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?
This novelisation by David Whitaker, of the second ever Doctor Who tv adventure, is something of a curiosity and a gem.
It was the first ever Doctor Who story to be published as a novel, and as such had to give a beginning for those who had never seen the original tv stories.
It wanted to go straight in to the Dalek adventure without first visiting the junkyard revealed in “The Unearthly Child” or the quick swing back to prehistory in the adventure that immediately led to. But it also had backstory to give to launch new readers into the world of Who.
And so it created an alternative beginning, where Ina Chesterton, on his way back from a job interview in Reigate, chances on a fatal road accident featuring a dead soldier, an injured woman (Barbara) and a lost girl (Susan), with the Doctor appearing looking for both of them. To those familiar with the Who’s origins this is disorientating and exciting. It’s like finding a new release of one of your favourite films with an alternative opening restored to the cut, and one that works.
This is darker than the original, with the presence of death, and the Doctor himself even more of an unknowable presence, a cranky old man with a malicious twinkle in his eye.
The group repair back to the Tardis and from then on the story begins to segue back into the outlines of the original, but there are continuing creative differences, including a burgeoning romance between Ian and Barbara, and a glass ‘Emperor’ Dalek at the end.
For those of you who don’t know the original, it’s a story that uses familiar 60’s SF tropes including an irradiated war torn planet, a pacifist race being hunted to extinction by an aggressive warlike race, robotic dehumanisation, allegories to fascism, and a debate on the limits of pacifism. Well, not a debate, pacifism is simply shown not to work, with the Doctor and his friends’ basic message to the peace loving Thals being, “sometimes you just gotta FIGHT!”
It’s the uniqueness of the Doctor and the famous Daleks that lift this above the level of cliché. Even in this simpler form (they can’t move off metal floors as they need magnetic propulsion) they remain a chilling representation of deliberate, implacable hate, with the shrivelled creatures inside seeming to represent their shrivelled souls.
The writing is clear and it barrels quickly along, as you would expect from a novel written for the younger end of the market, but it has been and will continue to be enjoyed by all ages. It’s fascinating to see the original illustrations, simple black and white drawings that nevertheless are supremely evocative of the original tv story. There’s an introduction by Neil Gaiman (who recently joined the ranks of Dr Who writers with a Cyberman story for Matt Smith) who tells what the book meant to him. He underscores that this was an age when everything was much more vulnerable and subject to loss in terms of film. If you missed a story you may have been forgiven in thinking that it would never be repeated and you would never see it again, which is the case for a lot of the ‘lost’ adventures. So, novelisations were a vital bridge back to the original.
At the end there are “between the lines” extras on the history of the story and background on the writers and scriptwriters, and a good analysis of the differences between the novelisation and the tv original.
A genuinely enjoyable read.