Sunday, August 11, 2013

Paying Respect to the Past, Moving On Into the Future

Librarian in the TARDIS, Review 7.03

Title: Remembrance of the Daleks
Written By: Ben Aaronovitch
Team TARDIS: Seventh Doctor, Ace
Adversary: The Daleks
Originally Released: June 1990
Range and Number: Target Novelization #148

Synopsis: (from TARDIS Wikia) -
1990 Target Edition
Shoreditch, London, 1963. Two teachers follow an unnervingly knowledgeable schoolgirl to her home - a blue police telephone box in the middle of a 76 Totter's Lane. The old man whom the girl calls 'grandfather' is annoyed at the intrusion: there is something he has to do, and he has a premonition that he will be delayed for some time...

Six regenerations later the Doctor returns; and Ace, his travelling companion, sees London as it was before the Sixties started swinging - and long before she was born.

But a Grey Dalek is lurking in Foreman's Yard; Imperial Daleks are appearing in the basement of Coal Hill School; and both factions want the Hand of Omega, the remote stellar manipulator that the Doctor has left behind. Has the Doctor arrived in time to deprive the Daleks of the secret of time travel?

2013 BBC Books Edition
With unfinished business to attend to, the Seventh Doctor returns to where it all began: Coal Hill School in London in 1963. Last time he was here, the Doctor left something behind – a powerful Time Lord artefact that could unlock the secrets of time travel. Can the Doctor retrieve it before two rival factions of Daleks track it down? And even if he can, how will the Doctor prevent the whole of London becoming a war zone as the Daleks meet in explosive confrontation?

My Review:
[Note: This review is an amalgamation of three separate reviews that I nearly scrapped entirely before selecting what I thought were the best bits of each one and putting them all together into this review.  If this whole thing seems discombobulated, that's why (I need an editor).]

Initially, the point of novelizing the Doctor Who TV stories was because back in Ye Olden Tymes, there was no such thing as reruns or videotape recording. In the introduction for the 50th Anniversary edition of this book, Ben Aaronovitch says that he was asked by producer John Nathan-Turner to keep the novel as close to the actual TV serial as he could (and if the object here is to provide fans with something to relive the story without having a way to rebroadcast the episodes, that’s understandable). At the same time, he says that he also wanted to put in some extra details that wouldn't have translated on television, but work marvelously for the book - and besides, you can’t write a novelization simply by reproducing the TV script and just putting “he said” “she said” at the end of the dialogue.

Most people (myself included) consider “Remembrance of the Daleks” to be a classic.  Personally, I've seen it multiple times and own the DVD. So, I thought reviewing the novelization would be a cakewalk. But the more notes I took, the more I found myself rehashing everything that had been said about this story in the TV format. And, as I've said before, I’m not interested in rehashing what has already been said. Not for this blogging project, at least. So - what can I say that has not already been said?

As it turns out, quite a bit.

Let's start with the continuity callbacks this story provides us with.  This story is considered to be the unofficial 25th Anniversary story (I may have enjoyed "Silver Nemesis," but I do agree that it didn't do the Anniversary-story thing very well - not like "Remembrance" does).  While Doctor Who had anniversary specials like "The Five Doctors," where everything is just pure fanwank (very, very effective fanwank, I might add - "The Five Doctors" was my gateway into Classic Who, I'll have you know) - "Remembrance of the Daleks" combined fanwank with a fairly compelling story.  And the novelization does not stray from that at all.  Here are a just a few mentions from continuity that I noticed:

- The Prologue of the novel is a retread of the last moments of “An Unearthly Child” when the TARDIS takes off from Foreman’s Scrapyard, but it mentions that the Doctor still has some unfinished business and he feels that it’s going to be some time until he can get back and finish it - referencing the matter of the Hand of Omega that the Seventh Doctor finally gets around to dealing with in “Remembrance.”

- References made to fictional accounts of the “Shoreditch Incident” (as these events are later referred to), as well as confirmation (of sorts) that the Counter Measures Group is an early forerunner to UNIT - from a volume penned by one Kadiatu Lethbridge-Stewart, a UNIT historian in 2006.

- There’s also a brief reference to the events of “The Daleks” with the Doctor remembering what it was like to first step foot on Skaro and meet the deranged pepper pots. Kind of a neat little nod, since the Daleks (A) are a huge reason that Doctor Who gained such popularity and (B) have their own birthday about a month after the the show does (the first episode of the “The Daleks” aired on December 21, 1963 - they actually made an on-screen appearance a week later, so it’s their anniversary too).

There are other little gems for fans to find, but I’m going to let you, Dear Reader, pick them out for yourself. Because there are some more serious things to point out in this story.

While this story features the Daleks most prominently, this story at its core is really a Davros story. And while Davros and the Daleks are often used as a vehicle to discuss Why Racism Is Wrong (and pages and pages of essays have been devoted to such topics) - I noticed something else while I read this novel. And maybe I’m finally getting a grip on how dark the Seventh Doctor really is (more on that in a moment), but this really drove home how much the Doctor is afraid (for lack of a better term) of Davros and the Daleks.

Whenever Davros shows up, it’s amazing how fast the Doctor dives headlong into GRIM-AND-DARK-Doctor territory when he shows up. No one pushes the Doctor’s Berserk Button faster than Davros himself (it’s a mix of Berserk Button and Heroic Blue Screen of Death - time suck warning on both those links, by the way). It happened in “Resurrection of the Daleks” when normally-nice-and- sweet Fivey pulls a ray gun on Davros and it happens here when the heretofore clownish and silly Seventh Doctor blows up Skaro’s sun (I can’t remember all the details of “Revelation of the Daleks,” so I’ll leave that analysis for another time). But where the Fifth Doctor had Tegan calling him out on the whole “People died because of you!” thing, the Seventh Doctor has Ace blowing things up left and right and being the snot out of a Dalek with a baseball bat. And I don’t know which scenario I would rather see, to be honest. Admittedly, it’s satisfying to watch Ace positively wail on the Evilest Scum in the Universe... but do I want to see the Doctor head down this much darker path?

I suppose we’ll see what a super-dark Doctor looks like when we get the 50th Anniversary with its promise of the mysterious not-Doctor - why that incarnation gave up the right to the name and why he did whatever it is that he did. Was he already on this road to Perdition in “Remembrance of the Daleks?” (it has been said that the events of this story marks the first shots of the Time War and there has been speculation that the not-Doctor is the incarnation that took part in the Time War so... who knows?) It is interesting that this story is considered the unofficial 25th Anniversary story and it hearkens back to the very first Doctor Who story and we may be getting further answers in the 50th Anniversary this year (everything cycles back to Shoreditch and Coal Hill School and Totter’s Lane and November 23, 1963, apparently. It’s one of those special fixed-points around which the universe revolves).

Speaking of the Big Five-Oh looming on the horizon (three and a half months at the time of this post), there have been plenty of fans hoping for certain callbacks and elements.  I don't have a wishlist, as such, but I do have a prediction.  Since we're 99.9% certain this isn't going to be "The Eleven Doctors,"  I'm hoping for a "Remembrance of the Daleks"-style special, where we get tidbits and cameos from the past, but progress the Doctor's story further.  We've already had a sampling of those fan-pleasing appearances (and in spectacular fashion, I might add), so it stands to reason that we'll get more in the 50th Anniversary Special (and could we please get an actual title for this story?  Saying "50th Anniversary Special" is a bit of a mouthful).

And beyond that? Well, stay tuned!

Bonus Topic -

As I was writing up my review, I went into a separate path for a little while.  While it doesn't connect directly into "Remembrance of the Daleks," it does connect into the Seventh Doctor and how I feel about his era as a whole (also considering some of the Big Finish stuff and the New Adventures novels - which I haven't read much of, but this is a cursory assessment).  I didn't know how to fit it in the review itself, but I was okay with putting it as a bonus section, since it was something I thought of while reading this book.

While I was discovering all these darker nuances and underlying themes in "Remembrance of the Daleks" (and possible connections to future episodes that I hadn't thought of before) - I also realized some things about the Seventh Doctor that hadn't twigged for me before this. And since I’m evidently on an unexpected path to self-discovery with this blogging project, I might as well go into it here (and make this review twice as long. Well, I never claimed to be immune to Diarrhea of the Keyboard).

I mentioned in my “Silver Nemesis” review that the Seventh Doctor was one that kind of flew under the radar for me, but I wasn't sure why. As far as characters and stories go, a lot of people seem to like it (and a lot of people also seem to hate it for various reasons). For my part, Seven was just sort of there. But as I read “Remembrance of the Daleks” - I started to figure out why this was the case. It has nothing to do with the quality of the writing or the characters - because these characters and stories are really quite good, once you get down to it. But I end up with this strange kind of disconnect that keeps me from enjoying this era fully. I don’t hate it... but I can take it or leave it.

But reading this novel, I think I figured it out. And while it bothers me on one level, on another level it’s kind of exhilarating to realize this is how I feel about the whole thing.

Let me put it this way - Torchwood: Children of Earth is the pinnacle of television for a lot of people. I tried watching the first two seasons of Torchwood and, quite frankly, hated the show’s stinking guts (I explain why in this blog post). I even said as much to some friends and they all countered “Oh, but you must watch “Children of Earth” because it is so amazing!” So, I did watch “Children of Earth.” And, while the writing and acting and everything else is superb and top-notch and beautifully crafted, I have zero desire - nay, less than zero desire - for those five episodes to EVER darken my television screen again (which kind of sucks, given that Peter Capaldi puts in a fantastic performance in that series and lots of people are scrambling to re-watch “Children of Earth” just to see him in something Doctor Who-related before he officially takes over the TARDIS. Personally, I could watch “The Fires of Pompeii” on loop until then and be quite happy, thank you very much). “Children of Earth” is not a terrible story - but it is horrific and bleak and why would you willingly choose to watch something like that??? Then again, people read true crime books about people who've chopped up their spouses and hid the pieces in the freezer. For entertainment! (I honestly don’t get society sometimes).

While the Seventh Doctor never reaches Torchwood levels of bleakness, it feels like the writers sometimes are trying to do just that. Not so much on TV, but the novels have that feel to them. I suppose the late-80s was the beginning of science fiction in general trying to become grim and edgy and dark and have that stench of cynical-humanist-academic bullshit that, quite frankly, is a huge turn-off to many corners of sci-fi fandom (seriously, who are you people trying to kid here?) I’m no Pollyanna - but I do like to think that there is some hope and goodness and trust out there in the universe. When sci-fi goes all bleak and cynical... well, that’s when I go find something more cheerful to partake in (like the 10:00 news - at least there’s a chance of seeing a water-skiing penguin at the end of the news report).

I hope I'm wrong.  I hope that as I continue to play catch-up with Classic Who and I get to devote more time to the Seventh Doctor, I will understand the Whys and Wherefores of this conscious shift in direction and change my mind about the whole thing.  But where I'm sitting right now... well, it's a little bit different for me.  Then again, I didn't have to endure the so-called "Wilderness Years" where that darkness was all that was available (and I hope I won't have to).

Then again, maybe this was a good thing.  Because that means I got to include Torchwood in this blogging project without having to devote a full post to it.  Thank goodness for small mercies.

Next Time, on Librarian in the TARDIS -
Review 8.01 - Gee, I wonder what this one's going to be...

Previously -
Review 7.02 - Taking "Delete, Delete" To a Whole New Level

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