Davros by Lance Parkin was the second Big Finish audio I listened to (after The Game) and the first one to really impress me.
I am, as I’ve said before, a huge fan of Terry Molloy’s Davros. In part this is just because Molloy played Davros when I was a child, and I have fond memories of having the shit scared out of me as a five-year-old. But it’s also because I think he gives a genuinely good performance.
Molloy is a ham – no question about it – but hammery is what was needed in the larger-than-life Doctor Who of the John Nathan-Turner years. If *you* had to compete with Colin Baker, Alexei Sayle and Eleanor Bron all in the same show, you’d turn the dial on your performance up a few notches too.
But he’s actually *relatively* restrained. Douglas Adams spoke about how the trick with Doctor Who during Adams’ brief tenure as script editor was to have villains who initially appeared ridiculous, but who turned out to be serious, thus making them much scarier when you realised they meant it. The problem during Adams’ time on the show – as Adams himself freely acknowledged – was that many of the actors would then say “This is a funny bit, let’s do it a bit tongue in cheek”, and then the suspension of disbelief would be totally gone.
While Molloy’s Davros has a dark sense of humour that is not there in Michael Wisher’s performance in Genesis Of The Daleks, he is always deadly serious – while he’s a ranting megalomaniacal villain, the performance is consistent, and at times quite subtle. He can convince you that this apparently-ridiculous man is very, very scary and dangerous.
So the pairing of Molloy’s Davros and Colin Baker’s Doctor in what was essentially a two-hander (part of the trilogy Big Finish did pairing a companionless Doctor with a classic individual villain, leading up to the release of Zagreus) is a perfect one – both actors share many of the same qualities in their performances. Indeed, both were generally hated during their time on TV – blamed for faults in the production and the scripts – but have been reappraised by fans due to these audios.
The story itself is quite minimal – the Doctor and Davros end up working together for TIA, the biggest corporation in the galaxy, mostly because the Doctor wants to keep an eye on Davros, who claims to be working for the good of lifekind. Of course, he turns out not to be…
The story is mostly a comedy, but a black comedy with hints of melodrama rather than a broad farce like Doctor Who And The Pirates or The Kingmaker. There’s some attempt at political satire, but this is mostly of quite a juvenile nature – dialogues between a reporter and the CEO of TIA, essentially consisting of “Corporations are bad and evil, man” “No, actually, they’re good, you scruffy anarchist oik”. A rather better idea, and one that I was surprised hadn’t been done before, was the CEO’s wife (played by Wendy Padbury, a former TV companion) being an ‘historian’ of the David Irving type, peddling a revisionist history where Davros had nothing to do with the Daleks’ occasional mild excesses, and was a truly great man.
Davros’ actual plot this time is an economic one – he’s discovered a formula for predicting the stock market with absolute accuracy, and he plans to use this to put the Galactic economy on a permanent war footing, thus solving the problems of famine and poverty. He genuinely seems not to understand that this might not be a particularly good thing to do.
Of course, these days we know that it doesn’t take a one-armed, deformed ranting supervillain to do that – just put a moron in the White House and wait a few years and it’ll happen naturally…
But equally important are the series of flashbacks to Davros’ past, which set up how he came to be who he is. Particularly effective is a subplot involving a female Kaled scientist called Shan, with whom he is portrayed as having a very friendly relationship. The story is clearly set up to make you think that her death turned him bad. In fact, he causes her death deliberately, because the two of them were ‘in the same ecological niche’ – the same argument he earlier uses for why the Thals had to be destroyed.
This is, of course, the logic of most ultra-free-market capitalism, and it’s a shame that the parallels between Davros’ behaviour and the (presumed) behaviour of the company for which he works aren’t drawn slightly more explicitly. But then , there’s not really room for that – this story is nearly two and a half hours long, and there’s barely a wasted minute in it. It’s a dialogue-heavy, character-driven piece, and one of the best things Big Finish have done.
What’s marvellous about it is that it embraces its more ridiculous side (Davros’ much-mocked speech which ends “and that was just the first second” is actually perfectly in character, and the cliffhanger at the end of the first CD is the Doctor jumping down a mineshaft carrying a nuclear bomb which is going to go off in ten seconds. He survives, of course) while still never feeling like the *characters* aren’t taking it seriously. These people are all having bizarre experiences, but they’re bizarre experiences which have very real consequences for them and for everyone else in the universe. An experience not that dissimilar to reading the news, to be honest…
This mixture of the surreal, the terrifying and the hilarious is perfect for Colin Baker and Molloy, and both ham it up with evident glee, but stay always on the right side of the line, giving perfectly-pitched performances.
Davros is available on CD or as an MP3 from Big Finish, but the best way to experience it is as part of the Davros DVD box set. For £35 you get this and all the other Big Finish audios featuring Davros, all the classic TV adventures with the character, and some special extras. I’d link to the page but Big Finish’s website appears to be down at the moment, but you can buy it at http://doctorwho.co.uk when the site is back up.