Written by Ben Aaronovitch, who went on to write the Rivers of London series.Despite being aired in the show's 25th anniversary year and featuring many links to Doctor Who's very first serial, "An Unearthly Child", this is not the official 25th anniversary special. That was "Silver Nemesis", the first episode of which aired on the actual anniversary.The Doctor and Ace arrive at Coal Hill School, perhaps a month after the First Doctor and company left. It doesn't take long before they're mixed up in trouble of the Dalek kind — two separate Dalek factions, the Renegades (Grey) and Imperials (White), respectively opposed and loyal to Davros (as seen in "Revelation of the Daleks"), wage war on each other for possession of the Hand of Omega, a Time Lord superweapon. And unfortunately for both groups, the Doctor has laid a trap for them; he just has to make the right conditions to spring it and ensure that Group Captain Gilmore and his men don't get diced in the crossfire.The Seventh Doctor has a major turning point in character. He casts aside the clownish facade that has dominated his personality and becomes extremely manipulative. This was part of the so-called "Cartmel Masterplan" inducted by Andrew Cartmel after all the run-of-the-mill scripts writers had been told they could produce back before it was clear the Sixth Doctor would not be returning for another season had been burned through. Now, Cartmel took charge to tilt the show in a more interesting direction that would sate curiousity in the viewers again.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: Used by the Doctor to mock Davros: "Crush the lesser races! Conquer the galaxy! Unimaginable power! Unlimited rice pudding! Et cetera! Et cetera!"
Bavarian Fire Drill: The Doctor just waltzes in to Rachel's van and starts asking a lot of technical questions, and at first she doesn't bat an eye. It takes her about a minute to start cottoning on and asking just who he is.
Five, six, seven, eight It's the doctor at the gate...
Darker and Edgier: Of a sort; from this story on, the Seventh Doctor begins to be presented as a darker, more brooding and manipulative character than the amiable prat-falling metaphor-mixing bumbler of the previous season.
The Doctor:[Fiddling about inside the transmat] It should slow them down a bit; until the operator can repair the system. Ace: Operator? The Doctor:[Distracted] Yes, the Daleks usually keep an operator on station in case of malfunctions. Ace: Which would be... another Dalek? The Doctor:[Realizing] ... Yes. Dalek: STAY WHERE YOU ARE! DO NOT MOVE!
Expy: The military characters are basically mirrors of the main characters in the UNIT years of the early 1970s — Group Captain Gilmore is Brigadier Lethbridge-Stewart, Rachel is Liz Shaw, Alison is Jo Grant, and Mike Smith is a combination of Captain Yates and Sergeant Benton.
Fantastic Racism: The Daleks are in the story, so that's a given. But here we see for the first time just how fanatical they can get: they declared all out civil war just because the Imperial Daleks are a tiny bit different genetically. This is an Ironic Echo to the all-too-real racism present in 1963.
Mike's racist and nationalist nature is hinted at in episode one when, during his conversation with Ace about her difficulties in understanding pre-decimalised British currency, he suspiciously asks if she's a foreigner:
The Renegades aren't much better. When the two factions are lined up across from one another and firing, there are two Imperial casualties to the zero Renegade ones. And in the final battle, they fail to kill any of the Imperials before the SW Dalek wipes them all out.
I Never Said It Was Poison: The mole gives himself away by asking the Doctor an honestly-curious question about the Daleks that reveals he already knows something about them that the Doctor never told him.
Ironic Nickname / Non-Indicative Name: Group Captain "Chunky" Gillmore, who's 6'4" and looks like he weighs about 110 pounds. However, on the DVD Commentary, Sylvester McCoy revealed that it came from Gilmore's nickname for his revolver (owing to its "chunky" shape), and the name stuck. This isn't mentioned in the story, but the discrepancy between Gilmore's appearance and his name is lampshaded when the Doctor admits he's got no idea why people call Gilmore "Chunky".
Leaning on the Fourth Wall: In one scene, as Ace leaves the boarding house, a television in the background can be heard announcing that it's time for the BBC's new Saturday evening TV seriesnote The timing doesn't stack up, since that scene takes place shortly after breakfast. The scene ends, mid-announcement, before the name of the series is mentioned.
Light Is Not Good: The Imperial Daleks have rather neat-looking white-and-gold colorings this time.
Mythology Gag: The telly is cut off before it can announce the new science fiction series that is premiering, called Doc-.
Nice Job Fixing It, Villain: By swiping the Renegades' time controller at the last moment, Ratcliffe and Mike inadvertently allowed the Imperials to capture the Hand of Omega - just as the Doctor had intended.
No Swastikas: Ratcliffe and his groupies are hinted to be a miniature Hitler Youth, though they could just as easily represent the National Front or some other nativist movement.
Non-Indicative Name: The Hand of Omega looks nothing like a hand. The Doctor claims the name came about due to the Time Lords' "infinite capacity for pretention".
Oh Crap: The Doctor's expression when, having escaped from a Dalek up a flight of stairs, he hears it powering up its antigravs.
Older Than They Think: The subversion of the "Daleks can't go upstairs" joke with the revelation that they can actually fly originates with this story, not 2005's "Dalek".
Pin-Pulling Teeth: In a possible allusion to this trope, the Doctor pops the cap off one of Ace's nitro-nine canisters with his teeth.
Politically Correct History: Averted, for one of the few times in the history of Doctor Who. Most noticeably with Ace discovering a "no coloureds allowed" sign. Mike Smith also makes reference to "[keeping] the outsiders out"note Ace has perhaps the most Backstory of any of the Classic companions. For one, as a child her friend Manisha's flat was firebombed by skinheads, so naturally she's less than pleased by both the sign and Mike's words.
Not only that, but the black cafe worker who serves the Doctor notes that the existence of sugar is the reason why his grandfather was kidnapped from Africa to become a slave, and his family subsequently became English.
Protagonist Centred Morality: The Doctor frequently lectures the army on the barbarity and uselessness of weapons. It doesn't stop him killing the odd Dalek himself.
Rebuilt Set: The entrance to Foreman's Yard, as seen in "An Unearthly Child" (when it was a set) is recreated on location. Unfortunately "Foreman" is misspelt as "Forman".
Red Oni, Blue Oni: Smith and Ratcliffe. Mike Smith has some first principles from the pit of Hell, but he honestly doesn't know better, and thinks the Association is acting in Britain's best interests. Ratcliffe is a conniver who's only after power.
The Reveal: Two successive audience-teasing ones: first when it's revealed that the Renegade Daleks' battle computer isn't Davros, which most people were assuming when the show was first broadcast, and then when it's revealed that the Imperial Dalek Emperor is.
Reverse Psychology and Exact Words: In their confrontation, the Doctor tells Davros not to use the Hand of Omega, that it's something that's not to be trifled with, and that he's making a grave mistake in doing so — all of which is true, but he doesn't mention why. Davros uses it anyways.
Significant Anagram: An out-of-universe example: to avoid revealing that the Imperial Dalek Emperor is Davros, the credits of early episodes and the cast list in the Radio Times credited him as being played by "Roy Tromelly", an anagram of the name of the 1980s Davros actor Terry Molloy.
Skip of Innocence: The little girl skips around town when she's not plugged into the Dalek battle computer. She's not exactly "innocent", though.
Smug Snake: Ratcliffe spends most of the story strutting around acting like a little tinpot general. When the Renegade Daleks get the Hand of Omega and no longer need his services, however, it quickly becomes apparent that he's completely out of his depth.
Star Killing: The Hand of Omega is designed to do this, to provide the massive power source required for time travel. The Doctor uses it to destroy the solar system where the main Dalek force is located, to prevent the Daleks using it on anyone else.
Talking the Monster to Death: The Doctor tells the last of the Renegade Daleks that it's got no kin left at all since its home world was blown up. It refuses to believe him at first but, unable to contact anyone, is brought to so much despair that it disintegrates itself.
Tele-Frag: The Doctor manages to make this happen to a Dalek on itself, by fiddling with the machine so that half of the Dalek materializes where the other half would be.
There Is No Kill Like Overkill: The Special Weapons Dalek. When the white Daleks can't gain the upper hand, they wheel out this thing. No plunger, no egg whisk, no eyestalk — just a single massive cannon. When it opens up on the grey Daleks, there's nothing left except little patches of smouldering ash.
And there's Ace aiming for a Daleks eyestalk...with a rocket launcher.