‘That’s the point Group Captain. It isn’t even remotely human.’ The 25th anniversary series begins with a story that, like The Day of the Doctor, presents a different perspective on familiar events with hints that the first Doctor was up to something more than lurking about in the fog inspecting picture frames when he last visited 1963. He left something called ‘the Hand of Omega’ behind, and now two factions of Daleks have converged on the Earth to claim it.
Mostly, this is Attack of the Cybermen 1 done better. It still reaches back into the show’s history and includes lots of fan-pleasing elements like Barbara’s The French Revolution book sitting in (presumably) Ian Chesterton’s classroom. Coal Hill School and 76 Totters Lane were the show’s very first locations, the Daleks its first monsters. The first shot of Rachel, with her big hair and sensible two-piece, is obviously meant to make us wonder if that’s Barbara. But it’s not just Hartnell fans who are catered for – the Doctor accidentally calls Group Captain Gilmore ‘Brigadier’, there’s a gay heartthrob called Mike and mention of Yeti and Zygons. But even though it’s appealing to fans it’s doing so in a way that’s very accessible for Joe Public. Gilmore isn’t the Brigadier. Rachel isn’t Barbara. The creepy girl may be an unearthly child, but she isn’t Susan. Michael Sheard isn’t playing Mr Bronson. The Yeti and the Zygons are mentioned as things that happened that no-one particularly remembers. Something old, something new.
It avoids the normal pitfalls of holding back the Daleks to the cliffhanger. The first one we meet is more menacing than they’ve been since Genesis of the Daleks – scorched and still burning, it’s a killing machine and the Doctor respects its lethal potential. Ben Aaronovitch’s script likens it to a tank with a blobby green occupant. Then the Doctor gives Ace a potted history of Davros and the Daleks as they race off to the next location and a meeting with another Dalek (where was it when the Doctor was sabotaging the transmat? Having a fag break?) which, iconically, chases them up the stairs. Everything about this is trying, like Robert Shearman’s Jubilee/Dalek story did, to make the Daleks dangerous again.
And in so doing, it elevates the Doctor too: ‘You can always judge a man by the quality of his enemies.’ McCoy’s performance is different than in Season 24. Partly that’s because he spends most of this quite angry at the human beings getting in his way, and partly because the script isn’t treating him like the wistful, whimsical character of the previous year but as a man with secrets. Generally I think that’s for the good because the wistfulness and whimsy haven’t been forgotten, this just adds something else to the mix. He’s not yet the cosmic Punch and Judy man from the New Adventures, manipulating Ace to do the dirty work.
Next episode: Remembrance of the Daleks – Part Two