‘I can do anything I like.’ It features the Doctor’s most complete victory over the Daleks since 1967, the most spectacular (and toy-free) Dalek-on-Dalek battle (including the hugely memorable Special Weapons Dalek), and some of the best practical effects the show’s ever done (the landing of a full-size Dalek shuttle). However, it ends at a funeral and a doubtful Doctor unable to reassure Ace that they’ve done good. This makes some sense of the obscure title: Remembrance Day comes with the implication “never again”, and of terrible and unconscionable sacrifices made for future generations to live in peace.
The new series returns to this idea with a vengeance, with the Doctor the last survivor of the war between Skaro and Gallifrey. There’s a hint of that future conflict here: the Doctor declares he is ‘Defender of the Laws of Time, Protector of Gallifrey’ and Davros promises, ‘Now the Daleks shall become the Lords of Time’. In a small sense, the rest of the series exists in the shadow of Remembrance of the Daleks, of the idea of the Doctor not as a mysterious traveller in time and space, but as the Ka Faraq Gatri, the destroyer of worlds, the ‘oncoming storm’. Now, he’s far more than just another Time Lord. Or, possibly, not even a Time Lord at all.
Except, he’s also still the spoon-playing, pratfalling Sylvester McCoy and part of the cleverness of this approach is that this isn’t Superman, it’s a cosmic hobo who gets his brolly caught in sliding doors, witters on about rice pudding and is making it up as he goes along. A “Time Lord Victorious” would be awful. This Doctor can still even feel compassion for Daleks – ‘There were living beings in there’ he says, sadly inspecting their shattered shells.
This celebrates the show’s past triumphs while showing it can still be as good or better, like The Three Doctors and The Day of the Doctor gently closing the door on one iteration while looking forward to the next. It’s easily the best Dalek story since at least Genesis of the Daleks, and, while your taste might vary, for me it’s the new high water mark. The only thing that doesn’t work is the final showdown with the Supreme Dalek (surely it should have been the Doctor facing the little girl, and using her link to the Supreme to blow it up rather than what we got). Niggles aside, it’s clearly a masterpiece, a leap forward in quality, and the perfect way to launch the silver anniversary.
Next episode: The Happiness Patrol