The Davros Collection Review
Davros. Creator of the Daleks. Even people who have never seen a single episode of Doctor Who know his name. Ever since his first appearance in Genesis of the Daleks he has been nearly as synonymous with the programme as the Daleks themselves, the figurehead of Britain’s most famous Bug-Eyed Monsters and an icon in his own right. That was the brilliance of Terry Nation’s creation: Davros was not just “the face of the Daleks,” a single entity representing the lot of them to give the Doctor something with a bit more character to play off (unlike, say the Borg Queen in Star Trek: First Contact) but was also a three-dimensional, fascinating character who made a worthy adversary for the Time Lord. Indeed, it quickly became very clear that he was actually far more interesting than any number of his pepperpot creations, so much so that in nearly all the subsequent Dalek stories after his debut it was he, rather than they, who was the focus. Whether that was to the show’s detriment or not was a matter hotly debated in fan circles at the time, with many decrying the fact that the Daleks had been humiliatingly and disrespectfully relegated to mere foot soldiers but these days this is no longer as pressing an issue. Both the New Series and Big Finish’s range of spin-off audios have refocused attention back on the plunger-waving despots themselves, so that now we can look back on the Davros stories not with concern for the future of his progeny but with an appreciation for the character.
This was a brilliant scientist who had become corrupted, first by the horrendous accident which had confined him to his life-support system, then by the growing realisation of what he could do, both with the Daleks themselves and through them to the wider world and - in the best tradition of all super villains - beyond to the entire universe. In many ways he could be seen as tragic, but his malevolence ran so deep that ultimately his soul, if he ever had one, had become lost. This boxset contains the complete Davros story so far, from his childhood right through to his (apparent) conversion to becoming the Dalek Emperor. Of course, how much of it is strictly “canon” is something Doctor Who fan spend great deals of time and energy fruitlessly arguing about, but in considering this set is actually beside the point. What you get instead is a splendid selection of some of the very best TV and audio stories Doctor Who has ever produced (as well as some not so good ones) which, taken en masse, present a convincing whole of a character who has played a not inconsiderable role in keeping the show in the public eye for so long.
In what follows I’m going to look at the material in this set in order of Davros’s life, as opposed to release date. In that respect one of the last pieces produced is the first to be considered, namely the four Big Finish audio plays I, Davros, which explore his life up to the point when we first met him on television. For the past eight years Big Finish have been producing original Doctor Who audios, starring four of the original Doctors (Davison, C. Baker, McCoy and McGann) as well as multiple spin-offs, such as UNIT and Gallifrey. Although the monthly production schedule inevitably means the quality sometimes is variable, overall the standard is astonishingly high, and it’s entirely arguable that the finest Who era ever has been the one under the auspices of Producer Gary Russell (now gone off to be Script Editor on the TV show). I, Davros was one of his last contributions to the range, released earlier this year, and is made up of four individual hour-long plays, each written by one of Big Finish’s regular contributors. On the face of it, telling Davros’ life story sounds a recipe for disaster, a fannish indulgence, but these are a well-considered, credible take on the subject which reward repeated listenings.
The plays lead almost straight into Genesis of the Daleks which, first broadcast in 1975, saw Davros’s historic screen debut. Made during Tom Baker’s first year in the TARDIS, the serial was a sudden return to form for writer Terry Nation, whose last couple of Dalek tales in the Pertwee years had been rather lazy runarounds which went over the same ground as his earlier, black-and-white efforts. Here, though, he came good again, providing a solid gold classic that still regularly tops “Best Ever Story” polls. Underlining once and for the Dalek-as-Nazi parallel, the six-parter saw the jack-booted Kaleds fighting the Thals on Skaro, while their chief scientist concocts his plans to save the lives of his species. Michael Wisher was the first man to sit in Davros’s chair, and his electrifying performance, made even more incredible given the constraints of acting under all that latex and unable to move most of his body, enthralled a generation. His Davros, a mixture of Machiavellian cunning, icy cruelty and extreme intelligence, locked intellectual horns with Baker’s Doctor, who in turn rose to the challenge and gave one of his most convincing performances - the “Do I have the right?” speech is still one of the key Doctor Who moments. As far as Davros himself is concerned, this is still the finest story he has appeared in. Full review of the disc here.
At the end of Genesis it appeared that the Dalek creator was toast but, as would become his habit, he rose from his grave in Season Seventeen’s Destiny of the Daleks. If Genesis was the beginning of the glory days for the Baker era, Destiny was the beginning of the end. Although not as bad as much of what followed, it’s a slight, indulgent story featuring glam-rock robots and scripting indulgence. It doesn’t help that Wisher couldn’t return to the role of Davros and so was replaced by the not-very-good David Gooderson, who tried his best but had none of Wisher’s majesty or charisma. This time Nation was back on automatic pilot, but his lacklustre script was not helped by the additions made by new Script Editor Douglas Adams (and I say that as someone who generally likes Adams’s Who input) Overall, this is a poor, cheap-looking return for the creator of the Daleks. Full review of the disc here.
That said, at least it’s vaguely entertaining, unlike the next time Davros was defrosted, in the Peter Davison-starring Resurrection of the Daleks. A noisy, violent, shallow attempt to make a James Cameron film on a Doctor Who budget, Eric Saward’s nonsensical tale from 1984 is a confused mess which makes little sense and is extremely poorly plotted. Trying to do what he did for the Cybermen in the superior Earthshock Saward made the mistake in thinking that enough gun fights and action sequences would disguise the lack of a coherent plot, but of course it didn’t, resulting in by far the weakest story you’ll find on this collection. On the plus side the location shooting is reasonable (this is the story in which a Dalek gets pushed out of a warehouse window) and there are two surprisingly effective moments, namely when the Doctor arrives to assassinate Davros and Tegan’s departure. The other advantage is that it sees Terry Molloy’s debut as Davros. Molloy, most known in the real world for his long-running role in The Archers, has become one of the show’s most ardent supporters, and his love of both the role of Davros himself and the wider world of the show has endeared him to all of fandom. Despite Wisher’s defining performance, for many Molloy is Davros now, although it’s true that, in television terms at least, he has never been given the same quality of material as his predecessor to work with. Here he gives it his all but Davros is still a rather one-dimensional, raving nutter rather than Genesis’s master tactician, and the villain’s presence is just one more unnecessary piece of what is overall an incredibly unsatisfactory jigsaw. Full review here.
Molloy’s next television appearance in the role was far satisfactory but first we must sidestep back into the world of the audios. From his first appearance it was speculated whether you could ever have a story which featured just Davros without the Daleks. This was an idea that was finally realised in Big Finish’s 2003 adventure, simply named Davros. This saw Colin Baker’s Doctor encountering Molloy’s villain while working for the Baynes corporation. The scientist claims to have turned over a new leaf and is working on a project to benefit humanity but the Doctor, unsurprisingly, has his doubts. To discover what’s really going on, he teams up with Davros, leading to many lengthy exchanges between the two before his foe’s true schemes are exposed. 2003 was one of Big Finishes’ most consistent periods, and Davros was one of the very finest plays to be produced during that time. Costarring Wendy “Zoe” Padbury in another role, it plays to the audio medium’s strengths and makes for a gripping (if lengthy) cat and mouse game between the two adversaries. Brimming with choice dialogue by writer Lance Parkin, Baker and Molloy both give superb performances, as do the rest of the cast, and this is another highlight of this collection.
Indeed, Baker’s Doctor seems ideally suited to facing off against Davros, as his one television tussle with the scientist, 1985’s Revelation of the Daleks, makes clear. Disregarding the above audio, which was still eighteen years in the future, this was the first time in effect that Davros had been put at the heart of a story, with the Daleks relegated to support status. As such Molloy had more to work with and as a result gives his finest on-screen performance in the role. He sparks off Baker’s Doctor, whose loud, aggressive Time Lord is far more of a match for the villain than Davison’s softly-spoken hero. The two have real chemistry here and their exchanges are just one of the many highlights of a story which reflect both the best and worst of the brief Baker era. Eric Saward makes amends for Resurrection with a witty, vicious script which gives full rein to the era’s propensity for on-screen horror but also has more interesting characters and a better plot than most. On first being shown some bemoaned the fact that now it would appear the Daleks could not appear without Davros, which was a pity, but in this case, unlike his earlier returns, their creator’s presence is entirely justified. Full review here.
Leading straight on from this story is a brand new audio adventure, The Davros Mission, commissioned especially for this set by 2 Entertain. Written by “Voice of the Daleks” Nicholas Briggs, this eighty-minute Doctor-less tale sees Davros en route to Skaro where he is going to face trial for his crimes, while a Thal secret agent battles for his soul. Sadly, this isn’t one of the better stories you’ll hear on the disc: somewhat predictable and very overstretched for its running time, this adds nothing new to the Davros mythos and is additionally burdened by a couple of comedy characters who aren’t amusing in the least. Despite this the ever-dependable Molloy gives it his best shot, but he can’t save on his own a tale which goes nowhere at no great speed. No better is another Big Finish audio which follows (I think - it’s a little unclear!) chronologically on from this, The Juggernauts. This is another Baker/Molloy Big Finish, but unfortunately this one comes from early 2005, which was not a particularly inspired time for the production company. Like much of their output during this period the story, which is fairly reminiscent of Davros but with extra Mel thrown in, is perfectly serviceable but no great shakes, and ten minutes after finishing it you’ll have forgotten most of what happened. Diverting, but nowhere near as good as the other two Sixth Doctor adventures.
Back to television for the next story, and the superb Sylvester McCoy four-parter Remembrance of the Daleks. After a rotten first season Ben Aaronovitch’s story reinvented the McCoy's Time Lord as the Dark Doctor, a universal chess player who lays devious traps for his opponents and then sits back and watches them come to pass. Here he had decided once and for all to take down the Daleks, using an ancient Gallifreyean weapon called the Hand of Omega, now buried on Earth. Together with companion Ace (Sophie Aldred), he sets the pepperpots up and while two rival factions battle over control of the weapon, he spends his time trying to keep everyone else out of the line of fire. It’s a fantastic story, one of the finest of McCoy’s era, with great performances across the board. It’s also, notably, the first story since Genesis in which the Daleks, rather than Davros are the star, the creator relegated to a few scenes right at the end, just in time to see the Doctor wreaking vengeance on his creations. As such, it’s less of a stretch for Molloy who gets to do little other than rant and rave at the Doctor’s image but that’s the only problem in a story which has only one other problem: for those who don’t know their Dalek history, it might be a tad confusing. Original review is found here and see below for the Special Edition included in this set.
The final story in the Davros saga to be found here is Terror Firma, a Big Finish audio which sees Davros going up against Paul McGann’s Eighth Doctor for the first time. This is a story which divides fans, who either love or loathe it and you’ll find almost no one sitting on the fence in between. Sadly I have to say I’m in the latter camp, thinking it’s poorly written, not terribly well performed and has a story which doesn’t quite work. However, given it topped Doctor Who Magazine’s Big Finish Poll for that year I appear to be a minority and, to give it its due, it certainly provides an ending, of sorts, to Davros’s story with a fitting fate.
All told, however, there is a huge wealth of entertainment to be had here from these TV and audio stories. As a representative cross-section of Doctor Who from the mid-Seventies to the present day they can’t be beaten, and if anyone is looking to dip their toes into the “Classic Series” but are not sure where to begin this makes for a great advertisement for the strengths and weaknesses of many of the series’ eras. Davros himself as a character is wildly changeable given who’s writing him (although even the same writers produce changes - both Nation’s two goes and Saward’s contrast greatly) but, with the single exception of Destiny he’s always well played and more often than not sparks against whichever Doctor he encounters. Inevitably given the sheer amount on offer here there are stories better than others, but taken as a whole this is, if you’ll forgive me, a truly excellent collection. Highly recommended.
The set is presented on eight DVDs. All the Big Finish stories are presented on one single DVD in stereo sound, with the original CD covers displayed while one listens to the stories, and are accompanied by the lengthy audio documentary Davros: Behind the Scenes which details the making of I, Davros. For the television stories, all of these stories have already been released separately and, with the exception of Remembrance of the Daleks the DVDs here are identical in content to those earlier editions. As such, consulting the individual reviews quoted above will give you all the information regarding their presentation and numerous extras.
Remembrance, on the other hand, is appearing here in a new “Special Edition.” The McCoy story was one of the first Who DVDs to be released back in 2000, and as such had far fewer extras than now come as standard on the Who discs. In addition, there was an error during the remastering of the episodes, with the result that a handful of effects from Episodes One and Two went missing. As a result, the Restoration Team have gone back and not only fixed these two problems but have taken advantage of the opportunity to give the episodes a new, cleaner Video transfer and optional 5.1 Audio. This latter is especially welcome as it’s a story which benefits from the extended aural experience, most notably in the scenes of Daleks battling one another and the now Earth-shuddering landing of the spaceship. Mark Ayres has produced a number of these new 5.1 mixes for the Whos now, and they are always a highlight.
Sadly, however, it's not perfect: in quick succession the sound mutes completely for a second during Episode One. Fortunately, replacement discs are going to be sent out from December 17th to correct the fault. If you need one, the address is:
33 Foley Street
The complete list of Remembrance Extras now are as follows:
This is the same track as was included originally, featuring Sylvester McCoy and Sophie Aldred genially remembering the filming of the story. Although not in the same league as the greatly amusing Davison and Colin Baker yak tracks, this is a pleasant enough listen.
Again, from 2000, this is the usual collection of onscreen trivia from Richard Molesworth, telling you everything you could possibly want to know, and then some, about the minutiae of the episodes.
Back to School (32:38)
New. Straightforward and well made Making Of which manages to assemble nearly all of the major players, both in front and behind the camera, involved in its production. All reminiscence enthusiastically about filming in this fine companion piece to the story itself.
New. The documentary focuses more on the writing of the script, with Aaronovitch and Cartmel recalling the creative process and explaining the decisions which went into the story, most notably in the what-was-then-brand-new style of heavily referencing past adventures. Another good one.
Extended and Deleted Scenes (12:24)
A pretty good collection of scenes, including an extended version of “the café scene,” are now accompanied by new, somewhat superfluous, introductions to each from either McCoy or Aldred.
The same mildly dull collection of bloopers from the 2000 disc.
There are two short sequences which you can view from one of two angles - Ace’s encounter with the Dalek in the classroom (and later jump through the window), which runs for 1:03, and the gate explosion heralding the arrival of the Daleks (0:47). This feature was present on the 2000 disc but didn’t work as intended, and so is only here presented as it should be.
Trails and Continuity (4:58)
“Wogan begins Wednesday evening in style with guests including Jonathon Porritt!” Always enjoy watching these blasts-from-the-past and there’s a particularly generous selection of them here now.
Photo Gallery (8:36)
An extended version of the original disc’s Photo Gallery. I’m not a big fan of these things but there are some good shots here.
Radio Times Listings
The usual PDF inclusion, which is also new.
As well as the new Remembrance extras, there is also one other final extra to note:
Davros Connections (43:15)
This excellent documentary does what I’ve attempted to do in this review, only with more success. Putting each of the stories included in the set in their chronological order, this features interviews from many people involved in their making, from the actors such Molloy, Gooderson and Peter “Nyder” Miles to some of the writers involved in shaping Davros’s story, from Saward right through to Joseph Lidster and Gary Hopkins of Big Finish. The writers in particular are good value as they discuss why the character has been so successful and the thinking behind their own contributions to the legend, and overall this is an extremely well-put-together piece.
If you’ve already bought each individual story in this collection then it’s perhaps understandable why you would feel slightly aggrieved as this is a hugely attractive package. Of the new material to be found, the new Davros play is a disappointment but the Special Edition of Remembrance fully restores that title’s reputation in the pantheon of Who DVDs, and the Davros documentary is excellent. Obviously these aren’t enough to justify the huge price tag alone, but if you’ve only got a couple of the titles featured herein (and you can live without the usual boxes!) then don’t hesitate to put this on your Christmas list.