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

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