Sunday, 18 December 2016

I, Davros 1.1: Innocence by Gary Hopkins (September 2006)

A term that is pretty apt for discussing Doctor Who stories in general, but even more so for spin-off series like I, Davros, is the Russian literary critic Mikhail Bakhtin’s concept of the ‘chronotope’ (the Greek for ‘time-space’, and stolen from 1920s Russian scientists, so it’s a pleasingly Doctor Whoish word): the abstract usage of time and space in literature and language. I think the word can be boiled down to the idea of spaces and times within narratives: discussing Dalek Empire, for instance, I made much of the fact that the Daleks inhabit a space of not-Doctor-ness, taking the crown from him as instigator of the story’s events when they fill the void of his absence. In Doctor Who Dalek stories, “Dalek time” and “Dalek space” are very rarely Doctorless chronotopes; even if the story begins with them rather than leaving the Doctor to discover them, they fear he will come along and stop them at any moment (which he reliably does). In Dalek Empire, on the other hand, the Daleks have supreme control over time and space. Not literally, in the melodramatic way they might screech those words through their ring modulators - but the story’s space is theirs to command, theirs to fly their fleet through without fear of being stopped by the Doctor; the years that we leap through of Suz and Alby’s hard labour and suffering are the Daleks’ to rule over. Even when the Doctor shows up (Return of the Daleks) he can only help so much, because he is tacitly within a different chronotope to his own. This is why complaints about the Doctor not showing up to save the day in Torchwood or The Sarah Jane Adventures or Class tend to miss the mark, and why - for all the fun enthusiasm of a cameo - his guest appearances can be a bit distracting: because the rules state that this is not his space. He ain’t in his own chronotope anymore.

Where does this leave Davros, the lord, creator, saviour and sometime pet of the Dalek race? Even his greatest appearances (Davros, Revelation of the Daleks, The Witch’s Familiar) tend to take place on the Doctor’s terms; Davros is the guest villain, even if he allows a more sinister and personal confrontation than most guest villains do. The closest we get to the Doctor arriving in “Davros space”/“Davros time” (that is, a Davros chronotope) is Genesis of the Daleks, in which the Doctor is literally sent into a setting - a time and a place - in which Davros is, effectively, king, and from which he will dramatically alter the universe’s arc of history. But the Davros of Genesis - however brilliant - still serves as a prelude to the arrival of creatures we already know as familiarly Doctor Whoish foes. I, Davros forms a different chronotope: it is purely Davros’ time-space, with not only no Doctor in sight, but no Daleks either (as yet). It is his personal history. It is, in effect, a biopic; a biography. I can’t think of another character in the Doctor Who universe that gets this luxury - a single set of stories, standing alone rather than relying on monster-of-the-week as you would with Sarah Jane or River Song or Captain Jack, stories which fundamentally recount a life. From teenage years to Genesis (if that doesn’t sound like a terrible title for a Peter Gabriel biography, I don’t know what does). The series is explicitly all about him, as one can tell from its mere title: a declarative statement ringing out like thunder, insisting upon the subject of its selfhood: “I, Davros!” - like Martin Luther’s “Here I stand, I can be no one else!” - as though this is an historiographical treatise on an actual figure. Echoing Robert Graves’ I, Claudius (I, Clavdivs as Philip Sandifer affectionately calls the BBC drama starring Derek Jacobi) is a bold move bordering on the pretentious (ha! pot, meet kettle), but it nonetheless effectively draws attention to the grand ‘historical drama’ status of this set of audio dramas. Davros is part of the mythology; and so like any mad ruler, like any “Great Man of History”, he gets his biopic. This is grand mythopoeic stuff we are talking about - the back-story of the man who made the Daleks.

It is this which necessitates the (otherwise rather perfunctory) opening to the ironically-titled Innocence: we must establish the Davros of the present - or at least, the Davros of shortly after Revelation of the Daleks, at the height of the Imperial-Renegade Dalek Civil War - in order to go way, way back into his Doctorless, Dalekless past: Skaro ravaged by a different war, that between the Kaleds and the Thals, a world of stalemate, assassination, paranoia, execution of deserters, mutated plants, and the ‘Military Youth’, an appropriately Nazi-sounding paramilitary organisation for juveniles. Here, Davros is a sixteen-year-old from a wealthy, influential military family who spends too much time on his own exploring local wildlife down by Drammankin Lake, later to be the Lake of Mutations. He comes from a long line of successful soldiers, but what he dreams of is a future as a scientist - the scientist who ends the Thousand Year War. Gary Hopkins (and this is very much the Gary Hopkins of The Last rather than Other Lives) crafts a tense thriller set on a terrifying world -- but much more impressive is how he puts the flesh on the bones of Davros’ back-story with a good grasp of conflicting family dynamics, questions of duty and science, and interesting subversion of gender roles (even as long ago as this, Skaro had a unisex military). Hopkins draws all his major players well; even things which seem a bit shallow at first - the dislike between Calcula and her husband’s sister Tashek looks like generic in-law tension to start with - get well fleshed-out as the revelations start to emerge.

In fact, Carolyn Jones’ Lady Calcula is almost as important as Davros here, and certainly the protagonist’s relationship with his mother is the most interesting part of Innocence - exactly how you might imagine the relationship between Coriolanus and Volumnia was when Coriolanus was young. There’s something a tad Oedipal about it - not necessarily sexual as such, but Calcula cares far more about her son than either of the two men who pine for her (one Davros’ real father, the other one everybody assumes is his real father); and, of course, we cannot overlook that Davros shoots his real father, Councillor Quested, dead. This is the end of the first stage of his upbringing, and the start of him inheriting the mantle his mother has planned for him. She emphasises science, hiring the tutor Magrantine, and in Davros and Magrantine’s scenes, his interest in mutation and evolution, we see the first glimmers of who this boy will become; but as for Calcula herself - and what a perfect name for a scientist’s mother - she is a warmongering fascist; the most terrifying figure on Skaro. “We fight to win. Not to keep things as they are,” her husband Nasgard (Richard Franklin!) argues, and though some of this attitude and upbringing does seep into Davros’ characterisation elsewhere, Davros is much more like his mother than his adopted father. At one point, she shouts, “without the war, we would be nothing…we depend on the war for our continued existence. It gives us meaning, purpose, a reason to live!” At another: “There is no such thing as peace. Never has been, never will be.” She holds the Mussolini-esque belief that their species is defined by continuous conflict (Mussolini: “War is the normal state of the people”). Again, the echoes of this being a little like the biography of some heinous 20th-century dictator feel apt.

Something else Mussolini said also seems appropriate here - that it was “better to live a day as a lion than a hundred years as a sheep”. In the same vein, we learn that “nothing dies of old age on Skaro.” In this particular nuclear-winter chronotope, life is short and brutal and painful and every breath could be poisonous, so it makes a kind of hideous sense that fascism should prevail. Seize. Take. Conquer. Win. No wonder Davros comes into being in such a world.

Other things:
One of the aspects of this series that most pleases my reptilian fan-brain (we’ve all got one) is that it seems that it and The Magician’s Apprentice/The Witch’s Familiar can sit alongside one another without too much obvious contradiction. Here Davros is sixteen, but in that story he’s several years younger; the Capaldi tale doesn’t make explicit that he’s from an elite, but just because he’s a grimy-looking boy lost in a battlefield doesn’t necessarily contradict that either. The latter is a brief, rule-breaking look at the Doctor dipping into Davros’ distant, generally inaccessible chronotope, whereas this is set entirely within it.
“How low have you sunk without me?” Davros asks his warring, factious creations. “When you began you were unbeatable, unconquerable. Now you cower in the darkness of our ancestral home, too frightened to venture out… You have become ghosts of what you were. Your recent escapades have seen you become a pale imitation of your past.”
Carolyn Jones (so brilliant as Excelsior in The Last) is great here as Lady Calcula, Davros’ mother, and Rory Jennings (from The Idiot’s Lantern) acquits himself well as the young Davros. It’s a shame there’s not much of Terry Molloy yet, but that’s hardly a surprise given this is Davros’ teenage years rather than adulthood. Jennings underplays almost every line reading, giving Davros a quiet, cold, brooding quality.
“There’s more to Skaro than Kaleds and Thals. Life is life, whatever outward shape it takes, however many legs or eyes it has.”
The sweet almost-a-romance between Yarvell and Brogan works well.
“In my line of work, promotion can be rapid and sudden.” Brogan’s words make me think of General Ravon from Genesis, also a young man promoted beyond his years.
Skaro’s moons are called Falkus and Omega Mysterium.
Bit too obvious, this: “Yarvell is your father’s daughter. You are not your father’s son.”
“You experiment on living creatures?... I find it interesting, fascinating, that a living creature would subject itself voluntarily to such dangerous experimentation, knowing that it would die.”/“I doubt that any of the specimens used in my experiments would agree to participate if there were a choice. In the interests of science, I do not offer one.”/“Every sentient being has the right to live.”/“Of course. But a scientist must keep his emotions and his work separate from each other. Most of the great discoveries throughout history were made with some pain and suffering. Nothing matters more than the truth. Fact. Reality. Sacrifices must be made in the search for scientific enlightenment. Are you ready to make sacrifices?”
“There are better ways to strike back. The best of them is not to strike at all.”
“I’m in pieces, Councillor. Not as many as my late husband, but … pieces nonetheless.”
“I can only hope there’ll be something left that is worth protecting.”
“My father is dead. Isn’t that right, Mother?”
“Only my mother feared me.”

Next: I, Davros 1.2: Purity by James Parsons & Andrew Stirling-Brown.

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