I came to this ‘origins’ adventure with expectations that this would be a pathos filled tale of a scientist whose perhaps good principles are corrupted and through a series of terrible accidents becomes a monster. Superhero and sci-fi and other genre tales are full of such tragic falls from grace. They are what makes the resulting uber-villain or monster so compelling. From Batman’s Two-Face to Dr Jekyll, such stories abound. In recognising the humanity in the monster, we recognise a little of the monstrous in ourselves.
With the Davros in this series, however, there is no such light and shade. None to speak of anyway. Davros starts in Part 1, “Innocence,” as a cynical and sadistic and sociopathic child, and really just degenerates further from that. It’s just a descent from one kind of moral darkness to another. As such, although there is much to thrill and entertain in this series, it did not quite have the impact I hoped for.
The whole thing is explicitly and knowingly framed in an “I Claudius ” world of a dysfunctional, powerful family, ruled over by a scheming matriarch, Lady Calcula, Carolyn Jones here channelling SIan Phillip’s Livia. As in Robert Graves tale and the BBC drama, the good characters are culled ruthlessly by a cynical elite. It’s framed in such a world but this is very much the Skaro heading towards the blasted Hell of ‘Genesis of the Daleks.’ A delight is how especially the later episodes reference the music and sound-scape of Genesis. In part one Rory Jennings plays Davros in short trousers. The kind of boy who will pull the legs of a spider not out of enjoyment but out of a detached scientific “fascination.” Warped by his world and his family, we her see him already locking teachers in radiation chambers and other such hi-jinks.
In Part 2 Terry Molloy takes over the reins (he played Davros in a number of the tv show adventures) as Davros, here a soldier desparate to join the scientific elite. He is sent on a seeming suicide mission with a team, and displays real courage, and shows the most human range of characteristics in the series yet. He does get to rant, though, in true Davrios fashion, over a crippled comrade, shouting at him for his weakness.
Part 3 picks up the ‘Shan’ plot-line first sketched in the Colin Baker adventure ‘Davros.’ What begins as a very human attraction and flirtation develops, in true Davros fashion, into denial, murderous betrayal, and bitter contempt (on the part of our titular scientist). He also has his body changing accident.
Part 4 brings us nicely to about the year before the events of Genesis. Davros has near perfected his experiments on people with radiation, creating genetically evolved mutants. Here he meets Nyder, a classic character from Genesis, and it’s a treat to hear Peter Miles reprise his role, and the two get on like a city on fire. Davros demonstrates his love for children by turning them into radiation soaked monsters, the first Dalek creatures that will go on to pilot the ‘travelling machines.’ The story ends with the demonstration of the Mark 1 travelling machine (Genesis has him just finishing Mark 2 when Tom Baker arrives).
And during all this his family, friends and country men die and are massacred around him. It is an entertaining, well produced and clever tale, and it’s a powerful and logical extension of the world of ‘Genesis.’ But it is also a bit depressing in its catalogue of atrocities, and eh Davros origin tale, as I have mentioned, is I think harmed by the lack of subtlety or human change. He just goes from monstrous to more monstrous to experimenting on children scale monstrous. You miss the light touch of the Doctor, any Doctor, and the sparring that would bring, which is what Genesis captured so well.
There’s also a disc of ‘extras,’ interviews with cast and crew which are good and illuminating, but I did wonder at the discussion on whether Davros was at all misunderstood. Er…no?