A Big Finish A Week 6 : I, Davros

I’m not usually a big fan of the concept of ‘extended universe’ stories. These are stories where fans desperate for more of the thing they love will desperately buy entire series of novels about what happened to the third stormtrooper on the left in Star Wars when he was sent to hospital after being hit by Luke Skywalker’s lightsabre, and how he had an affair with a beautiful Wookie nurse, or comic series about the adventures of Spock’s third cousin’s best friend.

These things are rather distinct from the ‘shared universes’ of DC and Marvel comics, in that they serve to close rather than open up imaginative possibilities. ‘Extended universe’ stories are add-ons to a single main ‘canon’ – they’re usually (all exceptions duly noted) attempts to replicate the feel of the original story or stories, but without the lead character that made them interesting. Even when these things are ‘official’, they never really work – all the Star Trek series post-Next Generation are ‘extended universe’ and far more concerned with Ferengi internal politics or the social structure of the Borg than with anything else – rather than seeking out new life and new civilisations, they were more concerned with examining the minutiae of life-forms we’d already seen many times.

The DC and Marvel shared universes, however, seem to be more organic – the characters in them were all (or mostly) created to function as separate ‘story engines’. Superman, the Flash or Green Lantern don’t depend for their existence on being part of ‘the DC Universe’ – but on the other hand, knowing that Sgt Rock, John Constantine, Dream, Detective Chimp, The Forever People, Plastic Man, Adam Strange, Etrigan the Demon, Batman and Krypto the Superdog are all part of the same ‘world’ enriches all their stories – rather than being a bolted-on extension to a single core narrative, the DC Universe (especially – the Marvel Universe was created more intentonally) seems to be more like a hologram created by the overlap and interference of all these different independent narratives (there’s a reason the concept of Hypertime first appeared in DC Comics).

Having said that, I don’t dismiss the idea of ‘extended universe’ stories entirely, and Doctor Who has a richer extended universe than most – bizarrely, given that the primary appeal of the series (to me at least) is its lead character – the perfect combination of Sherlock Holmes and Groucho Marx in one body, The Doctor is to my mind one of the great creations of all time. But there are audio series about Gallifreyan politics (which I actually listened to – it was OK), Cybermen, Daleks and so on, and there are also two ranges of novels based on characters from Doctor Who *novels* (rather than the TV show) – the Bernice Summerfield and Faction Paradox stories. I’m informed these are quite good, but I have only so much time in my life, and I strongly suspect that on my deathbed my greatest regret will not be that I never got round to reading a series of novels about a pagan archaeology professor who once met the Seventh Doctor.

But having just purchased the Davros box set, which includes the four-part I, Davros, I thought I’d give that one a go. I think Davros is a terribly underrated character – the conventional wisdom among Doctor Who fans seems to be that he was a great character in Genesis Of The Daleks but useless in pretty much everything after that, but I think Revelation and Remembrance hold up very well (I’ve not rewatched Resurrection since it was first broadcast when I was five, but I have fond memories of it and plan to watch it tonight). And while Terry Molloy, who played him throughout the eighties and in the audio adventures, is an appaling old ham, there’s a sense of both fun and menace in his performance that I like. Michael Wisher’s original Davros was pure menace and nothing else, while Molloy’s Davros is both menacing and ridiculous, but I’ve always found that a little of the ridiculous fits Doctor Who rather well. Davros is equal parts Mengele and Strangelove, and as such should seem ridiculous – right up until the point you realise that this ridiculous ranting man intends to destroy your entire species.

I, Davros is very consciously modeled on I, Claudius, and tells the story of Davros’ life from the age of 18 until the creation of his first Dalek, a few months before Genesis Of The Daleks. Unfortunately, the I, Claudius parallel causes one of the biggest problems with the series. At least three times in the audio series (Time Of The Daleks, Flip-Flop and The Last) we have seen female leaders who are absolutely insane and end up causing the deaths of many of their species, all of a similar type. They are probably taking this from the TV show, which had ‘Helen A’ in The Happiness Patrol as a very similar character type. At that time it could be taken as a none-too-subtle attack on the eminently attackable Margaret Thatcher (maysherotinhell). Nearly twenty years after Thatcher lost power, however, it starts to look like misogyny.

(Note, I am *not* suggesting that the people behind Big Finish, collectively or individually, are misogynist – just that their portrayal of women can be problematic).

Davros’ mother, Calcula, while obviously based on Claudius’ mother Livia (or at least the version of her that was created by Robert Graves and reimagined by the BBC) , and with quite a lot of the stereotypical stage mother to her characterisation, fits into this type more than is comfortable. She’s a one-dimensional character, only concerned with her own advancement and that of her son, and with no other character traits.

The character of Davros is fleshed out much more – especially his Oedipal relationship with his mother – and it’s strongly implied that he might be gay, although he also seems to have feelings for his colleague Shan (though not enough that he won’t have her killed, partly out of pique, partly out of ambition, and partly out of jealousy). This inconsistency might be down to the fact that the four episodes have a total of five writers (all working from a plot outline by producer Gary Russel), but it might just be down to the fact that real people *are* inconsistent.

But the aspect that comes out most is Davros’ huge survival drive, and his desire for self-preservation (and as a byproduct the preservation of his race). It’s interesting to compare Davros with Darkseid – the two characters are both intent on remaking the universe in their own image, and exterminating every other form of life, so they can survive forever; their villainy comes from their near-infinite survival drive.

The difference between the two of course is that Darkseid already is a god, while Davros is trying to make himself into one, both by creating his own new lifeforms and by altering his own body. (In this context it’s interesting to compare my thoughts on Darkseid, and to remember that the more Davros tries to perfect himself, the more he degenerates, from the healthy teenage boy we see at the start of I, Davros, through the hideously disfigured, disabled adult of Genesis Of The Daleks, to the ranting disembodied head of Remembrance Of The Daleks.)

Both Davros and Darkseid of course were created by men with very vivid memories of World War II – they’re both Hitler-figures – and whether deliberately or not Davros’ family background mirrors that of Hitler, with a domineering father who died while he was still young and a mother who thinks too highly of him. In fact Davros is surprisingly well fleshed-out throughout this series – he feels like a real person, albeit one whose only motives are scientific curiosity and self-preservation and whose only emotion (rarely displayed) is anger.

The plot, of course, is utterly predictable in its broad outlines – first Davros’ mother kills anyone who stands in her way or in the way of her son in their rise up to the top of the political ladder, then when she dies Davros experiments on her body and continues killing anyone who opposes him, however mildly, while performing the experiments that lead to the creation of the Daleks.

The story could have been better done – in particular, it would have been relatively easy to make the story have more connection to real-world issues. Davros orders all babies in the Kaled city to be handed over to the government for genetic experimentation in order to save the Kaleds from the environmental devastation of war by turning them into Daleks – one could, for example, with a few subtle changes make this parallel the question of to what extent government interference in reproductive freedom would be acceptable in order to prevent the environmental damage caused by overpopulation. As it is, these scenes are merely an echo of an echo – Nazi eugenic experiments after a game of Chinese whispers over several decades.

Ultimately, I, Davros is closer in feel to the Star Wars prequels than to I, Claudius – and feels similarly inessential. But it’s still an entertaining way to spend a few hours, and if you buy the Davros box set (and you really should, if you like Doctor Who at all) you should definitely take the time to listen to it.

Next week’s Big Finish A Week will be another actual Doctor Who story though – probably Storm Warning

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6 Responses to A Big Finish A Week 6 : I, Davros

  1. Jennie says:

    There you go, being all RIGHT again. I love Molloy’s Davros, for the reasons you outline.

  2. olsenbloom says:

    I think it might be a generational thing – those who dislike him tend to be those in their late 30s/early 40s, who were probably about fifteen when he came along – just old enough to be embarrassed by anything remotely silly or childish about their favourite show.

  3. I’m in my early forties, and really liked the I Davros series – perhaps also because I listened to them shortly after watching I CLAVDIVS for the first time since I was twelve. I could see the links, but felt that the Big Finish team were taking it into slightly new territory. I also thought that the tying into Who continuity (Varga plants!!!) was a touch of genius.

    (NB Livia was CLAVDIVS’ grandmother, not his mother.)

  4. olsenbloom says:

    Damn. I knew that as well. I should proofread these things before hitting post ;)

  5. Thanks for the link – I’ll look into that…

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