Tony continues his journey through the I, Davros series…
The original idea of I, Davros was taken from a blend of two ideas – showing the life and career of one of Doctor Who’s greatest and most psychologically fascinating villains up to the point at which we first met him in Genesis of the Daleks, and giving the context of his rise to power in a style similar to the Robert Graves epic (or rather, its BBC adaptation), I, Claudius.
In studying the great rulers of history, their connections to other people will either have been a strength to them or a weakness, and I, Davros follows the I, Claudius route fairly faithfully as far as that’s concerned. In I, Claudius, the wives and mothers of the emperors are notoriously painted as interfering, homicidal or lustful to the point of almost toppling the empire. In I, Davros, there are three women throughout the course of his life who either support or threaten Davros’ career. His mother, the thoroughly twisted Calcula, was his most adoring exponent. His sister Yarvell was frightened by the turn of his mind and found herself on the opposite side of the ideological fence from him, with horrifying consequences.
Meet Shan – the third woman in Davros’ life.
Corruption finds Davros an older man, his career In the Scientific Corps progressing with unparalleled clarity and focus – he has become its leader, and has devised, almost to order of necessity, devices to help make Kaled victory a certainty, to extend lives, to target Thal physiology and biology… and to experiment with the effects of radiation on the Kaled genome, to extrapolate the species to its final logical form. If Calcula was interfering and Yarvell was perversely homicidal, it would be entirely wrong to think of Shan as lustful. In fact, neither she nor Davros appear to give much thought to the needs of the body – but she is an excellent scientist, and they work closely together, so it is perhaps forgiveable that non-scientists begin to look at them as a potential couple despite their age difference. It’s a point unsentimentally made that Skaro is a planet in need of breeders and for some time the idea of a marriage between the two scientists is mooted. We can only imagine what would have happened to Dalek history had such an alliance taken place. Would Davros have been saved from his own arrogance, from the direction in which the Daleks would eventually be developed, had he become a husband and a father? Would the ruthless demands and conclusions of science been softened by the compromises that marriage demands or the glow of self-renewal of seeing his own child, made in his own image, on his knee?
Possibly, but possibly not – Shan is actually instrumental in pointing out a vital component that pushes Davros in the direction he eventually takes. But whether love would have blossomed between the two to dull the edge of his scientific urgency becomes spectacularly and horrifyingly irrelevant for two reasons. Firstly the adamantine strength of will that Davros has displayed throughout the series, from his teenage determination to decide his own destiny in Innocence to the furious need to rise above mediocrity whatever the cost in Purity, surfaces again, and he decides their respective fates for them.
And then we hear the moment every fan knows about. The moment Davros becomes Davros. The attack that renders him blind, immobile, dependent forever on his life support system, his microphones and sensors. And, kept alive by systems, most of which he devised, everyone expects Davros to take his own life.
But Davros lives. What’s more, with a perversity of fate, he becomes the Kaled most likely to die of old age, protected from the ravages of time and decay by the systems of his chair. What’s more, this is the moment that Davros psychologically becomes the creature we know – freed from the understanding of the Kaled as a physical creature, and thinking now purely in terms of the purity of their DNA, he will distinguish himself from those around him as they disappoint his understanding of the race’s potential. In terms of Corruption, it’s a theme that permeates throughout this episode – the corruption of ideologies, from winning the war through strength to achieving a peace through diplomacy, a fatal corruption as Davros sees it which dooms any connection he might have made with Shan. The corruption of politicians in the case of the Supremo and the Council, the uncovering of which which allows Davros at the end of this episode to essentially render the Supremo nothing but a figurehead for the power bloc that the Scientific Elite has become. The corruption of Davros’ body of course during the attack that puts him in his chair, a Hitler parallel of significant power – the Kaleds, so intent on the purity and superiority of their race, will be all but led by a crippled scientist very far from their ideal of Kaled perfection (just as Hitler – a small, dark-haired, dark-eyed Austrian – led a government based on the purity of the blond-haired, blue-eyed, German supermen). But mostly, the corruption here deals with that separation of ideas – Kaled purity at a genetic level, and its degeneration over the recent decades of the war, leading to Davros’ research to find the ultimate form of their species. Corruption, while it preserves the purity of the genome, has always been an idea that Davros could understand, but now, with the corruption of his own physical form and the clarity of purpose that gives him, he begins to turn his researches furiously in that direction – research with newborns, research with embryos, to essentially speed up the ‘corruption’ of the Kaled form into its ultimate version, to achieve the salvation of the species while there is still time.
Corruption – volume three of the I, Davros story arc, written by Lance Parkin, delivers two of the most pivotal moments in the development of the Kaled scientist into the monster we know from Genesis of the Daleks and subsequent stories. It is essentially the last chance of Fate, the possibility that Davros could be saved from the destiny his arrogance, his scientific determination and his ideological obsession will lead him to. And once that possibility is gone, it shows us the moment of no return, the moment when Jekyll drinks his potion or Frankenstein throws his switch – the moment when man becomes monster. In terms of the I, Davros storyline, it’s in Corruption that the balance shifts from explaining what he was like before we knew him to his emergence as the villain we know. But it will still take one more hour to get from Davros’ rebirth to his self-renewal as father of the Daleks.
Has your life turned out the way you thought it would?
Do you still believe it will?
If it hadn’t, or didn’t, what would you be willing to do to change your stars?
We join I, Davros 2: Purity with Davros approaching his thirtieth birthday (in itself something of an achievement on the war-ravaged Skaro), but he is bored. Bored, and frustrated that his attempts to join the Scientific Corps are repeatedly blocked, despite his doing all the right things to justify his ascension to its ranks. We find Davros in a dull day-to-day job as a Tech Op, testing survival gear with his friend Reston. But while, yes, Davros has a friend, his sense of his own brilliance, nascent in Rory Jennings’ portrayal of the character in the first instalment, burns through his day-to-day frustrations here as we hear Davros played in his ‘humanoid’ years by Terry Molloy, who has given him augmented life since the 80s on TV and in Big Finish audio. The arrogance, however justified, feels like the frustration of the armchair manager as Purity begins, or the armchair show-runner for that matter – he knows how things should be run, how things could be improved, and how the war could be won, but he’s never been given the chance to shine. Davros, so potentially brilliant as a child, is heading for a life of unremarkable grumbling, his potential eclipsed by that of his mother, who is now a powerful councilor, while his sister Yarvell has exchanged her initial militarism for an increasing interest in the least tenable position on Skaro – that of the Peace Party.
The thing that comes shining through in Molloy’s portrayal of the ‘middle-aged’ Davros is what makes sense of the story’s subtitle – while as a child, Davros was interested in the history of all the races on Skaro, by the time he’s nearly 30, a fervent belief in the superiority of the Kaled people has gripped him, a need to keep the species ‘pure’ and to make it the only winner in a war not only for resources, but for what he feels passionately is its rightful place on the planet.
But Davros is stuck in equipment testing, going nowhere fast – until The Supremo, the leader of the Kaled Council, offers him and Reston the chance to make heroes of themselves. The story takes a significant risk, borrowing a little from Genesis of the Daleks at this point, taking us back and forth across the Skarosian wasteland, from the Kaled dome to the Thal citadel, but James Parsons and Andrew Stirling-Brown’s script does this better than the Genesis original, because it keeps the point of the journey firmly in front of our eyes at all times: this is Davros at personal war, sent into the field to get information on a new Thal mega-weapon and destroy it if possible. At least, that’s ostensibly the reason for the mission. On a planet like Skaro, of course, you can never be sure who’s playing what hand until the cards are seen. But more than just Davros at personal war on the orders of the Supremo, this is Davros at war with Destiny, with a fate that sees him relegated to a backwater job. It’s Davros’ true nature at war with the comfortable carapace he’s grown – friends, work, family, and the nature of his ‘greatness’ will take no more. When the opportunity arrives on this mission, Davros shows himself capable of strong strategic thinking, deceit, effective military command, scientific analysis and, in a thread picked up from the first instalment, an utterly driven, potentially psychopathic scientific absorption, detached from all the inconvenient emotional bonds of a ‘normal’ life. As the episode unfurls, he also finds himself in a position to play politics for the first time in his life, to outwit those who would seek to destroy or contain him as plots are revealed that give Davros, and his mother Calcula, more power than they’d imagined to make their dreams of his ascension into a reality. The price of that power would be terrible to ordinary people, would be unpayable. But these are not ordinary people. Not even close. They pay the price willingly, even gladly, revealing the truth of the title. It’s not just a notion of racial purity that infects Davros. It’s the purity of his own ego, his own ambition, and his own arrogance to overcome all obstacles, even when those obstacles are the people closest to him.
If you’ve ever had a dream of what you could be, what you could give to your society, but found yourself bogged down in the ‘Real World’ of getting from A-B, of college or work or thinking about things tomorrow, Purity has a kind of object lesson to teach. None of us on the right side of sanity will be asked to pay the kind of price that Davros and Calcula pay here, but the transformative power of a journey to ‘find yourself’ – which is what Davros’ trip across the wastelands really is – to strip away the flotsam and jetsam and make you focus on what’s really important to you, is a message applicable to everyone with a dream of any kind of greatness. Davros emerges from Purity as a focused flame, ready to do whatever is necessary to achieve his goal of Kaled supremacy, and also, for his mind has begun to turn this way, Kaled survival through the grimness of the war. It’s his experiences on this mission that turn him from an armchair manager into a force with which the Kaled government and the Scientific Corps will genuinely have to reckon for the rest of his life.
Even the name stuns with its scope, doesn’t it? Someone dared to write the backstory of Davros? Someone who wasn’t Terry Nation?
Yes, someone dared – Big Finish, years ago, and as a kind of adjunct to its main Doctor Who range, decided to take what we know about the creator of the Daleks and dare to extend him backward, back beyond Genesis of the Daleks, to explain the life and path of everyone’s favourite psychopathic genius. It’s a story partly inspired by the line in Genesis – if someone pointed out a child to you and told you that he would grow up to be a ruthless dictator, could you then kill that child? It’s a line and an idea that persistent rumours suggest we’ll see realized on screen in Series 9, but long before that ever was dreamed of, Big Finish was there.
The tone of the four hour-long episodes of I, Davros is exactly what you might expect it to be, given that title – it’s a saga of family, and of one man’s journey to the seat of ultimate power: it’s Robert Graves’ I, Claudius smashed together with Terry Nation’s Skaro as we see it in Genesis. The Roman Empire, locked in a dirty war of racial purity.
The set-up is simple – the Daleks have Davros, the Davros we know, voiced by the always-impeccable Terry Molloy, ‘on trial,’ but not in the way you might expect. They need guidance, they need direction because battles are being lost. He strives to help his fallen creation by looking to the lessons of the past. His own past. These moments of Davros and Dalek interrogation are mostly framing devices, but they still allow for a healthy dose of shivers down the spine at the beginning and end of each episode.
Episode 1, Innocence by Gary Hopkins, gives us that most unimaginable of gifts – Davros as a boy. It also gives us his place in the society: for those of you who know your I, Claudius, or indeed your Roman history, he is Caligula – a boy of brightness and promise born to a family of power and wealth. His father, Nasgard (played with serious acting chops by Richard Franklin) is an officer at the front, his mother, Calcula, a political player at home. His sister, Yarvell – oh yes, Davros has a sister – regards him, as all sisters do to all brothers at a certain age, as an idiot, a pain. But there is something solitary about Davros. Something self-possessed and extraordinary. He has a fascination both with science, particularly biological science, and with the history of Skaro, the different races that have existed on it. Yes, we see, albeit vaguely through a glass of history, a Skaro on which there were other sentient races besides the Kaleds and the Thals, the other races wiped out by the constant battle for supremacy, till only the two warring nations remain.
Davros is almost obscenely idolized by Calcula (a touch of Nero dripped into the Caligulan template), while Yarvel supports her father more often. Calcula and Nasgard themselves never seem a happy couple, and ultimately, only one of them will survive to the end of the first episode. Nasgard’s interfering sister Tashek is on hand to stir the pot, provoking some critical action in the first instalment, and beginning the slow collapse of the dysfunctional house of cards that is the family of Nasgard, the environment in which Davros grows up – surrounded by plots, counter-plots, secrets and lies.
Not that Davros himself is any shrinking violet – far from it. He remembers spites and slights, has a succinct adolescent contempt for adults he regards as inferior to himself, including his sister, and in particular, he has a cold, furious dislike of a man who dares to give him lessons in science – Magrantine. As the Nero parallel begins to grow in power, Calcula is moved to extraordinary measures to protect the future she sees for her son, and Davros himself takes his first blood as a teenager. The power of their mutual protection is cloying, obscene, and sickening, and there feels like another influence at play beyond the I,Claudius parallel. There’s something almost akin to Damien Thorn in the young Davros, played with a clipped precision by Rory Jennings, as people who threaten him or his future are moved or removed from the equation of his life, either by his own malign influence or by those who seek to protect him. It’s a thoroughly creepy piece of audio, and it’s compelling from start to finish.
It’s actually in the mask and its occasional, almost casual removal, that I, Davros 1 is at its most shocking – the mask that belies what we know what this boy will become. We know we shouldn’t trust him, know it from long experience of the adult, horrifying Davros. But here, he’s just a boy…surely? That’s the point, isn’t it? He’s just a boy, molded by the world he lives in, the influences he’s exposed to? And to some extent, yes, he is. But Davros is never just a boy. Like the poster of the young Anakin Skywalker casting Darth Vader’s Shadow to advertise The Phantom Menace, or the poster of a young Damien Thorn surrounded by crosses of the dead to advertise the original Omen movie, we see the teenage Davros casting shadows rippled with Dalek bumps, consuming a dead planet. But whereas Thorn’s destiny was a matter of prophecy, and Skywalker’s a matter of the Force, what really succeeds in shocking us in this episode is the moments when that mask of ‘just a boy’ drops and the sheer driven power of self-will and mission glints in his voice, in his actions, Jennings managing to create something truly unnerving from the overused archetype of the creepy child.
Be warned – if you listen to I, Davros 1, you’ll be in it for the whole set – four hours of origin story that drag you along like the best of page-turners. But then rejoice – each episode is just £5 from the Big Finish website, so for just £20 you get the whole Davros journey, from his teenage years to just before Genesis. You also get some of the genuinely best audio storytelling the company has delivered in fifteen years, played by a cast that reads like a Who’s Who of Big Finish alumni – Lisa Bowerman, Lizzie Hopley, Richard Franklin, Scott Handcock, Carolyn Jones, Nicholas Briggs (in an unmodulated role, no less) and more. In case history’s about to be rewritten by the TV show, listen to I, Davros now, and remind yourself what any on-screen history of the young Davros is up against.