claims to know the queen, but doesn’t actually recognize her. He carries a fob watch, with some apparent link to the TARDIS, as it notifies him of moments of peril; however it doesn’t seem to be the same as the fob watch that works with a chameleon arch. I have mentioned before that a later version of the Cybermen should have had the Seventh Doctor in their footage of past encounters; that is due to this serial. Of course they couldn’t, in a real-world sense, as this story had not yet been filmed. Still, at this point they recognize the Doctor, and understand that his face has changed, even though this is a very early encounter for them. Stranger still: These cybermen are definitely a more modern variant, despite being refugees from the destruction of Mondas. And last, there’s a funny moment when the Doctor and Ace encounter two thugs tied up in a tree (courtesy of Lady Peinforte); he asks who did this to them, and they retort “Social workers!” Or maybe it’s only funny to me, as I’m a social worker for my day job. I guess you had to be there.
We close up with The Greatest Show in the Galaxy, the serial which held the record for longest title (six words) until NuWho’s The Doctor, the Widow, and the Wardrobe (seven). It’s set on the planet Segonax, at the Psychic Circus. The date is unknown to us, but not to the Doctor, as he comments that the robot he sees at the outset is common to that part (and by extension, time) of the galaxy. We are introduced to a new villain (villains?), the Gods of Ragnarok. The Doctor states he has fought them all through time, but again, it’s not something we’ve witnessed. Here, they masquerade as the audience of the circus, and secretly control the performers to increase both the spectacle and the number of deaths—for secretly, they feed on entertainment.
Sylvester McCoy, already an accomplished performer, learned a number of new performance tricks for this serial, as it gave him a chance to showcase his skills. He had a close call in Part Four, as well; during the scene of the arena explosion, the crew over-rigged the explosives, causing his clothes to actually catch fire. However, he walked away calmly despite the risk, as he knew there would only be one take—proving Sylvester McCoy is cooler than I will ever be. The character called Mags is secretly a werewolf; like Lady Peinforte in the previous serial, this is another link in the slowly-building arc that will be resolved with next season’s The Curse of Fenric. As well, the character of Whizz Kid was written as a parody of Doctor Who fans, much like Osgood in The Day of the Doctor (but much less kindly).
All in all, it wasn’t a bad season. It was clear that the lion’s share of the effort went into the Dalek and Cyberman serials; the other two aren’t as interesting, in my opinion. Still, they’re not bad, and I couldn’t find much fault with them. I found The Happiness Patrol to be the weakest serial of the season, partly because its premise was difficult to believe, and partly because of all the candy. Both the Daleks and the Cybermen got a decent send-off, and I really enjoyed the return to Totter’s Lane and Coal Hill. Only one of the three major recurring villains—Daleks, Cybermen, and the Master—remains to be seen off, and we’ll get to him next season in the very last serial of the classic series. Ace continues to be a great companion, and the Doctor continues to be intriguing even as his character darkens a bit (though not as dark as I had been led to believe). There is some melancholy to be had, as we know we’re nearing the end; I don’t know how much the production team knew at the time, but of course they were constantly living in the shadow of cancellation, and it shows. Still, overall, it’s an enjoyable season.
Next time: We say goodbye to UNIT, the Master, and that mysterious villain we’ve been building up to: the ancient evil of Fenric! And, oh yeah, we wrap up the classic series. Just little things, you know. See you there.
All episodes may be viewed on Dailymotion; links are below.