Friday, 3 September 2010

Davros written by Lance Parkin and directed by Gary Russell

What’s it about: AI stock has shot up by over fifteen percent on news that galaxy-famous scientist Davros, controversial creator of the Daleks, has been hired to work on unspecified technological projects.' Davros has been given the chance to redeem himself. Humanity stands on the verge of a new era, but it needs the help of the galaxy's greatest ever scientist. But Davros is dead... isn't he? From the bunkers and shelters of ancient Skaro to the gleaming Domes of the Future Earth Empire, Davros has always been a man of destiny. Now he's working for mankind's benefit. But how much do we really know about Davros? Has Davros really turned over a new leaf? The Doctor certainly doesn't think so. But is the Doctor always right?

Softer Six: If you look at the televised era of the sixth Doctor he actually had quite a few really good villains to butt heads with. From the morally ambiguous Lytton, greedy and excitable Sil, the gorgeous Rani, ravenous and homicidal Shockeye and of course the Valeyard, the darker side of the Doctor’s nature. And yet of all of these it was Davros who sparked of him the best. In just a few short scenes that inject more black humour and moral arguments than you can imagine and there is finally a character as grotesque and theatrical as the sixth Doctor himself. These scenes in Revelation of the Daleks are so good they rival the fourth Doctor’s prolonged moments of drama with Davros in Genesis. For some reason Davros brings out the best in the Doctor, highlighting the two characters as brilliant scientists with a very different moral code we can see the Doctor is as good hearted as Davros is wicked (except from his point of view!). And if there was any writer that could take these two characters and wring every drop of tension from their relationship it is Lance Parkin, one of the finest Doctor Who books authors. It is something of a coup to have one of my favourite writers writing a story for one of my favourite Doctor’s (the same thing happened in Blue Box) and to Parkin’s credit this is another superb showing for the sixth Doctor.

He loves his surprise entrances and jumps up on Willis and Todd much to his own amusement! He admits that mass redundancies and labour relations aren’t really his field but agrees to help out anyway (I think he can’t resist a challenge). I love his reaction to seeing Davros, leaping from his cover and confronting Baines so bold facedly. It is as if nothing scares him. He warns them about the danger of Davros and is always melodramatic in doing so, anything to get his point across. Has the Doctor been conditioned to think that Davros and evil are synonymous? Davros once again offers the Doctor the chance to kill him but as with his previous incarnation he finds he cannot perform the act. You have to love the arrogance of the man, desperate to stop Baines employing Davros so promoting his services as equal and possibly eclipsing the Skarosian scientist. His relationship with his earpiece personal organiser is hilarious…he sticks a screwdriver in his ear and digs it out! He childishly sabotages Davros’ work just to get a rise out of him. Is the Doctor the closest thing that Davros has to a friend? The Doctor promises to judge Davros by his actions. He doesn’t kill, he limits, he imprisons and he sets traps. When Davros promises to end the galaxy wide famine the Doctor ponders whether he will do this by shooting them. Can you imagine the 6th Doctor having a performance review? The very thought of it makes me howl. He has dropped Peri off at a botany symposium. When he is hanging off a precipice the PO earpiece informs him of his dangers and plays him soothing music! I would love to see the scene where he jumps down the lift shaft after Davros, multicoloured coat tails flapping in the wind. Oddly for the sixth Doctor he doesn’t say I told you so when Davros turns nasty, which is quite big of him since they treated him like the enemy! He knows that Davros isn’t dead after the explosion. It just doesn’t work like that.

Scarred Scientist: However good the work with Baker’s Doctor is that is nothing compared with the superlative character examination of Davros. Whilst I, Davros and Terror Firma would go on to provide fascinating glimpses at Davros this is the story with just his name as the title and it fills in a lot of gaps in our knowledge of our favourite genocidal maniac. We get to experience his life before the accident, his waking moments after and the diabolical choice that the Elite gave him when they decided he should no longer live. All these glimpses into his past are fantastic but the intense examination of his current state is even more transfixing, as he ponders if he could ever love or feel anything, if he has any friends in the universe and if he could really turn over a new leaf. What’s unusual is that all this self-reflection could have been unbearably twee but thanks to some very sharp writing and Terry Molloy’s outstanding performance you are left on a razors edge of tension throughout. It is the best performance in a Big Finish audio to date, epitomising menace and beautifully underplayed in the first episode. Once he finally reveals his true intentions and starts killing people, his insane cackling is utterly chilling and all the more satisfying because we have had to wait for it. With his turn in this story Molloy has managed to knock Wisher from the top spot as the ultimate Davros, he’s incredible.

Davros is the greatest mind Skaro has ever known. After his accident he was asked to kill himself because he was no longer genetically pure, and because they were too cowardly to do it themselves. The scenes of Davros waking up after the accident are disturbing (‘What is that smell?’) and his horrified scream it his own reflection will stay with you for some time. The Doctor declares he is the most evil being the universe has ever created and given the choice he would kill millions of lives. He is the last of his race because he was instrumental in their annihilation. He thinks he is a reformed character, that he has been given a new chance and he is going to take it. Humanity sentenced him to lifelong imprisonment and he spent 90 years with his thoughts. His description of this complete sensory depravation is terrorising, imagining terrifying things in the darkness, the Daleks calling his name, the Doctor’s face tormenting, locked in the past and reliving all of his mistakes. A deformed unfinished thing trapped in his own mind. Ever lasting terror…and that was just the first second. He has never seen Skaro from space before but he does recall seeing the moons of Skaro as a child before they descended into the shelters. He lacks teeth and taste buds so he doesn’t make the best of dinner guests! The flashbacks reveal Davros to have been a fairly ordinary man before his accident with friends and a firm belief in the work he was doing, and yet callous and logical when he needs to be. He deliberately experimented on Kaled embryos and told the parents it would make their children stronger and felt nothing when the first Dalek mutants were born; the few mothers that survived childbirth were appalled. Shan was the first mind he encountered that was equal to his own; he watched her and was quietly seething at her relationship with another man. He took her idea for the Daleks and made it a reality. He had her lover killed and smiled as he watched her hang. The first time in his life when nobody was trying to kill him was when Baines revived him. He could be the greatest humanitarian in history by ending the famine that is plaguing the galaxy. He will cling to the life he has got; he won’t accept a cloned body. As he studies the stock market figures over the past 500 years he works out a phenomenal equation that will predict all future sales. Davros knows he can’t change, you can disguise nature but you can’t change it. He lost his eyes in the accident that crippled him, the explosion burst his ear drums and seared most of the nerves in his skin…so he compensated, built a camera eye, microphone and sensors that give him acute awareness of his surroundings. He’s nothing but a spoilt child. He gasps that there is no such thing as too much destruction. Davros laughs at Baines dying because it was too easy. Does he pretend to be a machine to disguise his failings? He has to survive at any price.

Great Ideas: At the beginning of this story Davros is clinically dead, no respiration, no brain activity. The TAI workforce is spread over a hundred worlds selling robots, star ships, terraformas, medical equipment, explosives, food stuffs, protective clothing, weft engines, computer brains, recreation narcotics, laser canons and much more. Baines is the richest man on this side of the galaxy. Propaganda was rife on Skaro and now some view the Daleks as having failed Davros rather than the Doctor defeating him. Davros and the Doctor working together to build a better world? The personal organisers are inserted into your ear as you sleep. If you wish to mark yourself out as an individual you can chose from four ties! Fate has made the Doctor and Davros allies but Davros wonders if things had worked out differently if they could have been friends. Would you blame Faraday for the electric chair? Then why blame Davros for the actions of the Daleks? People might object to TAI employing Davros but if he solves the famine problems will people refuse to use that equipment? On Skaro they didn’t know why the war started, they fought because the only alternative was extermination. Davros gives Willis an illegal atomic explosive to destroy Baines’ reputation. Davros is going to use his formula to bring down the stock market, forcing the system to collapse, the corporations to crumble and he will impose a new system of his own. With the galaxy on a war footing it will be one big concentration camp with Davros as commandant. Was the war on Skaro suicidal, each putting the other side out of their misery? Shan’s paper, The Dalek Solution was the idea behind the Daleks and Davros stole that idea and made it a reality. By green lighting the project the Elite were signing their own death warrants, the new species will replace the original. New leaders should always purge those loyal to the old regime and Davros intends to wipe out Baines’ work force with nuclear fallout, a radiation cloud that will consume the dome. Baines is so power mad that even when everything is falling to pieces around him he still wants to protect his company and murders Willis. Unbelievably he wants to save Davros, take the formula and make them both rich! In a very dramatic ending that sees the Doctor impotent to stop Davros because Todd is on board, she injects herself with his poison so she is dead either way. The Doctor directs the craft towards the planets surface as it goes into hyperdrive. The Doctor makes sure that Mrs Baines is arrested, as it was her perverse admiration for Davros that started all of this.

Standout Performance: Molloy and Baker are typically wonderful. Bernard Horsefall gives an understated performance that really sells his character, the Simon Cowell of the corporations, a man who thinks he cannot be touched. His interview with Willis grows ever more menacing. Wendy Padbury has the hardest job, trying to convince as a Davros fan that has her entire worldview destroyed. Padbury acquits herself admirably, downplaying the fanfare and highlighting the academic credentials of the character – this could have been a really duff character but she pulls it off wonderfully.

Sparkling dialogue: ‘The idea of reading two rather turgid volumes written by an apologist for the Daleks stuck in my craw!’
‘And then I felt my heartbeat. That had been the first second of my imprisonment.’
‘You have laws that make your workers less productive?’
‘War makes comrades of men and then takes all those comrades away.’
‘Soon the galaxy will tremble!’

Audio Landscape: God bless Jim Mortimore, not only a fantastic writer and musician but he also brings audio adventures to life with some fantastic sound effects. The difference between this story and Omega is that remembers to be quiet in the right places and really drives home the drama. The creepy opening monologue gets your teeth on edge from the get go, Davros’ hatred rises and so does his hysteria. We hear Baines breaking into the vault and shooting the pilot. Birdsong provides a lovely background on the planet. The ship roars overhead and comes in to land. The banging and clanking in the background suggests a busy workshop. The Dalek heartbeat is used sparingly but at just the right moments. Stamping, clunking machinery works excitedly on the production line. The colony world transformation from a barren landscape to a utopia of children singing is pure corporate bliss! The Doctor’s snoring is unbearable but you’ve got to love the PO waking him up with a school bell and a news update. The guards unleash a volley of bullets on the rogue robot. The bomb blast makes a big bang and causes all manner of masonry and debris to collapse. There is a torrent of gushing water under the Doctor. Davros rants about his new order with the cries for help of the TAI employees dying of radiation poisoning in the background. The Doctor and Baines shift rocks. There a wonderful moment of madness as Davros has the Doctor taunting him inside his head and he switches from his humanoid to his scarred twisted self. Davros’ ship takes off with some real fireworks and his ship takes on a Dalek-like voice. The ship crashes into the planet with a butterfly explosion.

Musical Cues: Jane Elphinstone provides the creepiest Big Finish score yet. The trick is to keep it as minimalist as possible and only rise to drama when the story needs it. Unlike Stone’s score for Omega which smothers the story this is a collection of stings and discordant stabs of music that really gets under your skin. The electronic tingle that plays over the opening scenes is a great example. There is a horrid 80’s jingle over the TAI Corp video…its like Keff McCulloch is back! Some well judged whistle blows chills the spine. The terrifying music as Davros describes his exile grows more and more dramatic, it leaves you gasping. I loved the rising piano score at the climax as well, getting faster and faster… An excellent score.

Standout Moment: There a so many great moments in this story but the one that always gets my heart going is Davros’ first ‘DOCTOR!’ as he wakes from his sleep of the dead. Even when I know it’s coming its still frightening!

Isn’t that odd: The cliffhanger is entirely perfunctory. I wouldn’t have bothered.

Result: A story that redefines Davros beautifully and drips with malevolence. When I first heard this story I thought it was far too long (150 minutes!) and was quite blandly directed but I was so wrong on both counts. I wouldn’t want to cut a single scene from this story and I found that the two and half hours of material flew by this time. As a character tale there is none finer as it uses its extended time to flesh everybody out with real clarity before leaving them gasping to get out of Davros’ homicidal grip. The dialogue is crisp and thoughtful and the music ramps up the tension to unbearable levels. Colin Baker gets another chance to shine and unencumbered with an assistant he is as naughty and rebellious as we will ever see him. But this story belongs to Terry Molloy who gets to explore a whole range of emotions as Davros and manages to tug at the heartstrings and terrify you, sometimes at the same time! Its one of the best portrayals of a villain we have ever seen on the show and elevates Davros to some nightmarish pedestal when he can glare down malevolently at the other bad guys we have encountered and laugh at their ineptitude. He’s really scary and that just feels right: 10/10

Artwork by Simon Hodges @


Ben Herman said...

A really great review. I did a write-up of this one on my blog, as well...

Anthony Pirtle said...

This is a terrific story and a great performance as usual by Colin Baker. I'm not sure if I like the introduction of the idea that Davros didn't actually conceive of the Daleks. It would be like a story revealing that The Doctor copied his moniker from a better adventurer.

ali Servan said...

Terry Malloy never fails to amaze me. I used to live up the road from him as a kid and he's the lovliest, sweetest, kindest man you could ever hope to meet yet his Davros genuinely freaks me out. The man is a genius. He can do cracking comedy As Dunning in the Scarifyers and then give you a nightmarish performance with Davros. This is the story I buy as a gift for friends as an introduction to Big Finish