Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Audio Review 15: The Genocide Machine, written by Mike Tucker (2000)

Released: May 2000

The Doctor – Sylvester McCoy
Ace – Sophie Aldred
Chief Librarian Elgin – Bruce Montague
Bev Tarrant – Louise Faulkner
Rappell/Kar-Charratans – Daniel Gabriele
Cataloguer Prink – Nicholas Briggs
Dalek Voices – Nicholas Briggs, Alistair Lock and Gary Russell

Main Production Credits
Producers – Gary Russell & Jason Haigh-Ellery
Writer – Mike Tucker
Director – Nicholas Briggs
Sound Design, Post-Production and Incidental Music – Nicholas Briggs
Recording and Digital mastering – Alistair Lock
Title Music – Ron Grainer, Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
TARDIS Sounds – Brian Hodgson and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Executive Producer (for BBC Worldwide) – Jacqueline Rayner

Story Summary (SPOILERS!):

The Doctor takes Ace to the jungle planet of Kar-Charrat so he can return a few late library books. The Library of Kar-Charrat though is rather special; it houses the largest collection of printed material and knowledge in the Galaxy, collected from billions of civilisations. However, the Time Lords made the Library invisible to beings who aren’t time sensitive, in order to protect the large repository of knowledge from hostile species. However, the Daleks have been lurking and waiting in the jungle for centuries, waiting for the arrival of a Time Lord, so they can start in motion a plan that will enable them to invade and take over the Kar-Charrat library.
Ace is captured and duplicated, allowing for the Daleks to infiltrate the Library, and deactivate its defences from the inside. After the Daleks invade, they use the Doctor to help channel the Library’s stored knowledge into test Daleks that will help advise them in their future planetary conquests. The Library transfers this data via a recently developed “Wetworks” facility that stores the information in individual water molecules. However, the Doctor soon discovers that the Chief Librarian Elgin and his technical staff have developed this facility by imprisoning Kar-Charrat’s native water-based life form, and wipe their minds clean to hold the Library’s information as part of the “Wetworks” technology. These creatures are microscopic and occupy the molecules of every drop of water on the planet.

While the Doctor and Ace try to save the Kar-Charratans from their torment, the Dalek test subject, which holds all the knowledge of library, turns on its Dalek fellows, when their actions and orders go against the wisdom of ages that its acquired knowledge has given it. In the ensuing Dalek fire fight, the Doctor and Ace lay explosives in the Library to destroy the “Wetworks” facility and free the Kar-Charratans, before escaping in the TARDIS with the few surviving humans as the inevitable explosion does its work, and destroys the remaining Daleks.

Story Placement
Between Battlefield (TV Serial) and Ghost Light (TV Serial).

Although BIG Finish’s intended placement was after Survival (TV Serial), the more generic 7th Doctor and Ace, as well as the notable absence of Ace’s character and emotional development from Ghost Light and The Curse of Fenric suggests a position prior to these stories, but after The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. I prefer a position after Battlefield because Ace still carries a slightly higher level of teenage angst than in this audio adventure.
The story placement for the Daleks is much more complicated. My personal preference is after the 3rd Doctor Dalek TV serials of the early 1970s, but before The Evil of the Daleks, as I like to think it’s the same Emperor Dalek in that adventure. The presence of the Special Weapons Dalek is the only complication, but you could suppose that if it was the Daleks rather than Davros that invented them than it is still possible for Remembrance of the Daleks to be a long way in their personal future. More detailed explanations would require an analysis of the whole fictional Dalek timeline, which doesn’t feel appropriate to do here.

Favourite Lines
The Doctor – “You could acquire the wisdom of a million years, from a billion worlds, in less time than it would take to read a bus ticket”.

Bev Tarrant – “I hate to be a pain, but we did kill the right one didn’t we?” (Referring to Ace)


Big Finish’s first foray into portraying the Daleks on audio is a very traditional one. As they themselves noted at the time, this was a deliberate move to offer a type of Dalek adventure that hadn’t been seen since the early 1970s. This approach may colour how a lot of Doctor Who fans see The Genocide Machine, but I have just as much love for the early Dalek adventures as I do for the later and more creative storylines written around Davros. Most of the Davros TV episodes were superior to the Dalek TV adventures of the past, but this was mostly due to how more dramatically complex and multi-layered those scripts were as well as how fascinating a character Davros is in his own right. I suppose you could say that Big Finish were trying to play it safe with The Genocide Machine, testing the waters as well as their own abilities by first staging a simple Dalek tale before going on to more ambitious storylines with them in later outings. I for one though, greatly enjoyed this return to the glory days of Dalek adventures where the metal monsters are both clever and devious in their own right, away from the shadow of their infamous creator. And there’s a lot to like.

There’s something quite quaint and amusingly British about the idea of the Daleks invading a Library. They’re such low-key, unimposing, cosy and above all human places that don’t feel anywhere near as officious or important a target that you always see getting attacked by invading aliens in stereotypical Science fiction, but that’s exactly why I love it. The idea is both unusual and original, and it works. We often hear the phrase ‘knowledge is power’, and Mike Tucker turns it into a possible weapon for the Daleks to be interested in acquiring. Of course, we aren’t talking about books so much as a facility or technology, in this case referred to as “Wetworks” that in the story can hold all the knowledge in the known universe and transfer it into the minds of its users. This technology claims to store its data in the molecules of drops of water. How this is achieved is glossed over, but it’s certainly a fascinating idea for real science to try out in the future. As it turns out, the scale of ability of the “Wetworks” facility is a falsehood, as Chief Librarian Elgin and his technical staff have imprisoned the planet’s native microscopic water-based life forms, and used their minds to hold the digital information of the Library to help the facility fulfil its function.
I also like the use of libraries in The Genocide Machine, particularly the inclusion of a scene featuring the TARDIS Library in a performed Doctor Who story at last. It’s often been mentioned throughout the decades, but sadly the television episodes have seemed to avoid featuring it in the past, and continue to do so now, with the exception of a few out-of-focus images in shots from the 1996 TV Movie; so I’m glad that Big Finish are trying to rectify that on audio, including a notable appearance in Storm Warning.

The Daleks are also quite effectively portrayed in The Genocide Machine. Their long plan to stake out the Kar-Charrat library for a Time Lord is both coldly logical as it is ruthlessly cunning, and really conveys how clever and unsettlingly dedicated and unstoppable they are, always plotting their next move, and waiting ominously like a Spider, for the best moment to strike. It also helps that their plan is a lot more sound than on some previous occasions, although their strict discipline and hierarchy as well as their lack of compassion and consideration are quite ironically and appropriately the main course of their downfall in this story, rather than the Doctor himself so much, which is a nice twist. Of course, as a fan of most of the 1980s Dalek TV episodes, I’ve always loved a bit of Dalek vs. Dalek battle action, and this time we get it as a result of a free-thinking Dalek test subject which contains the knowledge (and supposedly wisdom) of the Universe in its data banks, and decides to rail against the Supreme Dalek. It’s also a useful bit of well-timed action that hugely livens up the end of the story, which seemed to drag a fair bit in its earlier episodes.

And sadly it is that point, which lets the production down a bit. The premise and plot of the story, while efficient, effective and well-executed, is still quite simplistic, with little in the way of additional layers of meaning or story. There is the subplot about the torture and imprisonment of the water-based Kar-Charratans in the “Wetworks” device, but you learn everything you need to know about them over a ten minute section of part three of The Genocide Machine, and although they have a big presence in the overall story, their initial mystery is stretched out far too long, and they’re mainly just used as a plot device to help fight the Daleks by drowning them in their casings. However, the truth about the Kar-Charratans and the “Wetworks” is a worthy repeat of one of Doctor Who’s central moral messages about the need to respect all life as well as the importance of the sanctity of life. It also adds a layer of good character development for the character of Chief Librarian Elgin who proves to be something of a coward as well as misguided, misusing his powers and authority to create such a monstrous device, even if the original intentions were good, supporting the moral message that the ends do not justify the means. I can also tell that Mike Tucker tried to develop the Bev Tarrant character by making Rappell someone she deeply cared about, hoping that the emotional connection will help create an additional layer of drama that will fill up any early gaps in duration left by the central plot of the lead storyline about the Daleks, however any drama ends up falling flat, because Rappell was a pretty dull and basic character to start off with. Another problem which hampers the story is a mass of scenes of padding, particularly during parts two and three of the audio that don’t just slow the pace of the story right down, but also repeat basic plot points and even specific lines of dialogue or exposition multiple times for little reason that I can fathom. Fortunately, these things don’t hugely spoil what is otherwise a really fun and enjoyable outing for the Daleks, but they make it a bit less interesting and a bit more average than I would’ve liked, and as a result is a bit harder to care about what the characters go through.

Part four though, shows a marked improvement, with an increase in pace, an exciting action sequence, moments full of dramatic tension, and a satisfying finale that left a big smile on this listener’s face. It’s like the story suddenly wakes up and has been shifted back into the right gear at last. It certainly makes up a lot for the dithering of the preceding two episodes, and last we can actually begin to care about the characters properly for the first time. Although, having that said that, I don’t think that’s entirely true as part one is also good. Part one actually benefits from the large servings of invisible menace and mystery that we first get from the story, before they’re dragged out too much by parts two and three. Furthermore, most of the characters are really well sketched out before the mixed results of character development in subsequent episodes.

The quality of characterisation overall though, is decidedly patchy. Considering how well Mike Tucker wrote for the 7th Doctor and Ace in his earlier BBC novels, particularly Illegal Alien, it’s a bit disappointing to hear how generic they are in characterisation, especially in the early parts of The Genocide Machine. The Doctor is absorbed in the mysteries of Kar-Charrat and the menace to the Library, while Ace is full of teenage angst and moans a lot to start off with, like in some of her early TV episodes, although at least she recognises her foolishness later. Fortunately a lot of these generic character moments are saved by the performances of Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, who help to insert more of their characters’ individual quirks to help them appear more fleshed out than they are. It also doesn’t help that a lot of Mike Tucker’s dialogue, regardless of character is also very generic, at times giving the impression of scriptwriting-by-numbers, verbally pointing out nearly every slight plot movement as it happens. Maybe I’m being too harsh though, particularly if this Mike Tucker’s first time at scriptwriting, which I must say is very impressive if that is indeed the case, considering how well the story generally comes together. The characters of Chief Librarian Elgin and Bev Tarrant are really well done though. Elgin is the epitome of the eccentric pompous librarian who has a slight contempt for his inferiors and in a great (but anticipated) twist that shows up his aforementioned cowardly and greatly misguided nature, having unconsciously committed an atrocious crime against the Kar-Charratan species. Bev Tarrant, on the other hand, is a very likeable character who has been caught up in this Dalek catastrophe, and has to endure the deaths of her friends, the elements and serious injuries in her personal fight to survive the calamitous events taking place around her. Despite being a thief, Bev is easy to sympathise with, as although slightly misguided too, you can tell her heart is in the right place and is clearly enlightened by the whole experience. Furthermore, Bev also has some of the best lines, and a warm sarcasm, which is surprisingly easy to like, given how hard it is to come up with good sarcastic jokes that feel right for the moment (listen to The Land of the Dead to hear how not to do it). I also loved the running gag about Cataloguer Prink not being able to get a word in edgeways, despite Elgin’s continuous moans about how chatty he is. Despite having only two lines in the whole story, Prink’s death in part four is a great dramatic moment, and one of the best in the whole audio as we genuinely feel for this downtrodden man, who has clearly dedicated his life to the needs of others for several years.

The Genocide Machine’s cast is also a highlight of the story. Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred, hit the ground running and both put in strong performances, at times even improving the quality of the story by adding more life to their characters where needed, when it isn’t always apparent in the script, which does give them some bad lines. The chemistry between these two great actors is as flawless, brilliant and palpable as it was over ten years ago in their television episodes (The Genocide Machine was recorded in late 1999). Sylvester McCoy in particular has some great scenes where he effectively rages against Elgin for his crimes against the Kar-Charratans. Although I’ve noticed that some listeners dislike McCoy’s delivery of these scenes, feeling off-kilter with his established TV persona, or just a bad way of acting angrily, but for me McCoy’s delivery of these lines is totally believable, just like his angry speech to Morgaine in Battlefield (TV Serial), albeit in a different way, and I buy into it. He sells the Doctor’s incandescent rage with Elgin with intense distaste, but never goes over the top in my view. Moving on though, Sophie Aldred is rather oddly unconvincing as a robot, while voicing Ace’s android Dalek duplicate. I never thought it was possible to create a flat sounding monotone voice before hearing The Genocide Machine, but I guess it’s better to be bad at being a robot than a human character, so it’s not hard to forgive. Sophie Aldred is an amazing actress the majority of the time, so you can’t blame someone for having a weakness somewhere. Meanwhile, Louise Faulkner is brilliant as Bev Tarrant and imbues her with a convincing vulnerability and bravery that really helps round out the character. The best performance on this occasion though, goes to Bruce Montague, who really brings out the different dimensions in Elgin so vividly, from his vanity and bitter resentment, as well as his excitable eccentricities, as well as his nervous apprehension and trembling cowardice at anything remotely threatening. I really can’t imagine the character being played any better or any differently, which is a testament to Montague’s memorable performance and skill in the role.
As Nicholas Briggs’ first official production as the voice of the Daleks, it’s very impressive to hear just how outstanding his performance of the metal monsters already is. I suppose some people would say that’s called professionalism, but nevertheless his performance is spot on from the start. Alistair Lock is very good also, and even Gary Russell passes muster (I’m pretty sure Gary is the second Dalek test subject, the one that eventually takes on the Special Weapons Dalek), but Nick Briggs is certainly the strongest Dalek performer in the audio, and as we would discover over the course of subsequent Dalek audios, is clearly the best Dalek voice artist since the late Roy Skelton, who impressively voiced them on TV for over three decades (from The Evil of the Daleks to Remembrance of the Daleks, and other 1990s cameo appearances). That’s no doubt why the BBC employed his vocal skills when the Daleks returned in the new Doctor Who TV incarnation that started in 2005.

There is a noticeable error in some settings of the voice modulation during part one and some of part two though. According to Doctor Who – The New Audio Adventures: The Inside Story (Benjamin Cook, 2003), Gary Russell provided some of the voices in the earlier episodes and they turned out to be not as good as the Big Finish production team wanted, and were promptly re-recorded by Nicholas Briggs and Alistair Lock. However, they couldn’t recall the exact ring modulator settings at that time, and as a result there is a distinct lack of distortion in the Dalek voices during those early episodes. It doesn’t spoil the listener’s enjoyment of those scenes, because the voices are still well-performed, but I found myself unconsciously yearning for the more developed and exciting voices to turn up. It’s merely a harmless and understandable mistake given that this was Big Finish’s first attempt at recreating the Daleks, and the voices are still superior to those used in Gary Russell and Nicholas Briggs’ Audio Visuals back in their amateur years, and were absolutely perfect from the end of part two onwards.
As well as the Dalek voices, the rest of the audio production is also impressive. I really like Nicholas Briggs’ score, which while experimental, brilliantly sets the tone of the story, underlining the suspense and mystery in the script, and comes into its own during part four. The ring modulated segments also suit the Daleks perfectly, a trick that Nick Briggs would reuse on both his future Doctor Who Dalek scores, and his epic audio Dalek spin-off project, Dalek Empire. Meanwhile Nicholas Briggs’ other work in The Genocide Machine, his sound design, is extensive, meticulous and also superb. The mix of tropical atmosphere, subtle background rain and plant rustling brings Kar-Charrat to life and is totally convincing as a Jungle planet, making it easy for the listener to immerse themselves into the drama taking place. He also clearly has fun getting lots of little effects out of the ring modulator to use for various scientifically advanced machines and Dalek technologies. With the stock Dalek sound effects too, the audio has a great soundscape all told.

The Daleks’ first official appearance on audio is an engaging and fun production all round. The Genocide Machine may be a more simplistic and traditional Dalek story, but it has a great premise, fantastic post-production and a well-paced plot that becomes quite thrilling in the last 15 minutes. It may have substantial padding, mixed characterisation and occasionally generic dialogue, but these don’t derail the success of the overall production, and its good points more than make up for its shortcomings. The Genocide Machine is the first in many enjoyable Dalek audios to come, and although it may not be one of the best, it’s a good starting point.
Score: 8/10
P.S. Illustration by Lee Sullivan
Also thank you to James Parker for the use of his wonderful CGI images which are copyright to him. I would recommend other Doctor Who fans to check out his other CGI work at:

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Audio Review 14: Davros, written by Lance Parkin (2003)

Released: September 2003

The Doctor – Colin Baker
Davros – Terry Molloy
Arnold Baynes – Bernard Horsfall
Lorraine Baynes – Wendy Padbury
Shan – Katarina Olsson
Willis – Eddie de Oliveira
Kimberley Todd – Ruth Sillers
Scientist Ral – David Bickerstaff
Kaled Medics – Louise Faulkner & Karl Hansen
Pilot – Andrew Westfield

Main Production Credits

Producers – Gary Russell & Jason Haigh-Ellery
Writer – Lance Parkin
Director – Gary Russell
Incidental Music – Jane Elphinstone
Recording – Toby Robinson
Sound Design, Post-Production and CD mastering – Jim Mortimore
Title Music – Ron Grainer, Peter Howell and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (Remastered by David Darlington)
TARDIS Sounds – Brian Hodgson and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Executive Producer (for BBC Worldwide) – Jacqueline Rayner

Story Summary (BIG SPOILERS!):
Helping out a journalist called Willis, the Doctor is investigating a rumour of mass redundancy at intergalactic company TAI (Trans-Allied Incorporated), but discovers that Arnold and Lorraine Baynes, the company’s owners, have smuggled in the body of Davros in the hope of resuscitating him. The Baynes are trying to hire Davros to help TAI create new technological and cultural advances that will help the company become even more successful. When the Doctor reveals himself, Arnold Baynes encourages the Time Lord and the Dalek creator to work together. Davros seems to claim to have changed and wants to start again, now a more rehabilitated character.

The Doctor isn’t fooled by Davros, but his condemnations and involvement with the journalist Willis causes the Baynes to mistrust him. Davros uses this chance to secretly find a way to take over the company and destroy the human economy via a scientific formula that can predict the stock market. He attempts to kill Arnold Baynes and the Doctor with a remote nuclear bomb, but both manage to survive. The TAI workers though, are not so lucky, dying in the nuclear fallout of the bomb. When the Doctor returns and foils Davros’ attempts to broadcast the formula, Davros tries to escape in the Baynes’ spaceship, using Kimberly Todd, a surviving worker as a hostage. Kim sacrifices herself in order to allow the Doctor to crash the spaceship, stopping Davros from releasing the formula that will destroy the human stock market. In the aftermath, the Doctor reflects upon his hollow victory and laments that Davros has probably still survived.

Story Placement
Between The Two Doctors (TV Serial) and Blue Box (BBC Book).

For Davros this story is immediately before Revelation of the Daleks (TV Serial), although its not clear how it links up to his preceeding adventure, Resurrection of the Daleks (TV Serial).

Favourite Lines
Davros – “This is not the end. This is only...the beginning!”

The Doctor – “Oh, dear. Back to square one, two and a half hours wasted – you could’ve stayed in bed, Davros.”

The Doctor – “Davros, if you’re not careful your face will stick like that. Now, could you pass those neuronic pliers?”

The Doctor – “After all, you can’t say ‘team’ without saying ‘tea’”.

Davros – “I was nothing, the mere dreams of a man who should have died millennia before”.

Davros – “And then I felt my heart beat. That had just been the first second of my imprisonment”.

Davros – “You have laws that make your workers less productive?”

Davros – “War makes comrades of us all. And then takes all those comrades away”.

The Doctor – “He’ll destroy you, Mr. Baynes. He’ll take out your eyes, and then he’ll come back for the sockets. And he’ll laugh as he does it”.

The Doctor – “Look, I’ve made his tea for him and everything”.

The Doctor – “It’s quite the most inefficient use of a nuclear weapon I’ve ever seen”.

Davros – “There’s no such thing as too much destruction!”


As of 2012, Big Finish have produced numerous Doctor Who classics and audio masterpieces that many fans, including myself, have taken to heart and love just as much as our favourite television episodes. Back in 2003, when they were fewer in number (not per year, in total), and Big Finish were only 4 years old (it feels so weird saying that as 4 years was a big deal in those days), it produced Davros, one of its most assured and best ever releases. Like Omega and Master, Davros is essentially a detailed character study of the titular character, who is perhaps Doctor Who’s greatest ever villain. Unlike the former though, Davros feels even more special, due to its extended story length, and wrapped in a brilliantly-written adventure that could be described as the ultimate in face-offs between the Doctor and Davros, strenuously testing their characters while revealing fascinating new layers about them at the same time.
The writer of this glorious production, Lance Parkin, is one of my favourite Doctor Who writers and never ceases to impress with his ambitious and original narratives, great characters, and his brilliant talent at keeping his Doctor Who material up-to-date with the times, without feeling the need to rewrite the concept or formula of the show to match his own whims, always understanding the underlying spirit of Doctor Who, and often works in old continuity and mythology seamlessly to great effect. His work on Davros is no exception.

The story here involves a comatose Davros being taken from a derelict space freighter by Arnold Baynes, the head of a powerful galaxy-wide corporation who wants to use Davros’ talents to help bring him new and bigger successes, while his historian wife is obsessed with Davros and is fascinated by his past. Davros, after centuries of imprisonment, reflection and limbo, seems to want a change and be a more rehabilitated force for good. With the Doctor around though, and Mrs. Baynes examining and analysing his past, he begins to realise he cannot change what has always been his true nature, and seeks to take control of TAI away from the Baynes’ at the earliest opportunity.

This may seem to be a rather simple tale about being careful what you wish for, but in reality this is a clever plot to help frame the real story, the story of Davros, the story of who he is, and why, as well as why he’ll never change. If you thought Genesis of the Daleks told you everything that was worth knowing about Davros, think again.

For the first time, we understand why Davros is so utterly ruthless, merciless and murderous, as he is eternally obsessed with being superior to others, whether it be in terms of intellect, or control; and he eliminates all rivals and threats to that goal. On the surface, that point might seem rather obvious, but this is the first time that I know of that someone has actually tried to explain this fully, and quite so perfectly. This is best demonstrated by Davros’ past friendship with fellow Kaled scientist Shan, which is clearly more than platonic for him, even he doesn’t know it himself. In a great little twist, we discover that it was in fact Shan who came up with the Dalek concept, and that Davros merely fronted and later implemented it; even if he added his own touches later on (like the loss of all compassion and positive emotions for instance). Even Shan though, becomes a victim of Davros’ quest for supremacy, as her growing success and high intelligence, as well as her love for another Kaled man, makes Davros unconsciously and insanely jealous. Davros frames Shan for treason as he plants information on her lover so that he can be accused and sentenced as being a Thal sympathiser (the Thals and Kaleds were stuck in eternal war at this time, see Genesis of the Daleks). He even rather sadistically watches her die without any noticeably sympathy.

As you can probably tell, these scenes were flashbacks of Davros remembering of his past life back on Skaro, many of which took place even before the near fatal injury that forced him into the striking appearance we know. Lance Parkin grabs the opportunity to add more dimensions and depth to Davros’ character with relish, and very nearly fools the audience into thinking that perhaps Davros is a victim after all, and can possibly become a better person given the chance. Parkin cleverly uses some of the flashbacks to Davros’ past on Skaro to reinforce this possibility as we see in his younger days that he was a much softer and more innocent person, whose future cruel and malevolent personality are sometimes mere echoes. However, Parkin’s brilliant twist is that we discover almost the complete opposite. Davros was always in control of his own destiny, and never ever a victim. Even before the incident that crippled him, the mature Davros, all innocence long extinguished, hadn’t just become corrupted by success and power, they’ve brought out his cold and ruthless philosophy to the fore that deep down he had always possessed. Furthermore the pressures and bleak depressions put on him by the eternal Kaled-Thal war focused his mind onto the cold realities of pure scientific logic and have unconsciously made him to believe in taking the concept of survival of the fittest to extreme conclusions, becoming insanely obsessed with his own future success and position, and jealous of any remote rivalry. And all this before even the Daleks were created. The usual tradition of character stories that focuses upon villains almost always try to tell us of how deep down inside they are a better person underneath, or used to be. However, Lance Parkin’s clever bluff, and then his ambitious take on trying to do the complete opposite makes Davros’ narrative all the more fascinating, not to mention exciting. Davros is the ultimate irredeemable villain. He was always going to destroy the Baynes and takeover TAI, but the suspense and the flashbacks written to partly mislead us makes this a much greater story. It also makes Davros’ return to evil, all the more impressive as it feels like we finally have a full measure of the character at last. Davros’ plan to destroy Earth society by self-destructing the stock market with a mathematical formula is also very fascinating, and a very original idea on Lance Parkin’s part. I love it because it reminds us that Davros’ biggest weapon is his intelligence, and just because it’s simpler than an alien invasion force, doesn’t mean it’s any less effective. Parkin doesn’t stop there though.

When Davros dispenses with his self-doubt and reveals his real plan, the plot suddenly explodes into life, quite literally. The nuclear bomb that Davros tricks Willis into taking may be a simple plot device, but it certainly gets the story racing, adding another layer of enjoyment. I’m always a fan of action, so even on audio it’s an easy way of getting me hooked. Lance Parkin’s skill though is in placing the action in just the right place, where the story needs it. We’ve had mystery and suspense, we’ve had the magnificent character development, now is the time to round the story off with an exciting climatic finish. And Davros certainly doesn’t disappoint. The thrill of the nuclear explosion leads to a fantastic final face-off between the Doctor and Davros, with a great battle of words, a mini-chase of sorts (if you can call jumping onto a lift a chase), and a crashing spaceship enveloping into a ball of flame. As the Doctor notes, Davros has probably survived, but for now Davros has once again been defeated.

Even though Davros gets a lot of the best material, the other characters are well written and fleshed out too. The Doctor for instance, while although not the main focus of the story, undoubtedly still has a very key role within it. For once, he represents the regular audience, the white to Davros’ black, desperately warning the Baynes’ about what they’re getting into, fully expecting Davros to have a dastardly plan at work, which he does eventually during part two. However, I also like how the Doctor is used in Parkin’s bluff about Davros being a more reformed character. We get a chance to see how it feels for the villain to be at the end of the Doctor’s sharp tongue. Although his righteous indignation and cynicism are more than well-founded, the script cleverly makes the Doctor seem judgemental and occasionally mean in his early scenes with Davros, because for the first half of the story Davros seems to be almost reasonable, as well as vulnerable and withdrawn, and certainly never puts up a fight, not even verbally against the Doctor’s rebukes, which makes the Time Lord appear to be striking out at a person who’s already down. However, most of us know that Davros was often a wolf in sheep’s clothing, when came to being involved with those characters who didn’t understand his true nature, but the brilliance in Parkin’s characterisation means that for a moment we are genuinely fooled into thinking that Davros is truly repentant.

Back to the Doctor though, I’m also glad that Lance Parkin (or Gary Russell) decided upon using the Sixth Doctor for this particular story. Almost every confrontation between the Doctor and Davros has been a big event for Doctor Who, but Davros always seemed to spar best with the Sixth Doctor, as seen at the climax of part two in Revelation of the Daleks (1985 TV Serial). Most of the other encounters were great too, but there’s something about the magnificent bravado, wit and fierce intelligence of the Sixth Doctor that makes him more than a match for the cold, brutal ruthlessness and equally fierce intelligence of Davros, even though they are each focused on very different ends. The extended story length also helps to portray a more rounded version of the Sixth Doctor than had been portrayed on television. Although by this point, Big Finish had already worked new wonders with the character during the original and fantastic audio adventures with Evelyn Smythe, Davros is supposedly set after The Two Doctors (1985 TV Serial) at a period when the Sixth Doctor was still a fairly volatile character. However, Lance Parkin brilliantly reconciles this with the audio Sixth Doctor, because his outbursts and loud indignations are more than reasonable when the cause of them is such a character as Davros (or any dangerous enemy or alien come to that). Away from Davros, the Sixth Doctor is quieter, restrained and considered, and we can easily see that under all the bravado he is still the kind and caring hero we all know and love, including comparing to his previous incarnations. I especially love the more domestic scenes where we see the Doctor trying to come to terms with living the lifestyle of an everyday worker, including being late for work, and his various scenes of being annoyed with the automated personal organiser earpiece that is put upon him, which reminds us of how annoying automated phone messages are; particularly one funny moment when even once the Doctor has told it to shut up, while hanging off a precipice, the earpiece persistently fights back by playing muzak to him while he struggles to climb up to safety. However, I also like that Parkin seems to have taken the time to make sure the Sixth Doctor’s character fits in with those of his 1985 TV adventures, where Big Finish suggests Davros is set, chronologically speaking. The Sixth Doctor is still melodramatic, slightly verbacious, always insists on telling everyone what he thinks, and occasionally rather arrogant, just like in his early TV adventures, the important difference being that in Davros we can see a lot more of our hero beneath all the bluster and  vanity, than was always clear from the character’s first TV serials.

The Baynes’ are also well written. Arnold Baynes cleverly symbolises a lesser and human version of Davros. He is obsessed with success and being the best, he ruthlessly disposes of all his rivals (when he can), has an inflated opinion of his own self-importance, and away from the high intelligences of the Doctor and Davros, it’s clear that he too has a sharp mind. This similarity is shown in a nice moment when after Davros has taken over TAI, Arnold Baynes tells the Doctor he’ll want to keep his historian wife alive to record his new rise to power for prosperity. The Doctor tries to compliment Baynes by saying that he has finally understood how Davros thinks, but Baynes retorts that that was why he married a historian in the first place.  Unlike Davros though, Arnold Baynes isn’t a cold-hearted insane psychopath (well I suppose that’s kind of obvious), but this is another way that Lance Parkin brilliantly emphasises just how truly evil and monstrous Davros is by giving us a human villain, who is a pretty strong antagonist anyway, before having him subsequently dwarfed by the sadistic and megalomaniacal acts of Davros. Evil isn’t usually a good measure of a villain, purely because it’s usually portrayed or written so one-dimensionally, but the beauty of Davros is that through Lance Parkin’s script and Terry Molloy’s performance it gives the audience a believable four-dimensional vision of what a truly evil character (or person even to some extent) could be really like. Arnold Baynes is quite scary a character himself though, even if not in the obvious ways.  His calm and assured manner, as well as his courteous, reasonable and slightly unassuming public persona gives Arnold Baynes the illusion of being a decent and good man, when in reality he is a smooth and sly operator who keeps his dark side hidden. What sends chills down the spine though, is just how similar he is to a lot of highly successful millionaire businessmen, bankers and politicians who also seemly hold the World in their hands.

Lorraine Baynes is also a villain, albeit a lesser and much more misguided one. Like her husband, she doesn’t have a problem with committing murder in order to meet a desired aim, but is not quite as ruthless, and often leaves her husband to take care of most ‘necessary’ sins. I say misguided, because her obsession with Davros and his past stops her from realising the mad scientist’s true nature until it is far too late. Davros’ later sadistic and merciless human massacre in the TAI dome provokes a feeling of revulsion in Lorraine Baynes’ that proves to both herself as well as the listener that she’s not a killer by nature, but her cold detachment means that it takes a large human tragedy in close quarters to move her. Even the murder of her husband by Davros shocks and upsets her only initially, and by the end of the story, she is already focusing on how to protect herself legally and politically from the recent disaster.

Happily, for a less prominent character, Kimberly Todd also comes into her own throughout the story. She clearly has a deep loyalty to the Baynes’, her employers, who have been good to her over the years, but due to her strong moral fibre and conscience, Kim often feels compelled to act, and indeed triggers the Doctor’s involvement in the story through her actions. When Davros takes over TAI though, even Kimberly feels powerless to act when faced with such a monster as Davros, who forces her to serve him. However, the extreme stress and terror Kim is put under, makes her stronger, until when Kim finally realises that only she can stop Davros, and in a real punch-the-air moment, takes on the monster that has recently victimised her. Kim forces the escaping spaceship that Davros brought her on, into a crash dive, thus preventing his quick escape and foiling his plan to destroy the human economy, sacrificing herself to help save others. It’s a tragic end to her life, but it’s also supremely courageous and heroic, even surpassing the Doctor on this occasion, which is saying a lot. It somehow feels very appropriate that in this big tale of monsters, villains and a Time Lord, it’s really one of the ‘little’ people – an unassuming, kind, hard-working and quiet young woman, who really puts them all to rights, and saves the Galaxy. It’s also quite humbling and moving. That’s also why I think Kimberly is one my favourite things about the whole production, a truly fantastic character!

Willis is sadly, almost totally incidental in comparison, and seems to merely serve as a talking plot device. He does have some character, of course, but none of this really goes in his favour. Although he does have good reason to be sceptical of Arnold Baynes’ charm and rhetoric, he also has a dose of paranoia that is large enough to be considered unhealthy at times. Willis is also very naive, idiotic, blunt, occasionally clumsy, and seems to have little, if any sense of subtlety or diplomacy. So in other words, he’s perhaps too believable an impression of a journalist. Willis also seems to be something of a prat, so he’s not really that likeable. Even when Arnold Baynes kills Willis, you pity him, but it’s difficult to actually feel or care about him. Or maybe that was the point.

It has to be said though; the cast and their performances are really superb. As you would guess, Terry Molloy steals the show, and pretty much every scene he’s in with his astoundingly good portrayal of the Dalek creator. Listening to his crisp, pitch-perfect delivery, you wouldn’t think it had been 15 years since he last played Davros, such is the enthusiasm and power of his performance. Both Michael Wisher and Julian Bleach gave us great interpretations of the Davros character, but for me, Terry Molloy was always the best of them and in my view, Davros proves it. As viewers of Terry’s TV appearances as Davros will know, his more well-known loud, ranting and mad moments are absolutely electric and very powerful. However, in Davros, Terry Molloy gives us a myriad of dimensions in his performance, even more than is obvious from the script. While Davros is trying to work out both himself and the situation during part one, he calmly listens and almost talks naturally. However, Terry gives wonderful quiet hisses when the Doctor tries to aggravate him. Terry Molloy also portrays something that we don’t normally get to see from the character, sadness and fear. Sometimes, as in traditional Davros fashion it is rather overt, but most of the time when he is being reflective and introspective, Terry magnificently plays it quite subtly. This is particularly evident during Davros’ hallucinations in part two, as well as during the scenes when he is trying to recall Shan. Shan was a fellow clever Kaled scientist who Davros admired and unconsciously felt affection for, even if he still cannot recognise that in the present, after all the intervening centuries of thought and reflection. Davros’ fantastic soliloquy at the beginning of the story, also shows off Terry Molloy’s great range of performance, starting off quiet and tense, gradually becoming more and more menacing, building up slowly in intensity until he reaches his loud, impassioned peak, practically ending his speech and starting off the story with a powerful battle cry.

Colin Baker also shines throughout the production. As I hope to explain in greater detail over reviews of future sixth Doctor audios, Colin Baker is a supremely underrated actor who has often been unfairly written off, because in his early Doctor Who TV episodes, the Sixth Doctor was given some fairly unlikeable attributes, that although were phased out later on, weren’t phased out enough for viewers to be able to see the Sixth Doctor that Colin wanted to portray. Big Finish’s Doctor Who audios have thankfully given Colin Baker a chance to do just that, and now more people can at last see how talented an actor Colin really is. I was always a fan of Colin Baker’s Doctor, and aside from during The Twin Dilemma, his poorly-written opening TV serial from 1984, liked most of his attributes. The Sixth Doctor was always bold, passionate, and heroic in my view, and I often found his loud vanity rather amusing, even if others didn’t. Now a lot more Doctor Who followers enjoy Colin Baker’s performance, even if it’s just for the more softer and sensitive aspects of the character, that I knew were there all along, waiting to be discovered. As this is supposed to be an early Sixth Doctor, Colin has had to retain some of the spiky nature of his TV character, but here the nature and events of the story more than justify the Doctor’s attitude. However, Lance Parkin gives the Sixth Doctor lots of quieter and softer moments that give Colin a chance to offer other aspects to his character, which he leaps at, and clearly enjoys, making himself as much a star of the production as Terry Molloy does.

Bernard Horsfall is an inspired choice for the role of Arnold Baynes. I’ve always loved everything he’s been in, such is the vigour and great presence that he has in his performances. On the surface, Bernard may be at odds with the slick and smooth stereotype of millionaire businessman that we all have in our heads, but this is far from the reality, as proven by Rupert Murdoch and Lord Michael Ashcroft, so Bernard Horsfall’s more gravelly vocal tones suit the part wonderfully. Bernard also brings a great quiet and calm menace to the part, brilliantly underplaying Arnold Baynes, and helping to make him a very realistic and scarily believable villain. Wendy Padbury’s first Doctor Who audio appearance is also a good one. She is totally believable as a historian, just as she was as a scientist when she played Zoe during the 1960s. Wendy gives Lorraine Baynes an interesting steely edge to her character, which then believably slips when Lorraine witnesses the huge human massacre Davros creates just to kill the Doctor and Arnold Baynes. Ruth Sillers also helps to bring out some of the best in Kimberly Todd, emphasising her sweet innocent and kind nature, as well as her quiet bravery.

Like the rest of Davros, the production of the audio excels. Gary Russell directs the cast well and sets the tone perfectly. Meanwhile, Jane Elphinstone’s music is simple, but very effective, mostly capturing the mood of each scene, with some great subtle cues as well as some tense and powerful sampled strings, which help to give the story its epic feel. The very modern light electronic music also helps to give the score a slight futuristic edge, which suits the story brilliantly. The extensive sound design by Jim Mortimore is also superlative; from small electronic bleeps and smooth automatic doors to a nuclear explosion and a crashing spacecraft, he creates a fantastic sense of scale from the personal perspective of a small bedroom to a large empty spaceship hanger. It’s this scale and expert attention to detail that makes this ambitious production feel and sound like a big budget feature film.

I’ve always been impressed by the quality of Big Finish’s work, but I’ve always thought that Davros was one of their best ever releases. Outstanding production, an excellent cast, powerful performances, and an exceptionally written, detailed and multi-layered script from Lance Parkin, results in not just an audio Doctor Who classic, but a superb audio drama that can more than stand up on its own. The only criticism I can think of is if the story time was a few minutes tighter in part one, but as you can tell I am clearly nitpicking. For me, Davros is both an amazing character study, and a fantastic aural delight from start to finish. Furthermore, it continues to remain so, even after several repeat listens.

Score: 10/10