I mentioned in my last post that I really feel Colin Baker’s portrayal of the Doctor was underrated, and how he was much better served by the Big Finish audio plays, most of which contain extremely high qualities of writing and acting. I remember listening to one of Baker’s earliest Big Finish stories, “The Marian Conspiracy,” written by Jacqueline Rayner, and actually thinking to myself “Wow, if only he had gotten material half as good as this to work with when he was on television, he would have been remembered as one of the best actors to play the Doctor.”
Another excellent Doctor Who Big Finish story starring Colin Baker is “Davros.” It was released back in 2003, but I unfortunately kept putting off getting it. It took meeting the story’s author, Lance Parkin, last month to finally motivate me to order a copy. I listened to the story yesterday, and was absolutely riveted. Parkin does an amazing job writing not only the Sixth Doctor, but also Davros, the infamous creator of the villainous Daleks.
Davros made his debut in the 1975 television serial “Genesis of the Daleks.” Many viewers, including myself, consider “Genesis” to be the very best appearance of the character. Writer Terry Nation, with likely a great deal of input from script editor Robert Holmes, crafted a truly Machiavellian figure, a brilliant but twisted scientist, a fascist with a god complex who sought to remake the universe in his image via the Daleks. Actor Michael Wisher brought to life this brilliantly-scripted individual in a fantastic performance.
At the end of “Genesis,” the Daleks turned on Davros, seemingly exterminating their creator. He was, of course, later brought back to life. But many fans of the series have long felt his subsequent appearances were quite lacking, that he had been reduced to a one-dimensional ranting megalomaniac. In the original series, I think the only time the writing for the character ever came to approaching the quality of “Genesis” was in “Revelation of the Daleks,” by which time the character was being played by Terry Molloy. “Revelation” saw a return to some of the guile and subtle machinations that had characterized him in his debut.
In his audio play “Davros,” Lance Parkin appears to have drawn much from both “Genesis” and “Revelation.” He gives us a Davros who is a magnetic, chilling figure. Returning to play Davros in the audio format, Terry Molloy does a superb job, making his character extremely compelling.
Set between the events of the television stories “Resurrection of the Daleks” and “Revelation,” the audio play sees the seemingly-dead Davros retrieved by Arnold Baynes, amoral CEO of the galactic mega-corporation Trans Allied Inc, and his wife Lorraine. Arnold Baynes, who is played by Bernard Horsfall, is a futuristic titan of finance, a space-age robber baron who regards himself as a man who is simply providing the people of the galaxy with the products they need. Like most corporate figures, he honestly believes he is a good man, doing a necessary job, regarding capitalism as the ideal economic form to regulate human life. Baynes makes sure the employees of TAI have their lunch breaks, and finds the idea of spying on them to be morally repulsive. Yet if he occasionally has to arrange an “accidental” death, his conscience is unbothered, just so long as it is for the good of the company. Baynes is unperturbed by Davros’ status as the creator of the Daleks and a war criminal, regarding that as past unpleasantness. If Davros can apply his scientific genius to helping TAI develop new technologies, to increasing the company’s vast fortunes & holdings, then that is all that matters.
Lorraine Baynes, voiced by Wendy Padbury, also has her reasons for wanting to give Davros shelter. A revisionist historian, Lorraine regards Davros as a pioneer and a visionary, a titanic intellect who has been unfairly maligned by posterity, labeled as “evil” and made the scapegoat of the Daleks’ atrocities. There is a great deal of hero worship at work on her part. She hopes to write the definitive history of Davros and the Daleks, and is soon probing her new guest for information about his past on the planet Skaro.
Into the picture comes the Doctor, who was investigating an unrelated matter involving TAI. The Doctor is naturally horrified at the idea of the Baynes reviving Davros and giving him a position of corporate power. He was present on Skaro, and saw first-hand the treachery and violence that Davros engaged in to ensure the creation of the Daleks. Unlike the Baynes, who are blinded by profit and idolatry respectively, the Doctor knows full well how dangerous Davros can be.
Unfortunately, the Doctor is unable to impress upon Arnold Baynes the urgency of the matter. So he hits upon a different stratagem: he offers himself as an alternative to Davros. If TAI needs a genius, well, the Doctor is willing to lend his services. However, to the Doctor’s dismay, Baynes has another proposal: he will hire both of them. And so the Doctor, in order to keep an eye on Davros, agrees to become TAI’s newest employee, with one of his greatest enemies as his co-worker. This leads to some very interesting verbal fencing between the two, this time not across the battlefield, but the work table of the laboratory. Parkin writes absolutely riveting dialogue for the Doctor and Davros. Both Baker and Molloy fully rise to the occasion, turning in superb performances.
One of the things that have often been examined over the years is what, exactly, is the appeal of the character of Davros? Yes, his visual design is fantastic. He is literally a half-human, half-Dalek figure. But there is certainly more to him than that. I think a great deal of what makes him compelling is his seeming limitations, and how he overcomes them. Here is a crippled, blind, one-armed figure trapped in a wheelchair which serves as his life-support system, aided only by artificial senses. Yet this apparently pathetic, insignificant being is unstoppable. Throughout his original appearance in “Genesis,” despite his severe diminished physical condition, he continually triumphs. Through force of will & strength of personality, utilizing guile & cunning, he bends others to his will. When necessary, by adopting an unassuming, humble personality, he causes others to severely underestimate him. Through his intellect, Davros repeatedly outwits the Doctor and all his other rivals in “Genesis.”
Parkin brings all of these characteristics back to the fore in his script. Davros comes across as an incredibly dangerous individual, constantly scheming & coercing. Throughout much of the story, he claims that he sees the Baynes’ offer as a chance at redemption, to make up for his myriad horrific crimes. And the strength of Molloy’s performance is such that you never really know if Davros is being sincere. He sounds genuine… but at the same time, the Doctor knows full well that Davros is incredibly charismatic, a master of manipulation. And so the listener is constantly kept guessing.
I was left wondering if Parkin’s writing had influenced Russell T Davies when he penned the 2008 television episode “Journey’s End.” In it, Davros refers to the Doctor as “The man who abhors violence. Never carrying a gun. But this is the truth, Doctor. You take ordinary people and you fashion them into weapons.” This seems to mirror a scene early in Parkin’s story. The Doctor, discovering the Baynes are attempting to revive Davros, pleads with them to kill him. Davros snaps into consciousness and tauntingly says to the Doctor “You are weak. There’s the switch. End my life. You, not them! Do your own dirty work. End my life if you have the stomach for it!” And when the Doctor cannot bring himself to kill Davros in cold blood, Davros mockingly laughs in his face.
Reflecting on this dark, chilling story, something occurred to me. It has been long been said that Davros created the Daleks in him image. Physically that is apparent. But Parkin, through a series of flashbacks to Davros’ early days on Skaro, reveals that there is more to it than just appearance. Just as Davros removed from the Daleks the ability to feel such emotions as empathy and pity, so too has he done so with himself. In the audio play, Davros continually claims to be unable to feel love or affection. When he does experience any sort of regret or guilt at the monumental atrocities he has engineered, he dismisses this as an insignificant biological or chemical process of his body, one he instantly regulates via the drugs dispensed by his life support system. And so Parkin establishes both the similarity and difference between the Daleks and their creator. The Daleks are evil due to circumstance, a result of the removal of their ability to possess certain emotions, depriving them of what we would label a conscience. Davros, on the other hand, is evil by choice, because he has willingly discarded or suppressed those emotions in himself.
“Genesis of the Daleks” still remains the iconic Davros story, probably the best use of the character. That said, I would certainly have to put the “Davros” audio play at a very close second. The writing by Lance Parkin, and the performances by Terry Molloy & Colin Baker, made this an unmissable production, one I recommend to any long-time fans of Doctor Who interested in the character of Davros.