Thursday, 19 January 2012

The Curse of Davros written by Jonathan Morris and directed by Nicholas Briggs


What’s it about: It's been a year since Philippa 'Flip' Jackson found herself transported by Tube train to battle robot mosquitoes on a bizarre alien planet in the company of a Time Lord known only as 'the Doctor'. Lightning never strikes twice, they say. Only now there's a flying saucer whooshing over the top of the night bus taking her home. Inside: the Doctor, with another extraterrestrial menace on his tail – the Daleks, and their twisted creator Davros! But while Flip and the fugitive Doctor struggle to beat back the Daleks' incursion into 21st century London, Davros's real plan is taking shape nearly 200 years in the past, on the other side of the English Channel. At the battle of Waterloo…

Softer Six: Doesn’t he just love making a big entrance, crashing into the Earth and emerging from an escape pod with amnesia! The Doctor is being hunted down by the Daleks who would have exterminated him already had he not been able to steal one of their ships and leg it. The Doctor talks with the oddest of speech patterns – he isn’t using contractions which is usually a massive sign that something is up in science fiction and he seems to know a bit too much about fooling the Daleks and nabbing their ship for my liking – he must be Davros! Even his concern for the Earth seems to be more artificial than usual. The way he doesn’t seem to mind that hostages are killed because they will die no matter what they do is callous even for Sixie – its Davros I tell you! When the Doctor says the Daleks consider him their greatest enemy that is a very clever line because it could mean him or Davros. When we finally meet the Doctor (ala Davros) he tells Flip about Evelyn meeting Rossiter and being very happy with him. He’s currently travelling alone. He knows now what it is like to be Davros, to have the mind of a genius trapped inside the mind of a corpse. If he knew he would be trapped in this desiccated body permanently he wouldn’t be able to endure it the way Davros does. If there was a switch to the life support that would bring an end to the agony he would have no qualms about flicking it. That’s a massive statement coming from the Doctor – he would kill himself if he were disabled and in constant pain. He wouldn’t have the willpower to resist it. He thought the mind swap was worth it even if he lost his body because it would rid the universe of Davros’ scourge. After describing the torment of being inside Davros’ body I felt something that I never thought I would ever feel for Davros when he is returned to his correct place – remorse. Chalk up another historical event that the Doctor is responsible for – the Battle of Waterloo! All thanks to shoving Napoleon in the cupboard. Sabotage comes naturally to him, he admits gleefully before enjoying another little tinker. Davros knows that the Doctor might win this battle but he will never win their war because to win you have to make sacrifices and that has always been his greatest weakness. The Doctor now considers killing Davros as an act of mercy for him rather than the universe. Astonishing stuff.

Flippin’ Marvellous: Perfect companion material, Flip is bored of the same old routine of clubbing late and catching the night bus home. When a spaceship crashes in front of them she wants to get out and explore whereas her fella Jared wants to take a picture of it on his mobile. That’s why she’ll get to travel in the TARDIS and he wont. She’s willing to protect the Doctor from the authorities simply because she thinks that is the best thing to do. Flip has perfected the ‘I’m really ill…’ voice when phoning in sick that takes years to master! She has no car because she never passed her test…and now she has no flat since Jared blew it up! Flip suddenly realises she has lost everything and she might have move back in with her mum and creepy Nigel. She works on the tills in a supermarket – no wonder she wants a change of pace! Her massively racist faux pas to the French had me in stitches (plus she considers it the mark of a good Frenchman to flirt first and interrogate later). She thinks that being able to walk into history and talk to people is marvellous. It’s a shame that Flip never finished that French GCSE because she might be able to recognise Napoleon Bonaparte when she sees him! Flip realises with some concern that she was never the Doctor’s assistant but actually Davros’ hostage. This battle marks the point where the future of mankind hangs in the balance – Davros wants to change things so the human race go from being an enemy to a potential ally of the Daleks. ‘You really have serious issue, you know that right?’ says Flip when Davros condemns her to a place in the Doctor’s cell where she will age and die before his eyes. Its not until she starts threatening Davros that he considers her a ‘charming girl.’ Flip was in counselling for a while after he previous encounter with the Doctor and thinks that she and Jared are only together because neither on them wants to be the one to split them up. Flip says she feels sorry for Davros because his hatred has brought him nothing but more pain. Thanks to the Daleks she doesn’t have a home or a job to go to. Making a brave decision she tosses Jared back into their time and chooses to try and find the Doctor. This is the change she desperately needs.

Standout Performance: Colin Baker and Terry Molloy deserve massive credit for trying to pull off the insane idea of playing each others roles. Baker’s mannered speech is more of a giveaway than Molloy’s beautifully judged Doctor but kudos to the pair of them for picking up on each others quirks. As soon as the twist is revealed I don’t think I have ever seen an actor take so much relish from playing a villain as Colin Baker and it was delightful to listen to. And can I say I was utterly spellbound by Terry Molloy’s turn as the Doctor. The things I love about Lisa Greenwood’s Flip is both the TV series and Big Finish have tried to employ the services of actors that sound as though they are just the every person on the street whisked up in the Doctor’s adventures. Usually this goes wrong because they wind up sounding like actors trying to act like cockney youths (Sophie Aldred but also Billie Piper to an extent). Greenwood’s ability to sound like a real person who has found herself in an impossible situation is astonishing – its almost as if they dragged her in from the streets and actually made her experience these things. Its great because with Flip you ca actually put yourself in her place – a pretty average life – and join the Doctor and have some great adventures. When Flip leaves with him at the end (with no special qualifications, no great experience behind her and no special powers) it could be you and that is a wonderful feeling. Molloy’s Davros on audio is still one of the scariest things ever…when that gurgling laughter screams in my ears he is without doubt the best Davros.

Sparkling Dialogue: ‘He blew up my cooker!’
I love how Flip calls the Daleks ‘dodgem things from space!’
‘I know that at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender’ ‘And how told you that may I ask?’ ‘ABBA’ ‘UBBER?’ ‘They made a song about it! About you coming second!’ – Flip hasn’t quite got the hang of this ‘not revealing future events to ruthless dictators’ business yet.
‘The Doctor rescued by the Daleks. Yes, there is a first time for everything…’
‘Such naiveté! To imagine he could reform the Daleks!’
I am Davros!’ – never has that line been so funny!

Great Ideas: You would wonder if you were the one that was cursed when a spaceship crashes on your way home, you rescue a survivor and take him home and then you boyfriend comes home and tries to kill him! The Daleks have developed the technology to swap their minds with other sentient beings – as soon as that was revealed I was certain that Colin Baker’s mannered performance meant that Davros was hiding inside his head! I love the idea of the Daleks murdering a bunch of shoppers in a supermarket – its so deliciously mundane it feels even more murderous than their usual activity. The Dalek making an announcement on the bing bong system is absolute genius – who but Jonathan Morris could ever think up such an insanely brilliant idea? ‘We have brought the human captives to the area known designated ‘Deli Counter!’ Even weirder is the humans transplanted into Dalek mutants and all talking like normal people but with Dalek modulation – its so nutty I love it! Ha – I knew it! I bloody knew it! When Davros has the chance to kill the Doctor and Flip he chooses not to! Because it’s the Doctor! They’ve swapped minds. Go on Morris…prove me wrong! The Daleks are determined to change the course of history by ensuring that Napoleon wins Waterloo – another of their typically madcap schemes to take over the universe. Napoleon Bonaparte controlled by Daleks learning that he will surrender at Waterloo – has Jonathan Morris taken all of his happy pills on one day. I have absolutely no idea where all this madness is going but this kneading and stretching of Doctor Who’s malleable formula is proving a delight. A French châteaux that has been constructed around a Dalek mothership, wouldn’t you just love to see that realised on screen? Davros considers his own body a withered husk of rotting flesh and never wants to return to it. He is quite happy inside the Doctor’s body, a fierce brain in an active body and for the first time he has no pain. The Daleks are so paranoid about the Doctor that they treat him suspiciously even when he claims to be Davros. I felt really sorry for the Dalek who realises he has been duped by the Doctor and is scolded by Davros for humiliating him – he asks if Davros wants to punish him, poor dear! He gets one to self destruct and the Supreme Dalek to torture itself, what a psychopath! We learn that was his hatred and desire for revenge that sustained Davros in his torturous body for so many years. The Doctor tells the story of how he swapped minds with Davros; he detected the Dalek mothership in this time period and managed to break inside and conceal himself. Davros chose this place because he wanted to test the mind exchange in the field of battle where he didn’t care who lived or died. Davros admires Bonaparte because he has a one track mind and he has a genius for war and when the war is won he will take that genius and plant it into every Dalek battle computer. The Doctor was skulking in the shadows that whole time all this malarkey is being discussed. He chose to exchange minds with Davros so the Daleks would obey him now and exterminate Davros in his body. The Doctor plans to use the technology to wipe the Daleks minds and to make them a force for good in the universe. Davros’ grand mistake is not killing the Doctor when he has the opportunity, instead he want him to suffer as he has over the years…forgotten in a cell and trapped in a withered, decaying body. Dalek mutants swimming screaming to be killed, filled with the minds of British and French soldiers. The Doctor’s plan to turn Davros into a Dalek in order for them to escape is so simple but makes perfect sense. I was giggling with glee as the Doctor and Davros both tried to convince the Daleks they were each other…and even the audience don’t know! Baffling brilliance! Napoleon agrees to lose the battle for the glory of France because he knows what will happen when the Daleks take over. Davros is pitiless in his revenge and kills all the Dalek infected soldiers so there are no bodies for the minds to be returned to. The Doctor manages to wipe the minds of all the Daleks on the mothership which leaves Davros the opportunity to teach them to hate all over again…

Oh yeah…I can still remember some years I ago when I was fresh to Doctor Who fandom and Outpost Gallifrey and I suggest on a Doctor Who forum that there should be a story where the Doctor and an important villain have mind swap and I remember being summarily executed by a barrage of insults and abuse by other fans. It was almost enough to make me never want to go back! Poor, terrified little Joe. To all of you who took the time to have a go this audio is a massive finger in the eye! Cheers Jonny!

Audio Landscape: Squeaking bus turning up, a flying saucer flying overhead, crashing and exploding, police radios, extermination noise, police siren, the echoing Dalek voices inside their operatives heads is harsh and glorious, the screams of the hostages as they are all gunned down, pursuit ship descending, rain lashing, landing in mud, explosions, birdsong, the echoing corridors of the châteaux, Dalek heartbeat, ugh – Dalek self destruction, a bubbling Dalek hatchery.

Musical Cues: Wilfredo Acosta is not a name I have read before but he certainly makes a strong first impression with a dramatic soundscape and musical score. Nicholas Briggs always manages to cherry pick the best of the sound designers for his stories and it’s a great thing he does because coupled with his strong direction these stories come to life with dazzling panache. I loved the music at the beginning of episode three especially – strong drum beats accompanying the sudden turn of events. Listen out for the fantastic score when Davros and Napoleon discuss the war as it plays out before them in episode four.

Standout Scene: Love, love, love the cliffhanger to episode two. Although I had guessed early on it was still glorious to hear Colin Baker reveal his true identity as he threatens to kill Flip. Cue chilling mad laughter and boastful Davros reveal! Awesome – who can say they get to introduce Davros to a story and then get to knockout the audience with a twist like that?

Notes: Morris brilliantly subverts the Doctor and Davros’ parting from Revelation of the Daleks ‘I shall return!’ ‘And I shall be waiting for you…’ with the same words coming from the wrong mouths.

Result: A playful Dalek story…who would have ever thought? It’s a great compliment to Jonathan Morris to admit that this is the sort of story I would have expected Douglas Adams to have written for the Daleks instead of bumf like Destiny of the Daleks (which was a tug of war between him and Nation). It manages to take a reasonably whacky premise and have real fun with it whilst telling us something very personal about the Doctor (lonely and trapped) and Davros (who exists in a world of pain). Along the way Morris tosses out so many creative notions (all of which would generate an entire story in other hands) its like a Catherine wheel of imagination is fizzing off in all directions and I was chuckling away with the madness of the scenario come episode four. I especially loved the fact that when the humdinger of a twist was revealed in episode two things did not revert back to normal and the story allowed both Colin Baker and Terry Molloy to stretch themselves far more than their roles would usually allow them to. I wasn’t sure what to think when they announced Phillipa Greenwood’s return as a new companion because she had a very minor part to play in The Crimes of Thomas Brewster but as written by Morris she is given a super introduction with plenty of witty and wonderful lines and Greenwood proves a absolute win. I can’t wait to hear more from her. You’ve got some history, original Dalek action (bing bong!), a fascinating role reversal, a new companion, character development (you’ll never feel such pity for Davros again), Jonathan Morris at his ingenious best (conjuring up a superb reason for this most unusual of settings) and an excellently realised production with great music and effects. What more could you possibly ask for? Wonderfully, blissfully brilliant: 10/10

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