Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Main Range 048. Davros by Lance Parkin (September 2003)

OK, the headline: Terry Molloy is electrifyingly good, delivering a far, far richer and more nuanced performance than he was ever permitted on TV. Much as Nev Fountain did with Omega, Lance Parkin delves deep into the eponymous character’s psyche, this time mingling Davros’ strands of memory, his dark dreams, his nightmares, with the present-day itself. Even relatively minor Davros scenes like his interview with Lorraine over a banquet or his scene with Kim Todd in an elevator (and the way she reminds him of Shan) are very strong, and would quite frankly be highlights in many other stories. That said, Parkin is helped by the fact that Davros as a character has far more bite and tragic potential than Omega in my view; there’s just simply more there to latch onto, more you can do with him; his heights, his achievements, are about as high, but in physical and emotional terms he falls far lower, and that’s more attractive to a dramatist. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment when Davros screams as he awakes from a Thal shelling, seeing the damage wreaked on his face and hearing his broken larynx; all the little hints dropped about his past, his feelings for the beautiful Kaled scientist Shan, are tantalisingly, effectively, nay heartbreakingly done. Molloy is superb in the slightly different role of the pre-accident Davros and the implications of the flashback, that it was Shan who proposed “the Dalek solution”, are enormous. When, distraught, he confronts Shan over her liaisons with another councillor, his confused emotions – normal, real human emotions like jealousy, the kind of things we never imagined Davros would feel, the kind of things he tries to smother even within himself (“I don’t feel! I am not weak!”) – these are palpably and subtly rendered. And yet for all that, he is not the hackneyed ‘good guy gone sour’; he was always a detached, driven man obsessed with destiny. He was always a bastard.

Just read this, or listen along if you can:

“I spent ninety years alone with my thoughts, after humanity sentenced me to life-long imprisonment. Many more years after that, after my prison was destroyed as I drifted in space. Ninety years. Do you have any idea? Your people are immortal, aren’t they, ninety years to you must be nothing. For me it was a lifetime. I was unable to move, I was in complete sensory deprivation, I wasn’t breathing, I couldn’t even feel my heart beating. I sat utterly alone. I thought I would go insane. I wonder if I had died after all. How would I know? I started hearing voices. I started imagining things out there in the darkness, terrifying things, larger than me, all around me. It was like I had been cast adrift in a raft in the middle of the ocean. I heard the Daleks there, every one of them, calling out my name in unison. They sounded so faint. Then I saw your face, tormenting, sneering, cruel, cowardly, just as it is now. Just as it has always been. Your true face, not the one you happen to be wearing today. Then there was nothing. A near-century of nothing. I turned inward. My mind consumed my memories, forced me to live and re-live every single experience from the moment I was born, maybe even before that. I was locked in my past, unable to change my mistakes, condemned to relive them over and over and over. Every death, every failure, every lie, every betrayal. Even those I thought I had completely erased from my memory, like… Every one of the foul deeds I thought I had buried rose up, taunted me. I felt so ashamed, so naked. The process showed me how small I was, how insignificant my achievements had been. I was nothing. The mere dreams of a man who should have died millennia before. I passed through eternity, imagining every possible theory, every possible book, every possible idea, and then, as I’d exhausted every combination, in that moment, I felt myself transcending, I felt myself starting to lift away from my body to join something greater than me, greater than all things… and then I felt my heart beat. That had just been the first second of my imprisonment, and I was back at the beginning, utterly trapped, cursing those who had imprisoned me, a mere, deformed, unfinished thing. Before the next heart-beat the process was repeated in every detail. The third second was the same, as was the next, as was the next…I came to realise that I could count myself the king of an infinite universe, were it not for my bad dreams. But there was more in heaven and on Skaro than was ever dreamt of in your philosophy, Doctor.”

I truly think this is one of Doctor Who’s most iconic moments. Parkin puts a wonderful amount of thought into both the mechanics and the emotional aspect of what suspended animation would do to a person, and Molloy knocks the speech out of the park, knowing exactly when to go loud and when to go quiet (technically speaking, it really is a result all actors can only look at and admire). He’s phenomenally good, and perfectly complemented by Mortimore and Elphinstone. In fact, in the face of such an awe-inspiring recount, the Doctor’s response comes across as unusually dismissive, but then we know he can be blinkered by his own self-righteousness when facing people like Davros and the Daleks. The clever inversion of describing the Doctor as “cruel” and “cowardly” is particularly good.

If we want to contrast this with the previous story, Omega has been the God of the Time Lords, while Davros is God of the Daleks; the Doctor could never revere him as he does Omega, even if he respects his intelligence. Revitalising an evil genius for corporate profit expansion is a great notion, but getting the Doctor and Davros to work together is an even better one; two old enemies on the same fore-front of science. Baker and Molloy bounce off each other perfectly, by turns antagonistic, bickering, petty, explosive, and expressing a mournful solidarity with one another. Parkin takes every single ounce of dramatic potential between these two characters and sells it.

Bernard Horsfall’s Arnold Baynes is a superb character, serving a similar function to Rochester in Jubilee, although unlike Rochester, he’s supremely confident and assured in where he stands: a toweringly good businessman who knows that it’s people like him who make the galaxy go round (as it were). His interview with Willis is, surprisingly amid all the Doctor-Davros business, a corker of a scene (distinguishing this audio from Omega, where most of the good stuff was explicitly Omega/Doctor conversations; here, all the material is strong). In a story named after the scientist who is the epitome of dehumanising science, Baynes is a perfect addition: a man who is quite happy to let his company make millions of people jobless in the name of scientific advancement and a fast buck. His presence is one of the elements that permits Parkin to ground this story in a sense of reality, a grittiness taken up in stock markets, exploitation and indeed a rather fascinating look at economics that marks it out from Omega, and is much more interesting than I just made it sound.

Though this story is two and a half hours long, it never feels padded; there’s just so much fascinating content here. Parkin’s previous audio Primeval was a gentle and delicate script, a thing of beauty; Davros is a dazzling tour de force of strong emotions, despair, desperate drive and above all an endlessly compelling portrait of one of Doctor Who’s most fascinating yet (until now) underexplored recurring characters. This is absolutely one of the jewels in the crown of Big Finish’s output so far, one of my favourite scripts of 2003, it features my favourite audio performance thus far in Terry Molloy’s Davros, and all told this is simply one of Doctor Who’s best stories to date. In a month in which we learned the show would be brought back in March 2005, it’s oddly fitting that Lance Parkin and Terry Molloy remind us just how stonkingly good Doctor Who can be without TV.

Other thoughts:
How could I not quote in full Davros’ opening speech, too? Goosebumps all round. Even when you’re just reading it on the page. What a way to start. “When I press this switch, I will die. The poison in that projectile injector will kill me in a moment. It is a perfect, efficient killing machine. It will be painless, they say. They told me they know the pain I am in, as if they could, and that just by pressing this switch I will end that suffering forever. They say I should be the one to do it, but they are weak. They cannot bring themselves to look at me, let alone kill me. They hesitate. They fear me, even when I am like this; and they have their perfect, pure, strong bodies, they fear me. And well they should. I am no longer like them. I am above them. I have the ultimate power: the power over life and death! This body, this is my dominion. Mine to command. No one else’s. I can sense them out there in the corridor, cowering, not daring to speak. They are the frail ones. They are the crippled. They are the ones without choice. They will die. They will lose this war and they will die. I could join them in defeat and death, but if I survive, then something stronger will emerge. A new race. A supreme power in the universe. I will not press this switch. I will not cower. I will not die! I will not die! This is not the end! This is only…the beginning.”
Is the theme sped up here? I think it is. Perplexing.
Colin Baker makes a great entrance. “Boo!”
“Have we the right?”
“Mass redundancy, labour relations, it’s not really my field.” Shame on you, Doctor!
Dawkins College, Oxford – nice joke, though I doubt they’ll name a college after Richard Dawkins any time soon.
Again, as in Revelation of the Daleks, Davros goads the Doctor into ending his life, but the Doctor doesn’t have the stomach.
The liberals of the future (like Willis) are “asteroid-hugging halfwits” – chortle.
“I am not a Dalek, Doctor. I have always been in control of my destiny.”
Davros to the Doctor: “Do you know who is the nearest thing I have to a friend? You. We have been through a lot together, have we not? We are both scientists. Your intellect, your experience – you are a shining light in a dark galaxy. We have much in common. We are not friends, but I often think in some strange dream of history, we might have been. Fate has made us allies. Imagine what we might achieve together.”
“War makes comrades of us all, and then takes all those comrades away.”
“Do you know when was the first time in my life that no one was trying to kill me? When you revived me. Yesterday.”
“He’ll take out your eyes and then come back for the sockets, and he’ll laugh as he does it.”
“A Dalek can’t change its bumps.”
“Millions die of famine every day, Doctor. Mrs Baynes told me over dinner.”/“Oh, five course or just the three?”
Especially after Nev Fountain delivered the mother of all cliff-hangers, we really don’t need the cliff-hanger here; this should have just been one continuous story.
“It’s the pain that drives him on, allows him to see himself as unique.”
 “To get down here you’d have to get through three doors that the manufacturers assured me were impenetrable.”/“Well, they’d be pretty useless as doors then wouldn’t they?”
“The Doctor is far more dangerous than a mere fire.”
I love how the Doctor orders copper wire for breakfast to escape his confinement.
“I imagine that what unites the humans, the Kaleds and the Thals is pride in the birth of a new child. The hope, but also the fear that something will go wrong.”
“I do not think I have ever been capable of love.”
“We were two creatures in the same evolutionary niche. Only one of us could be the greatest scientist! It is the same throughout the universe. Thal and Kaled. Neanderthal and homo sapiens. Only one can survive!”
“I smiled as I watched Shan dying.” Molloy’s voice-work here is stunning.
The nuclear-bomb sequence (as Davros’ voice comes over the intercom for the first time) is all kinds of chilling, even if it doesn’t sound as though the bomb gets far enough away from the heroes for them to have survived!
Where Omega was a sequel to Arc of Infinity, this is clearly a prequel to Revelation of the Daleks, establishing as it does the galactic famine that was the back-drop to the latter story.
“Miss Todd, you are aware that I don’t have eyes?”
“The graveyards are full of the indispensable.”
Did I mention the stunning sound-scape here, probably the best yet? Elphinstone and Mortimore do a really, really great job. My favourite piece is the score that plays over the climax.
The Doctor hurtling down a lift-shaft. Brilliant. “Thought I’d drop in.”
“Oh yes, Davros survived. People like him and me don’t know any different.”
And all this, and no Daleks. Praise the Goddess Centauri.

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