This is a new series we're launching about the BBC's Doctor Who where we pick a story that sums up the personality and era of one particular Doctor. The story is not necessarily the best or the worst of that Doctor's era, just the one that we feel is the perfect introduction and summation of that Doctor. Today, we pick "Remembrance of the Daleks" as the quintessential 7th Doctor story.
"Remembrance of the Daleks" finds the Doctor (Sylvester McCoy) and companion Ace (Sophie Aldred) landing in South London in 1963, shortly after the 1st Doctor left, to recover an artifact he originally left there as warring factions of Daleks arrive to fight over it, believing it to be a weapon that would give them an edge over the other side. A local neofascist group tries to do a deal with the Daleks while a division of the British Army tries to keep the fight from escalating. The Doctor has to manipulate all sides to keep the fight from spilling out to the streets and they hold up in a local school as everything threatens to escalate out of control.
This is pretty much the definitive story for the 7th Doctor. It is full of declarations of intent. This is the first time the Doctor isn't just reacting to a situation he accidentally wanders into, which has been the default plot for the show for over 20 years. This time, the Doctor shows up at a specific place and time with a specific agenda and plan in mind. This is the first Doctor who let his mask slip to reveal he's really the most dangerous one in the room, five steps ahead of everyone as he treads the line between benignly clownish and utter, cold, condescension. This is a Doctor with zero F's to give to people who insist on being dumb. And Ace is the perfect companion for him: angry, aggressive, unashamed of getting her hands dirty. She beats up a Dalek with a baseball bat!
This story also put the show's politics front and center. It was avowedly antifascist, antiracist and used the Daleks as a prism to reflect on that. You can't get clearer about the show's intent than the neo-fascist group that comes a cropper trying to do a deal with the Daleks. Story Editor Andrew Cartmel and the writers he gathered for this run of the show were also the first generation of writers who were not only fans of the show but also ready comics by Alan Moore and it showed. They didn't treat big ideas as throwaways like previous writers did. They flaunted their big ideas and gave them their due. They also took a much more overtly feminist stance with Ace's unapologetic aggression and political correctness. They were firmly anti-Thatcher and declared it proudly. It was obvious Ace would say she hated Margaret Thatcher if anyone asked her.
"Remembrance of the Daleks" marked a big sea change for Doctor Who and that made its mark on fans, including future showrunners Russell T. Davies, Steven Moffat, and Chris Chibnall, who have used it as a prototype for their runs ever since. Episodes later in the 7th Doctor's run deepened the themes and tropes established in this story, but none of them carried the impact or surprise of this story.