Doctor Who reviews: Davros

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.

Doctor Who: Davros
Doctor Who: Davros

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.

Davros Martin Geraghty Doctor Who Magazine 335

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.

Chicks, Chronology and Doctor Who

Lately I’ve been trying to make it to the Doctor Who New York events and get-togethers organized by Barnaby Edwards.  After years and years of being a fan of Doctor Who and really not knowing anyone personally who was also into the show, it’s great to be able to meet up with other local viewers and hang out, shooting the breeze about our favorite sci-fi series.  Best of all are the signings that Edwards organizes for DWNY.  Given that Doctor Who is a British-produced series, we American fans don’t often have the opportunity to meet too many people involved with the show, since they typically live on the other side of the pond.  So those events are really cool opportunities to actually meet some of these actors, writers, directors, and other creative personnel.

Last week I went to the latest DWNY event, a book signing that was held at a pub called The Churchill on 28th Street near Park Avenue.  The two books that the authors were there to promote and autograph were both published by Mad Norwegian Press.  The first of these was Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who.  A group of female writers from around the globe who are fans of Doctor Who wrote a series of essays analyzing each individual season of the television show, from the debut of William Hartnell in 1963 to Matt Smith’s 2011 series.

Chicks Unravel Time
Chicks Unravel Time

I have to say, as a white male viewer, Chicks Unravel Time was a very intriguing read.  The essays contained within offered up some very interesting alternative analyses and viewpoints of the series that I simply had never considered in my more than 25 years of watching Doctor Who.  Understandably, the majority of the essays are concerned with differing female perspectives on the series.  Other fascinating topics include the power structure in the relationships between the Doctor and his human companions, race & ethnicity, Cold War politics, music, spirituality, and the delicate balancing act of rooting the show in the past while continuing to move it forward in new directions.

The three writers from Chicks Unravel Time who were at the signing were Deborah Stanish, L.M. Myles, and K. Tempest Bradford.  Stanish’s essay “Anything Goes” observes the show’s early period of experimentation of format in the Third Season.  Myles essay “Identity Crisis” looked at how the show evolved in the Fourth Season when Patrick Troughton replaced William Hartnell as the Doctor.  Bradford examined the role of women, as well as their notable absences, throughout Season Thirteen in “The Woman We Don’t See.”  At the pub, each of them read excerpts from their pieces before the signing, as well as explaining what drew them to this project.  It was a very interesting session.

The other book that was being promoted that evening was AHistory: An Unauthorized History of the Doctor Who Universe (3rd Edition) written by Lance Parkin & Lars Pearson.  AHistory is an incredibly ambitious project on the part of its authors, an attempt to arrange in chronological order every single television episode of Doctor Who, Torchwood, and The Sarah Jane Adventures, as well as the Big Finish audio plays, the Doctor Who novels published by Virgin and the BBC, the Bernice Summerfield novels, the comic books published by Marvel and IDW, and probably a few other things I’m forgetting!  AHistory weighs about as much as your typical telephone directory, and clocks in at a massive 784 pages.

AHistory
AHistory

Lance Parkin was at the DWNY event to explain how AHistory came to life, starting out as a fan project many years ago that grew in size & scope with each revision.  Parkin describes it as “a parlor game,” i.e. an exercise in fun.  It certainly isn’t intended as any sort of serious scholarly attempt at a historical work.  Indeed, considering the Doctor Who fictional universe has existed for a half century in numerous mediums with hundreds of different writers having contributed to it over the decades, there really is no way to truly reconcile all of the contradictory continuity in a completely flawless manner.  Parkin & Pearson obvious intended it to be an enjoyable read for fans, a useful reference book for devotees of the series.

Unfortunately, I did not have $50 on hand, so I wasn’t able to purchase a copy of AHistory last week.  But I definitely want to pick it up at some point in the near future.  I see that it is available on the Mad Norwegian website for $39.95, shipping included, and is also on Amazon at a discount.  So I’ll probably order it online.

I was able to get a couple of other books signed by Lance Parkin, though.  He is the author of several Doctor Who novels, and I have two of these, The Dying Days and Father Time.  I brought along my copies to The Churchill, and Parkin kindly autographed them for me.  It’s been several years since I read each of them, but I remember that both were very entertaining, well-written books.  Unfortunately, both of them are currently out of print, but if you can locate inexpensive copies, I highly recommend them.

Doctor Who: Father Time
Doctor Who: Father Time

Parkin also wrote one of the Big Finish audio plays, Davros, which I have been meaning to purchase for some time now.  Colin Baker previously had an excerpt from that story on his website, and it sounded top-notch.  The only reasons why I haven’t gotten it before now are the usual: lack of funds and procrastination.  But, yeah, along with AHistory, it is on my short list of Doctor Who items to obtain.

So, while I haven’t had the opportunity to read AHistory yet, it sounds like a fun reference book.  And, as far as Chicks Unravel Time goes, I would consider that to be an indispensible read for any serious Doctor Who fans that enjoy differing interpretations & analyses of the series.

In any case, if you happen to be in the New York City area and are a fan of the series, I definitely encourage you to come by to future DWNY get-togethers.  The group has a page on Facebook where you can find out about upcoming events.