Magic Bullet Productions

The Evil of the Doctor:
An Analysis of "Remembrance of the Daleks"

by Alan Stevens

Time will tell...

This is an extended version of an article which previously appeared in In-Vision #96, and is reproduced here with the kind permission of Anthony Brown.

Editor's Note (2006): This article was written at a time at which there was very little, if any, criticism of this particular story in fandom, and as such is necessarily polemical. While we have considered rewriting it in light of later developments (and, indeed, the author has written rather less polemical pieces on the same subject in the intervening years), we prefer to let it stand as it is, reflecting the context in which it was written.

"I want to speak now, in this most restricted circle, about a matter which you, my party comrades, have long accepted as a matter of course, but which for me has become the heaviest burden of my life - the matter of the Jews. You all accept happily the obvious fact that there are no more Jews in your province. All Germans, with very few exceptions, realise perfectly well that we couldn't have lasted though the bombs and the stresses of the fourth, perhaps in the future the fifth and even sixth year of war, if this destructive pestilence were still present within our body politic. The brief sentence "The Jews must be exterminated" is easy to pronounce, but the demands on those who have to put it into practice are the hardest and most difficult in the world."

"For the organisation which had to carry out this order, it was the most difficult one we were ever given...I think I can say that it has been carried out without damaging the minds or spirits of our men and our leaders. The danger was great and ever present. For the difference between the two become cruel and heartless and no longer to respect human life, or to become soft and succumb to weakness and nervous breakdowns...the way between Scylla and Charybdis is appallingly narrow."

--Extract from SS Reichsfuehrer Heinrich Himmler's speech to the Gauleiters. 6th October 1943.

Let's party like it's 1963!!
As the opener of Doctor Who's silver anniversary season, "Remembrance of the Daleks" can be forgiven for its abundant and gratuitous self-referencing. For example; we have a story set in the 1960's, Coal Hill School, a junkyard owned by I.M. Forman (sic) and Pamela Salem dressed up to look like Barbara Wright. We have the Doctor talking about "the Zygon gambit with the Loch Ness Monster" and "Yetis in the underground," we have Ace finding a book on the French Revolution, in what could be Ian Chesterton's science lab, we have the welcome return of the Daleks, and of course, we have a BBC announcer making a none-too-subtle postmodern reference to the fact that Doctor Who is a television programme. None of these elements impede on the plot and for most fans were probably quite welcome.

In fact, the back-referencing does not stop there, because "Remembrance" is quite clearly based on "The Evil of the Daleks". Both feature a trap being laid in 1960s London, both feature the Doctor using reverse psychology to achieve his aims, both feature people being mentally taken over by the Daleks, both feature the Human Factor (a schoolgirl forms an integral part of the Daleks battle computer), both feature Daleks using transmat terminals and both appear to conclude with the Doctor duping the Emperor into destroying its own race. That however, is where the similarity ends, because whereas "Evil" is a highly moral story, "Remembrance" possesses a total lack of morals and is intellectually bankrupt.

Jasmine Breaks as The Girl, who can also be a bit manipulative when she chooses.It's documented that Ben Aaronovitch has read the script for "Evil", but he has evidently failed to understand its complexities. He has read the scene where the Doctor deceives Jamie into taking the Dalek test, and has thought, "Um, the Doctor can be a bit of a manipulative bastard when he chooses," then he has read the bit where the Doctor tricks the Daleks into destroying themselves and thought, "Um, obviously the Daleks are so evil, the Doctor has decided that they no longer deserve to live." He has then gone away with these two false assumptions and written a story where the Doctor sets a trap for the Daleks and virtually wipes the race out.

The assumptions are false because, although the Doctor does manipulate Jamie into taking the Dalek test, he has no other choice. The Daleks have made it clear to him, and the audience, that if the test doesn't take place they will exterminate "everyone in sight." Furthermore, if the Doctor told Jamie that his rescue attempt of Victoria was just a test to aid the Daleks, then Jamie a) might refuse to do it, which would result in extermination, or b) do the test in such a half-arsed way that he ends up getting himself killed. It's also important to note that, from an early stage, the Doctor is quite aware of the fact that as opposed to creating a race of super-Daleks, the Human Factor distilled from the test results may very well humanise them instead.

Casual Fridays were never very successful in the Imperial Dalek Force.As for the Doctor tricking the Daleks into destroying themselves, again, he doesn't have any choice in the matter. Don't forget, it is the Daleks, not the Doctor, who have set things in motion, it is the Daleks that have sought the Doctor out, and it is the Daleks who have engaged him in a battle of wits for enormously high stakes. As a result, they are found wanting and pay a terrible price, but it's a disaster they have brought upon themselves. The Daleks are destroyed by their own nature, the Dalek factor no less, defined here as their ridged desire, "to obey, to fight, to destroy, to exterminate." But even then, there is hope.

The closing scenes of the story feature the Doctor looking down on the burning Dalek city, and as the civil war rages on, he is heard to say, "The final end." But this doesn't mean that it's the final end of the Daleks; the Doctor could equally have meant that it was the final end to their evil, and that a new type of humanised Dalek would emerge.

There is however, no such ambiguity in "Remembrance". What you have here is the Doctor setting out with the sole intention of exterminating the Dalek race and reducing Skaro to a burnt-out cinder. It is no longer a case of the Daleks' evil being turned back on them, but rather the Doctor himself acting like a Dalek.

In "Genesis of the Daleks" the (morally suspect) Time Lords send the Doctor on a mission to Skaro to try and avert the Daleks' creation. However, when it comes down to it, the Doctor finds himself unable to touch those two symbolic wires together and complete his task. Why? Because as he says, "If I kill. Wipe out a whole intelligent life form. Then I become like them."

It's true that the Doctor does eventually blow up the incubation room, but that is after the Daleks have taken control of the bunker. Destroying the incubators at this point is no longer an act of genocide, it has now instead become a delaying tactic, and not a particularly effective one at that.

The moral of "Genesis" can be simply put: means can never be justified by the end result, because means are corrupting, and if you resort to using the same means that are employed by the evil you are fighting, then you become evil yourself.

'You mean, if that Doctor fellow hadn't shown up, fifteen of my men, Mike Smith and most of the local population would still be alive?! Hang about...!'In contrast, "Remembrance" gives us a portrayal of the Doctor which is totally at odds with the rest of the series. Here he is shown as a callous hypocrite. A vengeful, irresponsible, schemer. He has become a man with a plan, and to achieve his grand design, people have become expendable. What is worse, the human sacrifices the Doctor makes in "Remembrance" could easily have been avoided.

The Doctor says that the Daleks have been following him, and that they are after The Hand of Omega. If that's the situation, and he's so hell bent on mass destruction, why not collect the device and take off for deep space? That way the Daleks will leave Earth and follow him. He can then programme the Omega device to vaporise both them and their home planet, and still be back in time for tea and crumpets. See? No unnecessary heroics, no unnecessary deaths, and no threat to human history. Sorted!

But that's not complicated enough for the seventh Doctor. That's far too boring. Instead, the Doctor has decided that Davros should play the patsy, in that it should be he who unwittingly pulls the trigger on himself and the race that he created.

An interesting parallel can be drawn here, between the Doctor's confrontation with Davros in this story and that famous discourse in "Genesis of the Daleks". The latter takes the form of an intellectual discussion. Davros tells the Doctor that the Daleks are a force for peace, but the Doctor sees through this self-justifying rhetoric and exposes Davros' real motivation: the desire for absolute power. Conversely, in "Remembrance", we have a childish slanging match, with the Doctor using deceit and hypocrisy to camouflage his real desire for mass slaughter.

'Come on, lads, let's go off to Skaro to engineer the destruction of our own race, then...'Goading Davros into activating The Hand of Omega in no way changes the fact that it was the Doctor who programmed the device in the first place. Davros' intention is to use it as a tool with which to transform Skaro's sun into a source of "unimaginable power," whereas the Doctor's intention is to use it as a weapon. It is the Doctor who turns Skaro's sun into a supernova, and it is the Doctor who has embarked on a deliberate plan of genocide. Setting Davros up is just an extra sadistic twist of the knife.

Now we come to the subject of racism, and it is not an issue that is handled well in "Remembrance". In fact, it peddles a very dangerous message indeed. Under the pretence of social morality, it is telling the audience that there is only one cure for people with racist views, and that is to kill them. Mike is undoubtedly a racist by the standards of today (or even 1988), although his views were commonplace in the '60s. He dies, and no tears are shed at his funeral. We are told that the two Dalek factions are fighting each other over racial purity (which is not true, it's a battle for power between Davros and the Dalek Supreme), they are therefore racist. They die. Ratcliffe believes Britain was fighting on the wrong side during the war. He is a racist. He dies. Skaro is a planet inhabited by Daleks. It's a racist planet. The planet is purified by fire. And along with it will perish all its inhabitants - Thals, rock-leopards, giant clams - as well as those of the twelve other planets in the system (if the TV21 Emperor can make an appearance, then all the other tales of Skaro from the novels, the annuals and the comics count too). But don't worry about them - they are in the same neighbourhood as the evil, racist Daleks and are therefore beyond redemption.

Ah yes! But didn't the Doctor do exactly the same thing in The Daleks' Master Plan? By prematurely activating the Time Destructor on the planet Kembel he didn't just kill five thousand Daleks, he also wiped out every other life form on the planet as well. Now this is undeniable, but the difference here is that in "Master Plan" the Daleks were on the point of launching an invasion fleet to devastate the universe. So again it is the Daleks, not the Doctor, who are the instigators of planned violence. Furthermore, at the end of the story there is an enormous question mark drawn over the rights and wrongs of the Doctor's actions. When he and Steven emerge from the Tardis and survey the desolated surface of Kembel, the Doctor's heavily ironic statement, "Well, my boy, we have finally rid this planet of Daleks," provokes Steven to remind him of the cost, "Bret... Katarina... Sara," the latter having been inadvertently killed by the Doctor himself. "What a waste... What a terrible waste..." replies the broken old man. The equivalent scene in "Remembrance", which is something of a tacked-on coda to the action, has Ace turning to the Doctor with the vaguely troubled look of a sheep which has bitten on a garlic clove. "We did good, didn't we?" she inarticulates. "Perhaps... time will tell. It always does," chirps the Doctor, showing his deep regret and ambivalence for his most recent act of random mass genocide.

Ace (Sophie Aldred) and the Seventh Doctor (Sylvester McCoy). Smug beggar, isn't he?
There is also a million light-years between the flawed and very human Doctor of the Hartnell era, and the "more then just a Time Lord" grand manipulator we get with Sylvester McCoy. It has been argued that the seventh Doctor, with his seemingly all-knowing, godlike powers, is above morality, but if that is so, then why does he trouble himself with the affairs of Daleks and humans at all? The inescapable truth is that "Remembrance" was written not by a god, but by Ben Aaronovitch, and as a consequence the story reflects the author's views.

At the Allied Teheran conference in November 1943, Stalin proposed that once the war was over they should exterminate fifty to a hundred thousand German officers. Roosevelt diplomatically assumed that he was joking, but Churchill felt physically sick. If however, the Allies had taken Ben Aaronovitch's stance in 1945, there wouldn't be a German left alive today.

"Remembrance" has a good cast, is well acted and, for the period, some quite excellent special effects. Unfortunately it is these very production values that have allowed this story's hate-filled message to go unchallenged for so long, and in some fan quarters even to be embraced.

Swapping one form of hatred for another is not the answer. Racism is a great evil, yes, but it is born from two far greater evils, that of ignorance, and that of intolerance. If you want to combat racism, then education is the key, and if you can't educate, then contain, but never, ever, make killing your final solution, because that's when you throw off your humanity and become a monster instead. "You can judge a man by the quality of his enemies," says the Doctor in episode one. To a certain extent, yes, but you also judge a man by the quality of his actions, and in this story, the Doctor fails on every count.

Images copyright BBC
Effects courtesy of Fiona Moore

Click to return home