GARY HOPKINS (1), JAMES PARSONS (2), ANDREW STERLING-BROWN (2), LANCE PARKIN (3), SCOTT ALAN WOODARD (4) & NICHOLAS BRIGGS (5)
BIG FINISH 'I, DAVROS' CDS#1.1 - 1.4 (ISBNS 1-84435-231-5, 1-84435-232-5, 1-84435-233-1 & 1-84435-234-X) RELEASED BETWEEN SEPTEMBER AND DECEMBER 2006; OR 'THE DAVROS COLLECTION' DVD BOX SET (BBCDVD2508) RELEASED IN NOVEMBER 2007.
The Kaled and Thal races are at war. No-one really remembers why, or when it started, but generations of people on both sides have lost so very much.
Born into an influential family is Davros. Now aged sixteen, he is being pulled in various directions his father wants him to follow tradition and go into the military. His sister has joined the Military Youth and his scheming, devoted mother wants him to pursue a life of science.
But no-one seems terribly interested in what Davros himself wants. So he must begin to assert himself, begin to take control over his own life, begin to work towards his destiny...
SEPTEMBER 2006 - DECEMBER 2006
1. INNOCENCE 2. PURITY 3. CORRUPTION 4. GUILT
For me, and doubtless for many others, Davros is and has always been the quintessential Doctor Who baddie. Everybody loves to hate the Master, of course, but for the most part the Doctor’s rival Time Lord has always been swathed in style and elegance; one might even say that he’s a rather romantic portrait of a villain. Davros, on the other hand, is an outright monster. Gruesome to the eye, Davros has always managed to be even uglier on the inside than he is on the out.
On television, no explanation was ever given for Davros’s physical condition. In Terry Nation’s Genesis of the Daleks, the Kaleds were portrayed as a Nazi-like race that valued purity and good health above all else; yet, paradoxically, their supreme commander was possibly the most physically inept creature on their whole planet. As such it followed that Davros had not been born that way – he was wounded, as opposed to genetically corrupted – and so ever since 1975 generations of Doctor Who fans have wondered and even dared to imagine what might have caused Davros to appear as he did. Such conjecture then begged the question, ‘Was Davros insane prior to his accident, or was his madness caused by it?’ but now, at last, we need speculate no longer. Big Finish’s staggeringly superb mini-series I, Davros answers every question that I think has ever been raised about Davros, and raises quite a few fresh ones into the bargain.
The story that is told across these plays is monumental on both a global and a personal scale, but both the quality of the scripts and the performances of the cast are more than equal to such weight. Indeed, the whole production reeks of the highest quality, right from Steve Foxon’s evocative title jingle and score all the way through to Stuart Manning’s distinctive - and frankly downright stunning - propaganda-inspired cover artwork.
I think it’s fair to say that I expected the least from the mini-series’ opening instalment, “Innocence”, but Gary Hopkins’ script really surprised me. Apart from the title being either gross irony or a total misnomer, the whole play is saturated with brilliance. Clearly inspired by the BBC television series I, Claudius, the characters of this story are quite easily as iconic as their Roman counterparts, not to mention utterly engrossing to boot.
“Nothing dies of old age on Skaro.”
Take Davros’s mother, Calcula. What a simple and strikingly effective use of onomatopoeia - the character’s name tells you absolutely everything you need to know about her before she has even spoken. And Carolyn Jones (from the eighth Doctor play The Last, also penned by Hopkins) absolutely owns the part; it would have been an easy thing for an actress to push such a character into the realms of pastiche, but to her credit Jones walks the line of melodrama utterly soberly here. Davros’s (purported) father, Colonel Nasgard, is almost as impressive. Doctor Who veteran Richard Franklin, better known to listeners as UNIT captain Mike Yates, imbues the grizzled old warhorse with that magnificent sense of blinkered loyalty and inflexible duty that soldiers in fiction so often have, duly tempered by the occasional hint that there is far to him than meets the eye.
“I find it fascinating that a living creature would subject itself to such dangerous experimentation, knowing that it would die…”
But the real triumph of “Innocence” is the young Davros himself, played here by Rory Jenkins of The Idiot’s Lantern fame. Part of me dreaded (and to be honest, expected) a whiter-than-white Jake Lloyd portrayal, but I, Davros is far cleverer and much more subtle than that. Whilst the Davros of “Innocence” may be light years away from his ultimate psychosis, the young man that we meet in this play is every bit as single-minded and as ruthless as the reality-devouring despot that Davros is destined to become. One of the final scenes of the play, where Davros experiments on his treacherous tutor Magrantine, is utterly chilling and is perhaps the most explicit manifestation of the malevolence lurking within the boy, even this early. But even that horrific scene pales when compared to the one that follows, where Davros offers his sister some rare words of comfort following a bereavement that she has suffered; his sole intention being to get hold of her friend’s cadaver to use in his radiation experiments.
And second only to the engrossing characters and the politically-charged plotline is the level of detail that Hopkins injects into the piece. In true prequel style, “Innocence” ties up a whole multitude of loose ends and potential continuity blunders, ranging from fleeting references to the Dals (an extinct Skarosian race, it seems) and Drammakin Lake (the future Lake of Mutations) to the intricacies of Kaled military protocol and the progression of weaponry used in the war.
The second instalment of I, Davros comes from the quills of James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown - the duo answerable for one of my favourite seventh Doctor audio plays to date, Live 34.
In Joseph Lidster’s ‘making of’ documentary, Gary Russell remarks that this is the one story in the I, Davros quadrilogy where the writers were given reasonably wide discretion, and I think that this relative autonomy clearly shows in the finished play. In “Innocence”, Davros was painted as something of a golden boy; a prodigy, even. Here, however, just a decade or so later, Davros is a nonentity stuck in a thankless job testing feeble weaponry. Parsons and Stirling-Brown paint a fascinating and unexpected picture, juxtaposing Davros’s mediocrity with his unparalleled ambition – ambition that forces him to accept a suicide mission offered to him by the Kaled Supremo; a suicide mission that, if he could somehow survive it, would see him finally make it into the scientific core.
As much of this play focuses on Davros’s intelligence gathering mission into Thal territory, it is naturally much more vigorous and fast-moving than even the ensuing two plays are. But even so, Parsons and Stirling-Brown develop Davros’s character further than even Lance Parkin or Scott Alan Woodard would later do. I say this because it is in this play that Davros’s life changes; in this play that his destiny is set in stone.
Terry Molloy’s performance as the thirty year-old Davros is so very good, so very controlled, that when it comes to his all-important epiphany following his encounter with Magrantine, you can almost sees those cogs in his brilliant mind turning. The conceit that it was only Magrantine’s hatred of Davros that kept him alive for so long as a muto - a “tattered, crippled relic of the war” - and that in turn it is Davros’s discovery of this truth that sets him on the path towards creating the Daleks is absolutely inspired.
“You kept me alive. Revenge is a powerful motivator… I only hope that one day you find out what it’s like to live like this. And I hope it brings you as much pain as it has me.”
Meanwhile, back in Kaled territory, the incestuous drama of “Innocence” is carried forward, this time with Davros’s sister, Yarvell (Lizzie Hopley) in the thick of things. Her betrayal of Davros and resultant death at the hands of her mother is beautifully handled; it’s so very Rome.
For me though, the final scene of the play is by far the most arresting. Early on in the story, Yarvell is lecturing Davros about how once the Kaleds and the Thals lived in peace, and in so doing she refers him to a recently discovered painting of a Kaled and a Thal embracing. Of course, she had no idea what seeds she was sowing in her unhinged brother’s mind. Rather than embracing, the final scene of “Purity” sees Davros splicing together Kaled and Thal DNA, and then mixing the same with the DNA of the deadly Varga plant.
Above: He, Davros. Terry Molloy in the Davros Connections DVD documentary
Furthermore, as was the case with “Innocence”, “Purity” is satiated with enough detail to keep even the most fervent fanwank enthusiasts fuelled for months. As I’ve already mentioned, the Varga plants from The Daleks’ Master Plan have a major part to play here; we learn more of the Dals and the other extinct races of Skaro; and the Kaled political scene is mapped out fully, the Supremo and his Council of Twelve practically regulars by this play’s climax.
“Purity” is thus the surprising standout of the whole series. You may not hear the details of Davros’s accident or see him create the first Dalek here, but for the whole play you get to hear Molloy breathe life into a pre-accident Davros and take him on a good old-fashioned adventure; an adventure that would shape the fate of Skaro and, in time, the whole of creation.
Despite only being the penultimate story in the mini-series, “Corruption” is irrefutably ‘the big one’. This is where it all goes to hell. This is Davros’s Revenge of the Sith. And as such, it is entirely fitting that Lance Parkin - the writer that offered us a tantalising glimpse into Davros’s past back in his 2003 play Davros - was given conduct of this one.
If you’re already familiar with Davros, then there will be aspects of this chapter that you will already be au fait with, but Parkin very skilfully weaves these into the larger narrative and even expands upon them in all manner of fascinating ways. As such, the ‘cut and paste’ scenes are kept to a minimum, the writer focusing on the hows and whys here as opposed to the already-heard big bangs.
Katarina Olsson’s Shan is given a significant role here, her bizarre relationship with Davros being fleshed out delightfully. In Davros, Parkin toyed with his audience a little on the matter, clearly trying to lead us into thinking that Davros had romantic feelings for this woman, but here he pulls no such stunts. Yes, Davros loves Shan’s Dalek-envisioning mind, but that is all that he will concede. Indeed, here Davros is depicted as actively riling against Calcula’s cupid, but even so I think that there is a definite undercurrent here that Davros is apparently unable to acknowledge, and it is this that makes his betrayal of Shan and her lover Valron all the more difficult to swallow. We might know that it is coming, but it still smarts.
“Look at her. She’s like a butterfly emerged from its chrysalis. Beautiful.”
“Corruption” is also Carolyn Jones’ finest hour as Lady Calcula. In this story, we see Davros’s mother stripped right back to her core, and learn that ultimately the only thing that matters to her – more than politics, more than anything – is her son. I think it’s desperately sad that Calcula ultimately sacrifices her life with a view to exposing the Supremo’s duplicity, yet her beloved son couldn’t care less about such things. He’s too fascinated by what the radiation chamber that killed her is doing to her body, and too interested in how he can blackmail the Supremo for his own sinister ends. For his part, John Stahl is absolutely terrific as the Kaled Supremo, particularly in this play and the next. Stahl’s voice was made for audio; it’s so distinctive, so redolent. So ideal for this part.
“Mother. You are becoming what we will all become. But just a little too early. Skaro isn’t ready for you yet. The universe isn’t ready for you. You are the first. We will survive. We will grow stronger…”
Furthermore, though it’s fair to say that “Corruption” is a relatively slow moving character piece for the most part (albeit with one hell of a bang at the end), it’s not without its moments of terror. There are some truly ghastly scenes in this play that are also rather disturbing on a psychological level – Davros experimenting on expectant mothers with a view to corrupting their pregnancies and inducing mutation is a case in point. Very nasty.
Parkin also illustrates the progression (and at times, attrition) of the Kaled war machine very well. I like how the decision was taken to not immediately go into “Innocence” with the Kaleds and the Thals in the middle of a nuclear war; it makes their plight all the more excruciating to see their weapons of war develop in great quantum leaps as Davros’s life progresses. His demonstration of his ‘thunder bolt’ weapon here is charged with a sense of crippling inexorableness.
“I have been given clarity. I see the world as it truly is; not filtered through the limits of flesh.”
However, above all else “Corruption” will be talked about for its closing scenes. It’s not so much the explosion that cripples Davros that’s so noteworthy (though it is undeniably thrilling to finally hear it happen), it’s its immediate aftermath. Davros almost seems pleased with his physical state because finally he’s been set apart from the crowd. Finally he is unique. Finally he has clarity.
“And I know now, for the sake of my people, I must always feel like this. Never knowing any limits. ”
“Corruption” is the one chapter of the mini-series that we have all been clamouring to hear. And, unlike certain stories in the past that have been overshadowed by the hype and the weight of expectation, “Corruption” is an absolute triumph; a morbid, masochistic joy.
When the mechanical Darth Vader uttered his first words in Revenge of the Sith - “Where is Padmé? Is she safe? Is she alright?” -, a lot of Star Wars fans were left hungering for more. Rather than end the Star Wars prequel trilogy at the apex of Anakin Skywalker’s catastrophic fall from grace, they wanted to see the insuperable Vader of the old movies hunt down and wipe out all the surviving Jedi. With “Guilt”, conversely, Big Finish ensure that Davros’s story omits nothing. Having become the monstrosity that the Doctor would first meet in Genesis of the Daleks by the end of “Corruption”, Scott Alan Woodard goes on to realise what is arguably the most appealing chapter of the I, Davros saga.
“Guilt”, as the title suggests, is about aftermath; about consequences. The series’ eponymous villain is on the cusp of becoming the megalomaniac that we would meet in Genesis of the Daleks, just a couple of subjective years later, but the links to his past are still alive. Woodard encapsulates this crossroads within a wonderful scene in which Davros listens to an old Kaled victory march, reminiscing about how his sister used to love the piece, only moments after informing the public of the “accident” that killed the Council of Twelve, leaving him effectively in power – and in a position to take away their children. Indeed, some of this play’s most harrowing scenes see the Kaled children being forcibly taken from their families in accordance with Davros’s “mandatory child protection programme”. Jennifer Croxton’s Tech-Ops Ludella, a former associate of the Supremo, perhaps illustrates this best as she remonstrates with Davros over the fate of her “little Kendo”, who by the time she is reunited with him is well on his way to becoming a Dalek mutant, and a murderous one at that.
However, of especial interest to Doctor Who fans will be Davros’s earliest dealings with a certain lieutenant by the name of Nyder, who would aid and abet his stealthy ascension from chief scientist of the Scientific Elite to supreme commander of the Kaleds and, more importantly, his creation of the universe’s first Dalek.
I was astonished by just how convincingly Peter Miles was able to recreate Nyder here, given that more than thirty years had passed between his initial portrayal of Nyder and this reprise. As Gary Russell points out in the documentary that accompanies “Guilt”, Miles’ voice has not aged a day. It’s also a voice that works very well on audio in any event; it’s so distinctive, so unsettling. Even with the esteem that I have for Miles’ performance in Genesis of the Daleks, I feel that his character is even more effective here – divorced from the visuals, Nyder becomes even more frightening.
“At the conclusion of the book of predictions, it states and I quote ‘Talu bek Kalid ulrik ta Dalek’. It is in the extinct tongue of the Dal. Roughly translated it means ‘And on that day, men will become as gods’.”
It will not surprise many that I, Davros culminates in Davros and Nyder placing their first successful Dalek mutant into a “mark one travel machine”, though I’m sure that many will not have expected the mutant in question to be of Thal descent. That’s right – the first Dalek was created from a mutated Thal (a Thal quite appropriately voiced by none other than Nicholas Briggs). It’s a tremendously satisfying cut-off point.
Above: The first Dalek, gloriously animated by Daniel Reed and Rob Semenoff
The only trouble is that it is a cut-off point; I, Davros just stops dead. Now I wouldn’t have been bothered by this were the four plays not bookended with scenes featuring an older Davros being ‘tried’ by his Daleks, which I had imagined would be explained (and, ideally, cleverly tied in with these ‘flashbacks’) at the end of “Guilt”. Still, it’s but a small gripe, and one that would in time be remedied to some degree by the DVD box set exclusive play The Davros Mission, released a year or so later.
Produced for exclusive release as part of 2|entertain’s Davros Collection DVD box set, this unique Big Finish audio drama is far less remarkable than the I, Davros mini-series that it follows, but it’s an agreeable eighty minutes of audio drama all the same.
The Davros Mission ties in with I, Davros in that it picks up Davros’s story immediately after Revelation of the Daleks – as the story begins, he’s just being fitted with a mechanical hand and informed by the Daleks that he’s being taken for trial on Skaro. Whether this is the ‘trial’ cryptically referred to in the I, Davros bookends is anybody’s guess, though the fact that Davros was evidently being ‘tried out’ for something in I, Davros certainly suggests otherwise. Even so, I like to think that Davros’s musings about his past took place during this play; this would certainly fit very well with the story that Nicholas Briggs is trying to tell here.
“Turns out you’re one of them Davros loving weirdoes after all, dunnit? What did you wanna do? Convince him he has a good side or something!”
Much like I, Davros, Briggs’ story examines Davros and his neurosis, the main difference being that The Davros Mission examines these with the benefit of hindsight. Briggs utilises the old device of a third party – in this case, the stealthy Thal Lareen – trying to convince Davros that he has a good side and can contribute in a positive way to the universe.
Miranda Raison, who will be familiar to Doctor Who fans thanks to her lovely portrayal of Tallulah in the 2007 Evolution of the Daleks two-parter on television, plays off Terry Molloy very well indeed here. Lareen and Davros’s scenes together are electric, particularly towards the story’s end where the Daleks have removed Davros from his chariot and strung him up on the wall because of his raving insistence that there is an ‘invisible’ Thal intruder on board their ship.
Above: Daniel Reed and Rob Semenoff's CG Dalek presides over Davros' trial
Sean Connolly, who appeared in I, Davros as Councillor Quested, is also tremendously entertaining here as Gus, an engine-grease sucking, humanoid clam that is enslaved to the Daleks. Together with his cohort Raz (Gregg Newton), Connolly injects this dark and brooding piece with some much-needed comic relief.
On the downside, this play does feel padded at times, but the explosive payoff on Skaro makes it well worth enduring the play’s duller moments. Not only do we get to hear the infamous Trial of Davros, but we get to see him take his first steps towards becoming the Emperor of the Daleks that we would eventually see in Remembrance of the Daleks on television.
All told, I couldn’t countenance purchasing The Davros Collection on the strength of this play alone if you already own all of the other stories included in the box set. However, given that you can now pick it up for as little as £39.99 now on the Big Finish website, even if your collection is only missing one or two of these stories, then it may still be cost-effective to shell out. If you haven’t purchased any of the Big Finish Davros stories or the classic series’ Davros television serials, then you certainly have one hell of a bargain waiting for you and The Davros Mission is just the icing on the cake.
Copyright © E.G. Wolverson 2009
E.G. Wolverson has asserted his right under the Copyright, Design
and Patents Act 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.
The events of this mini-series take place in the lead-up to Genesis of the Daleks. However, both the bookends and The Davros Mission feature a much older Davros, who has been put on trial by the Daleks. These events presumably take place shortly after Revelation of the Daleks, which culminates in the Daleks capturing Davros from Necros.
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